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Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

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

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Most Scandalous Of All

The most interesting thing I took from watching this clip and reading the background information was that the real life Ziegfeld led completely violated the Hollywood Motion Picture Code. He lived with a woman that he wasn’t married to, the code states that the motion picture couldn’t portray that. He was divorced, couldn’t show that. She led a childhood that was hard, couldn’t portray that. But yet, they made a Depression Era film to show “the bright side of life”. How bizarre!!?

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Watching the clip you don't really consider the questions but they really do provide a different perspective.  For example, this is still a time of depression and extravagances are out of reach for most people but the movie allows a perspective for the viewer to enjoy a respite from their own challenges by experiencing "having money" in the movie.  Who wouldn't think that "thousands of francs" would be an extravagance out of the reach of most viewers.  But the movie provides that brief respite.  It does what movies are supposed to do in that regard.  

Not sure if this is exactly related to the post-depression era but I do think that the "girl plays one guy against another" will be a recurrent theme.  

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The clip does exhibit a brighter perspective of life.  The emotions don't seem to run too deep, everything is pretty shallow.  Anna Held and the doorman both seem fairly naive.

I anticipate to see much more singing and dancing!  Also, more men competing against each other and more naive women.

It it had been pre-code, the producers would have met at the dressing room while Anna Held was undressing.

 

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1. Depression-era musicals were pure escapism - I can't think of any offhand that portrayed life as really experienced by the majority of the filmgoers. I think the filmgoers wanted to dive into a beautiful, happier place inhabited by beautiful people in gorgeous clothes living sumptuously without a serious care in the world. Two hours of relief from reality - and the studios delivered that relief. Five pound tips, exotic, expensive flowers to impress a lady and business decisions made on a whim - its another world. Who wouldn't want to live in that world?

2.    I would anticipate the same approach in this time period. Musicals were being used to uplift a nation with a lot of headaches not reinforce the ugly world folks were dealing with. Also the dream of many young people was to make it on Broadway and the musicals fed on that dream - making it a bright, exciting, carefree world - no warts at all.

3.    For this particular clip - in a pre-code situation - that costume would have been more revealing (considering this  depicted a  theater in  Europe in the early 1900s which probably was more free-spirited than an American stage show). The song is fairly explicit - come play with me  - so that would stay but maybe her singing, facial expressions and gestures would be underlining the double-meaning of the song much more. Finally, when she returns to her dressing room - in pre-code she would have removed more than just her hat for sure. 

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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 that a brighter perspective was shown. It didn't seem realistic, especially since Ziegfeld was highly materialistic and just threw money around. This is a complete 180 against the reality of the Depression and how much despair and chaos took place at that time. The upper class was more frivolous and decadent in films, in which they looked down at those who were poor or those who didn't have as much money as they did. When you see films, especially musicals like 'Great Ziegfeld' today, you do get the sense that many people thought money was meant to be spent and not saved. This was a big slap in the face to the working/lower class, who struggled during the Depression.

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

I think that the aspect of 'devil may care' attitude was displayed. According to the clip, the future is the future, let's worry about that later and focus on now/the present. Characters didn't seem to have any qualms or scruples to lavishness and over-indulgence.  They just didn't care about the consequences or repercussions of what the 'finer things in life' actually brought.

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.

First of all, there would have been a little more skin shown, especially with Anna Held undressing or being undress by her maid. In terms of the orchids, either Ziegfeld or Billings would have been waiting in her dressing room with them, and probably trying to seduce her. Also, the song lyrics would have been a little more risque. There would have been more unsavory details about the marriage between Anna and Ziegfeld, since their marriage was common-law.

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I watched the clip the first time and I picked up a few of the things the questions posed. I then went to the message board and started reading the posts. One went into great detail, answering each question in order, giving insights that I was not aware of. So I went back and re-watched the clip, paying attention the costumes, the extras, the easily overlooked sexual innuendo to fool the censors.

