Recently, I was part of a podcast in a cool, wacky series called The Last Film I Saw, produced by writer/filmmaker Brian Padian of Northern Flicker Films.
You can check it out here.
I was the special guest and for a few moments I talked about the last film I saw. What I thought was really interesting was that he didn't ask me to analyze the film. He asked me why I watched it.
I was excited to truly have a why for this movie. However inarticulately I might have talked about it, I had a pretty strong why. The film was Gold Diggers of 1933. It's a crazy movie - part big Busby Berkeley dance spectacle, part crackpot comedy, part tear your heart out. I'm not sure these different parts all fit together, but I don't care. It's part of what I love about it.
Another thing I love about it is that, as I mentioned in the podcast, it's about the Depression and it was made during the Depression. All the screwball comedy, the sparkly musical production numbers - they're about this very serious, very scary time in American history. Which was going on at the time.
The film opens with Ginger Rogers singing We're In the Money in pig latin. How weird is that? And scores of dancing girls dressed in giant coins. Singing, "You'll never see a headline / About a breadline today." What must audiences have thought, having passed breadlines to get to the theater and watch girls dance under towers of giant money? It's a triumphant declaration of the awful irony of it all. Plus pig latin.
My why was that I was afraid of losing my job and afraid for friends losing their jobs during a big layoff at work. Which of course was happening partly because of the recession we're in - which we call a recession, only a recession, but I'm sure the word depression felt innocuous enough before people had lived in it long enough.
It was the first day of the layoffs, and I'd spent all day in such worry that by the end of it, I came home and was too mind-exhausted to write or do much of anything. There was something about the strange combination of real and unreal of that film that made it the perfect escape that night. That stylized reality of 1930s films, the artifice of the stage, and the Depression right there in the middle of it all. During the podcast, I told Brian I might have to watch it again. The layoff process was not finished, and I wasn't sure if I'd be watching the film in celebration or defeat, but I figured I'd be watching it again.
It took a week but I finally knew neither Stephen nor I were losing our jobs. That night it was me again in front of the TV, Ginger Rogers in extreme closeup--that one crooked tooth--singing E're-way in-ay the oney-may.
The other reason I watched it a second time is that, the first time, I'd had to stop the movie before the end of the final musical number, to go pick Stephen up. And that's my favorite part, that number. After a whole lot of plot kookiness, here comes this surprise heart-wrenching anthem:
Remember my forgotten man.
You put a rifle in his hand.
You sent him far away,
You shouted: Hip-hooray!
But look at him today.
It's really an amazing number. Again, the artifice of the stage and of 1930s Hollywood, but a heavy truth at the bottom of it all. This was how America was feeling at that time. Betrayed. And they put it on the screen in this triumphant tableau.
Somewhere mid-point in the film when play producer Barney Hopkins (who is putting on a musical about the Depression during the Depression - in this movie made during the Depression) hears the music for the song for the first time, he's transfixed by the sound and the rhythm alone: "Men marching! Marching in the rain!" he shouts over the piano. "Marching, marching! Doughnuts and crullers! Jobs, jobs, marching, marching, marching in the rain..."
Brian Padian describes his The Last Film I Saw Podcast as:
A weekly and/or biweekly investigation of cinematic undertaking w/a minimum of fancy-pants language.
You can check them all out here.