2020 Blind Spot Series - Top Hat/Swing Time

What I knew going in - I've seen clips of all of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' dances together.

I went for something a little ambitious. I knew I wanted to watched some of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' films, but couldn't decide which one to pick, so I went with both.

For Top Hat, Jerry Travers (Astaire) is an American actor who goes to England and falls in love with a woman Dale Tremont (Rogers) that he initially annoyed. In turn, she mistakes him for a famous producer.

The funny thing about Top Hat is how much I felt like I didn't miss once I saw this film in its full context. I had only ever seen the dance numbers, and to be honest I didn't feel like I missed much at all. The film was funny at times, but it  has a solid 20 minutes or so that are insanely boring and I'm surprised a film this sprightly came to a screeching halt like that. Over all, I enjoyed it. Petty side note: I read that Astaire didn't want Rogers to wear that fluffy gown she wore during one of their dances so seeing all those feathers fly off her made me laugh)

Now let's talk about Swing Time. In this one, Astaire plays a performer and gambler named Lucky who goes to New York to earn $25,000 in order to marry his fiance. Her father adds that stipulation when Lucky arrives late to his own wedding. There he meets Penny (Rogers) a dance instructor who - much like Top Hat - he initially annoys, but when he saves her job they start to fall in love with each other. 

The chemistry between them was even better, the dances more elaborate. I loved the snowy scenes they incorporated in there, this was all going so well....and then Fred Astaire ends up in black face. I immediately went online after the fact because surely I'm not the only idiot who didn't know this was coming, and it turns out there's a fair amount of discourse on how this was "okay" because it was a tribute to arguably the greatest tap dancer ever - Bill Robinson. I started thinking about that part in Sicario where Alejandro tells Kate "nothing will make sense to your American ears." This doesn't make sense to my modern eyes either, it's racist. "Good intentions" don't make it right and I'm cringing into oblivion. Imagine dancing that same dance without black face. You could still honor his style. What a concept.

I realize it's my fault for not knowing about that scene to begin with but it really drops the quality of the movie over all. Removing that scene all together, that movie would've been an easy A.

So where did we end up with grades?

Top Hat - B-

Swing Time - C+ 

Memorable Quote: "This was made in the 30's? And you expected what now?" - My husband, who never mustered up a fuck about my tap dancing movies to begin with. 

9 comments:

  1. Despite the scene with blackface, I did enjoy Swing Time as I just thought it was a fun and endearing film.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really was. It's a shame they had throw it out the window.

      Delete
  2. I love both these films. Top Hat is somover the top with the Art Deco style that Venice becomes all white. The characters from Eric Blore, Helen Broderick and the great Edward Everett Horton just makes this picture perfect. Swing Time is excellent and that scene I don’t mind even though, when you take it in today it leaves you shaking your head. Bill Bojangles Robinson was considered the greatest tap dancer ever and Fred Astaire was in absolute awe of the man. He wanted to have Mr. Robinson on this film and dance with him but the studio heads would not budge because they knew they could not “sell” the film in the Southern States so he asked Mr. Robinson if he could pay homage to him in the film. The studio heads did not want him to do it like the vaudeville days because this was not making fun of him but paying homage to him. Fred asked Bill if he was ok with this and he said yes and was quite moved by this. I read an autobiography on Fred Astaire plus other books about the films and it is often talked about. We may feel disgusted now because, I would hope, we realize that this is just not a good thing to do but, like all history, we must read more and realize what was not only going on at the times but what were the motivations. Not everything is “black and white” and sorry for that pun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I get what he was trying to do but I just fundamentally disagree with blackface ever being used as a "homage." They even had that big racist mannequin with the big red lips before he started dancing. Just...no. He could've paid his homage by doing the entire dance without painting his face.

      Delete
    2. Yeah...it’s not easy at all to deal with looking through today’s eyes and, I bet, he would agree with you

      Delete
  3. I gotta admit I've never seen either all the way through. I've seen much of Top Hat but never finished it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're not into musicals right? That's understandable.

      Delete
  4. I love both films, well I love all Astaire/Rogers movies actually and own all in a box set, but the dances in Swing Time are some of my favorites. The dance studio where they glide over the bars that circle the dance floor never fails to amaze me.

    Ya Fred wasn't wild about the feathered dress but Ginger loved her frills. I forget which film it's in but there is one sequence where she is wearing a heavily beaded number and at one point she clobbers him with one of the sleeves. Pro that he was though he just kept going though.

    They always seem so effortless but the amount of time and rehearsal that went into each number was enormous. Fred along with RKO dance director Hermes Pan would choreographed and design each one and they would work on them for weeks, sometimes months to get them just right while Ginger went off and made another picture. Then she would report to the stage give her input to the numbers and the two would rehearse until they had it down, often resulting in blood stained shoes from blisters and at times exhaustion. But they as a pair were on of the top 10 box office attractions of the 30's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They work really wonderfully together. I'd like to watch all their films. I read that Astaire's wife never wanted them to kiss, but they did in their final dance film together.

      Delete

If you're reading this sentence you should probably leave a comment.