MrDougLong

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  1. 1. How might Streisand’s performance of the song “People” have felt different in the film, had she been more theatrical and expressive, perhaps even belting her song more? It’s an introspective song, which Fanny (Barbra Streisand) is only sharing with Nicky (Omar Sharif) and herself. If she were proclaiming to the world (as Streisand’s Fanny does in “Let’s Hear It for Me” from Funny Lady, 1975), belting and more broad and theatrical gestures would be appropriate. Here, there’s a sense of needing some space a few steps away from Nicky to consider their relationship. Adding to the private feeling is the muted brown palette of Gene Callahan’s production design. This contrasts with the couple’s worlds of vaudeville and gambling. This quiet, earthy environment gives Fanny (dressed in Irene Sharaff’s beautiful beaded brown dress) a place to reflect on her romantic dilemma through the song “People.” 2. Note the emotional transition moments in this scene: how do the two characters relate to each other as the lyrics are sung? This is cleverly done. The first big transition (:21) is when Fanny walks away from Nick to begin singing/thinking. They’ve been smiling in a shared medium close-up, but she leaves it to consider their relationship. The camera pans right, losing Nick and watching Fanny walk away from the camera (a non-traditional choice as a leading lady begins her song). After he follows her right, she and the camera stop at the railing for the next transition (:56), the beginning of the song proper (“People. People who need people.”). She tries looking at Nick to share the lyrics, but soon closes her eyes looking away, as if this is still too private or painful to share. This beat continues as she (and the camera) move toward the stairs. In his only reaction shot without Fanny in the frame (1:46), Nick stares directly at Fanny on her lyric, “Acting more like children than children.” They are separated for the rest of the song, relating only minimally though they are both invested in the progression of her thoughts through the lyrics. 3. How does the direction and editing of this scene support Streisand’s performance? Be specific about blocking, reaction shots, etc. Streisand navigates Fanny’s dilemma in the song – she is in love but unsure if it will work – by smiling gently when she’s facing him and often closing her eyes when she’s singing to herself. What’s fascinating and unique about the blocking and filming of this number is that most of the time, Fanny is walking away from Nick (and sometimes the camera) and only occasionally looking at him, even though their relationship is what she’s singing about. At the beginning, Fanny and Nick are in close proximity, but then director William Wyler separates them with a lamp pole, which suggests their dichotomy – he values his freedom while she values their relationship (and her work, which wasn’t always an ultimate concern in earlier film musicals). A couple times she turns around to include Nick in her thoughts, gesturing wide on “Maybe we’re lucky, but I don’t know” and the even more uncertain “I guess we’re both happy, but maybe we ain’t.” Wyler makes sure we catch a little of the back of Nick’s head in the lower left corner of the frame as he follows her. The camera zooms in on the “Lovers” verse, suggesting this is the most private and important part of the song for Fanny. Streisand closes her eyes and sways slightly on the lower note on the second syllable of “lovers.” At the end of this phrase, cinematographer Harry Stradling elegantly dollies right to catch Nick in the background on the left. Here, Streisand sings passionately about Fanny’s evolution “Says you were half, now you’re whole.” Stradling zooms in for her emotion on “luckiest people in the world.” The number ends with a close-up of Fanny in profile against a mostly-black part of the stairs. Streisand’s gifts are on full display in this number: technical mastery, deep emotional connection with the lyric.