1. It definitely exhibits a life that was not reality. Everyones clothes were immaculate, even the extras. The nonchalant way in which Ziegfeld addresses the handing off the money (more than his day's wages at the time) to the doorman for freely giving him the information he needed showed life is great, let's spread it around. The theater was ornate and held was bedecked with jewelry. The hat, which at that time, how tall ones hat reflected one's wealth. Notice she never takes it off. Her dressing room is completely unrealistic. First the size. I don't care how big a star you are no theater has the room to give anyone a room that large. Second, the rooms decor spoke of wealth and overindulgence. Also, her maid's clothes are brand new and she speaks better than most maids would have. And let's not forget the orchids. Who gives orchids? And that many? It's ridiculous. Exactly.

2.  Wealth or the obtaining of wealth and status. The theme of two wealthy men vying for a poor girl. Anything that either treats wealth as normal, but the wealthy could be loony, pretending not to be wealthy, making others wealthy to prove he doesn't need it.

3.Well, first off, I want to talk about some of the things they did to subvert the censors. The suggestiveness of the song is an obvious device, but what I didn't notice the first time, but could only laugh when spotting it the second time, was the placement of the mirror as it hung on a chain from her neck. It draws your eyes directly to her crotch as it bounces around her pelvis with it's semi-phallic shape.

Pre-code, everything good have been changed to a more realistic scene. The doorman probably would not have chosen her eyes on which to compliment and the tip would have been penny. The rivalry between the men could have been hostile. The singer could be a more realistic performer from France; sexier, more revealing costume. She could be escaping from pre-war France with whatever wealth she still possessed. Since it is a story about Ziegfeld and Held they could write it more closely to reality.

 

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1. I agree with P above in that the movies were at that time especially, for all to escape. To escape from the depression. Of course such musicals uplifted those in near or actual despair.--if you could afford even the few pennies for such a viewing.

2. Themes of "making it big," and "girl meets boy," are prevalent in early musicals. In addition, elaborate costumes and sets, with great music over story (this reverses later).

3. Pre code: use of animals in films; more revealing costumes perhaps. The undressing by the maid--not  as revealing. 

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1. The Great Ziegfeld definitely prefers escapism over reality. This isn't surprising as Hollywood offered escapism during the Great Depression, a time when many people flocked to movie theaters to escape from their depressing reality. The film seems streamed from an alternate universe where everyone is beautiful and morally difficult dilemmas are replaced with easy-to-solve problems with inconsequential solutions: Louise Rainer going with William Powell is the perfect solution here since he is the main character, and in escapist land, likable main characters are the center of the universe. 

2. I anticipate a capitalistic message in Depression musicals- that if you work hard enough, you can earn not only your dreams but also money as well, thus implying that the system wasn't completely broken. Another theme I sense in Depression musicals is that life is simple and carefree- everyone is gorgeously clothed in costumes with bright lights illuminating their beauty and no real worries are to be found in this alternate reality. You don't see bureaucratic abuse, human flaws or devastating death in this type of movie as it would be depressing to the audience. Instead, you see innocents maintaining their purity and society being morally simplified instead of being morally complex. There are no worries in this type of movie, but only pure fantasy where everything goes right for the characters; dreams are fulfilled here instead of being amended or crushed. 

3. Almost every post mentions that had The Great Ziegfeld been made back in the Pre-Code Era, sex would have been directly implied and that Louise Rainer would have been showing more cleavage/skin. What I notice is that the female character doesn't have much power as her suitors have over her; Held is shown to be illiterate in English, easily impressionable, and much more demure in both appearance and decision-making. In a Pre-Code movie, the female character would have been the world-weary lead, both outsmarting and seducing her male costars. Take Gold Diggers Of 1933, for example- where it is told from the gold digger's point of view. It is the women that have problems, take action on their dilemmas, solve their predicaments, and earn their happy ending all while retaining their femininity as well as their street smart survival skills. In an immediate Post-Code movie, women rarely had juicy roles that explored not only their sexuality but also their struggle to survive in a cynical environment. Held isn't the story's focus, but is instead an object for Ziegfeld and Billings to gain as part of their enterprise. What this movie's saying is that women aren't capable of making their own decisions independently from men, but they have to be taken advantage of instead. The code neutered the complexity of feminine characters to the point that they became objects/obstacles for men to obtain instead.

