Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

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

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1. The sophisticated characters on screen with their fluid speech and spiffy clothes act as if they have no history, no struggles, no past suffering.  They have excellent manners and are polite and civil to each other.  Class distinction is minimized.  The doorman and the maid have classy accents and are literate, perfectly groomed and are treated with respect. 

 

2. Love and romance is in the air while the movie audience is educated in the art of the idealized creation of a Show Biz product both in front of and behind the curtain.  

 

3. The code of decency does not prevent the female lead from revealing her sexual nature.  Her figure is well defined.  Her manner is flirtatious.  She is checking out all the men in the audience to find a willing participant in her games.  I loved the mirror she is using as a prop.  It dangles and swings back and forth against the lower portion of her clothed body when she is not holding it to spotlight the members of the audience.  I understand that the movie makers tried all sorts of tricks to defy the decency censors.

 

 

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1. Yes, I agree that the mod is light and gay.....a great way to escape the reality of the depression.

2.  I would anticipate an upbeat and positive attitude.  Dances and scenes from the musical are extravagant and everyone is smiling and happy. It presents a better life and helped to give people hope.

3.  Women are dressed conservatively and sex is only implied and scenes are g-rated

 

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Musicals in general, especially Depression era musicals, were produced to entice moviegoers to spend hard-earned money to be entertained--to forget their problems for a little while.  They wanted to be transported to another time and place where things always worked out for the best and they could leave with a new song to hum on the way home.   This was not always their reality.  If the movie reflected real life, they could keep their money and stay home!

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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? 

Absolutely not. A bright perspective on life is a choice. People in rough material conditions can have a delightful, happy, bright perspective on life and love. Or people with great material blessings can have a sour, dark, miserable outlook on life. Realistic? Not realistic? The question doesn't even make sense. 

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Before I comment, I have a disclaimer.  I was an exchange student in Austria, and while there I took an Austrian film class.  I find it amusing to hear Luise Rainer's Austrian accent while she is being referred to as a French performer with the German name of Anna Held.

The clip definitely shows an idealized version of events, which, as you have pointed out, was common during the Depression.

I also see the recurring theme of courtship from afar as a reaction to the Hays code. 

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The Great Ziegfeld is a musical that was made after the Motion Picture Code was enforced; thus, it is filmed and scripted differently if it had been pre-code. Specific examples would be in: Costuming - back stage dress in this movie vs. Broadway Melody of 1929 are 'mu-mu's' compared to 'bikini beach apparel' in BMo1929. The actual tub scene in BMo1929 vs. TGZ where there is only the "suggestion" of Anna Held's skin being kept beautiful by "gallons of milk" baths (true, part of Flo's plot, but never would have passed code to witness...). The only flesh exposed in TGZ was male - thanks to a massage scene; ladies only appeared in robes and towels...In BMo1929 there were times in the dressing rooms or backstage, that the female actors were able to spend in the company of their male manager & the love interest alone vs. TGZ where the women seemed to spend time with men, only when escorted by another woman, mixed company, or with their husband. Additionally, in BMo1929, there was a great & required deal of skin to skin contact that I noticed in dance routines; when choreographed into similiar routines in TGZ, one of the pair was clothed at the point of contact...so silly!The times,they really have a change-ed...So, to my eyes, the change after the enaction of the Motion Picture Codes in 1930, was very evident in this 1936 film - The Great Ziegfeld.

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I really don’t see why she is being viewed as “flitty” etc. for waffling about seeing the man that sent her flowers. She was likely about to sign a contract with his rival, hebis unknown to her, he wagers his best chance of getting his foot in the door is impressive flower delivery and it works. This is still a tactic in business and love to this day! Honestly I’d like to give credit this is showing a woman making a responsible business decision. 

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1. I have always believed that the invention of movies has been to provide the public with an escape from the daily hum-drum of life.  If only to provide for profits, the goal is to sell the fantasy.  The early musical was to bring Broadway to everyday man.  It is this reason why so many of us enjoy movies.  

2. I think that other themes that could be included in the Depression - Era musical would be the lascivious way that the star lived.  The lack of seeing the affect of the depression on the theatre is in itself a theme.  

