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Why Gosling Should Take that Busby Berkeley Biopic (CLIPS)

by Anne Thompson
March 20, 2014 5:29 PM
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Why am I jazzed at the idea of Ryan Gosling taking on a biopic of an old Hollywood choreographer and director who is long forgotten by too many? Because Busby Berkeley was cool.

He's a great, sexy subject--not unlike doing a movie of the life of "Cabaret" director Bob Fosse. (Oh, he already did it himself: "All That Jazz." BTW, there's a must-read new bio out by Sam Wasson, who's picking up screenwriting gigs.) Berkeley moved from Broadway as a 20s dance director to Hollywood, where he helped to create the movie musical genre with a string of brilliant movies for Warner Bros. Check out the elaborate camera moves and kaleidoscopic dancers in "42nd Street," "Footlight Parade" and "Gold Diggers of 1933"-- all released in 1933 alone. Berkeley, who never trained as a dancer, drilled holes in soundstage ceiling for the overhead cameras. And watch the hallucinogenic clips below (Carmen Miranda with phallic bananas! Jimmy Cagney singing and dancing to "Shanghai Lil"!) and I urge you to acquire the Busby Berkeley Collection, Volumes I and II. Berkeley started directing in pre-Code Hollywood when it was exciting and its players were inventing things as they went along. 

Warner Bros. has optioned the Jeffrey Spivak biography "Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley" with "Drive" producer Marc Platt, who produced Disney's Sondheim musical "Into the Woods" and has long been developing a movie version of "Wicked" for Universal--he's just waiting for the global stage musical to run out of steam. He also just produced Gosling's recently wrapped "How to Catch a Monster," the star's writing and directing debut. Hopefully Platt and Gosling will bring on someone with superb musical/visual chops to direct--maybe Platt's "Wanted" director Timur Bekmambetov, Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls") or Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge"). No writer is yet attached.

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More: Ryan Gosling


  • Jules Merchant | March 24, 2014 8:01 PMReply

    I don't think Busby Berkeley is as forgotten as you think he is, you'd probably be surprised how many people under 50 know of him.

  • Joseph Angier | March 21, 2014 8:57 PMReply

    Anne ... There's no straight guy in the world who loves Busby Berkeley more than I do, but this project has the feel of something that won't actually get greenlit. As one of your commenters pointed out, who under 50 even knows about him? And as you pointed out, look at the difficulties King Spielberg had in getting his recent biopic off the ground. Having said that, if this does miraculously get made, expect to see me at the theater on opening day.

  • Car | March 20, 2014 11:24 PMReply

    More animated than Gosling? This will be right up his alley. He's got more tricks up his sleeves people. A great knowledge of film history and a great dancer himself. He's just getting started. I hear his directorial debut is strange but in the best way possible.

  • who? | March 22, 2014 6:21 PM

    "I hear his directorial debut is strange but in the best way possible." Curious, according to whom? The film is in post-production, so the only people who could comment are cast and crew, who aren't exactly unbiased.

    Not sure about this one and not sure about Gosling either starring or directing, but I'll try to keep an open mind.

  • Brian | March 21, 2014 11:07 AM

    Hey, what do I know? I've only seen him in DRIVE.

  • cadavra | March 20, 2014 9:26 PMReply

    Gotta admit, it takes balls to make a biopic of someone barely no one under 50 has heard of. But I dunno about Gosling; you need someone more animated. (I could see Jon Hamm in the part.) I'm also leery of this being in color, but I guess we have no say in that one. In any event, I'm hoping this is a go project, and as Meredith noted, doesn't shy away from the bad stuff.

  • Meredith Brody | March 20, 2014 5:40 PMReply

    He was also an alcoholic who killed someone in a drunk-driving incident. Hushed up at the time by his studio employers.

  • Brian | March 20, 2014 5:34 PMReply

    I don't see Gosling in the part. You need someone a lot more animated. And, no, not DiCaprio either!

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