#116 The Band Wagon

Watched: June 25 2017

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 52min

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Washed up musical star Tony Hunter (Astaire) hasn’t made anything in 3 years but seems OK with it. He arrives in New York City, and although the journalists that greet him are actually there for Ava Gardner, his old friends Lily and Lester Marton (Fabray and Levant, respectively) show up to meet him with an idea for a new stage musical.

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The Martons do everything with bells and whistles, including picking up an old friend from the train

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The playwright couple have a plan to get the incredibly pretentious Jeffrey Cordova (Buchanan) to direct their play, and they are also hoping for ballerina Gabrielle Gerard (Charisse) to take on the female lead opposite Tony.

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Naughty, naughty ballerina…

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While the Mortons succeed in getting the people they want, Jeffrey decides to turn their fun musical comedy into a modern retelling of Faust, with himself playing the devil. In addition, the two stars don’t get along, both misinterpreting the other’s reverence for arrogance and acting accordingly.

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Nothing like a shared smoke to fix a strained relationship

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We’re suckers for good musicals and The Band Wagon delivers. Fred Astaire is impressive even in his fifties (which, for dancers, is like seventies) and the humour is on point. We loved Jeffrey’s version of Oedipus Rex, everything to do with Lily and Les, the gradual changes in the show, the murderous triplets and especially Dem Bones Caf√© and the Noir in dance.

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It’s hard to tell here, but these sweet, innocent darlings are actually plotting parricide

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Funny and great musical numbers, glorious and colourful costumes, and fantastic performers – The Band Wagon is a wonderful musical adventure and we absolutely loved it.

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Our normal Friday night

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What we learned: Electricity is life! Also, don’t let your insecurities get the better of you.

Next time: The Big Heat (1953)

#88 The Red Shoes

Watched: March 6 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Victoria Page (Shearer) is a young, ambitious ballet dancer who, after a party, is invited by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook) to try out for his company. At the same time, young composer Julian Craster (Goring) gets a job with the same company coaching the orchestra. As Vicky rises to be the new prima ballerina (after the old one got married), Julian also rises through the ranks as a composer. The culmination of both their work is a new ballet, The Red Shoes, based on H. C. Andersen’s classic fairy tale. Julian composes while Vicky dances the lead.

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While the others work, Lermontov does his very best impression of a creepy old man

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The ballet is a great success, and its two rising stars fall in love, something Lermontov is none too happy about. He fires Julian, and Vicky, though torn, decides to go with her boyfriend. She marries him and he starts composing operas, also to great success. However, despite her meteoric rise to fame in Lermontov’s ballet, Vicky spends the following year out of work.

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We strongly suspect Julian didn’t like other men’s hands this close to his wife’s hoo-ha..

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Next season, Vicky goes back to Monte Carlo on holiday with her aristocratic aunt and runs into Lermontov again. He convinces her to dance The Red Shoes once more, but on the night of the performance, Julian comes and demands his wife choose between him and the ballet. Crazed (or possessed?) by this ultimatum, Vicky loses her mind and her control, just like the protagonist in Anderson’s fairy tale.

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Ah – innocence ruined by the lure of passion. It’s like the fairy tale reflects the fate of the innocent ballerina…

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It’s clear that Lermontov is supposed to be some sort of parallel to the shoe maker in the fairy tale, but honestly, he’s not the devil here. He encourages her ambition – an ambition that comes from her, not any outside force. Sure, his encouragement comes from mainly selfish reasons, and he may have some ulterior motive of his own, but at least he want her to follow her passion. Julian seems to think she should be content being the wife and muse of a talented composer, despite her own obvious talent which she is unable to develop once they leave the company. In our opinion, Julian is the bad guy here.

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It doesn’t help our impression that he shows up for her performance¬† wearing something very close to a Nazi outfit and goes straight for the boobs

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This film is spectacular and definitely a new favourite of ours. It’s an intriguing story with great, often eccentric, characters (we particularly love the other members of the ballet company), gorgeous costumes and breathtaking dancing. The performance of The Red Shoes – a ballet within the film – is wonderful and somewhat reminiscent of the Berkeley musicals from the ’30s, beautifully incorporating cinematic effects with amazing dancing to tell the story.

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We’re quite certain that the audience cannot be replaced by an ocean in a real live performance.

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It seems to us that women’s ambition is a dangerous thing (in which case Lermontov is the devil), although we’re not sure for whom. Is it scary for the men who lose control over them, or for the (fragile) women who will crack under the pressure of trying to balance a traditional role (doting wife and house maker) with a professional career? Possibly both, but it seems like women tend to pay the price – especially in morality tales and fiction (let’s not even go into the sexual undertones of this film and, indeed, the fairy tale on which it’s based).

What we learned: A happy and full life should have room for love and ambition. To have to choose is unfair (especially when it’s one gender asking the other to choose while they themselves can have it all..). Also, things haven’t changed much for ballerinas in the last 7 decades, judging from the parallels between this film and Black Swan (2010).

Next time: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

#50b Dance, Girl, Dance

Watched: February 11 2017

Director: Dorothy Arzner

Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Lucille Ball, Ralph Bellamy, Louis Hayward

Year: 1940

Runtime: 1h 30min

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We’re going back in time to catch up on a recent addition to the list, and what a great addition! Judy O’Brian (O’Hara) is an ambitious young club dancer with ballet dreams. However, when she goes to a meeting with Steve Adams (Bellamy) to audition for the American Ballet Company, she sees the professional dancers and is intimidated by their (very impressive) skills. Thus, she runs out before seeing Adams.

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And it’s back to do the hula for horny men

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Adams leaves his office at the same time and tries out his smooth umbrella game on Judy, but is brutally rebuffed. She goes back to the apartment she shares with a fellow dancer and they are visited by Bubbles, aka Tiger Lily White, (Ball) – a former dancer in their troupe who has made a name for herself in Burlesque. She is looking for more girls and hires Judy as a stooge – she is to dance ballet during breaks in Bubbles’ set to rile up the men who have not paid to see art.

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These people paid good money for a striptease and she doesn’t even have the decency to wear a short tutu!

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As if Judy’s life isn’t complicated enough, she also starts dating Jimmy Harris (Hayward) – a rich drunkard who is still in love with his ex-wife. When Bubbles finds out she goes after Jimmy herself, and the humiliation of her job, Bubbles’ insensitivity and her crushed ballet dreams culminate to enrage the so far kind and sensitive Judy.

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The audience finally gets their money’s worth when a cat fight ensues

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After an amazing speech to the leering audience, Judy gets into it with Bubbles who, after initially playing the outraged victim, reconciles with her fellow dancer and with herself. As for Judy, she has another encounter with Adams and things are definitely looking up.

Dance, Girl, Dance was a great addition to the list. It has strong female characters and great dance scenes – two things we absolutely love. The fact that this is the first film with a female director comes across as well (although there are of course male directors who can write and direct women – we’re not trying to be sexist here). The issues addressed in the film are interesting coming from a female perspective, and Dorothy Arzner handles the lives of dancing girls in the ’40s with a slightly different take than Busby Berkeley. Great dance movie – great movie!

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Also, nearly as many legs as in Dames!

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What we learned: is it worth sacrificing one’s dignity for fame and money? Also, a double feature night of Dance, Girl, Dance and Split (2016) leads to strange dreams of James McAvoy as a ballet dancer…

P.S. Confused about numbering? Check out this handy disclaimer!

Next time: Out of the Past (1947)