3. I think that if this musical was made before pre code it would have included more skin in the appearance of the female actors.  There could be more use of profane language and scenes that reflect the time in a more realistic manner.   

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In answer to the 1st question, Yes, I believe that the characters seem to act unaware of the cost of the daily consumption of money. 2nd question; The downplay of the Depression Era that the everyday moviegoer gave people an escape for a few hours before returning to reality, 3rd question; If this was Pre-Code then you would have seen more women in various states of undress in the backstage area of the Follies.

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Yes, I agree that the perspective of life presented in these Depression-Era films is brighter than the economic times in which they were released.  This is hardly surprising, since these films were focused on escapism, not realism. It stands to reason that the general audience in any given era craves to experience what they do not have. In good times, they want some sense of vicarious hardship; in bad times, they want some sense of vicarious hope. The severity of the Great Depression required considerable "sugar-coating." One would expect the lighthearted frivolity to continue, as we traverse the decade.  Due to the strengthening of the Production Code, the moral tone of this, and later, films had to change. This would require that scenes with sexual overtones had to be handled with more subtlety than had been the case in the Pre-Code Era. Her song was presented in a flirty way, without flaunting her sexuality, and her costume was more elaborate and concealing than revealing. One could imagine that, before the Code, the song lyric "Play with me all day long" might have been "Play with me all night long!"    

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When we go an see a film in the cinema or at home, as well as on any social media platform, we are all teleport-ed for a couple hours away from the troubles of the outside world and in our daily lives into a world of imagination. Especially what was going on in the Depression Era, films were targeting audience to step away from troubles and worries and giving them a glimpse of happiness, calm and sincerity in a world of their own. Not to make jokes at the expense of the era, but to lift their spirits up. I agree the film sheds light on a brighter perspective to the theme of the film, but still have some realistic appeals as well. I'm talking about the characters handle with money and decision making without thinking ahead of repercussions. For example; Flo throwing money around on extravagance gifts, a dozen orchids, even when he had only .50 cents in his pocket, going after one project after another must have cost a fortune, but Flo always looked at the bigger picture, as many of us have found to do at times in our own lives. As well as the many telegrams he sends out (don't they charge by words??) to people, That was true to Ziegfeld's character as he adored to send telegrams, as well as to people in the same room as him. The film shad light to truth as well, but in a way that was a little toned down in some places (Billie Burke on hand to supervise the script, she wanted to make sure Ziegfeld name was not harmed in any way) A great way of showing Held decision making in portrayed in the clip shown, she sings and plays along with the mirror to her guests. She shines them especially at Billings, who is grinning and enjoying the moment of spotlight (that can be seen throughout the film) and then to Ziegfeld who remains compose with just his signature grin, that sends Billing jumping in his seat, and Held changing her demeanor as she sings ("play with me..."). She then glides stage left towards Billings , before quickly gliding to stage right to Ziegfeld before she finishes her song, foreshadowing her decision between the two. It almost made the scene in the dressing room obsolete as she tosses back and forth if she should see him, speak to him and take his offer to join his group.

Given that the film was released before the code, there are some aspects of the film that could have gone differently and I am aware majority of them have been reference in previous post on this chat. But, yes the costumes, the Follies had an unique style and the women (Rainer and Bruce and Loy) were all dressed full bodied from their hats to their shoes. Anna held had a body that accentuate herself and her performance (like an hour glass figure) due to the ribs surgery. The closest to more open skin was with some of the follies legs shown in some of the musical numbers. Also near the end, when we see an aged Ziegfeld, Billings still looks youthful and comedic, then Ziegfeld who could barely sit up from his chair. I know, its to show that at the end of his life, he was vastly in dept and on the verge of passing on, but where was Burke? She was still by his side, though his dept was left on her and she had to throw herself back into shows and films, she still stayed by his side. Even in his final words he was still giving stage commands as if the show must go on....

Overall, I enjoyed the film, but would love to have seen Rainer character portrayed a little grounded and not as undecided as she was in her actions. ("open the door, close the door, go, stay, call him again, hang up, lets sing once more, im not in the mood) My opinion is based on just watching the movie, not from any notion on how Anna Held really was in her relationship with Ziegfeld. 

