Swing Time

I've actually never seen a Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movie until now, despite how crazy that might sound. I was sort of excited to watch tonight's movie, Swing Time, directed by George Stevens in 1936. In his essay on the film. Ebert asserts that this is the best of their movies, so I'm glad I was able to start with this one. I really liked the movie. It felt a lot less stupid than some Broadway style musicals, and the talent of Astaire and Rogers was incredible. I couldn't believe what great dancers that they were, and how engrossing it was to watch it.

The plot of the movie is about as hokey as you would imagine for a musical, romantic comedy. John "Lucky" misses his own wedding, and promises his bride, Margaret, and her father, that he'll come with a token of $25,000 for them. He leaves for New York to gamble, where he meets Penny Carol, a beautiful dancer who he is taken with at first sight. He pretends to be a horrible dancer so she will teach him, and his antics get her fired. He quickly launches into an astounding dance number to win her job back. They become dance partners and perform, and of course, a romance blossoms. But what of the weird orchestra leader who lusts after Penny? And what about Lucky's fiance? Drama! Comedy!

The way the plot unfolds is what you would imagine, but I love how cute their humor is together and how well they work with each other. The excitement and enthusiasm they show in the film is sort of infectious. I bought a lot of the jokes and comedy because I really bought into their chemistry together. It was just pleasant to watch them together. This is saying a lot for me as I started watching the movie in a pretty sullen mood. I didn't become any less sullen, but I did find some energy and positivity to enjoy the film instead of sulking around complaining about how happy the actors are.

The dancing is really, of course, why anyone watches these movies, and it is the most impressive part of it, for me. I could not believe how long the takes were. I mean, I know that I'm used to fast takes from watching modern movies and TV, but the long dance scenes were stunning. I can't believe that both of them had so much talent and energy. I couldn't imagine keeping up that sort of pace, perfectly, for so long. There is usually a safety in movies - don't say your lines right? We can re-dub them. Garbage from the PAs in the scene? We can erase that in post. That is taken away when you never cut away from the action. One stumble, one wrong glance, and the whole five minute take is blown. Reset. Start from the beginning. I can barely sit still for one hour at my desk at work, let alone have the patience to practice and work so hard at something the way I saw Astaire and Rogers do in this film. They were clearly perfectionists, and it's pretty much worth it once you see the payoff of their hard work.

I didn't think I would like this movie as much as I did. I don't know if tonight, in my bad mood, it's my "favorite" movie or "one of the greatest' movies, but it was a really great movie, and I really enjoyed watching it. It was well-acted, and the sheer talent and skill of the dance scenes was awe-inspiring. It didn't feel like it was almost two hours, since it was so fun to watch. If you are new to movies like this, like I am, this seems like the perfect one to start it. The dance scenes are pretty masterful - both cinematic and entertainment-wise. I'm glad that I was sort of pushed out of my comfort zone to watch this film, because I have a new appreciation for a duo that I sort of took for granted. Not having seen their films, I felt like, "Meh, dancing movies. Whatevs," but now I see why they drew such huge crowds, and why we still quote Astaire and Rogers today. Let me know if you check this movie out!

I skipped quoting from Ebert's essay because it seemed like he wrote mostly about the history of Astaire and Rogers. It was really fascinating, but I didn't see a place for that in my post. If you want to learn more about their films and history, it's very worth reading. It just didn't have a lot to do with what I was talking about. :)

Ebert's Great Movie essay on Swing Time

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