You gotta love Carmen Miranda! This routine is awesome on so many levels. First of all, she has a plethora of adorable chorus girls dancing all around her, dressed in the most adorable little yellow mini skirts and yellow bandannas with giant bows. From the first time we see them lounging on the beach, we think, "ahhh paradise". Busby Berkeley certainly knew how to make an impression and he didn't let us down with this clip. I count at least 40 beautiful sunbathing chorus girls.... This clip comes from Berkeley's 1943 film, "The Gang's All Here". Surprisingly, however, the short yellow skirts and tie top black blouses worn by Berkeley's girls created quite the risque stir, and the film was banned from Brazil, as well as Portugal. From Wikipedia:
... because of its sexual innuendo (dozens of scantily clad women handling very large bananas), prevented the film from being shown in Miranda's native Portugal in its initial release.. Even in the US the censors dictated that the chorus girls must hold the bananas at the waist and not at the hip.
Regardless of the amount of skin being shown or giant bananas, this clip features a lot of classic 1940's musical magic.
I've been obsessed with Carmen for a couple of years now, so I'd like to start with a little bit of history about her. BY THE WAY, if you haven't ever visited the official Brazilian website for Carmen Miranda, you MUST do so!
First, from Wikipedia:
Carmen Miranda was born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha in Várzea da Ovelha e Aliviada, a village in the northern Portuguese municipality of Marco de Canaveses. She was christened Carmen by her father because of his love for the opera comique, and also after Bizet's masterpiece Carmen. This passion for opera influenced his children, and Miranda's love for singing and dancing at an early age. She went to school at the Convent of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Her father did not approve of her plans to enter show business. However, her mother supported her and was beaten when her husband discovered Carmen had auditioned for a radio show. Carmen had previously sung at parties and festivals in Rio. Her older sister Olinda contracted tuberculosis and was sent to Portugal for treatment. Miranda went to work in a tie shop at age 14 to help pay her sister's medical bills. She next worked in a boutique, where she learned to make hats and opened her own hat business which became profitable....
... Miranda signed a movie contract with Hollywood and arrived in the United States in 4 May 1939 with her band, the Bando da Lua. Carmen grew to fame in the country quickly, having formally been presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a White House banquet shortly after arrival, and going on to star in 13 Hollywood films. She was encouraged by the United States government as part of President Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, designed to strengthen links with Latin America and Europe; it was believed that in delivering content like hers, the policy would be better received by the American public. By 1946 she was Hollywood's highest-paid entertainer and top female tax payer in the United States, earning more than $200,000 that year, according to IRS records.
... Miranda made a total of fourteen Hollywood films between 1940 and 1953 and was dubbed The Brazilian Bombshell. Her Hollywood image was one of a generic Latinness that blurred the distinctions between Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, and Mexico as well as between samba, tango and habanera. It was carefully stylized and outlandishly flamboyant. She was often shown wearing platform sandals and towering headdresses made of fruit, becoming famous as "the lady in the tutti-frutti hat." However there were times that Miranda performed barefoot on stage because she could move more easily in bare feet than in the towering platform sandals.
And another interesting tidbit from the official Brazilian website for Carmen Miranda
Born in Portugal, Carmen Miranda was raised in the area of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro, which in the 1910s and 1920s was a cultural melting pot of artists and villains and all sort of people. By absorbing the aesthetics, language and new sounds from the area at that time, she learned the slang and expressions from her favorite bohemian bands and created a character which would represent the 20th century. Carmen was Brazil’s first multimedia artist. She not only sang but also danced and acted, and she could intuitively move at ease on what became known as the cultural industry. In a meteoric career, Carmen achieved international fame that no other Brazilian artist had, first in Argentina and then in other Latin American countries, and later in the United States, Europe and across the world. To this day she is the only Latin American to have had her hands and feet immortalized at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.At about 3:30 into the clip, I must say that the choreography is perplexing. What was Berkeley thinking? Maybe he was thinking, "hmmmm.... we need something here that is interesting... how about we have the girls scoot with all their little feet one direction while the other half follows them with their hands." You'll see what I'm talking about... STRANGE choreo!
But at around 4:30 we see that classic Berkeley snowflake formation (as seen from above) that he became so famous for in so many of his movies - a kaleidoscope of strawberries and giant bananas. Making you hungry for a smoothie, yet?
At 5:00 there is a great effect - a hypnotic cascade of the bananas down the chorus line. The camera angles create the sensation of swimming among the fruit.
The clip ends just as we start it, with the dozens of chorus girls sunbathing sleepily on the sand - any man's dream to happen upon I suppose. :) So what makes this clip interesting? It's a classic Berkeley take on what he did best in his routines:
* chorus girl numbers featuring a ridiculous number of girls giving the effect of grandeur. Even though in many parts you can see (especially in the floor section) that the girls aren't as synchronized in their movement as they could have been, it's almost as if it doesn't matter. Berkeley was going for the overall effect instead of minute details in the dance movement.
His overhead shots forced him to drill holes in the studio roofs, and he used more dancers with each succeeding picture.* simple costumes that didn't steal away from the beauty and elegance of the ladies
* ridiculous props used to create interesting lines or geometric shapes
* that classic floor "kaleidoscope" section that we see in so many of his films (see Footlight Parade, 1933 and Dames, 1934, )
***SIDE NOTE TRIVIA***:
A strange fact is that Busby Berkeley never had a dancing lesson and, in his early days, he was very afraid of people finding out. He often drove his producers almost crazy when he gave orders to build a set and then sat in front of it for a few days, thinking up the numbers.
And now, without further ado, please enjoy "