High Museum of Art: Films


Guilty Pleasures by Linda Dubler
Carmen Miranda

Carmen Miranda

Next week I’ll be writing about summer movies, but to start things off (and with Latin American cinema on my mind since I’m planning the upcoming 24th Latin American Film Festival) I want to share one of my guilty pleasures – Carmen Miranda in The Gang’s All Here .

Kids today (you know who you are) look to the Davids (Lynch and Cronenberg) when they need their surrealist fix, but for gloom-free other-worldliness there’s no one like Carmen Miranda. Known as the Brazilian Bombshell,  and the inspiration for Chiquita Banana, Miranda’s flame has been kept alive by generations of drag queens, but I sense that among post-Baby Boomers only the hard-core camp connoisseurs know her. On a recently re-aired episode of America’s Next Top Model, the contestants were challenged to channel Miranda’s spirit during a photo shoot in her old neighborhood; they smoldered away, but not one captured her over-caffeinated gleam. (See their sorry efforts here.)

Chiquita Banana

Chiquita Banana

Miranda, who was born in Portugal and raised in Brazil, was a huge star before she hit Hollywood. Her produce-aisle headgear, mangled English, and general air of hopped up zaniness, was a perfect fit for World War II era audiences eager for cinematic escape (and a tinsel-town emanation of the U.S.’s Good Neighbor Policy). She may have been one of the most highly paid women in show biz during the 40s, but from her on-screen performances it looks like she worked hard for the money.

Her supernova radiance reached its apotheosis in The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat number from The Gang’s All Here. Busby Berkeley’s choreography has never been more Freudian — check out the undulating bananas and colossal berries — and a tanker truck of B12 couldn’t endow most of us mortals with Miranda’s energy.

It’s easy to watch just a YouTube clip but The Gang’s All Here has other allures, including a cast that includes some of Hollywood’s finest character actors and a gonzo finale called The Polka Dot Polka. Seek out the June 2008 re-release as part of 20th Century Fox’s “Carmen Miranda Collection,” which features a neon-bright color transfer.

-Linda Dubler