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Commentaries on this Media!

The Busby Berkeley Musical Number

by Kate Fortmueller

Busby Berkeley's musical numbers are iconic because of their meticulous choreography that typically reduces women to shapes and mechanized forms. As Rick Altman explains in his extensive work, The American Film Musical, "When we reach the climax of a Berkeley production number [...] we have entirely abandoned the representational mode. Everything--even the image--is now subordinated to the music track." (Altman 71) In this sequence from Footlight Parade, we see how the musical number makes the transition that Altman describes. The opening begins in the theater, but as the number progresses it loses any sense of realist space.

Busby Berkeley musical numbers are significant cinematic achievements that have been tremendously influential in the staging of musical numbers in film. This number (and other Busby Berkeley musical numbers) can also help us understand some media theory in a more precise and nuanced way. How, for example, does this number speak to mass society theories, Adorno and Horkheimer's "The Culture Industry," and/or Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"?

Footlight Parade (1933) - "By the Waterfall"

The last number in Footlight Parade.

from Footlight Parade (1933)
Creator: Lloyd Bacon (director)/Busby Berkeley (musical number choreography)
Posted by Kate Fortmueller