Monthly Feature

The Films of Busby Berkeley

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Wednesdays in December

Busby Berkeley was one of the true visionaries of the Hollywood studio era. In a time when producers pushed directors toward more formulaic interpretations of genre, he distinguished himself by producing and choreographing over-the-top musicals which defied not only viewer expectations, but the laws of gravity.

“In an era of breadlines, depression and wars, I tried to help people get away from all the misery, to turn their minds to something else. I wanted to make people happy, if only for an hour.” – Busby Berkeley

After building a reputation as a dance director for several Broadway shows and early sound films, Berkeley reshaped his career and the future of movie musicals when he staged the inventive dance sequences for the smash-hit backstage musical, 42nd Street, in 1933. An unprecedented run of highly creative, highly successful, musicals followed. Working for Warner Brothers throughout the 1930s, Berkeley was offered increasingly large budgets to film his fantasy numbers on a grandly operatic scale. Sweeping views of geometrically-arranged, outrageously-costumed chorus girls moving in unison became a Berkeley trademark, as did jaw-droppingly elaborate sets and a healthy dose of bizarre surrealism. Sometimes erotic, sometimes vulgar (thanks to a pre-Code lack of restrictions), the best of Berkeley’s images delighted a nation desperate for cinematic distraction from the Great Depression. Conflicts with Warner Brothers presaged a move to MGM in the 1940s, where he scored hits with a successful (albeit much tamer) series of musicals starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.  Even here, Berkeley continued to seek new and innovative ways to express his unique vision on land and underwater (and with Carmen Miranda!). When the studio could find no other way to describe his work, they came up with a clever neologism:“cinematerpsichorean.” This December, The Loft Cinema celebrates the wild style of legendary choreographer and director Busby Berkeley with 35mm screenings of four of his most famous, groundbreaking 1930s musicals.