6/17/16

GERSHWIN AT WORK: 'STRIKE UP THE BAND'


Above is an incredibly precious fragment of filmed history, captured at the Times Square Theater in December of 1929. It's a rehearsal of George Gershwin's 'Strike Up The Band', apparently filmed for some sort of newsreel coverage. In it we see Gershwin play the piano, banter with the comedy team of Clark and McCullough (who were in the show, natch) and get a good view of what chorus girls looked like in the 20s. Gershwin's voice and manner is much less formal than in the other recordings we have of him and it's quite haunting to find ourselves in that darkened theater on that long-forgotten winter afternoon shortly after the stock market crashed.

Unfortunately the film is very poorly shot--there are only two angles of the stage, one from up high (from the side) and one from the same side position below. Thus we get practically no view of Gershwin and the comics and way too much view of the flabby girls and their somewhat amateurish (to modern eyes) dance routine. Still, it's an amazing few minutes and its followed by a much better medium shot of Gershwin playing 'Strike Up The Band' on an upright piano. As always when he played his own work, he works the piano hard, plays the song at a tempo a good deal faster than we're used to, and bangs through the thing with a grin of arrogant self-satisfaction that is somehow delightful in spite of himself.
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