South Park Self

gotta dance!

Movie club last night, this theme mine, and it finally settled out at "Movies about dance under extreme weather conditions": Singing in the Rain and White Nights. Secondary theme: conceptual whiplash. Also, Really Good Seared Rare Beef Fillet On Rolls, which seems to be establishing itself as another recurring motif in these evenings.

I'd forgotten how much fun Singing in the Rain is; how much of it is slapstick (mostly courtesy of Donald O'Connor, who suffers from an intriguing combination of hyperactivity and a rubber face), and how incredibly, incurably self-aware and ironic the whole thing is - about musicals, about film-making, about acting. It's not so much a musical as a commentary on musicals, which I think accounts for some of the more over-the top elements - the hamming, the goofiness, the extended, excessive musical numbers wedged into the plot at the drop of a hat belonging to the faint shadow of an excuse. It also made me realise that I've been spoiled by Fred Astaire, who is an accomplished dancer to an extent which makes Gene Kelly look rather sloppy. But it was a hugely fun watch, and sent all three of us wandering around thereafter singing "Singing in the Rain" joyously and largely unconsciously. I'm still doing it.

White Nights is an altogether different kettle of fish, assuming they're depressive Russian fish with dancers' muscles and half-assed political pretensions. It's a truly weird movie which I cannot actually say is "good" on any meaningful level, but which has managed to haunt me all day with its images, sequences and oppressive atmosphere. I wanted to re-watch it because the only thing I remember about it from my schooldays (I think I may have seen in the theatre with my mother when it came out, which was, whoa, 1985) was that incredible, blissful, unbelievable sequence with Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov doing a sort of modern dance/ballet/tap fusion in perfect step despite completely different body styles, in an empty practice hall, for no other reason than the hell of it. To me this is what dance is about - mutuality, synchronisation, the sheer pleasure of moving in harmony. It's the stylised and publicly acceptable embodiment of good sex. This film is scripted in giant, half-formed clichés; it has "Russian Communism Bad!" written all over it in letters of fire; its actually very good cast struggles against chronically poor pacing and the uneasy mixing of dramatic tropes with those of a spy thriller and a dance movie - but its dance sequences are pure joy. Neither Hines nor Baryshnikov are any good at all as actors when you give them actual words to say, but they communicate incredibly powerfully when all they have to do is move. Also, bonus points for the most deliriously decontextualised performance of Porgy and Bess I have ever seen.

I think White Nights may have weirded jo&stv out far more than the classic musical I was afraid they'd hate, but I'm very glad I saw both films again. Now I'm going to go home and load up that dance sequence, just because I can. In fact, here it is now. I love the discipline here, the mutuality, despite the fact that the body language is poles apart - Hines all loose-limbed and floppy, Baryshnikov perfectly controlled, but with the unbelievably evocative power which only a top-flight, classically trained dancer can impart to steps which are, technically speaking, slumming it.

And then I'm going to watch my entire Fred Astaire collection. While regretting, with every fibre of my being, that I stopped taking ballroom dance classes, because people flying with their feet on the ground is beautiful to watch, but it's better if you can do it yourself.
  • Current Mood: bouncy vicariously flying
  • Current Music: "Singing in the Rain", and Lionel Richie, IN MY HEAD!
I adore White Nights, probably because I saw it in the theatre in 1985 and it's all a nostalgia thing. ("Say You, Say Me" hits me in my gut, and it's really not the type of music I like.) Then again, Helen Mirren and Isabella Rossillin...maybe that explains it.

Cheers, Dayle