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Fred and Ginger

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Is Top Hat better?

Yes. These two titles are generally regarded, correctly IMO, as the best of the Astaire-Rogers movies. Top Hat is the most famous of them all and Astaire’s own favorite. For many years it was the undisputed champ, but more recent conventional wisdom has Swing Time as Number One – Arlene Croce, for one, called it so in her book on Astaire and Rogers. I still prefer Top Hat. The dance numbers, taken in all, are not as distinguished as the very best of Swing Time, but they are excellent. Top Hat also has the archetypal Astaire number in “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails.”

canbelto, it’s true that Astaire and Rogers, as singers, can take some getting used to (or, as George Gershwin once observed, “the amount of singing one can tolerate from these two is limited” (quoted from memory, please note). However, Irving Berlin said he would rather have Astaire introduce his songs than any other performer, and among the musical stars only Ethel Merman had more great songs written for him/her. Astaire's musicianship is always a pleasure, and composers loved the fact that he sangs the songs as they were written with no funny business.

Yes, the plots are awful, but they’re not so bad if you don’t mind the conventions of the French farces that many of them employ. I don’t mind the implausibilities of The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat, for example, both of which work on their own terms, but I do mind the flatfooted storyline of Swing Time, which is just – well, it’s just retarded.

I’d also suggest that the Bojangles number isn’t ‘pasted in senselessly,’ although it doesn’t emerge from the plotline as we’ve been trained to expect. Astaire is a performer at the club and that’s supposed to be sufficient justification for showing us the number. (Also, it’s an awesome routine, arguably Astaire’s best ever, and overpowers all objections, save for the blackface. Yes, I know, Croce said it was a “homage.” I don’t care. Yuck.)

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Is Top Hat better?

Well, now you can see for yourself!

:jawdrop: Warner Brothers :yahoo: is releasing a collection of Astaire-Rogers films, remastered for our digital enjoyment! :yahoo: Vol. I includes both Top Hat and Swing Time.

:yahoo:

Lloyd Schwartz gave his review on NPR's Fresh Air. Audio available.

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Copying Walboi's post from another topic:

Last night I played a dvd from Fred Astaire, en Ginger Rogers, namely "The Barkleys of Broadway". Boy did I enjoy myself. Dancing numbers like Fred's shoes with wings on, takes your breath away. I always enjoy dance-musical films especcially the ones with Astaire and his many partners. Gene Kelly off cause and so many others. Out of this came my curiosity to find out about classical ballet.

They released only a few well mastered dvd's to this date, mostly the latest ones, like the beautiful "The Bandwagon" . And I saw a few older films released on obscure labels that I threw away in the bin, the quality was that there was no quality.

And off cause I am also interested what your favourite dancing movie is, I for one am very much taken by The Girl in the red shoes, which I saw a few days ago, and made me sit upright, the one from Pressburger. Have to find the details of this film. I knew it was on the market but I did not see it yet in the shop.

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This thread was most helpfull, lots of info about Astaire.

:yahoo: everyone that contributed.

Walboi

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Arlene Croce has a piece in The New York Review of Books writing on two new Astaire-related books. Not much new information for Astaire buffs or new insights for Croce close readers, but nice to see her in print again.

But he is quite wrong to say that Astaire’s treatment of Berlin’s great ballad “lacks any dramatic through line.” The two dancers are distinctively characterized: Astaire is the continually active partner, while Rogers is continually passive, gradually gaining confidence until she is able to join him in that huge burst of a side-by-side exit. The drama is so deeply embedded in the dance that it may take several reseeings to grasp it all, as I was finally able to discover to my regret, years after having published a rhapsodic account of the number; the artist in Astaire simply wouldn’t let him “act” a story when he could dance it. We all love “Never Gonna Dance,” the lyrical climax of Swing Time (1936), but it may have contained too much plot-dependent dancing to suit Astaire. Today, in large-screen DVD viewing, “Let’s Face the Music” stands as the apotheosis of Astaire-Rogers.

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Fred Astaire was a wonderful singer -- a sensitive stylist who was absolutely the greatest interpreter of Irving Berlin ever. I would not have described Bing Crosby as a "powerhouse" singer, but he was terrific too.

As Croce points out in the article, Astaire was highly regarded as a singer, and had more songs written expressly for him than any other musical comedy star save Merman. There were a few dissenters, notably the Gershwins.

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As Croce points out in the article, Astaire was highly regarded as a singer, and had more songs written expressly for him than any other musical comedy star save Merman.

Maybe somebody here with more knowledge of this subject can set me straight, but I've sometimes wondered if Astaire isn't possibly the all-time champ in terms of the number of songs he introduced that went on to become standards. What other singers first brought us so many great songs? (I don't mean that rhetorically, but as a real question.)

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Maybe somebody here with more knowledge of this subject can set me straight, but I've sometimes wondered if Astaire isn't possibly the all-time champ in terms of the number of songs he introduced that went on to become standards. What other singers first brought us so many great songs? (I don't mean that rhetorically, but as a real question.)

I can't remember where I'd heard it, but I have heard the stat that Astaire introduced more #1 hit standards than anyone. Which if you think about it makes sense, considering his career as a leading star extended from 1925 to 1958. Besides his impeccable interpretation of songs, he also just outlasted everyone else.

Speaking of, I had never heard that quote by the Gershwin before. The Gershwins wrote so much for both Astaire and his sister (Lady Be Good! really launched all of their careers in many ways) and Astaire as a solo artist... it's very surprising.

