Extra Credit: “Marihuana”

As I mentioned in class, you’ve got several extra credit options for this class. One involves posting a clip, and a short analysis to your blog, kick-starting a discussion of a film produced sometime between 1930 and 1970. Full details for the assignment are posted here.  Please be sure to label your post with “Extra Credit” in the subject line, and email me so that I can add a link to your project on our class site.

Links to all projects will be posted HERE (or click “Clips” on the main menu).

Here is my “sample” entry (which is a musical clip, not an invitation to inhale during your extra curricular activities!):

From Murder at the Vanities (Mitchell Leisen, 1934, Paramount).

Released just prior to the implementation of the restrictive Hay’s Production Code, Murder at the Vanities is a very curious, hybrid film. Part movie musical, part murder mystery, the plot involves a detective working to catch a killer on the loose, backstage, during a performance of the Earl Carroll Vanities (a musical revue featuring a variety of song, dance, comedy, and lots of scantily clothed women).

Murder is not the most sophisticated musical, and has a fairly modest budget in comparison to some of the better-known Warner Brothers and MGM productions of the time period.  But I often find the more clumsy and awkward musicals the most interesting; not only are they more typical of the “average” film being screened at the time, they also incorporate some incredibly provocative imagery.

And if this number isn’t provocative, I’m not sure what is…

What feels most surreal to me here is the incredibly strange staging, and the sexual overtones. Gertrude Michael seems to be already in a haze, practically on top of the male mariachi band prancing back and forth behind her in an awkwardly narrow space. The shadows on the curtain behind them seem lurid and vaguely threatening. And then, when the curtain lifts, we are confronted by the utterly gratuitous image of naked women emerging from the blooms of giant plasterboard cacti.

We also get a sense here of the quick pace of the film, and the intrusion of the “real world” of the narrative into the space of the production number. The song is framed by a shot of one the chorus girls climbing into her cactus, and by the blood that drips onto her shoulder, ending the song and revealing the dead body in the rafters over the stage.

For me, these kinds of schizophrenic musical numbers feel like fever dreams, where the fantasies and anxieties of a cultural moment, our collective unconscious, burble up to the surface…

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