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Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

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

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Exactly why I fell in love with musicals, it definitely lifts the spirit from a time that was filled with worries. Still the way I choose the movies I watch today.  I love a movie that has been singing and dancing on my way out of the theater.  ?

More rivalry between the male characters, more flirting by the female actor.  I love the lighthearted approach to the competition.

Pre-code, maybe skimpier costume, more explicit flirting. Also, it would have been interesting to know more of the real story, although the movie probably would not have retained its lightheartedness. 

 

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1. This clip certainly shows the brighter perspective of life than eat was realistic in this depression Era. Just listen to the song she sings; it's ridiculously upbeat and carefree. She pranced around the stage with a mirror to play with her audience, making them laugh and smile. And then when she's in her dressing room, we realize that the negotiations between the two men to hire her are going to have nothing to do with a legitimate business conversation. There's no talk of salary or benefits, which realistically a performer would want ro know during the depression era. Anna is given flowers, so we know that the 'negotiations' will primarily be flirtatious and sweet.

2. In future depression musicals, I expect to see the same thing. There will be a playful rivalry between two men for the love of a girl, and all of the song and dance numbers will be fun and happy. Nothing about the movie will represent the reality of the depression because the audience will want to go to the cinema to escape all of that.

3. If this movie was pre-code, the first change in this clip would be the song. Anna would be singing something slow and meaningful to capture the audiences sympathy. Her attire would also be changed to make her more relatable. So perhaps she sings a ballad about her personal troubles in the depression wearing a simple dress that can be found out any department store (something affordable), that way her audience in the film AND the cinema viewers can better understand and connect. 

Second, the rivalry between the two men to hire her would be based on business and not love. They would present her with a deal or contract, and she'll be forced to make a prudent BUSINESS decision. Maybe we would be given more of the real story of Haul and Ziegfeld, even though it's not light hearted.

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1.  In the clip, everyone seems to be prosperous.  Everyone from the audience in the theater watching the singer, her attendant, and the doorman seems to be well-to-do despite their position in life.  Even the doorman attempts to return five pounds given to him by Ziegfield.  By watching the clip, all economic worries are non-existent.

2.  Filmmakers during this era used pure entertainment for escapism.  The costumes, the music, the performances were pure entertainment, allowing Depression era audiences to escape the hardships of their daily existence if only for a few hours.  Additionally, the interaction between Ziegfield and the doorman and the musical performer and her attendant does not stress any class divisions.  The "servants" seem very comfortable interacting with the "aristocrats."

3.  I think the singer could have easily performed her routine as a bubble dancer in a burlesque house instead of an upscale theater.  Not sure if that would have passed the code.

 

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Three small things:  The lushness of the flowers, the costume and the curls on the star all are beyond the dreary reality for many in the audience.  The quip of the rich man in reply to the working man re the money is lighthearted.  Pre-code the "play with me" sequence would have been less innocent, more seductive in tone; and Anna Held's costume would have been much briefer.

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I completely agree that the clip depicts a brighter perspective on life, compared to the day-to-day life of the movie goers of the 1930's. The element of competition on the entertainment sphere is treated almost like a childish game. Money is superficial and that is exemplified in the lavish costumes and theater sets. Visually we are transported into a black and white world full of expenses, most of which the public attending the movie were not able to have. This was common on the movie musicals of the era; big musical numbers, money all around, and drag-to-riches storylines were treated and presented to the audience as a form of escapism. Not to remind them what they do not have but to present them a world of "HAVING". 

From the clip it is pretty clear that the film is a Post-Code production. Decorum is one of the stronger elements on these post-code productions. On this clip the musical number, instead big group of girls in tiny outfits, we have one head-to-toe covered girl singing. The dressing room scene is light, it is implied that Alma Held is going to undress but it is no shown. We are then directed to the feeling of admiration towards Held's talent from the bouquet of flowers, instead of letting the viewers "admire" an undressing scene. 

It is really interesting how movies teach us HOW to see. While taking us on a full, money-driven, tour on a life that is clearly not our own, they keep us grounded on how we should behave as an individual on society. 

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Before answering the instructor's questions it is is important to note that Rainer's name should be spelled correctly. After all she won an Oscar for this performance.

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

Looking at the 3 minute clip alone, the mood is definitely lighthearted. but the situation does not appear to be one which cannot be depicted this way. The audience probably assumes that Ziegfeld is a sort of con man. Since he is most likely on the make so to speak a lighter touch could be employed. Powell's portrayal clearly conveys that he is in a hurry to snag some new talent for his American production and needs to be quick and use some novel approach in order to undercut Billings' similar, better laid out quest.

