carmen miranda

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For those in the NYC area, I highly recommend catching ‘The Gang’s All Here’ at Film Forum, showing until this Thursday. Directed by choreographer extraordinaire Busby Berkeley, the film’s described as “some sort of apotheosis in vulgarity”, “like a male hairdresser’s acid trip”, and begs the question, “what can you say about a film that features 60 girls waving gigantic bananas?”

What indeed, except it’s a nonsensical Technicolor delight. The disorientation starts with a disembodied head singing ‘Brazil’, which turns into a scene at a Brazilian port introducing the living cartoon that is Carmen Miranda before turning into a song number about thinking you’re in Brazil when really you’re in New York! Because they are in New York! At a swanky nightclub called Club New York, that’s Brazilian-themed!

We’re introduced in short measure to the fathers of two wealthy families and the leading man- what with the War going on I guess leading men were in short supply, as this one’s only a looker at exactly the right angle. Most angles, and his uniform, made his head look like David Byrne’s wearing The Big Suit. But who cares about the men when Carmen Miranda’s shaking her stuff in 6-inch gold wedge heels, 20 lbs. of ruffles, and 3 foot eyelashes!

The ‘plot’ is a wafer-thin confection existing solely to leap from one musical number to the next, and sometimes even that pretext is thrown to the wind. In typical Berkeley fashion, several numbers have no ties to the plot or reality – here it’s ‘Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat’ featuring the aforementioned giant bananas -NO FREUDIAN SYMBOLISM HERE, NO SIR!
…and the grand finale, ‘Polka-Dot Polka’, where the lovers’ reuniting is brushed aside in favor of an extended tribute to the Polka Dot. An extended, head-floating, TRON-neon, redheaded children dancing tribute to the Polka Dot.

I don’t think ‘The Gang’s All Here’ has Berkeley’s most successful dance numbers- he’s used neon and abstracted the human body much more interestingly in ‘Shadow Waltz’, for example. Then again, this was a film he didn’t just choreograph, but directed – the difference can be similarly seen in the far-superior ‘Gold Diggers of 1933′, which he only did dance numbers for, vs. ‘Gold Diggers of 1935′, which he directed. While the latter had the immortal (and surprisingly dark and depressing) ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ number, again featuring his pet disembodied heads, ’1933′ had a plot that made sense, and actors acting. Still, ‘The Gang’s All Here’ absolutely delivers on sheer ridiculousness, all in glorious color. Check it out while you can! BUY WAR BONDS!

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