Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #4 (FROM TOP HAT)

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I ahave some questions:

  1) Dr. Ament refers to a "treatment" in her opening remarks to Wizard of Oz. What is a "treatment"?

  2) Why did white performers wear blackface?

 

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Ruby and Eleanor:  Ruby looks like a talented amateur when compared with Eleanor. Ruby's upper body stays mostly stationary, while Eleanor's movements are more fluid.  In 42nd Street, the other dancers seem to have a role in the story and their costumes echo Ruby's. In Born to Dance, the other dancers and the musicians are treated like an extension of the scenery. Their costumes blend into the set, and Eleanor is the sole focus.  

Fred & Ginger: 

Battle of the Sexes --- The two are on much more equal footing than is implied in their traditional ballroom sequences.  Ginger can move more freely since she is wearing lower heels than usual. As others have observed, Fred is still leading her...

Versus other Depression-era musicals --- The dancing and singing occur in a more "naturalistic" setting. At least they don't appear to be performing on a stage for an audience to observe. Of course, they are most definitely performing for an audience, but in a more subtle and sophisticated way.

Possible reasons for changes in gender roles --- Women were working outside the home and showing more independence and freedom in clothes and hairstyles.

Random thought: I have always hated the saying about Ginger doing everything Fred did only backward and in heels. IMHO, Fred's dancing is so incredibly fluid, which most of his partners couldn't match. I do think Eleanor Powell is his closest equal and there is no finer pairing than the two of them dancing Begin the Beguine.

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I agree with some of the respondents that Ginger becomes an equal in this most wonderful dance number.  She starts out following Fred's pattern, but does put down some of her own steps for him to follow.  Then as the dance goes on, they meld together and do the same steps.  The handshake at the end of the number really says it all.

The biggest difference in Top Hat and other musicals (before or after) is the incredible quality of the songs and the dance numbers.  The choreography is amazing, and of course, Fred and Ginger are perfection.  You can find many mistaken identity plots in lots of other films.  The chemistry between Fred and Ginger is unmistakable.

I don't think Fred and Ginger are really screwball actors in Top Hat as much as they are in Gay Divorcee, Follow the Fleet, Swing Time, or most especially Ginger in Carefree.  The No Strings number is more of a meet-cute.  Most of the other actors are screwball, though.  Certainly screwball comedy had a role in liberating women from the more typical roles of the past, along with movies in the late 30s and 40s that emphasized working women.

 

 

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1. Another big aspect of the battle of the sexes that stuck out to me in this clip was the fact that Ginger was wearing pants. At the time, this was fairly taboo for women to do; I always enjoy the stories of Katharine Hepburn being controversial for doing just that. In dressing in a way that parallels Fred, Ginger plays into that battle of sexes and the sense of establishing a level of equality and mutual respect between the two.

 

2. I think this film really distinguishes itself from the other Depression era musicals we have watched this week in the fact that while it is a man trying to woo a woman, it is done in a much different way. Ginger is really presented as Fred's equal. You have some doubt as to whether or not Fred's attempt will be successful as Ginger is so fiercely independent as compared with the portrayal of Anna in The Great Ziegfeld or Marie in Rose Marie. 

 

3. I think one of the biggest reasons that we see this change in the portrayal of women in screwball comedies is the necessity for women to take on what were traditionally masculine roles to keep their families afloat during the Great Depression. In that way, seeing the women of Hollywood taking on masculine traits or appearances made the situation of women in real life doing so more comfortable, for lack of a better word. 

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The battle of the sexes in this clip shows by Fred starting off and Ginger responding by duplicating and even throwing a little something else in.  By the time they have joined together and dance rather fast, it is almost as each is trying to take the lead.

By wearing the suit, Ginger has become more bolder and almost demands to be an equal.  The p-possible reason for change between men and women in these movies is that in reality women were filling in jobs because men were called away to fight in war.  The movies reflect strong women at that time.

 

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Just an addendum, since much that needs to be said has been said.

This is more speculation than fact but ... in terms of the third question, what about the iidea that by the mid decade there was a handicapped President whose wife was more present than usual in the news.  Eleanor Roosevelt did trips and ceremonies, fact-finding missions, wrote a daily newspaper column, seemed to be everywhere sympathizing with everyone. In screwball the female lead often initiates action—think Veronica Lake looking after and enlightening Joel Mcrea in ST or Katherine Hepburn magically pixieiing Cary Grant in BUB. While President Roosevelt gave a weekly radio address, the First Lady was present daily, urging everybody to keep their chin up, keep going, etc. So carried away am I by this thought, I can almost her thin, aristocratic voice sing” Pick yourself up, dust yoursel off...”   I may be wrong, but I don’t recall Mrs Hoover or Mrs coolridge being so publicly active

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13 minutes ago, Vern said:

I ahave some questions:

  1) Dr. Ament refers to a "treatment" in her opening remarks to Wizard of Oz. What is a "treatment"?