The director signals the tension between the two impresarios by placing them at opposite ends of the audience in solitary boxes, from which they can view each other with suspicion and disdain. The Anna Held character is shown as frivolous, inclined to make important career choices based on receiving an impressive array of flowers, rather than solid judgment.

In my view, nothing about the depicition of the situation presented in the clip is inappropriately lighthearted.

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

It would be difficult to judge all depression era musicals by this 1936, MGM offering. First, MGM films of every genre had a glossier, more polished appearance. Even gangster films, for example "A Free Soul," make life look a lot prettier than other gangster films, "Public Enemy" (Warner Brothers). Second, MGM shot their leading ladies from different camera angles and with different lighting to make them more glamorous, to say nothing of their makeup and costumes. Third, MGM scamps, such as Ziegfeld here, are played by uber suave, charming leading men such as Powell, or Clark Gable ("Manhattan Melodrama"), rather than the grittier, less gorgeous Edward G Robinson or James Cagney, who was also a great musical star.

Since "The Great Ziegfeld" is essentially a backstage musical, we can expect that many musical films show the effort and drama that goes into making musical entertainment. From all of it's productions of whatever genre, we can also assume that MGM will show life from its most visually appealing view.

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 example

From the little I know of Ziegfeld's story, I imagine that a pre code look at his life would show his lack of probity in business, womanizing, and unconventional living arrangements with Held. From a cursory look at Held's sad existence, we could expect more of her struggles to overcome anti-semitism in Europe to be shown. The 3 hour film could also look at the fact that she had very little talent and was not well-received by critics at the time. Although the film might have been trying to convey this.

A look at Rainer's performance shows either that she is portraying Held as having just a modicum of talent, or that she herself has a small amount of appeal. The first time I saw this film I as surprised at how unappealing Rainer was in a role for which she won an Academy Award. Not only is her part small, in my view she is not at all charming, nor does she sing and dance with any ability. So, I assume Rainer either was trying to show Held in this manner, or Rainer was simply miscast in the role. 

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I love this movie, been a while since I last seen it ( I also love how her French accent just gave her song this alluring, beautiful care-free like feel and just was a spectacular performance) but as to it being a brighter perspective of life then it being realistic, I would say when anyone wants to see a movie they want the move to draw them in. To forget about life's worries even for an hour or more, For the time period no I wouldn't believe it to be realistic, in some ways it is a little, but the way the characters are in this short clip, they seem like they are going about their lives sort of care free like, while in real life The Depression was a terrible time in America's history. Still the movie gives us some hope as we look through the life of a man living out his dream to be this very Famous Broadway Theater Producer and treated with Great Performances and a great movie     

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The clip is interesting, the first thing I noticed really was the song was not very good. Here we are watching a musical, where you would think they would want to show the best talent. But the song is lacking in melody, lyrics and honestly a point. It's a silly song and the action with the mirror is amateur for someone that both "big producers" are vying for in their show. Again sometimes you have to suspend reality for the fun and lightheartedness of a musical, but at least make the performance of the song worth the film. Of course the woman is played as a weaker character with no understanding of the world or the "business." Which to be honest I feel women who where stars in vaudeville probably knew how to control the situations a little better then...ah I can't read the English words...bit... :) I don't know that I've ever seen this movie. Though once I saw William Powell and the Wizard from Wizard of Oz I was like well they are good actors maybe it's worth watching. 

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1. Attending the show where Ms Held is performing is something few in the movie audience would have been able to afford, let alone the five pound tip (close to $7 in US money) Ziegfeld gives to the doorman, never mind leaving a bouquet of orchids to someone.   Those actions certainly reflect a ‘life is grand’ theme which the audience at the time wouldn’t necessarily have felt.  

2.  While sometimes it is helpful seeing films about those less fortunate than ourselves (it helps us to see that our own life isn’t as bad as that up on the screen) in the era of the Depression seeing the opulent and the wealthy allowed us to entertain fantasies about how we might be if only we could catch that lucky break.  Of course, there are plenty of Depression era musicals where catching that lucky break is the entire theme—writing that certain song that would be enough to build a musical around or becoming the lead dancer.  Seeing those more fortunate than us and their frivolities lets us forget about all those unpaid bills or the boss breathing down our back as the deadline comes closer, etc.

3.  Backstage in a pre-code might have had more people (specifically women) in various states of undress while the lyrics might have been filled with more risqué double entendres.  Would the real details of Zeigfeld and Held’s relationship have been revealed?  That all depends on what the filmmaker was looking for: greater laughs or greater drama.

