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date: 10 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the work of Busby Berkeley in relationship to Roland Barthes’ theory of the “punctum.” Cinema’s return to performance through screendance suggest moments of excess within the moving image that gesture toward a dismantling of the screen and reveal a desire for live theater. Barthes theorized that the photographic still image provides, in certain cases, a “punctum,” which he defined as a moment of pricking or wounding that occurs in the viewer beyond the symbolic meaning of the photograph, bringing the past into a performed moment of affective presence. Examination of some of Berkeley’s greatest screened-stage choreographic sequences in films such as Footlight Parade reveals how the bodies within Berkeley musicals both position themselves as excess and create quite literal holes in the screen in which the viewer’s eye is invited to go deeply inward. The cinematic use of the punctum restores this corporeal absence to presence through screendance within the frame of the stage.

Keywords: screendance, Busby Berkeley, punctum, screened stages, Roland Barthes, choreography, Footlight Parade, absence, presence

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