  2. 1. Explore any common themes and filmmaking techniques in a very different movie also directed by George Cukor, Gaslight. (If you are not familiar with Gaslight, compare and contrast Cukor's theme in this scene and his techniques with another musical you have seen during this course) In both Gaslight (1944) and My Fair Lady (1964), a man attempts to control a woman for selfish reasons. In Gaslight, it’s for money, and in My Fair Lady, it’s for professional pride. In both cases, the woman’s well being is a price he’s willing to pay, and in both cases, the woman is worn down and angry at the end of the process. In both cases, Cukor at certain point frames the woman as if she is a subject to be studied, a guinea pig on which to be tested. The scenes with Ingrid Bergman in the center of the frame, in the room alone feeling she’s going crazy, are a little like the scenes with Audrey Hepburn centered in the frame trying to learn correct pronunciation and manners. In both cases, the truth gradually dawns on the woman. In this Daily Dose scene, Hepburn’s Eliza finally articulates her frustration at being used by Higgins (Rex Harrison) just as Paula (Bergman) finally confronts Gregory (Charles Boyer). 2. Note the emotional transition moments in this scene, how the actors portray them, and how Cukor supports them. Cukor keeps the camera focused on where the emotion is happening. When Eliza suddenly drops to the ground (:29) giving in to her frustration, the camera knows to pan down with her. As mentioned in Gary Rydstrom’s Curator’s Note, shadow is used throughout this scene to suggest that we are not only seeing Higgins’ prize version of Eliza, but the private Eliza who now doesn’t know what to do with the elegant version of herself. In the early part of the scene, Hepburn walks around the dim room with eyes mostly closed, suggesting Eliza’s introspection at this point. We are allowed to see Eliza trying to regain her dignity when Higgins offers her a chocolate. We cut to Eliza and “sit up” with her as she transitions immediately from a belligerent “NO” to a polite “thank you.” 3. What do you notice about the relationship between Eliza and Higgins that seems enhanced by Cukor’s direction? We see the relationship shifting in the scene, with Eliza starting to take back control of her life. When Eliza throws Higgins’ slippers at him, the editing picks up this energy by showing Eliza throwing them and cutting immediately to them nearly hitting Higgins in the head. In this scene, Higgins attempts to control the situation by being unflappable in his response to Eliza’s outburst, retaining the parent-child relationship he established during their lessons. As the scene begins, she is even on the floor (the camera tilted slightly downward) and he is standing (his head at the top of the frame). He taunts her (“Oh, so the creature’s nervous after all”) and she responds by screaming and moving as if to strangle him. He grabs her wrists and pushes her onto the sofa as she bursts into tears. Cukor often focuses on their faces, sometimes when the other is talking to catch the reactions. We get a two-shot when we need to see both at the same time, such as “them slippers/those slippers!”
  3. 1. As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable? That’s a huge question and there’s not one simple answer. I would say that Robert Preston’s performance in The Music Man (1962) follows a tradition of alpha male musical performance in film that include James Cagney in Footlight Parade (1933) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942); Nelson Eddy in the Jeanette MacDonald operettas; Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945), On the Town (1949), and others; Howard Keel in Kiss Me Kate (1953), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and others; and Yul Brynner in The King and I (1956). A bigger departure from tradition came two years later with The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night (1964). There was no attempt to make these men dominant over the women in their lives or even the other men. They were more akin to beta males, perhaps, but quite unlike Dick Powell (during his “juvenile” years in Warners musicals) or Donald O’Connor, whose screen personas goofed around but worked hard with others to make the show at hand work. John, Paul, George & Ringo were grown boys more interested in their own famous lives than in the cares of a central plot. Their concert performances are more related to Elvis Presley’s swagger in Jailhouse Rock (1957) than to men in traditional musicals of the time. 2. What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips? There is a wry confidence in both performances that he can win over the audience at hand through singing clever lyrics and moving toward and among them. In “Trouble,” he holds himself sturdily the whole time without the dips and bends that highlighted the dancing of Fred Astaire and others. When he describes “Sittin’ on Dan Patch,” he moves like a muscular athlete. Harold Hill’s frequent gesturing to the crowd of parents is done with the command of a master charlatan. In the Victor/Victoria (1982) clip, Toddy provokes the (comic) violence that occurs in response to his droll insults. Preston moves with characteristic physical confidence. 3. Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work? Preston was in two films at Paramount in 1939 that anticipate the gleeful masculine confidence he projects in his musicals. In Beau Geste, he is Digby, the energetic younger brother of Gary Cooper and Ray Milland, whose adoration of his brothers and the Foreign Legion leads to sacrificing for them. In Union Pacific, he is the charming bad guy (pre-dating Harold Hill) who is the losing part of a love triangle with Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea in the Old West. Preston fits in easily in the “masculine” worlds of these stories and his energy and humor suggest the success he would later find in stage and screen musicals.
