Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #1 (From The Great Ziegfeld)

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The scene is certainly more lighthearted than I would've expected a Depression-era film to be. Most examples are manifested through Rainer’s characterization of the performer. Specifically, her performance itself is about “playing” and enjoying childlike amusements. She even plays with the audience by flashing the reflected light at them and giggling. Furthermore, her tone of voice is high and childlike, which is further emphasized through her giggles and dressing room remarks to her attendant (poo! well!) as if she is younger than she appears. Furthermore, the man at the opening of the clip, Ziegfeld, giving away a considerable amount of money and making a joke after it.

Depression-era themes are evident but not overtly obvious. The doorman’s comment regarding the 5 pound note is clear - his appreciation for this sum is evident, and Ziegfeld’s nonchalant dismissal seems surprising, but again communicates levity. It seems that the socio-economic issues were subverted to make way for humor. 

If this film had been pre-code, I could imagine that Rainer’s performance about “playing” may have had some different connotations. Her costume/gown may as well have been more revealing. While it was form fitting, it was not particularly revealing. I would have fully expected an undressing scene in the dressing room - perhaps she darts behind a backlist screen to slip into a robe? Ament and Rydstrom pointed this out from The Broadway Melody, yet here another backstage musicals preserves this female star’s modesty quite a bit more.  

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1.  I think the view is more optimistic than in reality.  In show business the business is entertainment.  People came to these shows to forget their troubles for a little bit.

2.  As far as the approaches go to other musicals goes; I find it interesting that the song is about playing "with me".  This could be construed as a double entendre'.  The children would think of playing as in a game of duck, duck, goose.  While the adult take is of another kind of "playing".  Continuing in this vein, I would expect ither songs to possibly have the same thene of double entendres.

3.  It perhaps would have been scripted differently to show the women as more aggressive towards the men.  I found the scene where the ex wife is feeling depressed due to her divorce a little melodramatic.    I went through a divorce myself and was depressed but still had to work and live my life.  Perhaps if the film were pre-code she may have been stronger.

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  1. Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? 

Yes, only because this time period was the great depression. People wanted to get away from their troubles and be entertained. A little bit of escapist fantasy is what the audiences were looking for (and perhaps still are). Nothing like the movies to project yourself into another world!

  1. What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?

Very similar themes in all of them - the escapist entertainment. The only one I can think of that shows how tough times were is "Gold Diggers of 1933" with some of the musical numbers, particularly  "We're in the Money" and "Remember My Forgotten Man." The storyline also reflects the times: aspiring singers/actresses desperate for work, a producer whose creditors close down the show, etc. 

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I’ve seen this movie before and the impression I remember of Powell’s Ziegfeld was that of a man who viewed money “as no object”, spending it beyond his means or borrowing with an almost reckless abandon.  Maybe that’s the common big world reality of Broadway and Hollywood, that’s what it takes to produce lavish plays and movies.  You’ve got to be willing to bet big and roll the dice to make it big or make something that’s bigger than life.  I find it more interesting that this is set against the background of the Great Depression, and that’s what it took FDR to pull us out of it, massive government spending projects like the New Deal and then ultimately the massive war spending that followed.  

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Greetings to all my fellow Musicals fans!!!

1) Yes, I also believe that "The Great Ziegfeld" showcases a brighter depiction of life with the presentation of elaborate stage shows, costumes and expensive orchids as a commonplace offering. For example, Ziegfeld offers the doorman a generous tip indicating financial freedom. I imagine that for the Depression Era viewers this was an exclusive, fantasy window into the world of Broadway musicals, a place they could never afford.

2) From this movie I could anticipate themes such as competition among producers, the wooing and manipulating of female stars and the backstage drama of the underlings; hoofers, chorus girls, set designers and choreographers. The class divisions are quite apparent. I personally focused on the role of women and the choices they had to make; career or marriage, giving in to temptation just to get a role. A theme that has not left us.

3)My guess is that if this movie were pre-code the females would ALL be scantily clad and they would have "given in" to the lascivious producers. Sounds familiar??

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By the mid thirties the public was very tired of realistic.  People were still dealing with the effects of the Depression and did not have to go to the movies to get  realism.  Why was it easy to enact and enforce the Code? The public wanted light and optimistic, going easy on the sarcasm, sexiness and related themes went with this outlook.

