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15 AUGUST 2013

Busby Berkeley: choreographing the epic visual spectacle

"Berkeley's choreography is important less for its movement of the dancers than for its movement of the camera. To overcome the limitations of sound stages, he ripped out walls and drilled through ceilings and dug trenches for his film crews. When a desired effect could not be accomplished with traditional film equipment, he had his budget expanded to include costs for developing custom rigs. His innovations explored ideas that the stationary camera could not. He wanted to take the audience through waterfalls and windows. He wanted lines of dancers to fall away to reveal scenery that in turn would fall away to expose an even larger setting. His dreams were big, but his determination to see them actualized was even bigger.

Even his worst attempts resulted in eminently watchable movies of exhilarating movement, but his best efforts produced startling effects that bordered on surrealistic dream states. In the quintessential Berkeley films Footlight Parade (1933) and 42nd Street (1933), cameras mounted on tracks are sent soaring past a multitude of dancing legs, flailing arms and orchestra instruments. In all, he directed more than twenty musicals, including an underwater sequence with aquatic star Esther Williams."

(Scott Smith, 6 February 2013, Keyframe)

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TAGS

42nd Street (1933) • aesthetic spectacleBusby Berkeleycamera angle • camera movement • camera rig • choreographic imaginationchoreographies for camerachoreographydance • dance productions • dancers • dancing legs • design formalismentertainment spectacle • Esther Williams • figures in space • flailing arms • Footlight Parade (1933) • geometryglamourgroupingkaleidoscopelegs • Lloyd Bacon • mirrored effectmovementmusical (genre)perspective viewscenerysound stage • stationary camera • surrealist stylesymmetry • underwater sequence • visual designvisual effectsvisual spectaclevisual spectacular • waterfa

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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