  2) Why did white performers wear blackface?

 

I believe, but am not sure, that blackface originated in the minstrel shows that were very popular in the 19th century.  When their popularity began to wane, Jolson and Cantor (and probably others) carried it into vaudeville, where it became part of the vaudeville tradition.  I believe that it continued into the 1960's, though it was much less prevalent after World War II.

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1. What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat?

It's very plain to see that Astaire's character is trying very hard to woo Rogers' character, but she somewhat apprehensive about the prospect of being in a relationship. This is mainly due to the fact the Astaire character simply sees her as nothing but a woman and therefore must fill the conventional role. Based on this and the fact that he may never truly see her as an equal, she attempts to resist his advances. But, it isn't until they dance together in a seemingly simplistic fashion, that actually begin to see each other as equals and truly connect with one another. 

 

2. How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week?

It's formatted as more a screwball comedy rather than just the typical song-and-dance routine that was exhibited in most musicals. By highlighting the use of comedic routines along with the music and dance routines, Top Hat was truly unique and definitely stood out over typical musicals of the era.

 

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?

Well, as I believe someone already said, screwball comedy is about the unexpected and a role reversal of the typical archetypes between men and women definitely would've been unexpected. It also was a time when women were just starting to go into the workforce due to the Depression so maybe film studios wanted to explore the comedic side of that as well.

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Another great Daily Dose of Delight, with bonus tap numbers in the lecture notes! I would like to officially say that there aren't enough dance numbers in modern movies - especially tap numbers!

I haven't watched "Top Hat" yet, but in addition to the obvious dance battle aspect, I think that the battle of the sexes comes out in Ginger Rogers' attire. Since her legs aren't covered by a gown, we are able to see that her steps are just as impressive as his. Her outfit is still feminine, but we definitely don't see women in pants very often in the 1930s! I'll be excited to watch the rest of "Top Hat" to see how the gender aspect plays out. 

I think this clip shows more of the escapism aspect of Depression-era movies, but it also plays to the idea of women's rights. This came out only 15-20 years after World War I and women's suffrage, two historical events that had an impact on women's place in society. I think that this dance number reflects the fact that more women wanted to be treated as equals, since they were now working and voting. 

However, the screwball comedy genre conventions also play into this number. The idea is that there's inherent comedy in the idea of somebody dressing up and acting like somebody of the other sex. It tends to come up in men dressing as women (think "Some Like It Hot"), but I expect there's something a little bit daring and a little bit funny to see a gorgeous women who would normally be wearing a dress or a gown in pants and a men's style hat. For modern audiences, it isn't such a big deal, since women wear pants more often, but at the time it wasn't common. 

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I like the back and forth in the choreography. Each one advances and retreats on the other.  I think both dancers being in pants and low heeled shoes rather than Ginger being in a dress & high heels makes for a more equal partnership in the dance.  In the spins they each appear to take turns being the anchor during the spin.   And I like the ending:  a handshake, rather than a kiss.   It seems to foster the partnership in dance rather than seduction and capitulation.  

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This film starts to differ from the early musicals in that the singing and dancing no longer take place on a stage and the numbers actually advance the plot. Isn’t it a Lovely Day changes their relationship- at first she follows him but throws in steps of her own, then she mirrors him, and then they finally dance as a pair. Ginger Rodgers is very independent and he is always chasing her. Also Madge is always belittling men and making fun of Horace. This provides an entertaining contrast.

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1) This clip is an example of "anything you can do, I can do better" or in this case - just the same as you! This is not a typical male and female dance routine where the man leads and the woman follows. Rogers imitates Astaire throughout the scene. It is a form of communication because at first she seems reluctant to fall in love with him, similar to the Rose Marie scene in the canoe. She has her back to him until Astaire starts singing and she smiles and begins to dance along with him. Through dance they tell each other that they are interested in becoming a pair and sharing equality in a relationship without bloopers or prearranged roles because of their genders. 