If this film had been made pre-code, all the characters would have behaved differently.  Anna Held would probably have commented on the handsomeness of the men and their amount of interest in her. She would have had fewer ruffles around the bodice that would have been lower.  Ziegfeld would have had a more svelte coat and an top hat, worn rakishly. He would have spoken more slowly and pointedly and looked with more interest.

Frank Morgan would have been completely different in character, more serious, even slightly sad, more gentlemanly, lacking all the silly mannerisms and facial expressions. The pre-code Frank Morgan can be seen in the musical comedy (tragicomedy) Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (1933); also the non-musical, The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933)

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Regarding the pre-code and the synopsis from the Daily Dose that mentions the "sanitized" interactions within the movie between Held and Ziegfeld: considering this was made a few years after his death and his wife at that time, Billie Burke, had a successful career of her own, is there a correlation between her in real life and the limited appearance of Held's character? Since it was pre-code, they certainly could have done a lot more in this department, but is there a possibility that there was some decency on Hollywood's part regarding his memory and his recent widow?

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Everyone seems to be sharing similar thoughts about questions 1 & 2, so I'll just touch a little (with tongue in cheek) on #3 - I think this musical is trying to squeeze in a man's entire adult life, and something *had* to give, even at three hours! There could've been more intrigue, or pathos, or naughty bits...but they chose to focus on the 'musical' part of Ziegfeld's career with just touches of his personal life as a framework to hang the songs (and costumes) on! ?

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Structurally, the main characters are carefully designed to present stereotypes. Eddy represents masculine, authoritative law and order on the frontier. He will rescue her as Mounties always rescue damsels in distress as a shout-out to the old melodramas, a form familiar to pre-sound film audience. On the other hand, MacDonald symbolizes feminine purity (with a spunky element of playfulness which is still appropriate) and high class (her demeanor and musical choices). You can’t make ****-goochy sound with a voice like hers. She is worthy of him and will help further tame the lawless society.

Both are in stark contrast to the stock characters who are rough customers who might be loggers or gold miners (lawless, hedonistic) and saloon girls who give entertainment of a crasser nature and implied physical comfort. All are plied by alcohol which allows release from inhibitions (except for the main characters), daily toil and dirt, conditions. The audience aspires to the main characters but to some degree, identify with the stock characters.

The setting is the western/northern frontier where law and order must be established with a firm hand. The frontier allows man’s basic nature to be exhibited which is always entertaining. It further sets up the theme of man vs his innate nature as well as the imperative that social order must prevail to preserve culture and humanity. This is important historically, especially after the conflict of World War I (and as prelude to World War II).

During the Depression, this film reminded the audience of the old days when “girls were girls and men were men” and the days of chivalrous knights and damsels while acknowledging that times were changing. Displaced by economic situations, Depression-era people yearned to strike it rich and to explore the great unknown if only in their minds and vicariously through film. Still, the human heart needs companionship, family and security. There was security in the rules of chivalry and the mythical days of old that people long for in times of economic distress.

Cinematically, In the canoe, both characters are presented in close proximity which is only allowed because of the situation and staging. Propriety and her primness is maintained by placing her back to him while it also allows contrast between his wooden presentation and her natural acting. For the plot, this signals conflict and the need for the boy to win the girl. After all, the thrill of the pursuit is the theme of many human stories in all art forms, old and new. How will he win her? Are they worthy of each other? What plot elements can make it interesting?  Eddy as Canadian Mounty is the courtly suiter. This is all very proper as opposed to looseness of bar scene with people stepping in front of each other before the camera and audience. Here, the juxtapositions, especially in sharp contrast to MacDonald’s high music and formal presentation, show the level of disorder/lawlessness/social chaos in the setting which adds that element of complication to the basic conflict of will boy win the girl.

                Here, this example of musical art form is built upon the traditions of both opera and Broadway. From opera, it used the form (opera comique) and the popular type of singing, Bel Canto. The staging and his stiffness are reminiscent of staged opera while MacDonald takes advantage of close-ups possible in film, exhibiting her real acting flair, a talent which sets her apart and becomes more important as film develops. Her style is both winsome as it seems natural and spontaneous. An element of Broadway musicals is that because it is staged and the audience at a distance, intimacy, naturalness and spontaneity are lost to stylized, grander gestures and expression. Film changes this relationship so that the audience has a much closer to the characters, drawing them into the medium and story. This is also shown in the Garland/Durbin song. Garland seems spontaneous and Durbin more formal. In the end, the formality and stiffness, even song styles, will change as they need to. It is fun to examine film in these earlier stages to explore its roots and development.

