11/7/16

KING OF JAZZ: THE TERRIFYING TWENTIES




The 1920s simply didn't look, sound or behave like any other decade--at least those that have been documented on film. Men wore waxed moustaches and make-up, women were either fat-legged chorus girls or breast-free boyish ingenues. And the musical numbers of the early talkie years, though they began as simple photographic reproductions of the Broadway shows they were originally from, soon turned into terrifyingly surrealistic forays into the demented, gin-soaked sensibilities of the day. Witness the above clip from the 1930 musical extravaganza "King Of Jazz." The song "Happy Feet" provides the vehicle for a series of unnerving musical acts. The first (and tamest) is the 'Rhythm Boys', a singing trio that featured the young and as yet not famous Bing Crosby at the center. Things quickly slide into the freakish with the next interpretation, featuring two gorgeous twin sisters who appear as disembodied heads, only to reappear as gyrating, hysterical flappers in a quite unnerving dance. Next comes a marvelous but spookily acrobatic eccentric dancer--a wonderful technique that was highly popular in Vaudeville but that disappeared with the advent of Fred Astaire. Next, the customary chorus of chubby 1920s chorus girls make an appearance (one can only assume the dance floor shook and groaned mightily under the thousands of pounds of collective girl-weight). Finally we get to Paul Whiteman, the Jackie Gleason of his day, a rotund bandleader who insists on proving his dancing abilities and--to our shock--turns out to be quite good. Until the twist ending that is...

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3 comments:

  1. The 2 bodiless shoes madly tapping away right at the beginning of this clip recalls the Fred Astaire number from Barkleys of Broadway, "Shoes With Wings On," which featured rows of dancing shoes minus their legs and torsos. Could that routine have been an inheritor, however slight, from this one in King of Jazz?

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  2. Very likely. Good call. I have a feeling that most of the 'freaky' routines of the late forties/fifties musicals (Ann Miller in 'Small Town Girl' with the disembodied musicians) were choreographed by people either from this era (Busby Berkeley) or who grew up on this stuff (Charles Walters).

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  3. What a talented group of folks. sexy, sexy

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