  4. 1. In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical? Many of its backstage musical elements hearken to the entire history of film musicals: a vaudeville setting, musical numbers performed on a stage to “us” in the audience, someone interrupting the proceedings (so many of the early Warners musicals). The story and acting style, though, reflect the intense 1950s dramatic style of Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando. Karl Malden’s frustration at his work and life situation is as intense as his work in A Streetcar Named Desire or On the Waterfront. The cinema’s move away from a certain fantasy style from the Golden Era was reflected in the musical’s evolution in the 1960s. The gritty film adaptations of West Side Story (1961) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971) wouldn’t seem possible during the Golden Age. 2. This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress. Mama Rose gets a brash, stage mama entrance. Rosalind Russell’s Rose dominates the audition by boldly advancing down the aisle in her leopard-print coat and honking orders in her commanding voice. When Herbie (Karl Malden) tries to reason with her, she tops him through vocal and verbal energy as Russell did in The Women (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Auntie Mame (1958), and others. Rosalind Russell clearly knew how to “pull focus” and here she uses it to focus the attention on Baby June. 3. Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not). There is a slightly sexualized slant to Sondheim’s lyrics here, later used as double entendre by the young adult version of Louise – “Let me entertain you/Let me see you smile/I will do some kicks/I will do some tricks” – which are especially uncomfortable coming from little girls. Baby June is dolled up and dances in a way that seems designed to appeal to men, much in the way JonBenet Ramsey (second photo below) was sexualized in real life decades later: mounds of golden curls, makeup, confident grin. There is a sense of Mama Rose pimping her daughters throughout the story, though we're guided to see that it comes from love (and her own failed dreams).
  5. 1. Does a movie that has as stylized a scene as An American in Paris’ ending ballet need to use a less-than-realistic, stylized approach throughout the film? Not necessarily since the end ballet is clearly in Jerry’s imagination. As an artist who has chosen to try his luck in Paris, he has studied the great French artists whose work shows up in the ballet. It does make sense, though, that the mise-en-scene has a painterly feeling throughout the film and that music interweaves with action and dialogue as it does at the beginning of this opening scene. 2. What keeps Jerry Mulligan from being completely unlikeable in a scene in which he acts pretty darn unlikeable? Jerry represents post-war American confidence and cockiness. We can tell from his interactions with these two women that he hasn’t sold any of his paintings yet and that he’s had a lot of college students criticize his work – no wonder he’s impatient with Noel Neill. His jaunty, optimistic walk up the sidewalks in time to the Gershwin music endears us to him (and the fact that he’s Gene Kelly as our protagonist). And for all his cockiness, he comes across as an innocent when it comes to Milo’s elegant-but-predatory style (“What do you care?”).
  6. 1. How do the pre-dance movements of O’Connor and Kelly compare to their actual dance movements? Starting with Donald O’Connor aping the Professor during the “Moses” tongue twister, they let that rhythm inform their dance to come. Once Gene Kelly holds the elocution book, their gestures match the beats of the poetry’s rhythm. Once O’Connor tosses the book, they start dancing in time to the beat. 2. Watch the Professor all the way through and consider the role of the straight man. It’s actually hard to focus on the Professor because we’re so captivated by the dancing and shenanigans of Kelly and O’Connor. In a way, this number encapsulates a lot of what Singin’ in the Rain has to say about the early days of sound. The studios thought actors should focus on speaking in correct Mid-Atlantic accents, but Don and Cosmo know what the people really want – music, dance, and fun. Throughout the number, the Professor is perplexed by their antics and becomes their hostage. He’s so formal that he allows them to slowly rotate him using his tie and hide his head under a curtain. He tries to escape being their dance foil, but never really challenges them. Midway through he puts on his glasses to watch their dancing and Don and Cosmo sit him in a chair, pointing to the dancing of the other man. Finally they stack the trappings of his lessons on top of him, making him a ridiculous shrine to elocution. 3. How do the representations of masculinity in all three men compare and contrast with each other? As was articulated in the notes, Gene Kelly is clearly the alpha male while Donald O’Connor appears as the beta male, allowing him to more easily ape and mock the finicky gesture style of the Professor reciting his tongue twisters. The Professor himself is finicky and repressed, unable to release himself in male exuberance like the younger men when they dance and take over his room.
