The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

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Original plot
William Powell golden ages through Broadway and has as many ups and downs as the legs of his chorus girls.

Big changes
You know, there really should be a parental warning in some of these movies for blackface scenes. I’d really like to know that ahead of time. And then it comes back for a brief second! I had the same reaction when watching Holiday Inn. But, William Powell is amazing as always (Myrna Loy, too!) and it’s crazy that the Behind the Music arc was alive in well in the 1930s. What’s the closest thing we have to Broadway? I’d say Bravo…

The Random Remake
Florence Ziegfeld (Kristen Wiig) is the latest in a long line of a powerful entertainment management family. She pretty much inherited the family business from birth, when we see her family presiding over lavish musical movies. She takes over the business at the start of the 1980s, and quickly falls for the blockbuster era. We see her pulling together ideas for the biggest movies ever made. She evens falls for the high-priced lead actor she lured from France, Andrew Held (Vincent Cassel). We see the deals, the handshakes, the huge sets and money pouring away. This is a post-Star Wars, post-Jaws time and she wants big pictures, big budgets, big returns. Well, she gets the first two – and her movies (a pirate one and a western one) bomb big time. She’s ruined the family name, and she’s got nothing left but that very name.

Desperate to rebuild her company she starts pitching ideas all around Hollywood. But no one cares for the has-been legacy child. Producer Jack Billings (Billy Crystal), who she famously outbid for the rights to both the pirate and western flops, relishes when she comes back to beg for money and her turns her down. Flo is down in the dumps – well-heeled dumps due to her mansion she still has, but she’s depressed. She drinks TaB and watches music videos all day. And that’s when inspirado hits her. Andrew makes an off-hand comment about the music videos being too fruity and that real actors should be in them, not the boring bands. The idea strikes Flo: She’s going to get back into show business, by producing a reality show about a pop band!

Flo signs the high-hair girl group called Sandow, and hitches her wagon to the theatrics of its lead singer Audrey Dane (Emily Browning). Audrey is a dramatic booze-hound, with a penchant for wild antics – and the show is a massive success. Flo keeps the publicity stoked with fake stories about romances and arrests involving Audrey, creating headlines in the rags. This rankles Billings, now the CEO of the network the show is on, but he goes with it when the ratings shoot up. At first, Audrey doesn’t mind the fake stories because they feed her ego, but soon she tires of the lies and the repetitiveness. So, too, does the audience for the show. The big hit burned brightly but flamed out just as quickly.

Flo tries to copy her success, and signs up for another reality show – this time with a muscle-bound action star from Germany, Frank Banx (Jason Momoa). Billings reluctantly agrees to finance the show but it starts slowly. Flo tries to get Banx around the VIP clubs and paparazzi, but it doesn’t get off the ground, because he’s kind of a bore. Andrew then accuses her of having an affair with Frank, which she denies. Using that accusation, she leaks made-up stories to the magazines of an affair – just to get ratings up. It works, but she loses Andrew in the process. But again the show flames out when people grow weary of the premise, and Flo is again back to square one.

Now Flo is trying to pitch new reality shows but the networks aren’t biting. She sneaks into a charity ball to see Billings, to try to get him once again to finance a show. But Billings is there with former soap opera actor turned one-hit wonder Bill Burke (Mark Duplass) a new star he’s trying to persuade to be in a show he’s getting on track about a talking sports car. Flo intervenes and tells him he should be in a show about himself and his music. He agrees with Flo, much to the chagrin of Billings – but he decides to finance the show anyway. Bill and Flo develop the show and fall in love, and their lives are now on camera in the biggest show on cable.

The pitch
The Great Ziegfeld: Trying to catch your heart is like trying to catch a star

Next up: Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

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