“”It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”


Credit goes to science fiction novelist Thomas Disch for the title, which comes from his book On Wings Of Song. It’s the name of a movie his characters go to see. I just wanted to see what a Warner pre-code version of 1984, which would have to be made at least fourteen years before the source book got written, would look like.



18 Responses to “GOLD DIGGERS OF 1984”

  1. I feel like we’re missing a trick not casting Jimmy Cagney. The chance for him to shout about rats is an opportunity not to be missed.

  2. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    David Bowie planned an actual musical about 1984 which Orwell’s widow refused. He re-purposed his ideas for the album Diamond Dogs. Knowing what we do about Orwell’s raging homophobia and his castigating people he didn’t like as “pansy”, I don’t think he would have approved Gold Diggers much because he probably saw men dancing as silly.

    I actually do think a 1984 parody would work because I always felt that book was hysterical and paranoid in the extreme, and its contemporary reputation as some kind of political prophecy needs a good pegging down. Terry Gilliam of course did it with BRAZIL and that film is already kind of musical, what with its use of Acquarello do Brazil, which was featured in Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here, if I am not mistaken.

    My 30s Pre-Code casting is Philips Holmes (An American Tragedy, Broken Lullaby) or Richard Barthelmess as Winston, Loretta Young as Julia, and James Cagney or George Raft as O’Brien. The film would be directed by Sternberg because he would automatically get on board with the book’s S&M subtext.

  3. Matthew Davis Says:

    In Disch’s fix-up “334” the filmgoing habits of one of the characters is detailed, including real films and ones off the top of Tom’s heda:

    A Girl of the Limberlost and Strangers on a Train; Don Hershey as Melmoth and Stanford White; Penn’s Hellbottom; The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle; Escape from Cuernavaca and Singing in the Rain; Franju’s Thomas l’Imposteur and Jude; Dumbo; Jacquelynn Colton in The Confessions of St. Augustine; both parts of Daniel Deronda; Candide; Snow White and Juliet; Brando in On the Waterfront and Down Here . . . Loren and Mastroianni in Sunflower and Black Eyes and Lemonade; Rainer Murray’s Owens and Darwin; The Zany World of Abbott and Costello; The Hills of Switzerland and The Sound of Music; Garbo in Camille and Anna Christie; Zarlah the Martian . . . The Best of Judy Canova; Pale Fire; Felix Culp; The Greek Berets and Day of the Locust; Sam Blazer’s Three Christs of Ypsilanti; On the Yard; Wednesdays Off; both parts of Stinky in the Land of Poop; the complete ten-hour Les Vampires; The Possibilities of Defeat; and the shortened version of Things in the World.

    Disch’s filmmaker friend John Crowley has tried to unravel some of this:

    The delicate wit of this list (and its links to the book’s core) earns it a decoding, as pages of Joyce do. Don Hershey and Jacquelynn Colton are stars of the future, in weirdly unlikely projects (Hershey also plays Whitman in a teevee program.) Disch’s friend (and 334 dedicatee) Jerry Mundis gets his novel filmed by Arthur Penn. The latest edition of the book regards The Greek Berets of the original as a misprint, but what about Franju’s Jude, not Judex? It’s just as likely this is Tom Disch’s otherworld of movies, where a George Eliot Renaissance novel can be filmed in two parts, a film can be called Felix Culp (cf. “felix culpa”), and Norman Grisewood’s 1909 thriller about airships on Mars can be a beloved movie. This is self-conscious worldmaking, inside made outside in the forge of wish fulfillment.

    and Eli Bishop made another attempt at explicating and distinguishing real from unreal:

  4. Oh, that’s GREAT. All of it.

    Makes me want to write a movie list mixing genuine unmade (but talkedabout) films with fictional additions, lost films and a few ambiguous mistakes. Franju’s Jude and The Greek Berets are so evocative!

    Loretta Young would be good as “a revolutionary from the waist down.” As a serious O’Brien, I might go for Paul Muni: one of the few roles where his heaviness would make sense. You don’t want anyone who’s fun to watch. Raymond Massey would have been perfect.

    Or… I did consider Pat O’Brien, just to save on lettering.

    Bowie’s 1984 is a tantalising dream but I suspect works better as the existing fragments.

    The movie Smith goes to see in 1984 sounds interesting, and the idea of how callous the audience has become, laughing at kids being shot, seems almost prophetic. And the image of the severe arm going up, up in the air fore-shadows 2001’s flying bone.

    Cagney screaming about rats is funny, and he could do his hysterical act from the end of Angels with Dirty Faces.

  5. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Raymond Massey’s character in AMOLAD is O’Brien-ish, “In the whole universe, there is nothing stronger than the law” which is almost Kafkaesque as an aphorism, and Kafka most certainly hovers over Nineteen Eighty-Four. I remember reading somewhere that Orwell had seen Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and liked it.