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First time blogging on a forum and should be able to learn all the ins and outs of it soon.

1.    I have seen this movie many times and yes the clip in itself does show a brighter perspective considering the time it was being shown. The elite with their tails and furs going out to the theatre, silk costumes, careless, frivolous spending, i.e. tipping the doorman and thousands of francs just for orchids.

The banter and friendship between Frank Morgan and William Powell are funny and endearing. Morgan finds the talent and Powell takes the talent. However, as you watch the movie it does deal with portions of reality and the depression which are quite disheartening.

2.    I feel that other Depression movies, especially the musicals, were there to have people escape from the hardship and troubles of their daily lives where they can go and forget about everything.

3.   Pre-Code may have dealt a little more with the relationship of Ziegfeld and Held considering they had not married and she was very underage. I think I heard 14 or 15 years old.  They may have also dealt with his womanizing a bit more.

 

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I do believe the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life, like many other musicals. Especially the “cordial enemies”, which are very often seen in musicals (or 1930s movies in general, at least from what I’ve seen!). The “unrealistic” side of the genre is one of the reasons why many people don’t want to watch musicals, but what's wrong with that? Romance, comedy, music, and stunning visual metaphors are often used to depict a “brighter perspective” on life which we love, but I also think the musical genre criticizes society in its own way, without making it seem too obvious. It makes fun of “real life” and gets away with it, with catchy tunes and beautiful dances included. If that isn’t entertainment! ?

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1. This presents an idealized version of show business, definitely more than the reality. The clip deals with characters that are all well off enough that money is either ignored (as not an issue) or thrown around carelessly- as with Ziegfeld's tip to the doorman. The theater is also extravagant which is strange considering the plot suggests the Anna Held hasn't had her big break yet. Held also represents an "ideal" for a female in show business. Her costume is fairly conservative and white (or at least appears white) which suggests a purity and innocence which is furthered by her dialogue backstage. Although there are some sexual undertones within her song on the surface it seems playful and childish. The same sort of childish nature is shown in the exaggerated expression of Billings (when Held directs the light to Ziegfeld)- which by the way seems like a light way to show their fears of the other gaining acclaim and the spotlight. 

2. The very premise of the scene is a theme played out repeatedly through musicals- a young naive, but talented female becomes the pawn of powerful men, usually in an opportunistic pursuit of power (but as with the brighter version of life the focus seems to be her career and not theirs). The way that power of characters is approached is also interesting. It seems that Held holds (couldn't help it) the power since its her decision whether to talk to Ziegfeld or Billings, yet she's portrayed as ditzy and in swayed very easily from her commitment to talk to Billings by flowers. 

3. In the very beginning of the clip the doorman focuses on Held's eyes in his complement which is very censored and polite, likely not the reality of how such a conversation would go. Additionally the costume of Held is modest, much more than it would have been pre-censorship. There's also an emphasis on etiquette since neither man goes backstage after the performance they send flowers or rely on previous correspondence to set up a meeting. Also in Held's dressing room she only takes off her hat and no other performers are shown backstage at various stages of dressing.  

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This clip definitely gives a brighter perspective of life than might be expected. The theater is filled with well dressed ladies and gentlemen, something probably not common during the Depression. The large bouquet of orchids was also quite ostentatious and would have been a frivolous waste of money. The fact that she sings “come and play with me” gives the feeling of having no cares, definitely not the reality of the time. It gives the audience a chance to escape the reality of their lives for a bit.