  7. 1. As you reflect upon female representation in the 1950s, where do you think this film character falls in the continuum? Why? Films followed the post-war focus on re-establishing gender roles within the nuclear family (husbands at work, wives at home). Bringing back characters like Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Jane in Calamity Jane (1953) showed women who were agents controlling their own lives, even if the outcome is a return to the nuclear family with the woman converting to a more “wifely” existence. 2. How do you think Doris Day grows as an actress in her various roles in the 1950s, before and after this musical? She made some delightful lightweight musicals before this, but usually the demands were primarily that she sing and look beautiful. After performing as Calamity Jane, the expectations and demands went up – her tough performance as Ruth Etting opposite James Cagney in Love Me or Leave Me (1955), the anguish she showed opposite James Stewart as the mother of a kidnapped boy in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), brassy Babe in the film version of the musical The Pajama Game (1957). She probably wouldn’t have had her run as top box office draw in the comedies with Rock Hudson and others if not for the string of challenging roles that started with Calamity Jane. 3. Does Doris Day’s bright and sunny persona add or detract from the role of Calamity Jane in your opinion? Please defend your answer. Historically, Doris Day’s screen persona is sunnier than most people in real life, presumably including Calamity Jane. Within the film, though, it works fine. In the first Daily Dose clip, her enthusiasm carries the day as Jane. Rather than playing it “manly,” she’s more of a Peter Pan, jumping up on bars and confidently challenging strong tough guys like Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel). Her screen persona helps make Calamity Jane an energetic protagonist with whom it’s easy to side.
  8. 1. As you watch the interaction between the four characters in this scene, what do you notice about the way they include each other or relate to one another? How is it different from early musicals we have discussed? During the first minute, Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant & Jack Buchanan pull Fred Astaire to a seated position to “audition” their ideas (clowns, sex, divorcees) for him; Vincente Minnelli keeps adjusting the mis-en-scene, often with whoever has the lyric moving so we’ll watch them. Once Astaire agrees to participate (at :56, “It could be Oedipus Rex”), they work together to work in every vaudevillian & theatrical routine they can think of. They often branch out, then re-group, as when they build what seems to be a cheerleader pyramid (but Oscar Levant walks away, showing it was an illusion). We see that putting on a show requires the creativity and collaboration of many artists. Stylistically, this most matches the title number atop the Empire State Building in On the Town (1949), with all the friends working together to express enthusiasm, sometimes branched off in twos or threes and often all together breaking the fourth wall to sing to the viewer. It’s certainly different than all the songs-within-a-show that are supposedly for a diagetic audience in the early ‘30s Warner Bros. musicals (42nd Street, the Gold Digger films, etc.). In this one, though the characters are not always chummy throughout the film, they are in this number as they realize what fun they could have putting on a show for us. 2. What do you notice about the costuming of the characters that indicate cohesiveness of the ensemble, as opposed to setting anyone apart? Be specific. Their costumes blend visually, as the characters eventually do. Jack Buchanan’s blue jacket stands out and his ascot suggests a pompous artist. Nanette Fabray’s wide geometric patterned skirt helps define her as the female lover in all their micro-dramas (“The dame who is known as the flame”). Her splash of color is the red bow, which matches the curtains and table. Levant has a navy tie and Astaire has a navy suit; they’re dressed quite formally for a backstage setting. 3. What do you notice about the staging and interplay between the characters that helps define the relationships between the characters in the song? Levant skips the dance routine the other three do as the music’s tempo increases. We see that the three have playful sides as they mock trying to step in front of each other. Levant is usually on his own, such as with the gag of being both at the front and the end of the ladder. This is interrupted by Fabray’s running gag of flirting by smiling and popping her hip in time to a drum beat. Astaire and Buchanan are often teamed up, at one point knocking each other’s derbies off. Levant is the gag man again popping out from behind the flat painted to look like a red brick building with a green door to light Buchanan’s cigarette and surprising us by walking in step with Astaire and Fabray (we didn’t see them get back there). The four become a chorus for the next few lyrics, eventually reaching their arms out to us, the audience.
