One can draw a direct line from Busby Berkeley to the demented glitter spectacles that Hibiscus performed with the Cockettes starting in 1970. “Mom used to take us to the Bleecker Street Cinema,” Jayne Anne Harris said, “and they showed all those Busby Berkeley movies, and Fred Astaire.” Ann Harris brought her kids almost every weekend to see those old films, which they also watched on television in their East Village apartment. “You stayed up past one in the morning and watched, if you dared to stay up that late,” Jayne Ann said, “except we always stayed up that late for theater.” Lisa Jane Persky also saw those films, on the late-night television series Million Dollar Movie. “Everything was glitter, glamour, glory, gold,” she said. “We would all mimic those close-ups. The idea was just to take that glamour and just push it as far as you could. It was making fun of those old movies, but in a loving way. Imagine watching a Busby Berkeley film and thinking, ‘Okay, let’s try that.’ It was a lot of fun to blow it up and make it as audacious and ridiculous as you possibly could.” The revived popularity of those old films can be traced back to the mid-1950s, when Hollywood studios compensated for shrinking profits by licensing their content to television (every major studio except for MGM sold their back catalog of pre-1948 films to distributors that licensed them to broadcasters). This dramatically changed viewers’ relationship to Hollywood, making those movies more readily available for playful appropriation.
From Chapter 13 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore