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Zeitgeist, Goldiggers, Cremaster and Cinema

by Vince Bushell

Get out your wayback machine, ’cause I am taking you back to the 20th century, about 1971, and you are sitting in a darkened theater watching 25 dancing girls on the big screen. They are in a circle and you are looking down on them as they smile at you. They are the petals of a flower. This is a Busby Berkeley film, The Gold Diggers of 1933, and part of a Berkeley series that ran at UWM’s Union Theatre. As you watch, especially those enveloped in the purple haze which was certainly part of the spirit of the ’70s, you are yanked back in time to the ’30s, as only movies can do. And you think, “Wow, what were those guys on?” It is hard to actually get a handle on the Zeitgeist (roughly “spirit of the age”) of a time when you are right in the middle of it. But looking back, to this 20-something the early ’70s meant: stop the war, end racism, women’s liberation, and pass the joint. And here on the screen was certainly a different time and spirit. Gold digging — as in a young lass with great legs catching the good life by connecting with a rich old cat — was viewed, if not with approval, with a wink. Hard times of the depression were countered by lavish escapist production numbers and the hit song was “We’re in the Money.” I don’t know what Berkeley and friends were on, but the imagination, creativity, and entertainment value of these movies was way up there. Riverwest Film and Video may get one or two of these films in to rent, but if you ever get the chance, try to see one on the big screen. The Berkeley series was part of the grand tradition that the UWM Union Theatre has been providing to our community for years and is continuing to provide. If the Matthew Barney and his Cremaster Cycle is any indication of the current Zeitgeist, watch out. Barney’s cycle was shown at the Times Theater in September, and I had the opportunity to view Cremaster 1 and 2. A cremaster, by the way, is the muscle that …well it has to do with guys’ naughty bits and protecting the family jewels. Why name a movie cycle after that? If that were the only question these films brought to mind it would be easy to explain. The crowds stood outside the Times and shared 1/4 baked, 1/2 baked, and fully baked ideas about what they just saw. Let me say that the films were visually stunning with strong symbolic underpinnings related to eggs, fetal development, sex, dancing, murder, the death penalty, and Mormonism. Oh, and I almost forgot, there were dancing girls, strongly reminiscent of scenes from Berkeley’s Goldigger movies. Same as it ever was.