Monday, January 19, 2009

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in "Swing Time"

Astaire and Pan in Second Chorus
Movie screenshot of Fred Astaire and Astaire's choreographic collaborator Hermes Pan

If we are going to have a depression era economy, we may as well benefit by rediscovering the great depression era movies. This classic made in 1936 is lighthearted and fun, and considered to be among the three best Astaire/Rogers efforts. Astaire plays "Lucky," a dancer turned gambler who is courting "Penny" Carroll, played by Rogers. The highlight of the film for me was when Lucky is in danger of losing his girl and ending up alone, and his old sidekick, Dr. Edward "Pop" Cardetti, played by Victor Moore, tells Lucky, "I'll never leave you." Here is a scene from the movie. The only downside of the movie for me was the gambling theme, however light its treatment.

The majesty of the dancing and the sets, the clothes, the social manners and grace, even the quality of the actors' speech (see my review of Edith Skinner's classic book on voice and diction here) quite impressed me. I could not help but be reminded of the theory of entropy from physics. Related to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy says a system goes from a more ordered to a less ordered state over time. For me, entropy is an important counterpoint to the idea of "progress." And as I watched this black and white and seemingly antiquated movie, I could not help but feel that as a culture and society we have lost at least as much as we have gained in the era since its production.