Cecil B. DeMille’s “Madam Satan,” dance-dissected, March 15 5

Dance · Film

madam satan
Delighted to announce my talk, “Theodore Kosloff & Cecil B. DeMille Meet Madam Satan” concerning the notorious early talkie-musical, co-sponsored by the American Cinematheque and the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. The “illustrated lecture” is slated for Saturday March 15, 2 pm, coupled with a screening of MADAM SATAN (MGM, 1930), at the Egyptian Theatre.

The subject concerns Ballets Russes dancer Theodore Kosloff who, starting in 1916, appeared in almost 30 silent movies, a film career interrupted by the introduction of sound to motion pictures. The talk derives from an essay of the same name to be published by the Institute of Modern Russian Culture at University of Southern California, in its esteemed journal “Experiment” (Fall 2014). Announcement here:

madamsatan_390Dance critic Debra Levine brings new insight to art-deco favorite MADAM SATAN (MGM, 1930, dir. Cecil B. DeMille), zeroing in on the early talkie’s bizarre and exceptional “ballet mecanique” that takes place in a zeppelin. Levine has researched the director’s 40-year friendship with Theodore Kosloff, a Ballets Russes dancer who acted in more than thirty silent movies, most directed by DeMille. DeMille’s consultations with Kosloff concerning MADAM SATAN, on the cusp of the Depression, resulted in the dancer’s appearance as “The Spirit of Electricity.” Levine will share the back story of the development of MADAM SATAN’s inimitable movie-musical sequence.

Co-presented by the American Cinematheque and the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles with support from the Cecil B. DeMille Foundation. Part of Hollywood Heritage‘s Centennial Celebration of the Lasky-DeMille partnership.

Please attend! It’s a wild ride in a zeppelin.

photo credit: Madam Satan poster, thank you, Dr. Macro

Theodore Kosloff & Cecil B. DeMille Meet Madam Satan Egytian Theatre March 15, 2 pm

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5 thoughts on “Cecil B. DeMille’s “Madam Satan,” dance-dissected, March 15

  1. Mark A. Martin Mar 17,2014 12:23 pm

    The afternoon of “Madam Satan” at the Egyptian Theatre was an exceptional treat for film buffs and members of the Dance Community alike! Debra’s outstanding presentation in regard to the little-known career of Theodore Kosloff and this equally little-known Cecile B. DeMille film was well-researched, expertly documented and was presented with an entertaining flair. It’s a noteworthy addition to the archives of the Cecil B. DeMille Foundation.

    Although the movie itself failed in its original box office release and was certainly not up to par with Mr. DeMille’s other films, it has some interesting qualities in regard to symbolism and Hollywood trivia. The “Ballet Mechanique,” created by Choreographer Theodore Kosloff and in which he appeared as the “Spirit of Electricity,” was interesting to watch for its periods of synchronized mechanical body movement and for its symbolism of a well-oiled machine, as suggested by a quick dissolve shot of machinery in motion.

    The best acting performances, in my opinion, were those of the two supporting actors of a Hollywood trivial pursuit. One of those actors was Roland Young, as the befuddled friend of the Infidel husband and the long-suffering wife; and who would himself only a few years later gain fame in the title role as a befuddled victim of supernatural activity in the three installments of the hit film series “Topper.” The other was that of Lillian Roth, a noted singer/actress whose autobiography “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” was adapted into a screenplay for the 1955 film which starred Susan Hayward in the leading role as Ms. Roth.

    It was also comical to watch scenes which took obvious creative license. For example, although the parachutes on the foundering Zeppelin near the end of the film were disengaged on snag lines, they unfurled almost perfectly in strong gale force cross-winds! In reality, many of those chutes, if any at all, would not have opened under such conditions. In my imagination, I was surprised that the symbolic free-wheeling volts of the Spirit of Electricity did not set off the hydrogen gas in the Zeppelin’s gigantic containment chamber above the gondola! Well, the film did not unfurl at the box office nor did it set off any must-see explosions of interest for movie audiences when it was originally released; but still, it is an interesting piece of Hollywood History.

    Thank you, Debra, for your truly fascinating and beautifully researched presentation. Above all, thank you so much for bringing to light the work of so many unsung Choreographers and Dance Professionals in Hollywood. As you said, Los Angeles was a Mecca for Dance Professionals in its heyday and so few of them have received the recognition that they truly deserve. Keep up the good work for them!

  2. George Chakiris Feb 5,2014 4:22 pm

    Somethin’s comin’ and I’m going!!! This sounds wonderful, not to be missed !!!

  3. Mark A. Martin Jan 16,2014 12:32 pm

    Sounds like it’s going to be a real “hot” screening… and from Cecil B. DeMille, yet! Looking forward to it.

  4. Dana Ross Jan 15,2014 11:10 am

    This will be a great event. Can’t wait.

  5. larry billman Jan 15,2014 4:37 am

    It WILL be a wild ride – thanks to you! Kosloff was the “beginnings” of so much Hollywood dance-related history. Like his counterpart, Ernest Belcher (Marge Champion’s father), Kosloff opened a dance school where the daughters of Hollywood’s movers-and-shakers-of-time learned “poise” and networked. His classic Russian background, innovations and integration/participation with the dance community of the time still resonates. I am writing this date on my “to do” list now!

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