Busby Berkeley and the "Fascist Aesthetic"

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Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan. "Busby Berkeley and the 'Fascist Aesthetic'". Blog post on his Comic Spirit: Notes on Classic Hollywood Comedies, 1930-1945. 17 September 2021, at note here.[1]

Excellent essay, in which Csicsery-Ronay answers the accusation he paraphrases in its most coherent form: "Berkeley’s spectacles display large groups of chorines/dancers performing in unison, constructing complex abstract patterns out of performers who are 'dehumanized,' made to behave as parts in a machine. Because most of these dehumanized parts are women whose erotic allure is accentuated, the spectacles double the domination.'" We will summarize his response as, Not really: Berkeley in his choreography was part of a larger esthetic.

See the entire blog post for elaboration of the above and this:

Many historians of early Hollywood musicals have embraced the ideas of Siegfried Kracauer,[2] [... who] devoted a lot of space in his magnum opus, The Mass Ornament,[3][4] published in 1927, to analyzing The Tiller Girls, a company of precision dancing “girls” who were international sensations from the 1910s through to the 1930s. [...] Kracauer argued that The Tiller Girls — the inspirations for [...] countless chorus-line choreographies — were exemplars of the modern infatuation with mechanism as a social principle. Their movements and routines reflected the modern world’s immersion in the ideology of society working with the unity, precision, and discipline of the assembly-line factory. Their transformation of human bodies into mechanical parts was, for Kracauer, a completely appropriate representation of early 20th century “advanced” cultures’ acceptance of Henry Ford’s assembly-line revolution in production[...].[5]] [* * *]

Berkeley learned his craft working on [...] the Ziegfeld Follies. In his wonderful study, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars, Joel Dinerstein details Florenz Ziegfeld’s practice of combining complex choreographies of alluring young female dancers with celebrations of US technological development, in essence eroticizing the Machine Age.[6] Berkeley elevated this combination through his cinematic innovations, creating an even more logical synthesis of erotic gazing and the quintessential desire-production machine, cinema itself. This fusion of flesh and mechanism, dancing bodies and top-down design, spoke to all modernizing cultures eager to make the new technological regime feel pleasurable, exciting, and transformative.

Cf. and in some cases emphatically contrast figuratively (and literally) choreographed movement in METROPOLIS, Zamyatin's We, and H. Ellison's "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman."

RDE, finishing, 17Sep21