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1.    Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? I does show a brighter perspective of life but do you really want to live forever in despair without any positive outlooks. I go to the movies to escape what is going on in my life, that is why I watch movies.

2.    What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals? They will show you what life can be like when it starts to get better. They allow you to have an escape and enjoy music and your favorite stars and getting hope.

3.    Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples. The star is dressed modestly but when the maid moved to undress her though it is off screen so you know what is happening but you don't see it. The dancing on the stage was borderline seductive but you just get hints of it. She uses the mirror to look at the men in the audience but we don't really understand why.

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1.    Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? 

While I do believe the clip has a bright tone, I don't necessarily feel it was detailed enough to go beyond realistic. People perform and they receive flowers. Flowers are a lovely introduction to a possible love interest. Yes there was an added emphasis on the specific flowers (orchids were a luxury. This was also eluded to in the musical "Two Girls and a Sailor" which came out in the early 40s). But as most everyone has said here, films especially during troubled times like the Depression needed to be brighter. Life got too hard and everyone needed that escape.

2.    What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?

The social status marker in society is a theme. One who can afford the luxuries of the rich have the higher ground for a love interest. Plus one's ability to move up the social status ladder. Competition amongst the 2 men for the woman's affection is also a common running theme. And of course love is a force to be reckoned with.

3. Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples.

I feel they would have played more on the innuendo of the song Held sang thus filming the sequence differently had the code NOT been enforced. If you look at Broadway Melody of 1929, which won the Oscar, a woman was filmed in the bath tub, so clearly sex and the innuendo of sex plays well to audiences. Also with that same context of sex sells, I think the scene in the dressing room would most likely have featured the actress getting changed or other materials such as hanging garments would have been shown to show the femininity of the character.

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The clip does seem light in comparison to more recent films. The characters seem so nonchalant about it all (in particular Florenz, who seems intent, but non-emotional toward Anna).  

The "lightness" was a constant in the musicals of the Depression era. It helped people to forget their troubles temporarily and believe that happiness still existed. 

I wonder, if filmed Pre-code, would the song had different words? It seems a little risque, but kind of a hidden/double meaning. "Come play with me" could take on several meanings. ?

 

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3.    Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples.

It was interesting how the suggestive lyrics were set to a bouncy, playful, almost innocent tune. I believe this was Anna Held's draw - her liberal French theatre background on the American stage pushed boundaries. Therefore the most intriguing thought here is the intersection of the story-in-time (1906?) Victorian values and enforcement of the Hayes code given the movie was made in 1936. If filmed pre-code - we probably would have seen a more erotic costume as seen on the stage in Paris in the teens.

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1.    I also agree that the film is a much more light-hearted approach to life, which, given the time period of the Depression, makes sense. Not as many audience members would spend what little money they had to go see a film that was as troubled as their lives. As more and more people began to lose their jobs and their homes, a world where naivete and innocence flourishes becomes much more appealing. The Great Ziegfeld, then, serves as its own little utopia that would help them escape their own personal realities. This clip portrays Anna as naive and inexperienced (she talks of postponing Billings despite his offer for a world tour), yet the audience is given absolutely no indication that either of those character traits will hold her back or harm her in any way, although they would in the show business of the "real world" as it were. 

2.    An approach that I have often found in both Depression era musicals as well as some that post date the Depression is the filming the singer or performer as one would see them on stage, much like Broadway Melody, yet not quite as choppy in terms of entrances and editing. The song or number has yet to be incorporated into the film and story line itself, and instead, stands apart as its own little vignette. A trope I would anticipate is that of the love triangle comedic romp. Unlike Dramas or later musicals, love triangles in several Depression era musicals are often jovial, with one man the obvious choice over his buffoonish adversary. Because of the historical context of these films, many musicals will find a way to not focus on "real-life" problems, and if they do, it will be in a nonchalant manner so as to preserve the sense of escapism for the audience as well as the studios's box-office take. 

