The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
The Brechtian epic is defined by the length and breadth of it’s story, and though The Great Ziegfeld chronicles almost the whole life of Florenz Ziegfeld Jnr I finished the film without feeling like I had learned a hell of a lot. All that’s really sticking are the pretty girls and the amazing sets. The aesthetic is gorgeous, but the film doesn’t really move far beyond that.
Consider The Great Ziegfeld a sooped-up version of The Broadway Melody. If The Broadway Melody was a teenager, experimenting with new-found freedoms and making it’s mistakes, then The Great Ziegfeld is in the prime of young adulthood – experienced, confident and sure of what it wants. Massive songs and dances immaculately choreographed, incredible sets and jaw-dropping costumes define The Great Ziegfeld. The film takes all of the technological advances of the era and combines them with superb showmanship, and boy does it feel expensive!
Like it’s gentleman subject, The Great Ziegfeld sells itself to the audience through dazzle and magnificence. Giant revovling sets with literally over 100 performers, huge dance numbers and bizarre dinner dresses on parade make this film a spectacle right to the core. What makes it work is that after about an hour and a half, The Great Ziegfeld stops lying to itself about what it wants to be and gives us forty minutes straight of showy song and dance numbers. When you’re comitted, you’re convincing, and when The Great Ziegfeld sells what it sets out to, it doesn’t mess you around.
But the potential problem; what is this film other than glossy aesthetic? Louise Rainer definantly earns her Best Actress award for her portait of the breathless French primadonna, but other than that…there’s not a hell of a lot here. Still, there’s nothing wrong with showiness other than one’s pesonal taste, and The Great Ziegfeld suits me just fine.