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Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

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

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1. This clip definitely shows an more idealistic view of life that distracts from the realities of the day. The fact that Ziegfeld can afford to tip the man five pounds and that Anna Held is performing in front of a full house of people are big indicators that this production was trying to avoid the financial hardships of the Depression Era. There are also no illusions to negative feelings or situations: the song is happy, the people are happy, or at least in good humor, and the scene ends with Anna choosing to focus on the beautiful flowers instead of breaking her promise of meeting with Billings.

2. Other Depression Era musicals will most likely keep the joyful, friendly tone within the plot and music, steering away from things such as poverty, infidelity, and political strife. Also, showing that people are well off financially seems to be a common thread here, even though it may not be relatable. The focus is distraction, more so than presenting a realistic, complex story. Mostly positive things are considered and the negative aspects of Ziegfeld's and Held's life are all together ignored to maintain this happy atmosphere. 

3. The song that Held sings could have been more explicit with the sexual undertones of the lyrics without the enforcement of the code. She may have also had a more revealing outfit to suggest more of a scandalous kind of play than innocent an innocent one. We may have even seen her change in her dressing room completely instead of the simple hat removal. Also, details of Ziegfeld and Held's live together without a legal marriage could have been talked about instead of disregarded.

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As a depression era piece, this brief scene certainly puts money forward as a driving force.  From the generous tip that Ziegfeld gives the doorman to the extravagant orchid bouquet to the concern the Ziegfeld expresses over signing a contract.  Money really seems to drip off everything.  It is interesting that Hollywood would try to appeal to an audience suffering from the lack of money with such a display of extravagance.  Outside people are standing in bread lines but here in this movie world we've got money to burn.  Don't you wish you had some?

 

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Pre-code actresses didn't seem to wear a lot of underwear. After code, foundation garments were marvels of construction. (I'm still amazed at the pointy boob thing of the 1950's. I mean what woman looks like that naturally? But a lot of men thought they did. I'll bet a lot of bachelors were surprised on their wedding night!)

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Brighter than realistic? Definitely. The friendly rivalry for Anna Held's touring contract, the implied relationship Flo Ziegfeld might be building with his potential new star, and the gentle "come hither" song that Anna Held sings on stage are all made in a sanitized, ruffled and orchid-laden Hollywood.

Like so many other musicals, and movies, of the time, we seem to be going for escapism through glamour here. Ziegfeld was not conservative with money, and although he's tailor-made for a movie adoring beauty, perhaps it's a little tone deaf during the depression. Lots of lovely dresses, women, flowers - a life we viewers could only dream of - but for a few hours, we forget our dreary humdrum lives, as Lina Lamont would say.

If the code was not in place, since Anna Held made her name singing risque songs, I think we'd hear something a lot more specific than "come play with me," for starters. And Flo Ziegfeld met Anna Held in Europe, so, assuming the lack of code presents an opportunity for more accuracy, the whole story might be much more urbane - more cosmopolitan in tone. There might even be the implication that Anna was Polish/Jewish, rather than "French."  And acknowledgement that Ziegfeld, a huge speculator, was also hit by the depression. I don't believe, though, that the real story of Ziegfeld's unfaithful relationship, and subsequent marriage to Billie Burke, would be in the movie - too depressing for the depression.

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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.

Being French is the lure. Her accent is what sets her apart from the rest of the American actresses of the time. She or the stage show producer didn't need to use skin or words when her being foreign was enough to attract men.  Casting was one way around the code.  Foreign accents are sexy in themselves.  That works for British and Italian actresses as well.  And for male actors too.

Slightly off topic discussing her character.  An earlier post said she was 'ditzy'.  Well, she goes from singing a man-hunter song to being swayed by, and finally gives in to a mans remote effort of persuasion with the flowers and note: "Meet me at the stage door". Her initial reaction is no, later it's yes.  Pretty flowers and asking is all it takes, girls?  (yeah, I'm male). She should be somewhat savy having traveled so far and having been in show business.

In many other movies, you see the men arrive at the dressing room.  In light of today's career destroying accusations, that may not have been a good practice then.  Perhaps Zeigfeld had previous issues or just knew better or was being a proper gentleman.  Or he was just being the big producer who expected everyone to come to him instead of being the star struck fan drawn to the bright star.

