Monday, May 28, 2018

Show Girl in Hollywood, Mervyn LeRoy, 1930

I`m still not sure quite how much and why I like Alice White, but she does have a supreme sense of style and one thing I do adore even more is her dancing. Her elegant, but relaxed, almost a bit negligent movements are far removed from the athletic style of precision dancing which dominants most american musicals. White`s dancing always feels like a by-product of her subjectivity first, and part of a choreography second (if at all).

The third of LeRoy`s Alice-White-films I`ve seen. Another making-it-in-show-business-plot, but this time set in early talkies Hollywood (complete with cameos by Al Jolson and Loretta Young), and much more ambitious. LeRoy manages to squeeze every part of film production, from casting to editing, into this (there`s even a scene set in a projection room), and especially the scenes at the producer`s office are pitch perfect. The mechanics of yes-manism.

While the loss of the technicolor version is a shame (the last reel feels static today, because the colors where supposed to provide the movement), there are so many other great and strange ideas in this, starting with the back projection tourist-bus ride when White enters Hollywood for the first time (shades of Lupino`s The Bigamist; LeRoy himself uses the same idea in The World Changes). Another great bit is the guy who scratches the names off the office doors of fired studio employees, at the same time blotting out a career and all other voices on the sound track.

And then there`s Griffith actress Blanche Sweet as a "aging" (33 years old) former star who forms a bond with White`s newcomer. Female friendship is one of the main themes in LeRoys early films, and it`s never just a given, but it has to be tested, and in can be lost, as it almost happens here. The Sweet storyline basically is a film in itself, a rousing, bitter mini melodrama which puts Sunset Boulevard to shame and comes complete with over-the-top silent movie acting and tear-eyed chiaroscuro. The greatest moment of the film, though, comes, when during the first long conversation of both women, Sweet suddenly starts to sing. Not only is something like this completely out of the ordinary in the backstage musicals of the time, but the singing has nothing to do with showmanship, but stays completely true to character as an effort of resigned, graceful self-expression. A truly magical moment.

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