Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: EgyptProp

"It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized - or at least apolitical."
Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

Herewith a little slice of Socialist-Realist extravaganza, Nasser-style.  Filmed in the late '50s, at the height of Egypt's attempt to create a Pan-Arab union, this remarkable number is El Watan El Akbar (The Great Homeland).  It features not only the composer, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, as the apparently only moderately enthusiastic conductor, but a range of the Arabic world's greatest stars, including Abdelhalim Hafiz (the Frank Sinatra of the Nile) and - the first female vocalist - the remarkable Sabah, who is still very much among us at an age rumored to be anything from 89 to 101.  Together, they present a regional pantheon, backed up during their solos by Ethnic Dancers of Many Lands.

In Arabic, this kind of patriotic pageant is called an "operetta," something that, if you are new to the region, can lead to false expectations when attending a state occasion, given the light years that separate them from something like The Merry Widow.

As a whole, this piece reminds me somehow of the finale of There's No Business Like Show Business as reinterpreted by Madame Mao. It's a reminder, perhaps, that there is not as much distance between the anything-to-entertain sensibility of Busby Berkeley and the aesthetics, such as they are, of authoritarianism as would entirely please either side...


  1. Wow. Just wow.

    Bourgeois socialism, backed up by a chorus of airline attendants and joyless conductor leading a very western looking orchestra.

    Wow. Just wow.

  2. It's vaguely reminiscent of the closing number in "Strike Up the Band." And Sabah reminds me of Debbie Reynolds.

  3. Secret Agent Fred and i watched this together and were wowed. We were also convinced the singer in the strapless peach dress is a guy complete with an adam's apple.