 

 

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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 think a longer clip would better help me to grasp the tone of the film in terms of bright or dark. However, with these two particular scenes, I can still sense what the film attempts to achieve --- light, comical, romantic musical film that appeals to the mass audience. What entertain me most are how the writer(s) using the puns eg. 5 pounds (as money and as weight) and Jr (as name/title and as age). I surely can see the production team tries their best to make their audience laugh with those linguistic devices. 

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

I would expect to see more themes of love triangles and business competitions, and the portrayals of show business eg. Hollywood. 

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.

Well, I can imagine the film might have been a bit more violent and sexier as I am thinking of how most films make appeals nowadays . It might have included street fighting scenes, more realistic business dealing (may involve gangsters and the police), and actresses in underwear or half naked. 

 

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The clip is rather sanitized; Ziegfeld Follies were a tad more risque than Hollywood portrayed them, I believe. I thought the use of the mirror as a spotlight was an interesting use of a prop; I hadn't seen it before. Pre-code would have been more out there in terms of costuming and jokes. I'm wondering how this compares to other introductory solo spots in other movies. The pattern of using a song and dance number to introduce a character would be used again. Can anyone think of examples and how they do or do not follow the patter of Anna Held?

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I think it does a good job of portraying the feud between Ziegfeld and Billings in a playful manner without skipping that there was a feud and some underhandedness going on. I think I'd see this cleverness of not omitting feuds, etc but, rather, alluding to them in a coy way in other musicals of the time period. Pre-code, the dressing room scene would probably have had Held undressing and changing into another outfit. I'm not sure if her dress for the stage would've been more risque or not but the song was flirtatious and could possibly have been in an earlier movie, or the real thing.

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Pre-code.....I have to wonder if her song title and mirror play would have taken on a different meaning entirely.  It can be construed as innocent or not....

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9 minutes ago, gmidget221 said:

The clip is rather sanitized; Ziegfeld Follies were a tad more risque than Hollywood portrayed them, I believe. I thought the use of the mirror as a spotlight was an interesting use of a prop; I hadn't seen it before. Pre-code would have been more out there in terms of costuming and jokes. I'm wondering how this compares to other introductory solo spots in other movies. The pattern of using a song and dance number to introduce a character would be used again. Can anyone think of examples and how they do or do not follow the patter of Anna Held?

The mirror trick was given a prominent role in "Witness For the Prosecution", where Charles Laughton uses it as a "test" to determine the truthfulness of his clients. He was proven wrong by psychopath Leonard Vole (played by Ty Power.)

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Q1) I think this does indeed portray a brighter time and better things than most people had at this point in the Depression.  The flowers alone say so many things as well as the size of the elephant.  

Q2) I would expect to see opulence and extravagance at every turn.  People were looking to find escape in the movies as life was hard for most people, even those that still had jobs.  Material goods were scarce as manufacturing was at a low and food issues were also at hand.  It was a tough time.

Q3) Instead of singing in a long dress, I think Anna Held were have worn a dress that showed off much more of her body.  Also, it is very possible that Ziegfeld and Billings would have come to her dressing room.  

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Definitely a brighter outlook depicting people as well off and able send and receive extravagant gifts. Also elegant settings, clean, beautiful, stylish clothing. 

I think these upbeat themes run through the musicals of this era even when the setting may be more common. The people are represented as happy and "singing through" theirs troubles.

Pre-code it is likely Anna's costume would have been more revealing and the dressing room scene would probably have shown her undressing down to silky lingerie. (She's French for heaven's sake!)

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This clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life obviously since it is portraying the depression years. Not many people could barely afford to go to the show although they might as an escape from their reality.  

Movies during these trying times were made to let people have some escape from the financial worries they had.  Movies took them far away from the reality and gave them a break and chance to laugh and daydream.  

If this was made in pre-code time, the actress would be dressed more provocatively. And when she came back to her dressing room, the scene might have been around her changing while talking about the possible meeting with Mr. Ziegfield.

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1) I agree that this does portray a brighter side of life than what really was.  The song was peppy.  People looked happy without a care in the world.

2)  People probably wanted to forget their troubles so going to a movie that was bright and cheery was probably a relief.

3) Ziegfeld and Billings would have been in her dressing room.  Anna would have had a skimpier dress and we probably would have seen more of her undressing. (No fade to black 

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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? 

