Reading the biography of Pauline Kael out of, I suppose, infernal boredom. But I am interested in her love of ’30s movies and ’30s musicals — pre-code was good. Just saw Gold Diggers of 1933 which is awesome, carnal, and saucy in every way — there’s a whole Busby Berkeley number with Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell called “Pettin’ in the Park”.

And the other blowout Berkeley number is his pean to the World War I veterans now on the soup lines. The movie is fresh and contemporary in every way. There’s real sex without the gross 21st century Jaws mastication trope movie kiss — I mean I know people kiss like that, sort of, sometimes, part of the time, but not every time, it’s a videogenic, kinetic version of a passionate kiss — aaaaaaaaaaaaaaanyway — Gold Diggers of 1933 has real sexy girls — Joan Blondell! the original wise-cracking sidekick! — falling out of their teddies while needling each other about their show girl virtue in what they call “the show business”. And for mancake, well, white tie and tails and high-waisted boxer shorts with a three-button waistband. Meaning, 24-inch waists.

Something happened to movies between then and now. There’s a thing in American movies I pretty much can’t watch, and I think it’s the lizard eye of the pornographer’s camera. You can’t get away from it, and you only realize it’s there when you watch a Japanese or a French or an Australian or a British movie. They don’t have it. I remember watching The Cook, the Thief et al, a 1989 British movie which actually has Helen Mirren running around naked, and a great number of other cannibalistic carnal scenes too. But I realized the existence of that lizard thing watching that very kinky flick. It doesn’t have it — and neither does John Waters, for example, at his most coprophagic. Neither does Gold Diggers and its take on economic implosion is as fresh today, relevant, as it was 80 years ago. And the “Forgotten Man” Busby Berkeley number, with a solo by Etta Moten, the woman who went on in 1943 to sing Bess in Porgy and Bess*, is an amazing confection of populist resentment and Berkeley’s characteristic (soldier-inspired?) sort of marching band choreography.

This is Ginger Rogers, in what I think is her first film role. She doesn’t dance. She does sing in Pig Latin.

And here is the electrifying Forgotten Man number. Please note Blondell’s 1933 hooker-with-the-heart-of-gold outfit. I think I saw Madonna wearing this to temple the other day.


*And lived to be 102! She died in the 21st century! What a story!