42nd Street Response

The film “42nd Street” illustrates a relatively straight forward, but nevertheless interesting dynamic between spectacle and narrative.  While the two are separated in a pretty clear way, the effect that it has on audiences is quite significant in that it is able to give the audience a feeling of participation.  Connected to this desire of participation is the idea of fandom which is addressed in the narrative of the film.  The combination of this fan culture narrative and the ability to hook audiences in with the spectacle/narrative balance, makes the film quite gripping for certain viewers.

As discussed in Pattullo’s reading, Busby Berkeley had a distinct choreographical and directoral style in his show-within-a-show, “backstange musicals.”  By separating the spectacle and the narrative in an aggregate way, viewers get the narrative behind the scenes look, and then a completely different performance spectacle.  This dynamic is very effective in that the audience feels like a part of the artistic process when they see the backstage narrative aspects, which very much adds to their enjoyment of the spectacle. An example of this separation in “42nd Street” is when are main characer Peggy is rehearsing for hours and hours to the point of collapse minutes before her performance, and yet during the actual dance numbers at the end of the film the character shows no sign of fatigue.  The musical numbers, while still within the realm of the narrative, are completely separate performances.

In terms of fan culture, the plot has much to do with the idea of real world fans getting their big break and rising to the top, much like the story we saw in “Prix du Beauté.”  Fan culture of the time, a predominantly feminine one, was filled with fans who idolized the films and the stars and dreamed to one day become one.  The story of Peggy who barely gets cast into the show in the first place and ends up becoming a star is a storyline that many fans would be interested in.  In addition, the behind the scenes aspects of the plot (even though they are about theater and not necessarily film) could give fans who were intrigued about the mystical filmmaking process a view of what actors, directors, and producers go through to make a show.  The participation effect discussed early is only more effective when dealing with an audience of fans who are already hungry to participate in the first place.