Two weeks ago the Top Ten By Year: 1978 zine became available to purchase on my etsy page. It is a variety of collage, illustration, and celebration of the films of 1978, including write-ups on my ten favorites. In February I released one for 1943. For both projects, my plan was to rewatch the films and revise what I’d originally written years ago when I chose these years for my Top Ten By Year project (in which I spend 6 months to over a year with a particular year in film). What I quickly found was that none of it was nearly good enough to include. In the end, a handful of thoughts remained, but almost everything I wrote for both zines is entirely new.
I want to give people a peek at what I wrote, and hopefully, if you like it and would like to see more, you’ll consider picking up a copy. I’ll post three write-ups from each. Here is the first from 1943: Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here (which partly inspired the cover!).
In which Busby Berkeley enters the realm of Technicolor Playground, and Hollywood momentarily dips into the avant-garde. It is here his geometric extravaganzas and high-concept abstractions reach their creative apex. The women regularly rendered with conveyor-belt sameness for various kaleidoscopic shape-making now hold pink neon-lit hula hoops and phallic bananas and those create the shapes and drive the images. The body is often erased entirely (the film starts and ends with disembodied heads, reminding us of Gold Diggers of 1935). The crane shots are so ambitious that the camerawork is at times endearingly wobbly, unable to smoothly keep up with all the spectacle. Other times, as in “The Girl with the Tutti-Frutti Hat”, the camera disorients, constantly roving with curiosity, as if the camera were a Ferris Wheel, or just plain high. The objects make shapes in-camera. The camera makes new shapes by moving. In these key iconic numbers, the image is never still and is always changing.
And those are just the shape-based numbers. During one song, a pink-drenched stream of water is superimposed over a dancing duo, foreshadowing An American in Paris with its romantic use of colors that envelop dancers. And in “No Love, No Nothin”, Alice Faye’s sincerely felt sentiment is used to evoke the sacrifice and loneliness of wartime wives.
The perfunctory romance threatens to render the film derivative and, God forbid, human! But for Berkeley, it is always a means to an end – necessary breather moments before heading back into the fray. After all, who has time for story when there are polka dots to be had.
This is a world where the more heightened the better. So, basically, a world tailored to showcase Carmen Miranda. She spearheads the film’s camp and escapism, combating Faye’s far-off gaze by fusing the playful abandon of the musical numbers into the rest of the film. All angles and elongations, from her high hats to her diamond-cut midriffs (more shapes!), she is always vibrantly and hilariously on, with the English language locked-and-loaded as her plaything (notably restricted to fumbles of out nonsensical sayings). She is a cartoon, defined by broad South American stereotypes and used to bolster the government’s Good Neighbor policy. This historical context is important, and worth all the conversation you can throw at it, but this never takes away from Carmen. She may be a cartoon, but the whole film is a cartoon. With the alert showmanship (she makes Lucy Ricardo look chill) of an old-school entertainer, she works her lovable magic while co-opting the film’s kooky unreality.