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The Gershwins had a troubled time on "Shall We Dance" and George remarked that the amount of singing one could take from Astaire and Rogers was limited. Could be he was just having a bad day, but he also had a point. Astaire's singing was musical but it was also odd and limited, and he became a star as a dancer, not because he was such a great singer (and because his long career took place in the era during which musical comedy songs were still an important part of the hit parade, as you note, sidwich).

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(Sorry everybody! I realize now that the article by Croce, which I wasn't able to get to at the time dirac posted the link and so only just now read, actually addressed the very subject of the songs introduced by Astaire.)

While it's true that his dancing was what made Astaire a star, I think Gershwin must have recognized him as possibly the ideal vessel for his songs. Astaire could sing presentably (certainly better than Rogers) and moreover was one of those rare performers who could deliver a song straight up and as naturally as if he were speaking--a definitive statement, as it were; but then he could elaborate on that, highlight the jazzy sophistication of the music alone, by dancing it and turning it into everybody's fantasy of glamour and wit and romance. Given that kind of treatment, is it any wonder that so many of the songs Astaire introduced did go on to become standards? And could be that given the unadorned way Astaire sang the songs, it left the door open for more cultivated singers to re-record them in their own unique style.

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No one is denying Astaire's musicality, taste, and skill in presenting a song. Berlin said he would rather have Astaire introduce his songs than any other performer. Certainly, as Croce observes in the article, the Gershwins worked very closely with the Astaires in the theater. But it doesn't look as if Gershwin felt quite the same way as Berlin did, or didn't feel that way all the time.

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Most of Gershwin's Hollywood output was written for Astaire, including a lot of his best-loved songs ("Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "A Foggy Day," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," etc.), but it's pretty well-known that George Gershwin did not like living in Los Angeles (unlike Ira who lived in Beverly Hills for most of the rest of his life). By 1937 when most of those songs were written, Gershwin was already starting to suffer the symptoms of the brain tumor that would claim his life. Perhaps that had something to do with it.

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I guess I don't really see any contradiction, sidwich. I can understand how Gershwin could work with Astaire and write great songs for him and still not be totally satisfied with his singing voice. Not sure that George's health problems necessarily enter into it, although they could have affected the Gershwins' experience with "Shall We Dance" generally.

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A quote from Parma in the Aesthetic Issues forum:

Ha, you have a point re "Lady In The Dark". For that matter, I didn't like Fred & Ginger together so much in their final, reunion film, "Barkleys Of Broadway". It seemed to me that Ginger had pretensions by then, not just in the movie either. And her voice when she plays that Sarah Bernhardt role!!! But in all the RKO teamings, they were just perfection together. (It goes against the grain, but my favorite is "Follow The Fleet"-I love their "dance competition" number, "Let Yourself Go", and the casino number "Let's Face The Music And Dance"--love that dramatic Art Deco feel and especially the ending).

"The Barkleys of Broadway" does play off the real-life Astaire-Rogers story, in a rather creepy way, with the partnership breaking up because the woman wants to do dramatic roles. Rogers wanted to branch out because she realized her shelf life as a musical lead was pretty short and she was eager to prove herself in straight comedy and drama, which she did. I can definitely understand that (although you are right, she is terrible reciting the Marsellaise in TBoB!). As you might know, the Rogers part was originally intended for Judy Garland, so it was a sort of "reunion film" of necessity. (I remember the director, Charles Walters, saying that although Astaire and Rogers were perfectly agreeable to each other, it was as if they'd just met on the set.)

It does have a nifty number, "Swing Trot," although you have to peer at it behind the credits. In "That's Entertainment III" the number can be seen in pristine form.

My favorite Astaire-Rogers is still "Top Hat."

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I think Follow the Fleet would've been a lot better if Irene Dunne had been in it instead of Harriet Hilliard.

Then it would've been the same four from Roberta.

Barkley's is only okay in my opinion; I'm not a huge fan of MGM musicals.

I pretty much love all of their other films though, except for Flying Down to Rio, which is not really their film.

Favourite movie is either Swing TIme or Top Hat, favourite dance is Change Partners from Carefree.

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favourite dance is Change Partners from Carefree.

I like that one, too. Not one of their most famous dances, but a lovely number, and Rogers is especially good in it.

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"Pick Yourself Up" from Swingtime. Especially the changing downbeats.

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"Pick Yourself Up" from Swingtime. Especially the changing downbeats.

That's my favorite single dance, too! Actually, my favorite group of dances is probably Swingtime, although I think Top Hat is a better overall film. (We showed Top Hat in my dinner and movie group a few months ago and people generally enjoyed it although they found the "It's a Small World" version of Venice pretty humorous.)

Barkleys of Broadway has some strange tensions running through it. The obvious one is Fred and Ginger reunited via Judy Garland's work issues, but "They Can't Take That Away" from me dropped into the middle of the film is also kind of strange. (And Harry Warren really wasn't happy about it.) It's really not a comfortable film to watch.

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"Pick Yourself Up" is sheer genius on every level. It's like pure joy.

I don't think Barkleys is all bad. The "Bouncin' the Blues" number highlights Rogers' excellent sense of rhythm. But there's no getting around the fact that the "Young Sarah" scenes are dreadful.

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No, Barkleys isn't really that bad (and it did well at the box office), it just has weird vibes for the reasons mentioned above, and the script by Comden and Green is one of their lesser efforts. But certainly there is enough in it to remind you of why Ginger was so right for Fred, and it's nice to see the older Astaire with a partner who is at least roughly in his age cohort.

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