Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Masters of Cinema - THE GANG'S ALL HERE on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Masters of Cinema - THE GANG'S ALL HERE on Blu-ray

THE GANG'S ALL HERE (1943; Busby Berkeley)
"Don't be a square from Delaware, get hep to yourself."
Busby Berkeley is a name that is sadly lesser known to non-cinephile's despite his vast impact as a stylist that has carried into a lot of contemporary cinema today. Films as disparate as Spielberg's INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM the Coen Brothers' THE BIG LEBOWSKI and Disney's animated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST all pay loving tribute to Berkeley and his pinache for staging. The words "visionary" and "genius" are thrown about a lot and thus diluted a bit, but Busby Berkeley was certainly both. Though he apparently couldn't dance a step himself, he managed to choreograph and film some of the most delightful and surreal sequences in all of musical cinema. He was truly a master of "making the camera dance" as it were. It's been said that, as a director, Berkeley could be somewhat unsympathetic to his actors especially in terms of the demands he made of them (many many takes, complicated camera setups). That said and as much as I do feel for the actors, I must admit that what he brought to the screen in his films is still truly dazzling. As much as I think of more contemporary directors and more prolific movers of the camera, Berkeley was certainly no slouch in this department. Apparently, the man loved his crane shots and that is absolutely on display in THE GANG'S ALL HERE right out of the gate. The opening set piece is a glorious and dizzying thing of beauty that plays out in a giant soundstage that is meant to be an enormous nightclub with the capacity to put on outlandish and impossibly huge musical numbers for their relatively small crowds. THE GANG'S ALL HERE is something of a bittersweet movie in that it is kind of Berkeley's swan song interns of making a film with carte Blanche and full studio backing (Daryl Zanuck was a huge Berkely supporter so he had his back). That said and especially with the addition of technicolor into the kaleidoscopic mix, it really does make for one of the most exuberant and wonderful musicals ever made. THE GANG'S ALL HERE is quite a singular film, even within Berkeley's remarkable filmography. He really pushes the bounds of the stylistic paradigm he established with his prior work and the result is something quite magnificent. Beyond the amazing "Busby Berkeley-isms" I also must not forget to mention the swell cast here that includes the likes of Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda (who does a couple of her most famous songs), Edward Everett Horton, Eugene Pallette and hugely popular bandleader Benny Goodman.
Masters of Cinema has put out a stunningly lovely Blu-ray here and this transfer alone may be enough to convince done skeptical classic film fans that they finally need to aquire a multi-region player. It is a choice display of what the Blu-ray format can do for even an older film like this one and the results are splendid. It's a must own for fans of classic musicals to be sure. A fantastic disc.

Special Features:
This Masters of Cinema Blu-ray includes a nice commentary track from film critics Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme as well as Film Historian Ed Hulse. I enjoyed this track very much as it is clear that these three not only know their cinematic stuff (of course), but are very excited to be talking about it in regards to Berkeley and this film in particular. They have a great deal to comment on throughout from various aspects of the production, the actors in the cast (and their careers), historical and studio-related contexts, the difficulties of filming in technicolor, as well as innumerable scene-specific details. It is a Criterion-worthy track and an excellent supplement to this disc.
Also included is "Busby Berkeley- A Journey With a Star" (20 mins). This short restrosoective piece includes interviews duel conversations with USC film professor Rick Jewell and President of the Institute of the American Musical Miles Krueger. Both gentlemen have clearly steeped themselves in classic Hollywood history and are devout fans of Berkeley in general. A lot of neat things are touched on here from Berkeley's place in a studio system that could be both supportive and extremely restrictive to a creative mind such as his well as lots of things that he did as signatures that were part of this film as well as his others. A lively and passionate discussion of the man.
Lastly, there is also a 5 minute deleted scene here as well.

Here's a little 3 min clip of something called "Frame By Frame: Busby Berkeley" in which:
"University of Nebraska Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon takes a spin through the extravagant films of musical director Busby Berkeley."

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