3.    Thinking in terms of pre-code vs code, one of the first things I noticed in this clip was that Anna was fully dressed (in a full-length Edwardian style gown, no less) for the entire sequence, which is highly unrealistic given the nature of stage production. This goes as far as to ensure that Anna has her hat on for nearly the entire sequence as well. Anyone who has participated in any sort of theatrical production can tell you that props such as hats and gloves come off almost as soon as you leave the stage, which makes Anna's wearing of the hat seem almost too formal for a backstage setting. In a pre-code film, Anna would have been in some stage of undress, probably with other girls or performers in some state of undress in the background, even if it is just when she opens the door to enter her dressing room. Another change that would have been made is that Ziegfeld would not have been waiting for her at the "stage door" for Anna to meet him, rather he would have come to her dressing room himself in order to emphasize Anna's state of undress, as well as the potential relationship between them, much like Nick Arnstein does in Funny Girl (1968). Additionally, there would have been more backstage sequences so as to emphasize the costuming of the other performers. Anna's costume itself vastly differs from those seen in Broadway Melody and Gold Diggers of 1933, physically embodying the production code's emphasis on modesty and decency as becoming a woman of that time period. 

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I watched the film in its entirety (all 3 hours - ?) this morning so I agree with a few previous commenters that it's difficult (for me) to view the clip without adding that it was a biopic.  That being admitted.  It was a frothy, fun, extravagant, and overly long biopic that, I'm sure, delighted the Depression-era audience at the time. Those dance sequences were incredible especially the one with the dogs! I even looked at my bored dog sitting next to me and considered a few leg kicks just to liven up our Tuesday morning. 

I have a question though. I thought early-era musicals were normally shorter in duration. Was this an exception due to the recreation of the Ziegfeld Follies?  I honestly had no idea it was 3 hour film until it got to be 10:30am, and it didn't seem to be rushing to a conclusion.

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I definitely agree that this exhibited a brighter, less realistic perspective of life. What really struck me was the escapist depiction of wealth that would have appealed to viewers struggling during the Depression. The clip begins with a depiction of Ziegfeld's extreme wealth - he over-tips the doorman, making the joke that he is "trying to lose weight." The women make a point to mention the price of the flowers Anna Held receives. The elaborate set and costumes also add to the escapism of the film.

I would anticipate such escapist themes to appear in other Depression era musicals as well - probably more depictions of wealth, beautiful costumes and sets, and lighthearted depiction of conflict and competition.

If this had been filmed pre-Code, I would imagine Anna's performance of "Come Play With Me" to be a LOT more suggestive (especially considering the title of the song!), and her costume to be a lot skimpier. She was almost completely covered here. The backstage scene especially struck me - as mentioned in the lecture, in pre-Code days, these backstage scenes would have been an excuse for the viewer to see women in various states of undress. Here the only thing Anna Held removes is her hat! :)

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1.    Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? 

The most obvious example of this is the camera interplay between the two producers, Ziegfeld and Billings. Ziegfeld looks to be all business. He's intent on showing his interest through his intense stare, whereas Billings is clearly off balance seeing Ziegfeld in the audience. He's on the defensive almost immediately. But, the playfulness is the result of Anna Held's song and playfulness with the hand-held mirror, using it to reflect the stage lights into the eyes of the audience. 

I think the dressing room scene with the orchids further amplifies Ziegfeld's drive. Carefully selected to impress, the orchids are a substantial step above the typical flowers in the dressing room routine. But, the lightness comes from Miss Held's wavering between the pragmatic business Billings brings and the promise and mystery the orchids represent. Aah, who will win the hand of the lovely lady? That seems a little brighter/lighter than who is going to lose this deal and suffer some degree of a financial setback.

2.    What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?

I'm not sure what this question is really about, but I assume this is dealing with techniques used here that would become part of the musical genre throughout the 30's? I've heard so often that the movies provided an escape from a reality that was harsh and the elements of a glittering set with brilliant lighting and opulent designs certainly provide that. I can imagine that, in the same way I want to see spectacular effects of a blockbuster at my neighborhood theater that I use to escape the mundane suburban lifestyle which I've devolved into, people on limited budgets, one step away from the streets used to place themselves for 90 minutes into a romantic, sparkling fantasy where people sought you out to throw money and fame at you.

The clever banter and whimsical choices the characters make provide an alt-reality to a Depression-era audience where decisions could have far greater negative consequences. The dialogue (and music) amplify that fantasy and served as the basis of the Hollywood musical for years. So, I guess you could say it anticipates what is to come in the genre, though I don't believe the studio had any interest beyond developing a hit that would lead to profitability.

