Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
“Gold Diggers of 1935” is a pretty lame movie. Yet it includes what might be Busby Berkeley’s masterpiece: A musical fantasy sequence scored to “The Lullaby of Broadway.” Is it an exaggeration to call it one of the great short films in history? How about one of the great experimental films? I don’t think so. The sequence runs a little over 13 minutes, and it plays like a nightmare — the dream-time comeuppance of the materialistic party girl so common in ’30s musicals. As in a nightmare there’s a lot of repetition — a sense that the characters are doomed to repeat these events day after day, night after night, until, exhausted, over-burdened, or simply out of room to dance, they collapse into a heap or something worse. The intro, featuring a floating female head that dissolves into a cityscape, sets the tone. Berkeley is bouncing off Surrealism here, Man Ray in particular. He’s also slyly positing the American city — that repository of Hollywood-bred dreams — as a venue rich in sinister undercurrents. (In this he’s a forerunner of David Lynch.) When our girl hits a nightclub with Dick Powell the militarism that’s always just below the surface in Berkeley reveals itself in full. The choreography expresses geometric, mechanical inevitability and an absence of individuality and forethought — it’s like something out of a Nuremberg rally. (Nazism was in the air: Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” came out the same year.) As in “The Red Shoes” there is a sense that the dance cannot — will not — be stopped. And when the revelers succeed in coaxing the heroine away from Powell, this musical finally becomes a horror film. In fact, it would be hard to write a history of movie zombies without mentioning the dancers who, like tapping automatons, push the girl onto the skyscraper’s ledge and over the precipice . . . at which point the whole thing starts again.