2) I have not watched Top Hat in its entirety, but just based off on this scene I think it differs from other Depression era musicals we have discussed this week. One reason being that women are allowed to dress in pants and jackets. The era had just come out of the roaring twenties when women could wear trousers and suits, because they experienced freedom in their way of dress as well as behavior. It translates to this film and at the same time it shows how people wanted less constraints in terms of gender roles during a time when money was tight. Women didn't want to follow men but be equal to them.

3) The previous question ties in with this last one. Screwball comedy musicals showed equality and carefree personalities when it comes to gender roles as was shown in The Love Parade (1929) when the married female is able to have affairs just as a man would. The scene of Rogers and Astaire is the same because they are dressed almost alike, their is no leader and follower in this dance routine. They are both equal and capable of doing the same thing while having fun and trying to impress each other to date.

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The first thing I thought of watching this clip was that it made me wonder if that's where the idea of the "Sixteen Going Seventeen" (Sound of Music) number in the gazebo during a rain storm came from. I've noticed little things that look like they were later borrowed for various other movies and TV shows. 

As far as the scene itself, I did sense a sort of battle of the sexes. Ginger seemed interested in Fred but played coy and hard to get at first. When she decided to join him in the dance it was on her terms and she made it clear that she was his equal, not his subservient decorative partner. She matched him step for step to the point where when he lifted her briefly, she turned around and did the same. Sort of a theme of "Anything you can do, I can do better, or at least just as well." And it was notable that instead of the scene ending with a demure kiss on the cheek or a passionate kiss at "that moment" when the acknowledge their attraction to each other, it ended with a handshake. It looked like a couple whose relationship is founded on mutual respect and not so much dominant male/submissive female roles.The kind of relationship lasts when the beauty and sparkle starts to fade.

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Ah, Fred and Ginger in Top Hat.

The way they dance....and the way Prof Ament describes it makes it sound like it was the first dance battle on film. 

1. If there is a battle of the sexes, it occurs BEFORE the clip started. Dale is out riding when the storm breaks out and the gazebo is the only place she can take shelter. She tries to tell him she doesn't need his help but when a flash of lightning occurs she briefly clings to Jerry, stating the noise frightens her.

That's when Jerry attempts to charm her with his romantic storm talk. Dale seems put off, and tries to keep a straight face when Jerry starts to sing... I think she may have rolled her eyes at one point. 

When he starts to dance, she joins along, and it's a fun dance off. 

2. This film takes place in the present (mid 1930s) day. Our previous daily doses were period pieces from other times. No fancy period dress, and Dale is a headstrong, independent woman whom Jerry eventually wins over. Naturally, Dale's attire, at least in this clip was considered shocking. A woman wearing trousers in the 30s?? Usually only certain types of women wore pants, if you know what I mean. 

3. The changes of gender roles in films were reflecting what was going on in society at the time. Women had the right to vote for over a decade at this point, and women were also entering the workforce to get by in the Depression. Women were starting to prove they were equal to men, though there were clearly men who didn't like it. 

 

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1. I don't see this dance as as much of a competition as it is two people getting to know each other. Ginger's face while Fred is singing to her suggests that she thinks he's a little crazy, but she's growing more amused by his constant attempts to speak with her. At this point in the movie, he's already used her annoyance with him as an opportunity for dance-flirting ("There's only one thing that'll stop me... my nurses always used to put their arms around me") and conned his way into driving her carriage. And each time, he hasn't seen his efforts pay off, exactly. But now, through this dance, we see Ginger is ready to find out what this guy is all about. In turn, Fred leads her into a fun, breezy dance, much more casual than some of their later grand numbers, like "Cheek to Cheek" and "The Piccolino". The dance seems to be on a personal basis, just two people enjoying each other's company and the lovely (albeit rainy) day outside.

2. The movie was made to please an audience who really needed something to smile about, and even today it does its job! It's wonderful, witty, dance-filled escapist entertainment. Eric Blore and Everett Howard Horton are especially memorable to me in this movie. I love the way they banter and interact with each other; I still smile every time the line pops into my head, "We are Bates." Part of what makes the Fred and Ginger movies so great is the humor in them, and Fred and Ginger themselves go back and forth comedically in such a way that you can't help but love them as a couple. And their dances... The movie finds something to dance about even during the hard times in which it was made. And who better to pull off those tricky numbers than (as Bob Hope once said) the undisputed King and Queen of Hollywood musicals? I can't even say what makes this movie so special. It speaks for itself - in every charming, hilarious, heart-warming second of it. 