  9. 1. What do you notice about the way the scene is directed as Petunia goes to Joe’s bedside and as we cut to her outside hanging laundry? What does this tell us about her relationship, and the connection to the song? The lighting by Joe's bed is arranged so a key light catches Ethel Waters’ face when she looks up to talk to God, which we see as the strongest relationship throughout the film. The blocking is arranged so the relationship between Petunia and Joe (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) at first seems to be more mother-child than wife-husband, especially the way Ethel Waters grins and pokes at him in his sick bed. The camera swivels to the left to catch them in a close-up two-shot with heads on the pillow, seeming more wife-husband. The cut to the outdoor clothesline is shown as evidence that Petunia is glad to work hard as long as Joe loves her. Waters keeps smiling and singing as she takes the sheets down. She giggles as she pushes the invalid Joe back in his wheelchair (for no apparent reason) and then hugs his clean shirt at the end of the song. 2. How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How? A wife’s love for a husband is different than a mother’s love for a child. We tend to think of mothers, particularly in this era and under the Production Code’s focus on family values, as being sacrificial for their children. The song works well in that context, evidenced by Judy Garland singing it to her son Joey in concert (audio clip below). 3. What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era? Blackface, a carryover from the minstrel days of the 1800s, was still an acceptable form of entertainment in mainstream American movie musicals in the 1940s. These include Babes on Broadway (1941, Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland in a full minstrel number), Holiday Inn (1942, Bing Crosby in the “Abraham” number), Dixie (1943, Crosby again, as a minstrel performer), and The Jolson Story (1946, Larry Parks as Al Jolson in blackface) and its 1949 sequel. African-American actors in 1940s studio films were generally relegated to various forms of the obedient servant. Therefore, it was significant to see a film in which all the roles, including the protagonists, were black. As with Hallelujah (1929), Cabin in the Sky (1943) was created primarily by white men and there were undeniably racial stereotypes, but it still constituted representation and featured the musical talents of great stars rarely seen on the screen. For African-American audiences, it would have been unique to see cultural representation in an MGM musical.
  10. 1. Thinking like a director and editor, describe how each shot spotlights key actions. Here are the shots: The scene opens with a pan from right to left as Frank Sinatra exits the locker room, only to be trapped by Betty Garrett. In a continual shot, it pans back right and then left again as she chases him toward the dressing room and up the bleacher stairs. At :13, we cut to a long shot of the two running out on the baseball field, panning left to catch them running away from the camera. At :20, we cut to a medium two-shot so she can start singing (“Hey!”). In the same shot it pans left as she marches up to him, then continues to pan left as she chases him away from the camera. At :49, we cut to a close two-shot as she begins singing the chorus (“It’s fate, baby, it’s fate”). In an impressive single shot (starting at 1:00), the camera pans from right to center as she chases him into a medium two-shot for several lyrics. It then pans left and up as she athletically chases him up the bleacher seats (in a Victorian yellow dress!), its low angle emphasizing the height and distance of the chase. At 1:46 we jump to a perspective just below the top bleachers, which is where the characters end up. At 1:53, we cut again to a medium two-shot for more lyrics, this time with him also singing. At 2:15, we jump back to the previous long shot to catch her pushing him down onto the bleachers. At 2:30, we return to the medium two-shot for more lyrics and dancing and we travel right with them. At 2:42, we jump back to a longer shot and travel down right as she follows him down the bleachers. At 3:09, we cut to a longer shot to catch him sliding down the rail and her running to the bottom, then zooming in for the end of her catching him 2. It’s interesting to examine how musicals segue into musical numbers. How does this sequence prepare us for the singing? Bouncy music accompanies Frank Sinatra exiting the locker room, tossing a baseball. Soon, though, we see Betty Garrett eye her prey and the music underscores her stepping right and left to prevent his passing. It takes on a horror movie “stepping into danger” sound, transitioning into “chase music” as she backs him up and out onto the field. The music increases as the distance from the camera increases. Only when he stops running at her “Hey!” does the song start – she’s caught her prey and proceeds to order him (in song and dance) to love her.
  11. 1. What was the first Judy Garland film you recall watching? What was your first impression of her? Like most here, my first Judy Garland film was The Wizard of Oz, every year on TV in the late 1960s & early ‘70s. My impression was that she was a very natural performer, believing in Oz, and possessing a deeply beautiful and emotive voice. 2. How do you view her differently after viewing these clips than you might have viewed her previously? These clips show Judy’s famous sense of humor. In “A Couple of Swells,” she and Fred Astaire make a fully choreographed dance look like playing. Freed of the need to be glamorous (MGM famously and relentlessly kept her thin), she flops around, grins, and seems to have a blast as a male tramp. Note the funny faces they both make after “We’d like to tell you who we kissed last night, but we can’t be cads.” In “For Me and My Gal,” she’s paired with MGM’s other great male dancing star, Gene Kelly. Like Astaire, he likes to have fun when he’s dancing and he and Judy share lots of funny moments, including the counting of future children: “Or three.” “Or four.” “Or five.” Gene: “Or a maybe more,” at which Judy humorously seems to suddenly realize what a burden more than five children would mean. She also proves herself a worthy hoofer. 3. What films in her later career come to mind as examples of her increasing ability to capture an audience’s imagination as a storyteller when she sings a lyric? It’s the obvious one, but “The Man That Got Away” from A Star Is Born (1954) is one of the most deeply felt torch songs ever performed on film. I’m guessing we’ll talk about A Star is Born next week, so I’ll save my specific thoughts for then.
