READING: Narrative and Spectacle…Busby Berkeley and 42nd Street

After reading this article, I immediately wanted to return to 42nd street, which I had watched a day before. I had not watched ┬áit noting the importance of choreography to narrative or even knowing who the choreographer was. Now I can say confidently that the choreographer was Busby Berkeley, but I am still unsure of the choreography’s effect on the narrative. Patullo posits that Berkeley choreographies for realistic movies and have narratives that call for numbers set in said realistic contexts. Berkeley “suggests that impossibility is an inherent feature of the musical” (83), as does Kelley, in that he stylizes the numbers through camera movement and film editing. An example of this stylization in 42nd Street is when the camera glides between the showgirls’ bare legs. An audience member watching theater would never be able to take on such a perspective, although many male members might like to do so. So how does this aspect of Berkeley’s choreography affect the film’s narrative and therefore the audience’s experience? I would hypothesize that it provides the viewer with a momentary lapse, a break away from the film’s true narrative and a gateway into a world otherwise inaccessible for most viewers. I.e., it provides spectacle that is not necessarily pertinent to the plot. At the same time, however, the characters’ performance in the numbers, whether they perform the numbers well and whether the editing style reinforces this degree of success, ┬árelate to the narrative and its overarching character arcs. Thus, although Berkeley’s numbers are certainly considered spectacle, the editing style can also be narratively important.