3. Honestly, I think the change was due in part to the number of extraordinary comediennes who became stars in Hollywood in the 1930s - including Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert and, our topic of discussion, Ginger Rogers! America in the '30s was a country desperately in need of comedy, and Hollywood, thinking the more the merrier, extended opportunities in comedy to actresses as well as actors. If anybody in the cast could get a grin out of the audience, more often than not, they gave it a shot. Usually, that resulted in a comedic "competition" between the male star and the female star - which became an element of the popular Screwball style of comedy. 

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1. What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat? I don't see any battle of the sexes in this clip. 

2. How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week? This film is more light hearted and is a comedy romance. 

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I see her replying to his eagerness to impress with showing that she can do anything he can do already. Basically telling him, "show me something new" if you want to impress me. Romance seems to be a reoccurring theme through everything we have discussed this week, this film offers a different take on the tradition with a blurring of the traditional gender role up to this point. The blurring seems to be a growing theme. This is one of my favs.

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Daily Dose#4: From one of my favorites!

1) Regarding the battle of the sexes, you can see Fed and Ginger seizing up their dancing abilities and showcasing their mutual talent. Here, while Fred tries to woo her with a sweet suave song, Ginger’s character shows that she’s going to need more. She’s going to need to show she is his equal in many ways than just some damsel in distress to be wooed. 

2) The film distinguishes itself from others by showing that both males and females can be seen as equal in some ways. Also, the characterization of the dance and how it is weaves seamlessly in the story along with the music, makes for an overall smoother and more enjoyable presentation.

3) One of the reasons for the changes in roles between men and women, I believe relates to changing times in terms of women becoming more assertive and educated. Women also by this time had the power to vote so their were having able to have somewhat more power than before. 

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23 hours ago, Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament said:
  • What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat?

As Astaire and Rogers dance in Top Hat, the dance challenge sequence in the rainy gazebo, is a performance meant to ultimately place them as equals in their dancing, each able to keep up with the other.  It also appears to me to be surprising for the 30s for Rogers to be in pants (Pants!! on a woman!!!) how scandalous.  Plus, I'm still not convinced that Fred Astaire is the most handsome of actors to woo the most gloriously lovely Ginger Rogers.  There has to be something that draws them together and it appears to be the challenge of the dance.

  • How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week?

Many of the other films seen this week are set in America, with this one taking us overseas to Italy.  The excessive opulence of main characters: their clothing, the sumptuous set decorations, and glamorous locales are meant to take Depression era audiences out of their poorer circumstances.  It is also of note that many of the dance sequences are not of the "backstage musical" type (although there are a few that still fit the bill) where we are the audience at a show.  The dance performance seems to pop out of nowhere (do actual people just start dancing a whole choreographed ensemble routine out of thin air?) Astaire and Rogers dance for the advancing of the plot in the same way Eddy and MacDonald sing their courtship.

  • 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?

The 19th amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote, was only passed in 1920.  Film makers are starting to recognize the power the movie going women have wanting to see strong protagonists at the movies.  Those early movies have men in the lead playing the strong characters and women as the ingenue or damsel in distress.  It's now time to put them on a more even playing field.

 

 

 

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As to the battle of the sexes, Ginger Rogers holds her own in their “duel” withou speaking a word. She not only answers his dance challenge, but initiates her own where he must answer. At one point they appear to be ballroom dancing without touching- no one necessarily leading. 

This is different from the movies we have seen up to this point because they aren’t “in a show”.The singing and dancing move the plot, not just complement it. 

Women were moving outside their roles as housewives and joining the workforce, working side by side with men in order to help feed their families during the Depression. Top Hat puts the characters on a more even footing. The movie did do its job of distracting viewers with the huge, opulent sets, beautiful clothes and perfect manners.

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The main way I saw the "Battle of the Sexes" and the equality in their dancing was in two places.  As others said, they were matching each other step for step, and occasionally Ginger threw in something extra.  (Though I don't feel like Fred was leading all the time - maybe we just "read" it that way because that's what we expect.)  Nonetheless, given her clothing, she was the one who was matching Fred - she was in the masculine clothes and dancing to match the "real man."  However, at two moments, Fred look "feminized" to me.  One was at 3:26 when Fred initiates a strong rhythmic move that propels Ginger to whirl around him.  It's a typical maneuver when the guy pretty much stays in one place as the woman spins around him.  But then - surprise - Ginger takes him by the elbow and initiates the same movement for him - and he spins around her.  And it's a bit jarring and, to my eye, pretty, actually really, gender bendy.  He looks like he's dancing the female role in that moment and she's the one who stands still.  A similar thing happens at 4:20 when he lifts her and swings her around.  And then she returns the favor and she swings him around her in what is that more feminine maneuver.  Now - they'd done this same movement earlier in Swing Time in their first dance number.  But that didn't read quite as jarringly from a gendered perspective.  In Swing Time Ginger is in a dress and heels, and all of her moves have remained within the feminine realm, so their swinging each other over the little fence there seems almost inevitable and practical (a result of the fence they both had to get over), but not something that Ginger seems to be initiating in order to remain equal to Fred.  It's a subtle difference.  But in Top Hat, that same move sure seems a lot more edgy, partly because we've already seen the first gendered inversion move that I mentioned first (at 3:26) - so this 2nd time seems more obviously part of that game.

