Greatest Dead Angelenos #20: Busby Berkeley

I should have forgotten you long ago, but you’re in every song I know


images from Dames (1934).

Busby Berkeley‘s work speaks for itself. His choreography is, even by today’s standards, grandiose. I think it is that much more impressive, considering his best pieces were made during the Great Depression.

Busby Berkeley the man, however, needs a bit of an introduction. William Berkeley Enos was born in Los Angeles back in 1895. Although he began his career on Broadway, he came back to Hollywood once talkies hit the scene.

Like all legendary Hollywood directors, he had his fair share of scandal and controversy. He went through six wives, and was engaged in a fatal car accident which had him charged with, tried for, and eventually acquitted of second-degree murder. Eat your heart out, Phil Spector.

He died in Palm Springs in 1976. He is buried out in Riverside.

[Videos after the jump!]

I’ll be honest with you: I can’t pick a single clip that captures the genius of Busby Berkeley. We’ll do a buffet, and you can pick and choose.

If you can only see one clip, then “By a Waterfall” from Footlight Parade is the one for you. Let me warn you: you’ll be hooked! His work is hypnotic. I feel like a baby on drugs looking at a black and white mobile through a kaleidoscope.

If you want to see Busby choreograph one of the greatest songs from the Great Depression, then take a look at Ginger Rogers singing “We’re in the Money” (Ith-Way Ig-Pay Atin-Lay Oodness-Gay!). The song is from my favorite of his films, Gold Diggers of 1933.

If you want to see the tear-jerking counterpoint to “We’re in the Money”‘s saccharine optimism, then “Remember My Forgotten Man” is the one for you. Hard-hitting political commentary accompanies the German Expressionism aesthetic. Also from Gold Diggers of 1933.

If you want to see why Busby’s work is so favored among drug users and old ladies, then take a look at the “Polka Dot Polka” from The Gang’s All Here. It’s like a living on board the Furthur with the Merry Pranksters.

Busby’s work has influenced just about everything that involves singing and dancing. I think the funniest send up of Busby’s Work is Mel Brooks’ number “The Spanish Inquisition” from History of the World – Part 1.

Do you think it’s dangerous to have Busby Berkeley dreams?

One thought on “Greatest Dead Angelenos #20: Busby Berkeley”

  1. Damn, that is an excellent post! I really like the youTube stuff as it really brings it all to life. I loved the connection to and clip insertion of “The inquisition”. Priceless on all counts.

    You may well get a bloggy for this bit :”His work is hypnotic. I feel like a baby on drugs looking at a black and white mobile through a kaleidoscope.” The visual and feeling is terrific. Awesome.

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