Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Twentieth Century Blue

You know, when you think about it, I very rarely ask much of you, Gentle Readers, so I hope you won't mind if today I do.

And I'm not really asking all that much - only that you devote just under ten minutes of your busy lives to watching this remarkable, remarkable thing.

There.  Now wasn't that worth it?

The music, of course, is "Rhapsody in Blue," the landmark work by Mr. George Gershwin, which had its world premiere in New York 90 years ago today, under the baton of Mr. Paul Whiteman, leading his Palais Royal Orchestra, with Gershwin himself on piano.

This, just to be clear, is not that night (the Aeolian Hall was nice, but I doubt it featured a two-story powder-blue concert grand), nor are any of those chorus boys pretending to play the piano Gershwin.  It's still Paul Whiteman, though, and the color is original.  It was a real challenge to get something like an actual blue using the two-strip Technicolor technology available in 1930, when this was made, as the two-strips themselves were red and green.  The movie was Universal's prestige release that year, however, and the effort lavished on King of Jazz (Whiteman's unofficial title) paid off, even though some at the time snarkily referred its big number as "Rhapsody in Turquoise."

I think it's pretty splendid, from the fabulous exotic dance that introduces it to the LouiseBrooksische showgirls to the very idea that a movie - even a revue like King of Jazz - could just stop in its tracks and say, "people, look at this," (much as I've done to you) knowing that it was in fact so wonderful that they would.  Ninety years later, they still do.  You're welcome.


  1. When you ask an indulgence of 10 minutes time, I know it's for a reason. A spectacular reason, as it turns out! I'm all but wrung out from the ecstasy of this. I will only add that I suspect the "LouiseBrooksische showgirls" was more of an homage to the great Dolly Sisters, who had retired but 2 years before.

    Thank you for this high calorie confection.

  2. You didn't have to ask twice, my dear! Utterly fabulous - and a formula for life by which I aspire to live... Jx

  3. Too, too faboo! Too bad that Mr. G. wasn't in this, as he was kind of a dish...
    Who, one wonders, was the (clearly not a real) clarinet player? It appears he had on WAY more makeup than the chorines...

    1. You've inspired me - I went and checked. He is apparently one George Chiles, and this is his only film credit. The male GraceJonesian presence at the top of the number is, I've learned, one Jacques Cartier, a dancer admired by Ruth St. Denis and a Follies featured act. Surprisingly, he's wearing what amount to full-body blackface, as he was quite emphatically white.

    2. Mr Chiles went on to a stage career in John Murray Anderson's revues including 'Fanfare' (which was on at at the Prince Edward Theatre, London in 1932).

      M. Cartier apparently performed with Fanny Bryce, W. C. Fields and Eddie Cantor, and lived until 2001 - imagine the stories he could tell!


  4. You are both founts of wisdom! Thanks for sharing...