Fred and Ginger, Why they are the best!

Okay, so if you don’t know that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are deemed to be the best dancing couple in cinema’s history. Here is a lesson for you. THEY ARE JUST COS!

But I do have arguments to why they are, so be prepared to be wowed!

Roberta 1935 cover

Let’s start with my favourite dance sequence. It is Roberta (1935), so it is one of the few films that the Astaire and Rogers are playing secondary characters, and bring some humour relief with fun dance moves. The “I’ll Be Hot to Handle” is the best singing and dancing scene in their entire 10 years of film (in my opinion). This is one of the scenes that they include dramatic acting through their dance. As it is a ‘spontaneous’ dance sequence, the characters make fun of their past love for each other and their competitions they had in the past and bring that competitiveness in their dance.

Ginger, who is playing as a Scharwenka, a countess of some sort, but, to everyone except Huck (Fred) as she is actually an American named Lizzie. Their story is sweet and funny, as Scharwenka is trying to make a name (fake name) for herself, as she pretends to be an European Countess. Huck has travelled from America to Paris with his American band being hired for a job at a nightclub. However, there is confusion with their name the “Wabash Indianians” and what the manager of the nightclub wanted “Indians”.

As Lizzie and Huck’s paths crosses, Scharwenka, a nightclub singer, gets the band a job. The exact same job they were fired for at the beginning of the film. The “I’ll Be Hot to Handle” scene is the first time Astaire and Rogers dance together in the film and it seems spontaneous as they are in their rehearsal for the club’s entertainment for that night. Like many other Fred and Ginger movies, they make the dance seem effortless, both laughing and over emphasising each and every movement to tell a story. For instance, before they are dancing they are involving dance in their every day walk. When Huck talks about how they got the votes by showing Lillian Russell’s photo, Huck uses taping instead of a drums ‘da dum chee’ sound effect, illustrating how dancing is part of his life. They competition within the dance turns into a fight with no words, just dancing and over dramatic acting. It would take an entire blog post to try to interpret what they are saying, but here it is short hand.

They both use complete one dance sequence and continuously speed up the tempo each turn that they get, then Lizzie gets annoyed for Huck is showing off, then Huck is confused than sorry for whatever he did. Lizzie doesn’t accept the apology and then is bothered by Huck pestering her to forgive him. So she ‘slaps’ him and stomps on his foot, illustrating that she has won. And she has. Then they start dancing together with more joy than before. I recommend watching just this scene if any. The movie itself is a bit slow, and the only funny bit is when Fred and/or Ginger are in the scene. As they brighten the mood and give the audience a reason to stay, as they often finish films with a dance sequence, making the movie bearable to watch until the end, because you will watch a fun and happy dance before it finishes. So on the link, go from 30secs, if you want the singing, dialogue and dancing. If you just want the dialogue and dancing (which is needed to understand their relationship) go from 2mins 20secs. It is worth a watch.

Okay so I know I promised to give you more arguments as to why they are the best dancing couple in cinemas history and go through each movie that has made a big impact on me. But I will finish off with how this movie has made an impact on cinema and television, via FUN FACTS!!!

Fun Fact #1: The “I Won’t Dance” number that is in Roberta was remixed and used in Step Up 3 (2010), where Moose and Camille dance down a street in New York, using all the objects on the street as tools within their dance, making it seem spontaneous as Camille is apologising to the bystanders and being dragged by Moose. They then start competing with each other than dance together, but not hand in hand, but side by side. This can easily be deemed as homage to Roberta, but just Fred and Ginger, as their movies have influenced how cinema has depicted dancing to a mass audience.

Fun Fact #2: Irene Dunne’s sings “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, this song title is the title for the pilot episode of Mad Men (2007). This song is relevant to the episode as the ad agency is trying to cover up the fact that smoking is bad for you and that the audience shouldn’t expect the expected, because it doesn’t happen.

The Good and the Disappointing, the musical films that exist.

Now everyone has those movies that are standard when they are home sick.  Well mine is the 1955 Guys and Dolls.  This started for two reasons, Frank Sinatra is my favourite singer of all time, therefore there must be good singing. And the second is that it seems to be the most successful musical on film that I have seen.  Now you have to understand that musicals are very hard to show anywhere else than the stage.  But in Guys and Dolls were able to be one of a few successful musical films in the 50s.  This information can bring comfort to musical lovers, as it is possible to make your favourite musical on film and watch it whenever you want.  Mind you, I will be focusing on the musicals that I have seen both as a production and a film.

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Due to the success from the Broadway production in 1950, it spilled to the film. The films’ setting is Broadway; the audience is introduced to Nathan’s two sidekicks in the first 6mins, before we see any of the big names.  Often, I don’t like it when that happens.  I watch a movie because I like who is in it and see if it is worth a watch.  This is a great exception as the first opening number shows the audience the busy street of Broadway that can be home to several different characters. This opening number always makes me smile, as it shows the tricksters, the fans and the amount of illegal activity held in the 1950s.  Another thing I love about this scene is the use of stage conventions used on film. I’m referring to the ladies who walk into the clothes store and hurriedly get changed while the audience sees the boxer gets KO.  This reminds the audience that it is a stage production to a certain point, as it occurs during a long take, implying that there is little editing and illustrates a convention shown in stage musicals (quick costume changes).

