GINGER AND FRED AND THOSE MUSIC MAESTROS.
Something ter take a serf’s mind off the problems of our times.
Feel-good movies for hard-times.
It is the decade in the Western world emerging from the Great Depression. Film is taking over the production of costly stage musicale productions. Popular Warner Brother films feature comedies light in plot but big on spectacle, Busby Berkeley show girl chorus displays of intricate dance patterning and simple movements in sync, lots of montage effects. Lavish entertainment to take your mind off your worries for a while…
In the mid-thirties you get the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies, similar light plots but the dance scenes are different, complex choreography created by Astaire that draws the film audience into the frame to see every nuance of the dance performed by these two artists.
Then there’s the music. The 1930’s were one of the great periods for song writers and Ginger and Fred, dancing to the music of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter or Jerome Kern, far exceed the dialogue of the movie in their range of emotions. Take a look at their performance in this scene from ‘Swing Time,’(1936.) ‘Pick yourself up, start all over again,’ music by Jerome Kern. It’s one of Ginger and Fred’s dance routines that go way beyond the script in its joyous lyricism, though from the clash of their initial meeting, it starts out as mocking motivational advice by dance instructress Ginger Rogers to down on his luck gambler Fred Astaire, who pretends he can’t dance.
Oh those Ginger and Fred dance routines! Oh those Cole Porter and Irving Berlin songs and lyrics! I’m sticking my neck out here, comparing them favorably with the witty poetry of Shakespeare’s high comedies that adds such depth to the somewhat trivial plots.
Plots and the Poetry.
Not much difference between the improbable plots of the Ginger and Fred movies and the improbable plots of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ and ‘As You Like It,’ between the lovers’ clashes on Hollywood fake sets and the lovers’clashes in mythical kingdoms or the fairy-tale forests of Ardenne. In the Shakespeare comedies, plots involving mistaken identity and romantic folly are lifted by the plays’ inspiring poetry and insights into romantic passion and mature love. In a Ginger and Fred movie it’s the song and dance sequences to the music of the maestros that does the lifting. In ‘The Gay Divorcee’, Ginger and Fred transcend the banality of the plot as they dance to Cole Porter’s ‘Night and Day.’
Cole Porter does as much with the four-four beat as Shakespeare does exploiting the possibilities of the iambic pentameter. The song ‘Night and Day’ begins with just one note repeated over and over with changes of key, words and metre combining to express a sense of incessant longing:
‘like the beat, beat beat of the tom tom
when the jungle shadows fall
like the tick, tick tock of the stately clock
as it stands against the wall
like the drip, drip drip of the rain drops
when the summer shower’s through,
a voice within me keeps repeating
you, you, you.’
Metrical stress falls on the words, ‘you’, ‘me,’ ‘night and day,’ and inverse, ‘day and night’ to convey the lover’s state of mind , captured so well in Ginger and Fred’s dance sequence.
‘ Night and day you are the one-
only you beneath the moon or under the sun
whether near to me or far it’s no matter darling
where you are
I think of you
day and night, night and day …’
Shakespeare’s sophisticated comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost,’ explores the darker aspects of romantic attraction, the narcissist love of Berowne who seeks his own reflection in the eyes of women he encounters, ‘His eye begets occasion for his wit…’ but meets his own defeat in the dark eyes of the formidable Rosaline. No happy ending there:
Berowne: ‘Our wooing doth not end like an old play,
Jack hath not Jill, these ladies’courtesy
Might well have made our sport a comedy.
King: Come, sir, it wants a twelvemonth and a day,
And then ‘twill end.
Berowne: That’s too long for a play.’
In ‘As You Like It’ the witty and bewitching Rosalind is in love with Orlando, but aware of the absurdities of romantic love, must take on male disguise to tutor Orlando in the ways of adult love:
Rosalind: ‘Come woo me, woo me, for now I am in a holiday humour and like enough to consent…
Rosalind: Well, in her person, I say I will not have you.
Orlando: Then in my own person, I say that I will die.’
Rosalind: No faith, die by attorney. The world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love cause.’
Naturally in a play called ‘As You Like It, ‘ the action ends happily with Orlando a graduate in Rosalind’s non-pastoral school of love.
Likewise in the romantic comedy ‘Top Hat,’ with its of featherweight plot of marital mix up and mistaken identity, there’s an ‘as you like it’ ending. The evocative scene, Ginger in that feather dress, ) dancing to Irving Berlin’s ‘Cheek to Cheek,’ is perhaps on of the Rogers’ and Astairs’ loveliest dance sequences.
The choreography reflects the complexity of their emotional misunderstanding.The pair turn and weave past each other before dancing as partners, with Ginger’s gradual surrender to her feelings in the graceful back-bending movement. Only then do the couple dance cheek to cheek in that final dream like sequence.
What you get in these dances to the music of the masters, like ‘Cheek to Cheek,’ danced so lyrically, their patterning so flowing and erotic, is a kind of tongue in cheek celebration of the delights of romantic love, – ‘I’ve got you under my skin,’ as well as the ironic reverberations,’ – it was just one of those things.’ But the dancing of Ginger and Fred always conveys the possibilities of a positive outcome.
Scent of tea roses wafting
in the air, coupes of sparkling
champagne at the bar, art deco
lighting creating a golden
atmosphere for the tea dance.
Tinkling piano, ‘I’ve got you
under my skin,’ couples gliding
across a parquetry floor,
doing their best to emulate
Ginger and Fred’s perfect
B t s .