In fact, I do recall the late, great Robert Osborne saying on more than one occasion that no one in those days imagined their work would become a source of devotion for so many decades later. They were just trying to make a buck and others used what worked for them to build their own films (and, of course, expanded on those ideas).

 3.    Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples.

More revealing costumes. More sexual innuendo. Sex sells, right? But, as to the overall feel of the film, they would still provide a backdrop of glitz and glamor. The Depression was still going on and so was the need for escape.

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When I think about pre-code musicals, I think of Footlight Parade. When I compare that, I notice how decorous and genteel the clips are in The Great Ziegfeld. Imagine how differently Held's song would be played in pre-code movies. The whole notion of "I want to play with you" would be presented as a much naughtier song.

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I would have to say that this film, or at least the clip shown in Monday's lesson, does present a brighter perspective considering it was during the Depression era. For instance, money does not seem to be on the mind of many of the performers, even despite the running subject of Ziegfeld constantly needing financiers to back his projects. Instead when the doorman informs Ziegfeld that he handed him a greater amount of currency than the doorman expected, there is the pun about weight but also the frivolity with which Ziegfeld handles his money despite the times. 

 

As for overarching themes/approaches of other Depression era musicals, I anticipate the focus being on escapism for the American viewing audience instead of focusing on the hardship running rampant during that time. It seems like many of the musicals of this era center around the staging of productions (Broadway Melody series, The Great Ziegfeld, Footlight Parade, etc.). 

 

Had The Great Ziegfeld been made prior to the implementation of the Production Code, the viewer would see a greater number of costume changes being shown on screen and the dresses would be much more revealing as opposed to the knee-length (or longer) gowns throughout the post-code movies. 

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I too agree with what others have said very thoroughly, on questions 1 and 2   I think a major difference between pre-code and post-code films in general, besides that scanty attire, is pre-code films, even musicals, seem to handle themes in a more realistic or raw way.  For example, in the two pre-code films from Tuesday, I noticed there were fights and poverty but in Zigfield,  its utopia with all the joy and money   I don't know if the codes or the times had more to do with that.  It almost as if the censures tried to keep unpleasant thoughts out of the movies ?????

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  1. The subject matter of the film avoids everyday life of people and concentrates on the artificial life of successful performers without showing the negative sides of such a life. It presents the glamour and superficial lives of stars and producers' concerns rather than the struggles of subsistence performers. Even the doorman is trivialized. Did you notice Powell's expression just before he chooses to give him the money? Then, of course, his remark about the weight of the bill further emphasizes the difference in class.
  2. The film shows lavish sets and costumes in the rococo style of Ziegfeld. Everything he produced was over-the-top and featured beautiful women in stylized postures. The sets and costumes become the backdrop for themes of problems of the wealthy and class conflicts.
  3. A pre-code version of this little ditty would have a scantily-dressed performer making suggestive bodily movements. Instead of a mirror to temporarily turn attention to the audience, she would more directly aim her performance at the two rivals for her attention with more lewd bumps and grinds. She might even have twerked.

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The clip certainly depicts a brighter perspective of life than that which the audience likely experienced day-to-day. Pretty sure that even average show biz folks didn't enjoy the affluence that Ziegfeld is portrayed to have in the clip. 
Kind of ironic that he ended up losing most of his money in the stock market crash.

As for themes that might be anticipated - hard to form an opinion based on this clip alone, but the cadence of the
dialog - banter if you will- stikes me as somewhat common not just in musicals of the era but films of that 
period in general.

Had this been made prior to the Code, there would have been more skin and more sin.

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I’m on the same page as most everyone for all 3 questions. I think the biggest difference pre-code would have been the tone of the song - the light hearted tone we see makes it seem almost childish. Pre-code the sexual subtext could have been on display.

Certainly the brighter perspective was evident. During the Depression it’s hard to imagine than a doorman would spend enough of his hard earned money on a show enough times to be singing her praises. It goes out of its way to show Ziegfeld’s lavish spending - cracking a joke about the tip, and flowers that cost 1000s of francs.

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1 Yes I do agree that this clip shows a brighter perspective. They are all dressed to the nines and seemingly throwing away money on frivolous things. They fail to show the realities of the time by showing only light hearted romance and portraying an ideal look at the show business career. 

2 I would think you would see more light hearted romances, and a candy coated view of the world. Which were used to cheer up the world during a dark times.

3 You would see a lot more images of costumes changes and bathroom scenes. You may even see a couple sharing the same bed.

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