The Boy Friend (Great Britain, 1971):

If nothing else, Ken Russell's parodical vacuum-cleaner of Hollywood musicals proves his incomprehension of music isn't limited to classical composers only -- it also extends to Sandy Wilson's jazz-age spoof, whose revue-pastiche charm Russell crushes with remorseless virtuosity. The setting is a ramshackle theatrical company scrambling to keep their show, acted out to an empty audience, from coming unglued from the many dramas besieging the troupe, the first number done in a deliberately static Broadway Melody long-shot. Busby Berkeley is the main template lurking in the wings, though, and Russell raids his shift from theatrical space to pinwheel illusionism -- the shift from the Lumières to Méliès, basically -- for his pulping avalanche of monotonously elaborate extravaganzas. Lovelorn, toothpick-limbed ingenue Twiggy, suddenly landing leading-lady status after star Glenda Jackson arrives hobbling on crutches for visiting Hollywood royalty (Vladek Sheybal as "Cecil B. De Thrill"), gets envisioned at one point as a gold-plated hood ornament on an outsized automobile, but the tip of the picture's voracious kitsch-tableaux. Russell labors over Pan 'n' Charleston orgies, yet misses Berkeley's vertiginously Dionysian libido -- Russell's own linkage of choreography and sexuality abounds in manufactured brashness, so that the camera's track through the outstretched gams of chorines or a tap-dancing showdown between rows of hoofers decked in dice outfits all have a plastic taste. There's the crux between distancing artifice and surging emotion at the heart of the musical, and genre deconstructions from Singin' in the Rain to Pennies From Heaven got to the pop appeal that eludes the yowza showstoppers. Twiggy sings "All I Do Is Dream of You" to juvenile Christopher Gable, and the sweetness gets leeched by cynical staging -- imagine Terence Davies handling the same scene, and Russell's knowingness becomes more repellent than his barbecue of Oliver Reed at the end of The Devils. With Max Adrian, Georgina Hale, Tommy Tune, Barbara Windsor, and Antonia Ellis.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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