  12. 1. Describe how the scenes in today’s Daily Dose were designed to promote American values for audiences during World War II. Be specific. Refer to props, set design, settings, etc. in your answer. FDR’s office includes an American flag and a model and paintings of war ships. Even the President’s desk clock is designed as a ship’s steering wheel. The Rhode Island Fourth of July parade scene bends the truth (Cohan was born on July 3) to allow for stars and stripes bunting and the kind of small town that Americans were told they were fighting for, filled with flag-waving Americans. This leads to the theatre where we visually connect vaudeville with patriotism, an idea mentioned just before in the dialogue between Cohan and FDR. Seeing Jerry Cohan perform a stereotypically Irish number (wearing breeches, Leprechaun hat, etc.) connects to moments earlier when FDR notes that the Irish have always been especially patriotic for America. 2. Listen carefully to the dialogue in these scenes. In what ways does the dialogue and/or the screenplay work to boost American morale? Quote specific lines of dialogue in your response. There is talk of patriotism in the discussion with FDR, who notes that “you Irish” are especially patriotic. Cohan says he was “always carrying a flag in a parade or following one.” When Cohan is talking with the butler about the song “Yankee Doodle Boy,” Cohan said it was a good old song and the butler replies, “Yes sir, and it’s just as good today as it ever was”; the film will want the viewer to make a similar decision – that these old songs can still rouse the patriotism we need now. FDR, too, connects seeing the Cohans in his childhood with the kind of patriotism needed “today.” 3. Since this is the opening of a biographical musical, how differently do you feel this film would be if it opened with the Fourth of July Parade scene in Providence, Rhode Island vs. the opening with FDR in the Oval Office? Defend your answer. Opening in the Oval Office clarified for the 1942 audience that this whole film relates to the contemporary situation of World War II. “I wish you did (have all the answers) too,” FDR says to George, alluding to the war. Had the movie opened at the time of Cohan’s birth (1878), the viewer would have to wait until the end to connect the patriotism of the story of the wartime concerns of the current time. We also wouldn’t have seen Cohan speaking at the beginning with the White House butler, which might have seemed racially progressive for 1942.
  13. This pretty much sums up their styles. Ruby Keeler as Peggy Sawyer is endearingly clunky as she taps her heart out in her sudden opportunity to play the lead. Eleanor Powell is almost other-worldly as she dances - part ballerina, part gynmast, all smiles and confidence.
  14. 1. What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat? Often when Ginger Rogers executes a step that equals or tops Fred Astaire’s, her body and expression suggest, “Top that.” Thunder is used creatively in the number, always pushing the relationship forward. Ginger only consents to the traditional physical connection dancing (3:58) after the final thunder (3:36) bumps up the music’s tempo as well as (presumably) the characters’ hearts. 2. How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week? The art itself – dance in this case – is the playing field for the dramatic action. In Broadway Melody, 42nd Street, Going Hollywood, etc., the musical numbers are generally part of the show their musical performers are creating. “Isn’t It a Lovely Day” from Top Hat (1935) is a private musical number, created not for a diagetic audience, but for each other as Fred courts and Ginger competes. 3. What possible reasons might there be for the changes in roles between men and women depicted in these screwball comedy musicals that distinguish themselves from earlier musicals in the 1930s? I feel a dichotomy of responses to this question. As others have noted, the Depression provoked a need for women to work outside the home and play other roles than wife and mother, so the sense of achieving equal respect in this number reflects that. But Top Hat is also fantasy for Depression audiences, in which the realities of unemployment don’t overwhelm the characters, as they do the chorus girls and techies in the Warner Bros. musicals of the early ‘30s.

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