Another great element in this film, is the opening number itself. There are no words, not even any lyrics, just dancing.  This dance sequence illustrates who is a tourist, local, pick-pocket, gambler or police officer.  Although costume helps, the opening number seems to be an extended dance sequence, which is dynamic and fantastic to watch.  The sequence captures the same feeling you may get when you watch professional dancers on stage.  For me, that is just to start smiling in awe.  This film has completed that.  Although it isn’t the only success musical film, it is one film that I see it as one of the few which satisfies the original audience, whether on Broadway in the 1950s, or  the 2008 Australian tour (yes I saw that, Lisa McCune, Marina Prior and Magda Szubanski – Really I couldn’t miss it).

As any production: stage or film, the beginning gives us an idea of how good the rest of the production will be, in this particular case, how long.  The fact that it goes for 150mins can be good for two reasons: its replicates the Broadway production (minus the use of intermission- such as the one offered in West Side Story DVD, 1961). Also, it enables those who are sick to sleep on the couch for a bit and wake up noticing that it is still going.  As the dialogue continuously repeats what has happened so far in the film, this person will never be lost in the film.  Although if they fell asleep and woke up when Marlon Brando sang or dance, they may be a bit lost.

Yes, Marlon Brando does dance and sing, as it is the idea for the main character of a musical to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a wonderful actor, but don’t make him sing.  If there was one thing I could do to change this film, I would change the casting just a bit.  First of all, you have to understand that I will be involving a cast that is from different periods of cinema. Meaning I will be using dead actors and actors of today.  But hear me out.  First of all, I would have used Young Frank Sinatra as Sky Masterson,  James Marsden as Nathan Detroit, Vivian Blaine as Adelaide and Anne Hathaway as Sarah Brown.  Okay that may look strange.  But Sinatra has the voice and can dance, Marsden –same merits as Sinatra.  Blaine depicted Adelaide beautifully and I can’t think of anyone else to take her place.  Hathaway, because she can pull off the innocent Salvation Army girl who falls for a sinner, and she can sing, as proved in Les Misérables and her performance in the Oscars. Now that I say that, Hugh Jackman would be a great Sky Masterson (and he isn’t dead- bonus).

ImageVivian BlaineJames-MarsdenLes Miserables Hugh and Anne

But luckily, Brando didn’t destroy this musical entirely.  There were others who destroyed musical films for me more.  And unfortunately that it is of the only Musical I cared for immensely. This musical is The Phantom of the Opera.  Now if you have seen the production, whether it is on Broadway, West End or ever Melbourne, do yourself a favour and do not watch it.  Now, when I watched this show the first three times, in Melbourne.  I thought it was the best thing I have ever have seen, hence it being my favourite.  Yet there was only a certain amount of money I could spend on theatre tickets.  So when I heard that there was a DVD version, I thought, how fantastic.  So because I had this honeymoon period with anything to do with Phantom, I originally thought it was great.  Repeatedly watched it, and soon realized that it ain’t that great.

As I watch it more recently, I get bitterly disappointed.  Here is a movie that could have been so much better than what it became.  I wished. Truth be told, that they didn’t make it. As you can tell, I’m very passionate about musicals, and will watch any musicals. So I have figured when I miss listening and hearing the music from Phantom (as that is the main element in musicals), I will listen to the original Broadway Soundtrack, this is mainly because it contains many of the songs I thoroughly enjoy, like ‘Notes’ (Reprised).  Which in the movie they merged with the ‘Masquerade’ song in the movie.  Yet again, another element that lost its effect when on the silver screen.  In my case, the TV screen.  So in the production, there is use of smoke and distractions (magic) to shock the audience as the Phantom ‘suddenly’ appears. I say this as every time I see this production I make a conscious effort to figure out where the Phantom came from.  Each time, being too distracted with the massive (yet not as massive as the film) dance sequence. And I still don’t know where he is coming from.   I know that this is thoroughly rehearsed and so forth.  But in the film it loses its effect as the camera takes the audience up the staircase to show the Phantom standing there.  Nothing is there to distract the audience, the effect is lost.  Did I already mention that?Image

One more word: Chandelier.  Yet again, I suggest everyone to watch the production (in any country), because this is the best effect in musical theatre (yet again, my opinion).  This opening scene, well the best way to describe it is to imagine that you are in a rollercoaster ride. Now as you go up the incline, there is all this anxiety, not knowing when it will drop. And when it finally does, you get that sensation that all your organs stayed in the higher altitude.  Well that is all you get from this scene.  And I’m not joking.  Now the movie does not do that.  As loud as you put your speakers, it doesn’t compare to the sound that you get from the orchestra. Or even the track that is playing on the CD.  Strange, I know.  But still very true.  In this case, the production is best.

So now, I have rambled about the good and the bad musical films.  More like, my favourite to the disappointment.   I will say that majority of the musical films are worth a watch.  Although, there are films can’t live up to the expectations that the production creates.  The musicals that aren’t based on any productions are often more successful (Most Astaire-Rogers films) in general. So for those who love musicals, there may be a version of your favourite musical on DVD.  Just need to make sure your expectations aren’t too high, as it is very difficult to transfer stage productions onto screen.  But go forth and sing along.