“Fred Astaire”

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

For Valentine’s Day, here is one of my favorite romantic scenes from a musical. The film Lovely to Look At, a remake of Roberta, may not be memorable as a whole, but it showcases some imaginative dance sequences featuring Marge and Gower Champion. While they had the unenviable task of replacing Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, the Champions were gifted with not recreating the earlier pair’s routines. The Champions’ dances were mostly freed from the show within a picture’s stagings. In Lovely to Look at, the big performance to save the fashion house remains, but their other dance scenes show their characters’ flirtations that lead to romance and to them falling in love.

In the above scene, their characters have spent the night accompanying their friends from boîte to boîte. Left alone, they have no distractions. He wants to dance with her one more time, that’s the only way he can hold a girl in his arms in a crowded room and have her all to himself, and she agrees after initially resisting. They have fun, and dance well together, and then the camera moves in for a close-up when they pause in front of a window. When it pulls back, we see the nightclub set has vanished, and only the starry night remains. In multiple long takes, they dance on and among the stars. They’re the only two people in their universe at that moment, and they both hear, feel, and move to the same song. They’re a perfect pairing. Long before they walk off together into the night, we know they have fallen in love. We’ve watched it happen.

Leave or Read Comments.

Say It With Firecrackers

Somehow it’s a little too dry and a little too chilly for fireworks in the Bay Area, but I’m going to wish you a happy Fourth of July and say it with fireworks anyway. From the original jukebox (movie) musical, here is Fred Astaire tapping out his tribute to tomorrow’s holiday:

This is one of my favorite Astaire solos. A little movie magic tricks the eye and the ear, but the moves are all his. I love how happy he looks when done. He’s probably imagining how the finished scene will look, and it is a stand-out in a film full of production numbers.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!
Leave or Read Comments.

Amália Rodrigues & Fred Astaire

I’ve been enjoying NPR’s 50 Great Voices series, and the holiday break gave me a chance to catch up with some missed episodes, including their piece on Amália Rodrigues. Since I’m half Portuguese, I enjoy finding instances where Portuguese and American culture collide, mix, and transmute. Rodrigues embraced other cultures’ musical traditions in order to offer her unique spin on fado, and that combined with her voice and emotive range turned her into an icon celebrated long past her death. The NPR reporter brought up an anecdote involving Rodrigues and Fred Astaire that I hadn’t heard before.

Rodrigues went to New York for a risky throat operation. Doctors weren’t sure if her voice would recover from the procedure. Depressed, Rodrigues considered killing herself with sleeping pills. Instead she ended up watching Fred Astaire movies in her hotel room. The man that had gotten so many Americans through the Great Depression by offering some hope and cheer via the big screen worked his magic through the small screen.  He helped Rodrigues through her depression. She didn’t kill herself, and she underwent what turned out to be a successful surgery. Her voice fully recovered, and she returned to Portugal, and her subsequent concerts added to her legend.

A clip of the singer performing Barco Negro in the film Les Amants du Tage (1955) follows. While the film is French and in French, she keeps her lyrics in their original Portuguese. The camera breaks away from her to further the plot by having characters translate her song for the female lead, and once they’ve said enough for the song to resonate for both leads and the film’s audience, the cameraman wisely returns to Rodrigues for the song’s climax. Her charisma is palpable. For English subtitles, click the closed captioning box.