Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Movie a Day, day 94: Swing Time

There’s a contradiction at the heart of even the best of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies. When those two dance, or when Astaire sings (the rhythm that made him such a great dancer also makes him an excellent singer, although his voice was nothing special), they’re as elegantly expressive as anything ever captured on film, and as perfectly suited to their medium as Shakespeare was to his. But when they’re just acting, their movies go flat, as earthbound as the song and dance numbers are airy and uplifting.

Swing Time may be their best movie (it’s a toss-up for me with Top Hat). That’s mainly because it includes several of their best duets, but it also helps that director George Stevens makes us believe in their love for each other even between those magical numbers. That’s something no other director ever quite managed.

As always, Fred falls for Ginger at their first meet-cute encounter, but it’s hate at first sight for her. And as usual, their feelings are expressed most intensely through the singing and dancing with which he woos and wins her. This time, though, their feelings are also clear when they're not singing or dancing, shining through in their body language and their close-ups, particularly the gorgeous shots of Rogers’ guardedly softening face and widening eyes. (Yesterday for the first time, her dignity and understated humor reminded me of Jennifer Aniston, while Astaire’s hurt-puppy eyes and bowler hat under the gazebo where they sing A Fine Romance reminded me for the umpteenth time of Stan Laurel.) The nostalgia that Fred’s Lucky and Ginger’s Penny share for their love even as it’s just starting to bloom, since one or both of them always fears that it can never be, give this meringue of a movie a light dusting of melancholy. Read the rest on The House Next Door, Slant Magazine's blog.

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