After a string of movies in which he has played the brooding anti-hero (Drive, The Place Beyond the Pines, Only God Forgives), actor Ryan Gosling is circling in an altogether different direction for his latest project. The actor will produce and may star in Warner Bros.’ planned biopic of legendary director and choreographer Busby Berkeley. The studio has just optioned the rights to Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley, a biography written by Jeffrey Spivak. Drive producer Marc Platt, who has past musical experience as one of the producers of the Broadway smash Wicked and the upcoming Disney musical adaptation Into the Woods has signed on to produce as well.
Berkeley was one of the pioneers of the musical genre during the Golden Age of Hollywood. An acclaimed Broadway choreographer, who went to Hollywood in the 1920s and directed some of the most seminal early musicals of all time. His first feature film credit was on the 1930 Eddie Cantor film Whoopee! for mogul Samuel Goldwyn. Warner Bros. is a fitting home to tell his story, as the director worked on several of his classics movies with the studio including 42nd Street, Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933. He also directed several classic MGM musicals including Babes in Arms, Strike Up the Band and the famous “I Got Rhythm” dance number in the classic Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney film Girl Crazy— he was apparently removed as the formal director of movie over disagreements with Garland. Berkeley was most famous for his complex and elaborate dance sequences. Utilizing over-head shots to showcase a kaleidoscopic effect, framing his dancers (usually comely showgirls) in immense geometric patterns. Los Angeles Times film critics Kenneth Turan once called the effect, “the equivalent of taking a mind-altering drug before you enter the theater.” He was also nominated for three Academy Awards in the (now-defunct) Dance Direction category.
The height of Berkeley’s career was in the height of the Depression, when audiences wanted to escape the harsh realities of the time. While his style eventually fell out of fashion during the 1940s and 1950s, the celebrated innovator was seen as one of the genre’s earliest masters. If the film does eventually get made, it could be present ripe potential presenting a backstage pass to the Golden Era of filmmaking mined with the colorful personalities of the time (Garland, Carmen Miranda Esther Williams) and the eclectic personal story of man married six times who never had a formal dance lesson.
Currently the biopic is looking for a screenwriter; no director is attached yet. Gosling (who started his career as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club) recently wrapped his directorial debut How to Catch a Monster, which stars Mad Men and Drive co-star Christina Hendricks and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), a thriller that Gosling also wrote but didn’t act in; he is slated to next appear on screen in an untitled Terrence Malick project alongside Cate Blanchett and Michael Fassbender. There’s no word yet as to when either film will open, though Warner Bros. is attached to distribute How to Catch a Monster.