Ken Russell loves Busby Berkeley

Who goes there?

Comin' at ya!

milkman's on his way!


A place in the sun

me so horny

Heaven's Goat

This isn’t a theory! Russell has talked often about his love of Busby Berkeley’s musical numbers (also: Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS; THE WIZARD OF OZ; THE BLUE ANGEL) and specifically homaged them in THE BOYFRIEND, but with a little squinting you can see their influence all over his work. Mad Ken correctly perceives them as nightmarish hallucinations (dreamed up by Busby in the bath under the malign influence of the dry martini, coincidentally Bunuel’s favourite tipple) and uses their Vigorously Oneiric Qualities regularly in his own work. The skull that moves in on us during the credits of GOTHIC is an even closer match for Wini Shaw in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, whom I’ve always referred to as The Floating Head of Death. She freaks me out, drifting in on me like that! Only Arthur Frayn from ZARDOZ is allowed to pull a stunt like that in my household. And even then, only once a year, on his birthday.

Happy Birthday Dear Arthur

Now I’m wondering if the Floating Head Woman against the star-scape at the end of THE ELEPHANT MAN (“Nothing will die”), who fades from view, morphs into Virginia Madsen (we LOVE Virginia Madsen!), slips on a ruff and comes back at the start of DUNE, is also a descendant of Wini Shaw?

Put another way: does David Lynch love Busby Berkeley?

nothing will die

Also known as...Dune

He’d be CRAZY not to!

12 Responses to “Ken Russell loves Busby Berkeley”

  1. I’m surprised you didn’t reference Ken’s specific Busby hommages in The Boy Friend

  2. dovzhenko Says:

    Berkeley is a genius! That close-up of Ginger Roger’s face during the early number in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 is truly disturbing!

  3. I did! Well, I mentioned them (lines 3-4).

  4. Ah, B Kite is very fond of that closeup. She looks like a lovely happy piggie.

  5. Here’s a link to that “Lullaby of Broadway” sequence in “Gold Diggers of 1935″…

    Which only recently did I notice had been homage’d in none other than Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” video (first 30 seconds):

    The Berkeley sequence is pretty weird, especially as it begins with a large audience sitting in a theater waiting for the show to begin….the curtains part…all black…except for a tiny head. WTF!!!!! The framing devices makes what would be just an abstract idea into a surreal one.

  6. Yes, ALL BB’s musical numbers tend to be presented as stage shows, and NONE of them make sense considered as such. In THE RED SHOES, Powell presents us with a highly cinematic ballet, but it’s clear that we’re slowly entering the mind of the ballerina and perceiving what she does. BB just goes STRAIGHT IN to wildly unreal cinematic, and even when he bides his time, there’s no sense that this is some kind of subjective view. You just have to go with the madness.
    By the way, has any director/choreographer KILLED SO MANY PEOPLE in their dance numbers? Not only does Lullaby end in fatality, there are deaths in ROMAN SCANDALS’ slave market number and 42ND STREET, and I suspect others…

  7. David Dunby Says:

    Actually many of BB’s later Warner efforts *don’t* have the theatric frame for the numbers, and for some reason they’re utterly earthbound and “realistic” as a consequence. I guess the proscenium gave him an excuse to launch out.

  8. Y’r right, my “ALL” is clearly erronious. Agree that the theatrical convention liberates BB, what’s inexplicable is the colossal DEGREE to which it does so!

  9. […] Regular Shadowplayers may recall my near-sexual fascination for Busby Berkeley and the FLOATING HEAD OF DEATH. Imagine my all-pervading joy and sheer, sensuous transport at finding another such head at the […]

  10. Cate Blanchett in The Two Towers….

    The floating head of exposition!

  11. Yes, she follows on from Virginia Madsen in that sense. I should write something about The Tingler and its connection to Night of the Hunter — both feature massed floating heads.

  12. […] effects. When Konstam recognises a face from her past in the crowd, it zooms out at her like a Floating Head of Death. When Gwenn looks out his window at the threatened meadowland, he sees it replaced by factories, an […]

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