    Although I think the Powell-Pressburger movie that is most similar in terms of atmospherics is The Small Back Room, and David Farrar, Katherine Byron, and Jack Hawkins might well have affected the characterization of Winston, Julia and O’Brien. The influence of cinema on writers of the 30s and 40s tends to be a neglected subject. Man say that 1984 is most directly based on Orwell’s experience of London during wartime and his time in the ministry of information, and The Small Back Room is a post-war movie that directly rebuts the propagandistic cheeriness that Powell and other British film-makers trafficked in during the war.

  6. The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing by Nicholas Rombes had some fascinating “lost” films that were all destroyed by the titular character, but the part that always fascinated me was a fictional (I think) version of the KUBARK manual by the CIA that included the idea of films created to inflict torture on the viewer.

    I mean, it’s easy to make a joke about a bad movie being this way, but the idea of some shady government agency making films meant to actively discomfit and terrify the viewer as a counter-interrogation technique could definitely support a story (or a DePalma film)

  7. Matthew Davis Says:

    Orwell used to do film reviews for “Time and Tide” in the early years of WW2. My very vague memories from my Orwell excavation almost 20 years ago are that

    1) Orwell had no very great engagement with the matter of film – it agreeably passed the time or it didn’t – with snippy comments for what he perceived as Hollywood’s contempt for its audience

    2) the column space provided allowed for little more than plotting and throwaway comments, except in the case of The Great Dictator which got most of a page

    3) and he had almost no engagement with comedies whatsoever (though he enjoyed cartoons) and would berate happy endings which failed to grapple with the intrinsic economic and social matter of their stories – rise up against those fat millionaire fathers, rise up!

  8. Unexpectedly, this comments thread is becoming the greatet thing ever.

    Hmm, Orwell liked cartoons? Maybe (1) he got the Animal Farm he deserved and (b) Halas and Bechelor should have done 1984 instead. With friendly animated rats with Mickey Mouse bowling ball ears.

    Am fascinate by the idea of literal torture-films. This is the backstory of MST3K, of course.

    The CIA did get into movie production, backing the aforementioned Animal Farm toon, and the Michael Anderon version of 1984, both of which gained optimistic/defiant endings and which inexplicably failed to include the words “From the people who brought you the 1953 Iranian coup d’etat,” on the poster.

    The CIA has famously used music for torture and psychological warfare, so movies would not be surprising.

  9. John Seal Says:

    Big Brother is watching Hugh is the best thing I’ve seen or read in months. Perhaps my entire life…

  10. bensondonald Says:

    I have two fantasy unmade films:

    FATHER OF THE BRIDE with Oliver Hardy in the Spencer Tracy role, plus Stan as the father of the groom who tags after him trying to be useful. Ollie as the nominal master of an aspirational American family seems a natural; Stan would be a marginally upper class twit with a Wodehouse-style Amazon wife. After Hal Roach the boys were never cast as married and almost never much above poverty; a shame as the boys were aging into perfect types for the world Robert Benchley explored in his more sitcommish shorts.

    ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET SHERLOCK HOLMES, allowing Basil Rathbone to help them kill off Holmes much as they killed off the Universal Monsters. Nigel Bruce might flummox Lou with British slang (“A sticky what-it?”). The tag would be Bud & Lou sailing home from backlot England, vowing to stay away from murders. They are promptly recruited by Sidney Tolar, playing an unauthorized Charlie Chan.

  11. bensondonald Says:

    Oh, and a suggested musical moment for GOLDDIGGERS OF 1984: The monstrous nightclub in the “Lullaby of Broadway” number, when its army of identical dancers are tapping without music. Maybe superimpose a Big Brother poster over Dick Powell and his date.

  12. Massive production number of “Under the spreading chestniut tree / I sold you and you sold me,” with Billy Barty as the child who reports his father to the authorities.

  13. Regarding the torture films: isn’t there a John Carpenter film about a film that drives viewers mad? I think the idea pops up in Infinite Jest and Flicker too?

    My dream fantasy film: a theoretical bad horror film where every element – bad acting, shoddy filmmaking, low rent production values – combine to accidentally create an atmospherenof umimitgated accidental terror. A masterpiece made solely of bad parts if you will. Or even something like the King in Yellow, where the first act is banal? and the second drives you mad…

  14. Fee here – SPOILER ALERT. The John Carpenter film is In The Mouth Of Madness. And the movie Sam Neill goes to see has the same title. The gimmick is that he’s discovered he’s a fictional character –

    Oh, and want a 1984 spoof? Here you go –

  15. F – And speaking of Pirandello type tomfoolery.

  16. Matthew Davis Says:

    Just to round off all things Dischian and filmic, there’s a typically cheery conte by Cuddly Uncle Tom about love, art and alladat goodstuff in the NYC avant garde film and poetry community of the late 60s “The Joycelin Schrager Story”:

  17. Randy Cook Says:

    Speaking of Tomfoolery, Mr. Lehrer beat Mr. Disch, more or less, to that particular punch by almost 15 years

  18. He went for “Broadway Melody” but, yes, it’s the same joke… Tom Lehrer did EVERYTHING first.

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