01 June, 2006

Forgotten men


Thus, a billboard outside a Baptist church near Woodbridge, VA, demonstrates what can be done with an ablaut. Are we humanists, I wonder, among the lost, the last, or indeed, the least?

Today we leave America, though not for the last time, as we return in August. Fittingly then, the last DVDs we watch before the plane are genuine Americana classics from the 30s, The Green Pastures, and three Busby Berkeley gems of 1933. These latter efforts are entirely forgettable for their plots; we adore only those showstopping choreographies, and Dick Powell's face, so wholesomely lascivious. (Or, as Mrs. Roth suggests, lasciviously wholesome.) Who could fail to enjoy Berkeley's human patterns, like those old abstract-geometric animations set to swing melodies, but enfleshed with the finest blondes of Hollywood, and bursting with that joyful communalism of the New Deal? Pictured below, a syntaxis of stills from the films, each top-down on a troupe of dancers, captured by me, with painstaking jiggery-pokery, for the delight of my readers.

They remind me of cell diagrams, meiosis and mitosis and all that, or Kircher's volcanic earth. Who knew you could have such fun with a top-down camera? Note the soldiers-as-eagle, centre, firing their rifles on all angles.

This is incantatory stuff, sowing happy oblivion in the minds of the Depressed, and in our minds too. One can almost forget the dissociation of his ideals, immersed in such fantasia. Even so, the realities of the time are made now and then quite apparent—Warren William, the director/producer character of Gold Diggers of 1933, tells his cast he wants marching, marching, and a music that's wailing, wailing, the cry of the Forgotten Man of the Depression, the lost, the last and the least. Meanwhile, the oddly Stockard Channingesque Ruby Keeler seems game for anything, with a knowing grin on her face as she taps her heart out, dolled up as pussy-cat, heathen Chinee or girl-next-door. American movies, despite their smatterings of sirens and tit-counts, seem to have lost the sex-appeal so evident in these pieces. Massed baigneuses with bizarre Art Nouveau hairstyles, frolicking by a waterfall? Massed violonistes with neon instruments and gigantic skirts, twirling in geometric unison? Shanghai Lil? Petting in the park—bad girl! It is impossible to resist.

Sometimes we need not subtlety, but spectacle; and these spectacles are so serene, waltzing and lilting, with strings repeating over and over a simple melody, and all pretense of reality quite defenestrated.

I will not be too sad to leave the States. The heat was becoming unbearable, as was the wasteland of strip-malls and construction-work. Glad, too, to be back where I belong, in the city of freemasonry and good beer, with my own Shanghai Lil. I hope, in the coming months, to approach still closer my journeymanship of the guild of humanists—meiosis, mitosis and all that—to join the hallowed ranks of the lost, the last and the least.


Sir G said...

So, we have been staring at things for their pure aesthetic appeal, have we?

Sir G said...

Have a safe trip home, Conrad!

Conrad H. Roth said...

Not everything has to be intellectualised!

Sir G said...

God, no.

I wrote a post in this spirit about hankies and side-dish plates Sei Shonagon brought from Japan (its called "Pretty Things" and though a sort of contribution to the debate of what is beauty, the point is really to say: look at these things!). And today I bought 12 new pieces of pottery at my favorite kiln -- they are deliciously beautiful and I should not be surprised if they too make it to my blog. :)

I spend inordinate amounts of time mindlessly staring at things.