Perspectives on Pop Culture and the Arts

Monday, March 20, 2006

Gold Diggers of 1933 on DVD

One of the reasons why the 21st century is so sweet is that we can use these here new fangled internets to find out when our favorite movies will be released on DVD. For the past few years I have been lamenting the fact that certain shows like Antnonioni’s, Zabriskie Point, the entire series of David Lynch’s, Twin Peaks, and Mervyn LeRoy’s, Gold Diggers of 1933, are only available on dried-up VHS and laserdisc. Well, you can all stop writing hate-mail to Warner Brothers for now and run to your local Wal-Mart to snag that ten-dollar DVD player because Gold Diggers of 1933 is finally being released on region 1 DVD.

I must admit that my penchant for musicals doesn’t begin to approach my interest in sixties surfer rock or my craving for coffee ice cream. However, when I first watched the film, I found myself entirely thrilled with the combination of sex-battling comedy, ala The Awful Truth, the often biting Depression-era social commentary, and the lovely music and dance numbers. It was also a treat to see a young Ginger Rogers, whose popular career was essentially launched later that year through a pairing with Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio, playing a chorus girl.

However, it was the final musical number, ‘Remember my forgotten man’, that iced the proverbial cake for me. This number was so pointedly brilliant that it remains one of my all-time favorite musical moments in film. The song was catchy, but the tone was deadly as it laid its satirical smack on America’s post-WWI disillusionment and the bleak economic and social malaise of the Great Depression. Lighthearted tones and playfulness gave way to a searing comment that was so overtly relevant for disaffected contemporary audiences that Sergei Eisenstein would have thrown himself down the Odessa stairway for such a chance to cry ‘Revolution!’ I don’t see such boldness being equaled until Lindsay Anderson and the ‘angry young men’ began producing the British kitchen sink dramas of the 50s and 60s.

Historically, this film also helped to promote the emergence of the ‘backstage’ musical; a style that stuck with the genre as in Singin’ in the Rain, and even more recent films like Moulin Rouge, and Chicago. The dichotomy of the operetta tradition and other musical films was joined through the narrative integration of plots that accounted for and justified a diegetic soundtrack for the chorus line and accompanying star dancers to swing to. While this pattern isn’t always necessary (think Jacques Demy’s lovely French film, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort), it made such a proven stamp on Hollywood studio production that filmmakers are still using it over seventy years later (The Producers, 2005).

To say that Gold Diggers of 1933 was influential in how musicals were created and received might be the biggest understatement since Ian Astbury said, ‘The Cult needs the world; the world needs the Cult.’ Of course, this means you should buy it before Warner realizes they have released a rare gem and hastily discontinue it.

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