Sunday, September 27, 2009

The 1930s

Adam Begley reviews Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein and finds some serious gaps:

After a fond, lingering look at “Shall We Dance” — Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in the spotlight, romancing to songs by George and Ira Gershwin — Dickstein sums up expertly: “Each number is a miniature of the movie, moving from singing alone, dancing alone, dancing with the wrong person, or dancing to the wrong music to making beautiful music together.” ...

Which makes the omission of Walt Disney (his name doesn’t even appear in the index) all the more perplexing. Even if one rejects the provocative claim by the historian Warren Susman that “Mickey Mouse may in fact be more important to an understanding of the 1930s than Franklin Roosevelt,” it’s hard to deny Disney a place in the pantheon of the decade’s movie makers, if only for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Fantasia.” Whether or not the cartoons that delighted ’30s audiences are complex works of art, they would have slotted nicely into several of Dickstein’s chapters. On the lookout for a cultural artifact that served to “lift sagging morale and stimulate optimism about the future”? ...

More than Zanuck's topical films torn from newspaper headlines (I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Public Enemy, Grapes of Wrath, etc.) or Warner Bros's emphasis on social justice (Angels with Dirty Faces, Adventures of Robin Hood), Disney was probably the touchstone for Depression-era audiences. "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wofl" was practically a national anthem, Mickey Mouse was the most popular cartoon character, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the highest grossing feature between 1930 and 1939.

So yeah. It's strange that Uncle Walt doesn't get a mention.


Jeff Massie said...

I bought this book and read a couple of chapters before I gave up.

A waste of $20.00 (and I didn't even notice that Disney was excluded).

Site Meter