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  1. I do think that this particular scene is not realistic, but provides a means of escape, because it does not mention the Depression itself and the tough economic times. No mention is made of lack of job, money, housing or food. Also, the set and costumes are very opulent.
  2. The lighthearted atmosphere, the opulent set and elegant costumes worn by the main actors in the film. I think this was carried over to other depression era musicals.
  3. If this had been filmed pre-code, I think that Luise Rainer's costume would have had more cleavage showing, and perhaps she would have removed more than just her hat as she entered the dressing room.

 

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I feel that this clip does show the brighter side of the depression. To have a dozen orchids sent to a dressing room would have been expensive. 

As to the theme compared to other depression era musicals it is spot on. A women must choose between two men, and then her career.

This is after the code enforcement, which toady has been done away with almost completely. The assistant starts to loosen the dress, but stops before anything is reviled. 

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It was definitely a lighter prospective. The first scene is William Powell throwing money around and making jokes about trying to lose weight. The light-heartedness of it brings to mind a line from the Shirley Temple Story that the Wonderful World of Disney aired 16 years ago, "people go to the movies to forget their problems."

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The character Anna Held was dressed very frilly and her surroundings are soft and delightful which suggest that there is no hardship in her or her audience's life. There is no discussion about the politics of the time. The audience is only meant to focus on her deciding whether or not to meet Florenz Ziegfeld. The theme of romance and looking at how a woman must decide between two paths of life. Another theme is how women are not seen as independent but have to be reliant on a man in order to advance her future. During the section of the clip where she is in her dressing room, pre-code would have had her undress more as she is trying to decide what to do. The entire body of a person would be filmed rather than showing just the upper half. 

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Yes I definitely think the clip would be more of a brighter perspective simply because the hardships many might be going through. But then many of those who could afford to even see a movie during this time would have it better than some others. 

   They also could have very well went with the theme of some women in the audience being a tad insulted that their male companions of the evening were overly enamored with Anna’s charms.  

    If this was pre-code her routine definitely could have been a little bit more seductive possibly with more more suggestive winks pwehaos to her two admirers.  It’s all small visuals that lead to one larger perceived outcome.

 

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Thanks to everyone who offered advice for finding the clip.  I did find it eventually!

As to the questions, I've never been one to go into a deep analysis of a movie, especially when I'm watching it.  I'm in it to be entertained, as were the audiences of the time.  In that respect, the bright and breezy tone of the clip does its job.  Like another poster, I was disturbed by the misspelling of Luise Rainer's name.  I can be picky about that sort of thing.

Agreed that pre-code there would have been more skin on display, and probably more blatant flirtation. One lavish touch that I particularly liked was the elephant-shaped vase that the flowers were in.

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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?

Oh, yes indeedy!  Everyone looks beautiful; lovely clothes, hair perfectly groomed and coiffed, appearing that money really isn't a concern (especially with the "trying to lose weight" response to the 5 pound note question).  

 

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

I imagine similar themes; keeping things lighthearted, any societal/financial unrest on the down-low.

 

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 Ms. Held's costume would look quite different; more risque, and more in line with her lyrics ("come play with me").  Perhaps burlesque!  

 

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1. Absolutely. If you contrast the stylistic techniques in the clip with The Broadway Melody - which was made right before the Depression - everything about them has an escapist quality meant to keep you fully immersed in the world of the film: the soft focus of the camera lens, the incidental music covering all of the transitions, the way money flows through the characters' fingers  (no one is buying that many orchids at one time in 1936!). Some of these things might be attributed to advances in filmmaking in the seven years between the two films, but Ziegfield definitely covers its subject matter with a much lighter and less cynical touch than in Melody. There is no real struggle in this film.

 

2.Definitely the theme of how money and power become currency on multiple levels. Ziegfield and Billings are at odds with each other, so the former is willing to grease the wheels, as it were, to push things in his favour. He bribes the doorman with a five pound note to get information on his rival, then he buys an exorbitant amount of orchids to woo Anna both professionally and, I'm surmising, romantically. As to the woman's perspective, this is all taken with a very blasé approach. Women already don't have it very good at this time socially, with or without the Depression, so having two very wealthy impresarios fighting over you seems like a pretty great prospect for some financial stability.

 

3. The most telling aspect of the influence of the Hays Code in Ziegfield is examining what Anna is wearing on stage. If this film were made at the time of Melody, for example, her costume would be exorbitantly skimpier; the full-length gown with a very structured, unmoving neckline would be replaced with something almost resembling underwear, and staying far less securely draped on the actor's body as she moved. Nothing is at risk of "accidentally" popping out in the dress we DO see. As this is a "backstage musical", as mentioned in the lecture, these films were often used pre-Code as a way to have the women undress on camera. Here in Ziegfield, the idea of undressing backstage is merely mentioned, but never actually occurs in front of the audience.