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Like everyone has suggested, this is definitely a lighter situation than if the code was not enforced. For instance, two real businessmen, in competition with each other, would not have been so friendly. They both want to hire Miss Held for their shows to make money. During those economic times, they would not have been so chummy.

Everything was so rich and elegant which was a stark comparison to the most of the real world at the time. 

I understand the Hays Code was enforced but they must have changed some of the words to her song. Held sang that she wants “someone to come play with me.” I am little surprised they left much in. 

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Yes, the mood of this clip is life is good.  Even though the depression is was there, people wanted to escape that reality if possible.  

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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 do agree. As many people were experiencing life-altering hardships during the Depression era, it forced upon many to undergo a change towards less. That is to say that the thematic approaches featured in this clip were great examples of successful escapism. For instance, Ziegfeld giving the doorman a five pound note invokes the sense of surplus before the Depression, the international appeal of Ziegfeld and Held gives the movie audience a more worldly perspective than the more 'stuck at home' reality that many were forced to endure and also the abundance of choices starting from the theatre when Held seems to have unlimited choices of wealthy suitors from the audience while singing her number in a stunning gown in a very upper-class theatre.

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

I believe that themes of romance, acceptance and overcoming the odds would be influential. I also see them accompanied with the opulence and elegance of grand set design, hair and wardrobe. The casting of such beautifully aesthetically pleasing actors would be a key approach as well.

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 imagine that the script would call for a bit more realism given that the subject matter deals with business rivals in a time when the downfall of morale and financial abundance in the country was based had stemmed from business. I also imagine the leniency of sex appeal and edgier portrayals of sets, the casting of characters and scenes would've been an easier sell for the movie-going audience to line up and buy tickets by the droves.

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This clip from The Great Ziegfeld conveys an upbeat and animated perspective of life. It uses elements of farce, with fast-paced dialogue, witty and somewhat ridiculous jokes and exaggerated actions and expressions. This is ironic since the film was released during the Depression era. Audiences of the day were looking for an ‘escape’ from the dreary times of the economic low. A movie musical represented a fantasy, a hope, a dream for people.

Farce is a convention of the theatrical style non-naturalism. In fact, I think a lot of movie musicals of the Depression era employed a theatrical approach. The movie studios discovered their talented stars on stage, Broadway and vaudeville. For many Hollywood stars, the theatre had been their training ground.

If it had been filmed prior to the motion picture code being enforced, there may have been a more sexual or seductive undertone to the scene where Held is in her dressing room. It could have shown her undressing or changing her costume and might have included some slightly suggestive or more playful lines. The film generally may have been presented in a more realistic and confronting way without the restrictions of the code.

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I agree that the overall upbeat and carefree attitude was probably not the perspective of the viewing audience, but isn't that why we go to the movies? To leave all our troubles at the door and delve into a world of make believe?  What woman wouldn't want an anonymous suitor to send her a ridiculous expensive bouquet? ("thousands of franks") 

 

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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 felt as if the clip was a bit more "innocent" than the theater was at that time. Held's reaction to the floral arrangement seemed a bit naive for an experienced, celebrated performer who was likely more accustomed to receiving gifts from "stage door Johnnies" and wealthy gentlemen and knew how to play off of those gifts. The clip does show a sunny, naive outlook from an established star of the stage.

2.    Talent and hard work leads to riches and fame, but for a young woman to be successful she needs a good promoter. If she plays her cards well, she just might wind up married to him.

3.     My understanding is that Held and Ziegfeld never married and that the end of their relationship was extremely contentious. The scene were Held realizes that her "husband" has given extravagant gifts to a younger ingenue would likely have led to a pretty nasty fight in the pre-code era (there were a few doozy spats in Broadway Melody) instead of the the somewhat resigned look on Held's face. 

There also seemed to be a bit of a preachy undertone -  alcohol use by starlets leads to the rapid decline of their careers under the influence of "demon rum." over-indulgence is, if not outright sinful,  definitely unacceptable and those who spend extravagantly/live on credit are doomed for a big fall (or wind up being supported by their wives, as it appeared Billie Burke was doing).