The theme of two well off gentlemen vying for attention of a beautiful lady is a theme I would expect to be repeated in other Depression era musicals. I would also anticipate that women would be employed in musicals of this time, not only as minor domestic characters, but in major roles. 

If this had been made in the pre-code era, I would expect to see a lot more flesh in the dressing room scene. Also, as the main character was supposed to be a French actress who was all the rage, I think she would have had much more revealing costumes. Held sings “come play with me” which could have been quite bawdy rather than the more innocent rendition she gives.

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1.  I found this clip did show a very lighthearted and glamorous perspective of this time period.  All the characters were dressed well, the two leads were made up to look very glamorous in their nice clothes, which may not have been the case for the average American at the time.  The lead character had no problem leaving a 5 pound note with the front doorman and purchased a very expensive flower arrangement, again most likely not the norm for most people of this era.

2.  The whole scene gave me the "everything is going to be ok" feeling to it.  I would assume that many people attending the movies (which may have been a considerable expense for some people during the depression) wanted to escape to a reality that was a little lighter and brighter.  I think this will be a theme found throughout movies of this time- transporting movie goers to a little escape from their lives. 

3.  The final minute of the scene really drove home the point about the motion picture code for me!  The lead actress was in a very chaste long-sleeved dress, complete with large hat, for most of the scene.  At the end, her maid moves to unbutton the dress, but the scene ends before she changes out of her costume. 

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In the dressing room scene, I feel the objective was to make everything look beautiful, such as her dress, so she would be admired for how she looked.  The musical number gave us a glimpse of her personality and the connection between she and Ziegfield.  I feel she is portrayed somewhat as an innocent (although as was noted, she really wasn't.)

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1. The clip definitely points to a brighter side of life. Everything about the entire scene is playful. Held’s voice is lilting both as she sings and comments about the flowers and possibility of meeting “Jr Ziegfeld.” The flowers almost seem like they are intoxicating enough to change her mind so that she will see the unknown man before her scheduled visitor. 

2. Like so many musicals of this era, there always seems to be rival suitors who set up conflicts and problems to come. At a time like the Depression, this rivalry will create a multitude of possibilities for our lady. “Choice” was one thing most Americans couldn’t afford during this era so the notion of “possibility” becomes uplifting. 

3. The thing that grabbed me was the use of the mirror in the musical number. It creates a spotlight on individual members of the audience in a “peek-a-boo” voyeuristic way. In this case the woman is doing the peeping. Don’t know if that would survive after 1934!  Then there is the “dressing room.” She doesn’t really need to take anything off because we know that this room is purposed for that. Then there are the flowers...open, ready and scented. Erotic in their own rights. The funny part of the dressing room scene was the content of the card that came with the flowers. Nothing romantic...more like business advice. 

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The tone of this film is very light compared to the realities of that era.  Also, I found her costume to be unrealistic as if it were true to life at that time, it would be a more scantily clad number.  Held would also be portrayed more as a vixen than an innocent wide eyed girl and Ziegfeld would have been portrayed as a man who’s intentions were (probably) less than honorable.

I assume that the light bright fluffy feel of the movies were to transport everyone from the reality of the day to day unpleasantness that they lived.  It became a form of escape and the code made sure it didn’t offend those people with more puritanical senses.

Her dress covering the amount it did and not even showing her dress being unzipped shows that the code overcompensated for what they considered risqué at that time.  In an effort to “correct” what they saw as an issue, they took out the realness of the film.

