“The Gang’s All Here” at Film Forum
From April 20 – 26 Film Forum will present an eye popping, 35mm, restored print of the 1943 Busby Berkeley Technicolor extravaganza “The Gang’s All Here.” True to its title the movie is a compendium of popular culture figures from the World War II era: Alice Faye, Benny Goodman, radio personality Phil Baker, dancer Tony De Marco and singer/dancer Carmen Miranda. It is a fascinating, virtual window into another era.
While WWII was certainly not my time, I was impressed with “The Gang’s All Here” on many levels. To begin with, the film’s camera work, nearly 70 years later, is still fresh, original, and, dare I say it, innovative even by today’s standards. Berkeley’s ability to stage elaborate long takes, with the camera in constant motion, especially evident in the film’s opening shot, is eye catching, engrossing and just a lot of fun to watch. Granted there are moments where he sneaks in a cut, or a transition via an optical effect, but it is all so smoothly done that I forgive him.
The great camera work also includes the trademark Berkeley high angled camera looking down on dancers who perform perfectly coordinated, kaleidoscopic movements. According to the book “World Directors Volume 1, 1890-1945,” “Well before abstractionism had become established as a basic principle of modern art, Berkeley was using it in his films.” The conceit is that while these dancers, in the context of the movie, are performing for an audience in a theatre or night club, there is no way that a theatre audience would be able to have this high angled view. Not to overstate the obvious, but clearly they are performing for us, the movie audience. Of his work Berkeley, a detail oriented, relentless perfectionist, said “I would plan it all so carefully in my mind, I knew exactly what I wanted…But I worked out every single camera set up…If an editor had to trim more than three or four feet off the end of a take then I knew I had overshot the mark…I asked nothing that wasn’t possible; it was simply a matter of getting cooperation.”
While on the subject of long takes, “The Gang’s All Here” provides something almost unseen in contemporary film, dancers who can actually, well, dance. There is no faking it with long takes, especially long takes that show the dancer, or dancers, from head to foot. In other words we are allowed to see the entire dance. There is no convenient cutting from close ups of feet and face or many alternate camera angles filmed by insecure directors who feel they need to cover themselves. These dancers had to do it for real. A great example involves the dance sequences of the terrific South American dancer Tony De Marco.
In terms of “The Gang’s All Here” performers, for me it was all about discovery. The film’s biggest the revelation was Carmen Miranda, a Brazilian firecracker to be sure. While I had seen clips of Miranda I had never appreciated the full range of her talent. “The Gang’s All Here” is a wonderful showcase for Miranda, the cinematic equivalent of a show stopper. She is a vivacious, charismatic dancer and singer with about a million and one costume changes.
The beautiful Alice Faye is one of the film’s romantic leads. She contributes to at least two or three renditions of the song “A Journey to a Star,” prominently featured throughout the film. Although I have not researched it, this song must have been either a popular tune of the time or its exposure in this film made it so.
Supporting cast members include Eugene Pallette and Edward Everett Horton. Horton, known for his turn in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies (not to mention television’s “F-Troop” and the narrator of “Fractured Fairy Tales”) plays the quintessential Edward Everett Horton character: a comically fussy, uptight character who some film historians believe to be a closeted gay man, at a time when openly gay characters would never be portrayed in film.
“The Gang’s All Here” has a wisp of a story that involves a man in love with one woman while obligated to another (gee, which one will he choose?) as well as that old “let’s put on a show” stand by (in this case to raise money for the war effort). We pretty much know which way things will go but it is all an excuse to showcase some terrific performers and wonderful camera work.
Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street. For more information visit http://www.filmforum.com.
Posted on April 10, 2012, in Film Forum and tagged A Journey to a Star, Alice Faye, Benny Goodman, Busby Berkeley, Carmen Miranda, Edward Everett Horton, Eugene Pallette, F-Troop, Fractured Fairy Tales, Fred Astaire, Gays in Film, Ginger Rogers, Phil Baker, The Gang's All Here, Tony De Marco. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.