06 August 2008
May I Have This Dance?
Fred sees Ginger.
Fred falls instantly in love with Ginger.
Fred vows to marry Ginger.
Ginger is not interested.
Fred is persistent.
Fred and Ginger dance. Sometimes as part of a show or at a dance hall. Sometimes in rather odd locales like parks.
Sometimes Fred dances alone.
Fred finally wins Ginger over.
The wonderful collection of movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did not vary much. Follow the Fleet (1936) was the only one of their films in which they were not only already acquainted at the start, but already in love too. The love in their movies was without genitalia. Passion never went beyond the kind of kisses you get from grandma. This was simply eight-year-old Ken and Barbie love.
The story lines were simple. Dialogue was cute, with maybe a touch of wit but nothing too urbane. Other characters were at the extreme a tad quirky ala Edward Everett Horton or Eric Blore. Rivals were easy going blokes who were never a real threat. Think Randolph Scott, Jerome Cowan or Erik Rhodes.
The cinematography was functional and Busby Berkeley style was strictly o-u-t. Except for the belated The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) the films were in glorious black and white.
So what's the appeal? Simple. Those two people could dance.
It's been said that Ginger did everything Fred did but in heels. Not quite. Fred regularly soloed and although Hermes Pan worked with him extensively as a sort of choreographer/trainer, the dances were Fred Astaire productions. Fred was a legendary perfectionist. Ginger was every bit Fred's equal as a dancer but he deserves the lion's share of the encomiums for the inspiration and extra perspiration.
Both had great careers apart from one another. Fred found other dance partners (though none better) and Ginger focused on acting at which she was exceptional.
It was just as well that the stories, the characters and the dialogue were simple. We didn't need a lot of distraction from the main show which was their dances. By the end of a Fred & Ginger picture you're sated but not stuffed. There's a dance, some story to whet your appetite, then another dance. The dances are never too long, never too esoteric. None of that Gene Kelly nonsense with weird music, faux backgrounds and athleticism over grace. Fred and Ginger were all about being in control, elegant and fun. Boy were they fun. Of course it didn't hurt that Ginger was very pretty (sexy wouldn't of done) and Fred was as affable a chap as you'd ever want to meet.
(You can see a wonderful interview Dick Cavett did with Astaire in the early 70's on DVD. Fred seems quite shy, is humble but answers all questions and sings a few songs. He had a wonderful voice and CDs of his are a great buy.)
None of their movies cracks my top 100 or my second 100 of all time favorites, but except for Roberta (1935) which was a real stinker, they're all wonderful and I'm delighted to own a box set of their films. Interestingly the best movie they're in together is Flying Down to Rio (1933) their first. It wasn't a Fred & Ginger picture but their performances gave someone the bright idea of teaming them. They were in nine more films together.
Fred and Ginger films worked because of a very simple formula. Simply add extraordinary talent, sit back for 90 minutes and enjoy.