Friday, September 20, 2013

Fred Analyzes Ginger

This past Sunday (September 15th, 2013) was the 75th Anniversary of the Silver Theatre (now the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center).  To commemorate this notable event (and the restoration of the theatre by AFI in 2003), AFI ran exactly the same program that the Silver Theatre ran in 1938.  We went to see 3 of the 5 films that were part of the celebration, all released in 1938.  I'll be blogging about each of them over the next few weeks.

Carefree, with Fred Astaire as Dr. Tony Flagg, Ginger Rogers as Amanda Cooper, and Ralph Bellamy as Stephen Arden, was our first film of the day.  The plot, as in most Astaire-Rogers movies, is secondary to the dancing, but in this movie, Ginger Rogers is given a lot more to do than in some of the pairings.  Amanda Cooper thinks she is in love with Stephen Arden, but she can't bring herself to marry him.  So, Stephen asks his friend, Tony Flagg, a psychiatrist, to talk to Amanda, to see if her can find out why she is reluctant to wed.  Tony encourages Amanda to dream, to find out the subconscious reason for her concerns - turns out, she's in love with Tony.  But when she tells him, Tony hypnotizes her to hate him, then has second thoughts.  

Okay, so it's a rather silly plot.  But there is some magnificent dancing here.  One of my personal favorites is The Yam, a boisterous, energetic number, which has Fred throwing Ginger over his upraised leg.  The picture below gives you just a taste of the grace and joy of the routine.  It's also one of the few dance numbers where Ginger sings and Fred doesn't, and where she wants him to dance, and he is the holdout. This article at TCM discusses that dance in some detail, including the fact that Ginger Rogers came up with the idea of the leg lifts.

 Rogers really gets a chance to show her comedic skills here.  After Tony gives her a sedative and leaves the room while it takes effect, Amanda is whisked out of the room by the totally ignorant Stephen.  She then proceeds to create mayhem everywhere she goes.  Rogers manages to make you love her, even as she does all kinds of outlandish things under the influence of the gas.

Another rarity in an Astaire-Rogers film occurs in the dream sequence - at the end of the dance Amanda kisses Tony.  While kisses are often suggested in Astaire-Rogers films, you seldom see them kiss. Here, you do!  The dream dance is performed mostly in slow motion.  It's a shame the modern audience has become so jaded about slow motion, thanks primarily to its overuse.  Here, the slowed speed allows you to see the precision of the dance moves.  They have to be absolutely perfect, or the speed would show every flaw.

That Astaire was a golfer is evident in the Since They Turned 'Loch Lomond' into Swing.  Astaire taps as he swings, his movements are beautiful, and he even carefully changes clubs when he wants a different shot.  It's a clever and challenging dance.

Finally, there is the pièce de résistance of the film - Change Partners.  The song is one of Irving Berlin's best; it has probably been performed by every major popular singer since it came out, but has there ever been a better rendition than that of Astaire? Though his voice is not the quality of, say, Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald, Astaire brings a grace to his songs that few can match.  Here, he uses his voice and movements to hypnotize Rogers, in hopes of telling her of his love.   It's been said that many composers wrote just for Astaire.  When you hear him do this, you understand why.

To close, let Rogers and Astaire hypnotize you via this magnificent number.  We'll be back next week with more discussion from AFI and from our weekly meetings.

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