Of course this clip is brighter! No one wants to watch a realistic scenario play out (even reality TV is heightened with all sorts of prizes and various tools to get people to be the extreme of a realistic emotion-starving, super excited for prizes, angry because they are in close quarters with no outlet etc) The sunny and glib approach of Ziegfeld makes him more appealing to us as well, we like him, he's generous, kind, mischievous but in a way that we are on side for. Everyone looks good, speaks in an educated manner (even through an accent her english is spectacular...she just can't read it....), and is happy, that is a true musical!

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

In an era where money was scarce, films like the MGM musicals and the Astaire-Rogers series went the opposite direction, instead of showing you what is "real life", they are showing you the dream, the fantasy, box seats, tuxedos, rare orchids, crazily ornate hats, an attendant/dresser all to yourself in your very large private dressing room. If they aren't going to do that in a Ziegfeld based musical (who truly did have lavish shows, even through the depression) then no one could do it, audiences came to escape, not to review their own reality.

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.

In any pre-code backstage musical you most certainly would be gifted with the peep-show view of heightened reality backstage, women running half dressed, pulling on a stocking in a slow and specifically posed manner, dainties scattered in a private dressing room, a backstage visit in person to imply ye olde "casting couch" system as opposed to the classy note and expensive orchids.

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I think you are forgetting that movies in 1936, although the depression was still on, are very different than ones between 1929 and 1934, and not just because they were pre-code.  Many were not just escapist, i.e. my Forgotten Man.  I don't think the clip shown really exemplifies the depression movie at all.

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1.  I agree the film plays up the brighter perspective as during the depression the theatre may not be filled to capacity nor would money be "wasted" on such an flower display.  I also agree with the thoughts of others as to tipping with the 5 pound note. 

2. I believe  in other Depression clips there will be continued themes of the beautiful woman, competition for talent and using subversion to challenge competitors.

3.  Pre-code I would have expected for Ziegfeld to be waiting in the star's dressing room, the star to be more seductively dressed and perhaps a wardrobe change in the dressing room while speaking to Ziegfeld.  The "chaperone" would not be present. Additionally I suspect the doorman would have been blatantly bribed with the 5 pound tip for information on the competing producer.

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I think that had this film been made precode, the usual musical number that Anna Held sings might have been in front of an all-male audience.  Maybe my mind is in the gutter or something, but the lyrics of the song she sings contain the phrase “ to play with me” which is provocative in itself.  I’m surprised it made it past the code of that time.

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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 dialogue in both exchanges, between Powell & the cop and Rainer & her maid, would have been rife with sexual innuendo pre-code. Rainer's musical number would have included in its staging some manner of the female form in silhouette upstage of her, possibly playing in recognizable ways such as jumping rope, hopskotch, etc. Finally, in the scene with the maid, Rainer would have entered, had her hat removed, and promptly stripped down to her teddy to play the rest of the scene.

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I don't think that this clip is a brighter view of life than would be realistic. There are such strong notes of competition with the framing of the two men in their opposite boxes. There is also a strong note of commercialism--Anna Held is highly aware of the price of the orchid arrangement and that seems to determine her decision to meet with Ziegfield. Also her "play with me" number has an invitation that is more suggestive than innocent. It's true that her costume is far more covered-up than it would be pre-code and the transactional view of sexuality is implied rather than explicit. 

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My overwhelming impression of this clip was that is was so tame and not really seductive at all. Our leading lady is singing "I wish you would come play with me" and although her voice is young and cute, there is not even a hint of sex appeal and seduction in her voice and even less in her movements. The men who are spotlighted in the number also don't play into her sex appeal. If the move had been made pre-code I think we would have seen a lot suggestive movement. 

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William Powell's casting I think definitely contributed to the all-around fanciful tone of the film, given his enormous success with "The Thin Man", but there's also a nice balance near the 2nd half that showcases his more dramatic skills, that prior to this film, was largely what he did in his career.

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

As Vanessa states in the intro to the clip "Depression era musicals typically focused on escape for the average film-goer from the very difficult economic times". Movies were, and are, a way for the ordinary person to escape from everyday life.  So, I agree with the premise of a brighter perspective.

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

A. It's better to be rich than poor.

B. For a female, the goal is to marry rich, preferably handsome men, or handsome men who turn out to be rich.

C. Singing and Dancing is one way to get over the blues.  Until 1969's "They Shoot Horses, don't they?" that is.

 

  1. 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.

A. The costume Louise Rainer wore during the onstage number could be skimpier

B. The dressing room scene could have Lousie taking a bath when the flowers arrive, with the maid having to read the card, cutting back and forth during the dialogue with Lousie finally coming out in a robe for the last exchange. 

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