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I absolutely agree that in depression times every aspect of daily life was made to be light hearted and happy to take people away from the hard times that were going on in the early 30’s. Life was hard on everyone so to make a movie consisting of fairy tale outcomes, in a sense, was the norm for studios to convey to the audience. In Ziegfeld and Billings characters, the sense of light hearted dialogue between the two was obviously clear across the real spectrum of cut throat big business, particularly show business in the golden age. 

 

I absolutely enjoy every film William Powell has acted in so it’s hard for me to be a real critic but this movie envokes every sense of studios trying to create an escape for their audience. 

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The song we heard is a light, frothy fun excursion into flirting with her audience.  They are well dressed and completely opposite of what the Depression meant, thus creating an escape for the movie going public.  It's as if a small percentage of the population escaped the Depression and could afford a night on the town.

Perhaps one of "will I get a job?" or "how can I get ahead in life- who will offer me the best offer?"  There's the rivalry between producers that will offer the performers a chance, only the performers had better choose wisely or suffer a consequence (such as losing a job or chance to perform).

Had this been a pre-code film, "Anne Held" would have been dressed less showing her legs and physique.  The dressing room would have had her in undergarments and the camera would show off the legs.  Maybe the banter with the doorman would have had a double entendre or two.

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Musicals of this era provided a method of escape for many Americans and this film was no different.  Yes, I believe it definitely portrayed life as more upbeat and gay.   When people went to the movies, they wanted a version of life different from their own.

Several of the musicals released during the depression did seem to carry similar themes:  portraying lives of the day’s “rich and famous” or, in some cases, showing the “little guy” triumph (seeing his or her dream fulfilled).  Main characters in musicals of the era worked together and showed respect for one another even when in competition, as Billings and Ziegfeld did in this example.  I think that that the darker side of people and their lives would be “glossed over” or realitively ignored (as was the case in this film).

Pre-code, Anna Held would most likely have been more scantily dressed (weren’t all the Ziegfeld girls?).  Her song is  in itself a double entendre and, pre-code, may have been played up.   

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Yes, I do believe the film offers a brighter perspective, rather than the seriousness demanded by those tough times. That could be criticized as a kind of 'alienation' - and I agree, though I think it's a necessary one, since art provides a delight for people to keep on going cheery and persevering.  

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I want to give my opinion on the code enforcement. I think once that started the movies became less sincere and real. Just my opinion. I am enjoying this first class 

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Daily Dose #1

1)  The clip is aboard, taking the depression and all it's sadness out of the viewer's mind for the moment.  

2)  The clip is showing the basis for the theme of the entire movie.  "Leave your worries behind for a bit, and enjoy a feel-good moment."

3)Pre-code, Anna Held, may have been in some state of undress as the conversation with her maid proceeds.

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1.    Brighter perspective of life:

Yes, given the nature of Anna Held's flitty and flirtatious character. She was a major start at the time, certainly working hard and dealing with a lot of troublesome situations as a solo female act, yet in this film they chose to make her a bit ditzy and unaware. Even in France one would have heard of Florenz Ziegfeld? I suspect this character was used not only for factual history, yes, but to elevate our perception of Ziegfeld's ego and power. It also sets up Billie Burke to be a woman of far more "substance".

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

I don't quite understand this question, but I'll give it a shot! If this scene were in another musical of the era, say an Astaire-Rogers film, I would expect Held to be more suspicious, more layered in her personality, more suggestive of making trouble in the future, and I would expect Ziegfeld to make a flirtatious personal appearance in her dressing room.

3.   Filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code?

Similarly to my answer in question number two, I think Ziegfeld would have shown up in the dressing room and pled his case. There might have been physical contact, and certainly erotically suggestive conversation. Held DEFINITELY would have already begin the undressing process before he came in.

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Early 1930s, public coming off of a decade of false prosperity, anything goes, top of the world, 1920s. People, I believe are yearning for the good old days and hoping that they will return. Musicals in this period are a great example of escapism, taking your mind off your cares and woes.  We see The Great Ziegfeld is in a period prior to the depression, his follies being produced from 1907 to 1931, he died in 1932. I find that movie is released in 1936, only five years after his last show, an interesting fact.  

We are watching the life of a man still very much alive in the memories of his audience, performers and fans. As musicals are fantasy of real life, so were Ziegfelds Follies. 

In retrospect we see the Bright and Light themes of these musicals as a reflection of the Depression. I wonder if the studios actually set out to make them this way? Entertainment, meaning to up lift the spirit. How much did the post code influence as far as content, beyond the obvious costume differences?

Thoughts?

 

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