The chance to see any restored footage of Josephine Baker shimmying is cause for celebration—even if those scenes last only five minutes in a film where other hoofing segments sometimes put you in a dance-hall daze. Making its North American premiere and kicking off the Museum of the Moving Image’s retro of the legendary performer, La Revue des Revues excites not only with its brief star wattage, but also with technical razzle-dazzle, including two-strip Technicolor sequences and glorious shots of Paris at night and at sunrise.
Equal parts city symphony, dance document and backstager, La Revue tracks the ascent of Gabrielle (Hallier) from Parisian shopgirl to showgirl, renowned at the Moulin Rouge, the Palace and the Folies Bergres for her tiny feet. But Gabrielle’s star-is-born story quickly becomes overshadowed by dance extravaganzas, kicking off promisingly with fantasias like “the Orgies” and proceeding to a mind-numbing bit titled “Glories of the Navy!” Baker’s two dance numbers—one set in a plantation, the other in a Parisian caf—revitalize the film just when it needs a boost the most. Rubber-limbed, Baker mugs, struts and sways, pulsing with energy. “To succeed in the theater, there are three things you must do: work, work and work,” an impresario advises Gabrielle. Baker does more than work; she works it. (Opens Fri; Museum of the Moving Image.)—Melissa Anderson