I also think the pre-code wardrobe might have been a bit more true-to-life (ie. a tad "scantier") and possibly the backstage life of women on the stage a bit more scandalous than portrayed in this film.

 

 

Vanessa Theme Ament, Ph.D.
Endowed Chair, Telecommunications

Ball State University

 

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It's definitely showing the brighter side of life: everyone has money and nice clothes, and leisure time to use them both. No life in the dust bowl here. But movies are an escape and a sad documentary about the dust bowl, while important, would not be a crowd-pleaser. Themes include the social inferiority of women, even though she has all the power to choose which man; the glamorous life (so money *is* important); the backstage musical; and romance as a driving force. I haven't watched "Broadway Melody" yet, but based on the lecture it seems the backstage scene would've been much more explicit/less implied if it had been filmed pre-code.

side note: the fact that the maid could read English while the actress could not was surprising to me. I guess this is demonstrating that the actress is uneducated and must rely on her beauty to increase her social and economic standing.

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I think being filmed during the depression made a big impact on movies like this one.  One theme of the movie is a lavish spectacle such as the beautiful dress and the men in tails and the beautiful arrangement of orchids . If this movie was pre code the dresses would have be more showy and a lot of skin would have been shown.  Plus manners would have been more sexy and flirty. I have not watched this movie yet and I know I will enjoy it. 

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1. I would imagine this is a brighter side than what life was like at the time. The film clip looks to be set in the early turn of the century, so the depression of the 1930's wasn't an issue that would be apparent in the film. The clip also centers around wealthier people, so they kind of automatically push past the realm of most people's realistic lives. I think the audience at the time was looking for escapism and movies like this, and other musicals with even bigger numbers, were probably perfect to make people forget their problems for a few hours.

2. There seems to be a more lighthearted approach to life in general. There was a big theme of people wanting to be successful on stage and in film. A character seeking stardom could work slightly harder than the rest and end up being a hit. I think that goes along with the first question, of showing a happier and more positive side of life than what was actually happening for most people.

3. The film might have been more risque, with a little more skin being shown. If they were going for realism about Flo Ziegfeld's life, they could have mentioned or alluded to his personal life more. Post-code, movies were made to tiptoe around anything slightly sensitive and gloss over the unpleasant parts.

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Miss Held's song is the first clue we have to the frivolity of this clip. She sings about playing which is something the Depression Era did not allow. When she discovers the elephant full of orchids, she is fascinated with the cost of the flowers and how extraordinary this gesture is considering the state of the Depression Era. Considering this clip was produced after Code, Miss Held is dressed from head to toe. Had this been pre-code, I'm sure she would have been in a slip or at least a robe that was opened to show cleavage.

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1. The movie paints the picture of a grand lifestyle. This type of lifestyle was not as common during the Great Depression, and provided the audience with an escape into a make-believe reality. 

2. Depression movies usually seemed to follow the lives of wealthy people. Again, this gave audiences an escape to a fancy world, and they could forget about their own issues for a couple of hours. 

3. If the musical had been pre-code, I think that the number may have incorporated a striptease. 

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I loved watching this clip.  I have not seen this movie but would definitely like to watch the entire film.  You can see how this film was a production reflective of the times and the effect of the Code in the way it was depicted.  Very interesting.

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It does seem like a brighter version of reality for the time however there are times that the "privileged" don't always see the poverty or the downtrodden so the film could also have been shot with the perspective of what those particular characters would see and perceive around them.  

I definitively think she would have been wearing a lot less clothing on stage and have immediately stripped out of it upon getting to the dressing room.

One thing I did notice that is a little off topic.  Did anyone else notice that the lily's were in an extremely large Elephant Vase?  I know that a lot of the theaters of the day were very opulent and often used exotic themes, often asian and with Elephants.  I wonder if the theater that was used by Ziegfeld was decorated with Elephants?  Or if there was another inside joke or meaning behind it. 

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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 it provides a brighter perspective. Why? It’s a musical a fantasy a way to add joy to your life in th middle of the Depression.
  2. What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals? Happy endings, romanticed life. Fun.
  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.? A French sow girl would show more. Would have been more innuendo or suggestive conversation.

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