Monday, August 3, 2009

"Top Hat" - When America was Tops - Film Review

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Tophat This image is in the public domain in the United States.

There are two theories about human evolution. One is that we are moving forward - mankind has gone from using stone tools to computers and air conditioning. The other theory is that we are going backwards - the fall of the Roman Empire idea. If you subscribe to the latter, point of view, then you may not want to watch the movie, "Top Hat." It may only confirm your worst suspicions.

Filmed in 1935, the movie is not far off from being 100 years old.

That makes it as much of a time capsule as a movie! And although it is certainly tough to skip over your "Transformers II" DVD from NetFlix, you may find yourself rewarded for having another look at this old, old movie.

Let's consider it from a cultural standpoint.

Today, where I live in Florida, the "uniform" for men is cargo shorts, flip-flops, a t-shirt (hopefully with a pocket to make it more dressy) and a baseball cap. Back then, it wasn't even a suit and tie, it was a tuxedo, and not just a tuxedo, but a tuxedo with tails. And a fancy collar for the shirt. And a vest. With a pocket watch. And pocket squares. And cuff links. And shoes that were not just polished, but were patent leather, with these cool white things that fit over the top of them that I don't even know the name for, and I have a pretty decent vocabulary, if I do say so myself. And black buttons for the shirts. With hair not just groomed but sculpted and slicked back. You get the idea.

And as for the women, well, they wore hats, and I mean hats that were designed by artists and made by craftsman. Hats that could easily be in the museum today... not as historical artifacts, mind you, but as works of art. Someone sat there and thought these hats up, then made them, then women took the time to pick them out, and wear them. Not to mention the women's hairstyles, which were quite elaborate. I can only think the effects were achieved with curlers, which of course got a bad name when housewives started wearing them to the grocery stores in the 1950s. One more loss. Oh well.

And what did men argue about after having a martini and dancing (ballroom dancing, that is) till one in the morning? Things like whether it was permissible for a bow tie to have tapered rather than squared edges! Today most of us men could not even tie a bow tie.

Men don't wear hats today, we wear "caps."

Not only did men wear real hats back then, like fedoras, they sometimes even wore top hats. And they didn't just wear top hats then, they named movies after them. Think about that for a second. How would that go over today? Now showing, "Die Hard 4," "Transformers 2," and "Top Hat." The studio marketing guys would cringe at the thought... script writers would lose their jobs at the mere suggestion of that for a title.

And of course, less we think this is all just make believe, that it was never really like that, that it was just a movie, there is Fred Astaire, plain to see through the magic of celluloid, who could dance like no one can today. As though to say, all this is no illusion: We really were at a level of culture then that cannot be even imagined today. Any more than we can imagine naming a movie, "Top Hat."

But don't despair. Today we have all kind of wonderful new things they didn't have back then - like McDonald's, the Internet, and ... blogging. Curtis

Do you like Fred Astaire movies? Here is my review of "Swingtime."