Just as with anything that blurs the genders - women taking on masculine clothes, moves, etc. isn't viewed as that odd or transgressive as when men take on feminine clothes, or in this case, a momentarily feminine dance position/move.  And that was what was so interesting to me about this sequence - how much those two moments I describe really stuck out for me - when Fred was dancing the female role for a second or two.

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What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat? I don't really feel a sense of battle of the sexes with this clip. 

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? With the Great Depression in full-swing and upcoming WWII, women were becoming more self-sufficient and having to find work to contribute to the household. They were no longer just seen as arm pieces or wives to their male counterparts. They were up the upswing of becoming equals. 

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1.  What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat?

The battle of the sexes isn't only represented in the dancing. But in the way Rogers' is dressed.  The most obvious is the pant suit. But she's also wearing a hat and carrying a cane or umbrella (I couldn't tell which). But either one is a prop that's usually held by a man.

 

2. How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week?

I didn't get the overwhelming depiction of luxury or abundance in this clip. I haven't seen the movie yet, so at this point I can't say if that carries through the rest of the film. The other films that have been mentioned went out of their way to provide an escape from the challenges and poverties of the time.

 

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?

If memory serves correctly this film was shortly after the Hollywood Code so...that's a huge component right there. So instead of seeing Rogers on a skimpy but beautiful down even while sheltered in a downpour...she's in a full on man's suit with hat and umbrella.

 

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Notables regarding Battle of the Sexes:  1.  Fred whistles, Ginger answers in kind.  Note, the mores of the day forbids women to whistle underlying the old adage, "a whistling women and a crowing hen never comes to a good end".  2.  Fred throws Ginger over his leg and Ginger throws Fred in same manner. 3. Both end up in the same pose at end of dance routine.  However, being coy on the part of the woman again remains a theme, i.e.,the woman is  afraid of thunder and falls in man's arms.  Of course, it was pointed out early in the movie, one man to another, that women are known to scheme.  So, in 1935, interpreting attitudes about the role of the woman as a mate have not seriously advanced.

Distinguishing Top Hat from other Depression Era musicals:  The Latin influence on "amour" is introduce.  French influence isn't as overpowering.   

 

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What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat?

Throughout the film you can see the battle of the sexes play out within each of the couples. 

Jerry/Dale: obviously the need to be equals in the partnership, Dale making sure that Jerry sees her as strong and independent, a woman who will not be overrun. And that appeals to Jerry. He appreciates her all the more because of this. This is a woman who can keep up with him not only physically but mentally. 

Madge/Horace and Dale/Alberto: in these pairings the roles are somewhat reversed from the traditional expectation. The women are confident, more levelheaded, and more clever while the men believe they hold those attributes. Madge and Dale call the shots in their relationships with Horace and Alberto, going so far as to basically make the men appear effeminate and ditsy. This is the battle but on a different front. Rather than fighting for an equal stand, the women have already overtaken the men.

 

How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week?

Each of the films I’ve been able to watch (The Broadway Melody, The Wizard of Oz, and Top Hat) has been very different from the others in my opinion. TBM focused primarily on the music, which makes sense due to the recent advent of sound as well as the point of the film being a place to showcase new musical numbers. TH focused more on the dancing, which, again, makes sense thanks to the stars of the film being Fred and Ginger. And finally, TWoO seemed to focus on the story more with the music as a bonus, and I think that’s because it’s such a well known story - people went for the retelling of a beloved tale.

 

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?

One reason might be that it’s the change of the roles that provides the comedy at that time. The expectations for women were very clear and kept life and relationships running smoothly. However, the reversal, or at least equalizing, of gender roles created unexpected situations which led to the misunderstandings and humor within the stories. It allowed audiences to enjoy the outrageous scenarios that could never happen in real life. ?

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