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In watching the clip from 'The Great Zigfield' and seeking a comparison to a movie similar in tone and subject but without the code, I thought of the most recent musical, box office smash - coincidentially, also a super softened look at an early leader in show business "The Greatest Showman". 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQWZK5U233s

The differences here are subtle, but are- to me- interesting. In the Zigfield clip, the subtext is flirtatious and a little ridiculous. As the professor mentioned, it is kind of silly - the song, the actors' double takes and movements, even the song and 'Little Bo Peep' costume. In the more recent film, the subtext is a little darker - it hints at (spoilers here) possible infidelity and possibly sex. Elsewhere in the more recent film, we have two characters who, we can assume, might be an inter-racial couple. Even the songs- from the flirtatious older song to the more adult, heavier song in the updated film - everything in the new film feels more comfortable with emotions (even if those emotions are suuppper clumsily portrayed). 

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I agree that this scene certainly would be the "escape" needed during the time period. Ms Held was delightfully coy during her song and her comments about Ziegfeld being a "little boy" would be seen as sweet and naive. Had the code not been in force, I am sure that the costuming would have been much more revealing during the song, and she certainly would have been in some stage of undress with her maid while they discussed the beautiful flowers, the note, and the gentlemen's intentions. 

As far as the themes? Money equals power it seems. The orchards costing thousands of francs; handing the door man a 5 pound note (clever line about losing weight!) all point to that. 

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Had to think about my response to this.

1.  Yes, this is a brighter perspective of life.  First, it takes place at an earlier time to the Depression and you see Ziegfield lavishly spending at a time when money was often very tight, i.e., the 5 pound tip and the huge bouquets of orchids.

2.  Many, if not all, post-code productions seem to not make any mention of the Depression and seem to keep the subject matter of the production very light-hearted. 

3.  The pre-code films I have seen show chorus girls in very skimpy clothing and in Gold Diggers of 1933 actually titillate with shadow images of the girls undressing on the stage.  Also, ladies seemed to answer their doors in clingy robes rather than fully dressed.  Also, accepting extravagant gifts from men who weren't family (this is a much earlier time period) and maybe a little hanky-panky and not have the woman be made to do some type of penance before the end of the film.  Such behavior was ok for men, but not for women in the post-code ear.

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Yes it has a very brighter perspective especially where Ziegfeld gives a big tip, in hard times that tip would have been a weeks salary, I do not believe money would have been given out so freely. Her outfit is definitely code related since Burlesque showed a lot of leg and cleavage. 

 

The Themes of the time would be Light-Hearted, and whimsy, anything that would not remind them of how hard life was at that time.

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I have not seen very many early musicals so i am looking for quite a bit of knowledge to gain. I enjoyed this clip and look forward to tuning into The Broadway Melody tomorrow night.

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

I think this clip shows a good amount of obvious joy being portrayed. How can one not smile at flowers at the same time dismissing the guy who sent (jr is he a little boy? hahaha) only to agree to meet up with him. Lifts one spirits and brings a common ground.

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

I see a good balance of light and dark. This was not a very successful time in the world and there were a lot of struggles for many people but music and dancing is a feel good contagion. This is the beginning of pulling people out of their lives and into a couple hours of solid entertainment.

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 expected to see a bit more skin and not have the lady seem quite so uptight about herself and her surroundings. Its hard to imagine a women's roll to just look pretty and act like a lady when we do so much more today.

 

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I agree that it gives a brighter perspective then that which is going on in the world at that time. I think that is what movies do. They transform you to a different place. Sometimes it is a place that is not the truth. Hey we all need that every now and then.

The theme of most of the musicals at that time was just for you to have fun and to escape.

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1 - I agree, the own Musicals presents joyfull songs with a certain inocence, just like in this clip, that make people forget their troubles.

2 -  Like I said, friendly songs.

3 - Well, I think it would be a pre-code, they will put daring subjects in the movie, like that: the Anna's number would be a thing like daring and sexy and the Ziegfeld's request would be a double meaning.

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As to how this film would have been different had it been pre-code.  First, I believe her outfit onstage would have been more revealing, as would it have been offstage when she received the flowers.  Probably in some state of undress.  Also, the song she sung was suggestive, but would probably have been more blatantly so in the pre-code era.

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