Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #4 (FROM TOP HAT)

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I didn't necessarily see a "battle of the sexes" but there was a definite back and forth dynamic typical of old romantic comedies that is problematic by today's standards: the man is the one pursuing the woman almost ruthlessly (I mean, the guy basically stalks her, following her and stealing her carriage), with the woman resisting until she finally gives in. 

The film is a bit different from the others we have seen in that the woman does seem to have a mind of her own and challenges the man instead of submitting (possibly because of the beginning of the rise of feminism). She is also equal to the man in terms of skill. She is more than merely decorative. However, the man still does seem to control the dynamic in their relationship. 

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On 6/6/2018 at 10:05 PM, Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament said:
  1. What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat?
  2. How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week?
  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?

1. I don't know if my view necessarily counts as a battle of the sexes, but the fact that their competition is friendly and simply fun. They genuinely like each other and enjoyed dancing together. This dance suggests that the "battle of the sexes" doesn't have to be a battle at all. That wooing and romance and flirting doesn't have to be overt and obvious. Men and women can be friends first, and also romantic partners.

2. I will admit this question stumped me. I always really liked and enjoyed Top Hat but never viewed besides I highly glossy and glamorous piece of studio system Art Deco escapism but this question makes me rethink my perception. While there is a element of fantasy and romanticism that's not the entire point unlike the Jeanette Macdonald/Nelson Eddy Movies. There's sweetness and sentimentality ("Dancing Cheek to Cheek") but that's only one song, not the focus of the entire movie. There's more playfulness and friendship in the dance numbers Fred and Ginger do ("Isn't it a Lovely Day" and "Catchy Piccolino") than straight up romance. There's a balance in the kinds of dancing they do thus a balance in how they are as a couple. In this number, Ginger is matching Fred step for step. Its upbeat and peppy. They literally both wear pants (ie the idea of wearing "pants" in a relationship). She's not conforming to a typically feminine gender roles (submission and being graceful in movement) like she does in DCTC.And while Fred tries to get her interest and flirts in the beginning there's nothing particularity dominating about that which is a typically masculine trait. There's a sense of equality and partnership in this number.

3. I would assume that the Depression affected traditional gender roles greatly. Women had to work to support themselves and their families. Even if the were married and the husband worked, she would have needed to work to help their family survive. This was an equal undertaking. Everyone needs and wants to survive so all hands on deck is necessary, so to speak. 

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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?

Although I do agree that there isn't a particularly large or overt "battle" here, especially with Fred and Ginger, we do get some slight indications that the female has more power perhaps than in other films of its time. Not just in the "Ginger wears pants and is sassy" sense ("Lovely Day") but we do have our secondary leads, Madge and Horace... I think there is much more of an overt female power battle here. Madge is totally in control, she is un-flapped by anything Horace does and knows very well that she has all the power, she does not weep, complain, whine, throw a classic 1930s "female fit" she knows she is the boss, now THAT is a switch. Ginger also holds her own, but she always plays a fiesty and strong female, in as much as her characters allowed, she is rarely a weak wilting flower in any of their films, Fred always has to work for her affection, it's never handed to him, so that is a refreshing angle for the partnership in general.

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

It falls in line with the screwball meets musical genre that we have seen in a lot of this week's films. It also matches in that everyone lives well, has no concern for money, beautiful gowns, tuxes, settings, rooms, horse drawn carriages, flowers in abundance, nothing is spared and no one has to ration or acknowledge the depression. In fact, the only thing that I would say distinguishes it apart is that it is so far and beyond what even I suspect the wealthiest people of the time would even consider, that it is an "Over the Top..Hat"..WHO FLIES TO ITALY FOR THE WEEKEND!? Especially in the early thirties, I mean, come ON! But they played it and they played it hard, and you buy it too, it's so well done and so perfectly cast and acted that you accept it, but really, the amount of money being spent...unreal.

  1. 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 of the main rules of comedy is to flip something, to reverse the norm, so for screwball alone, having women "wear the pants" (literally and figuratively) probably to some was empowerment, and to others, was hilarious to see women "in charge" works for both purposes! 

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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?

In the 'Caught in the Rain' clip there is still a hint of vulnerability when Dale rushes into Jerry's arms at the sound of thunder. Its quite clear that Dale is an independent woman. She refuses to be rescued by Jerry right off and he has to woo here into a dance. 

Later in the film Beddini tries to boss Dale around trying to lay down the rules for providing the wardrobe. She sets him straight on that score. Madge and Dale concur on the awful behavior of men. Madge even gives Horace a black eye when she suspects him of flirting with Dale (mistakenly of course in screwball comedy fashion).

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

Stronger female characters. 

I have heard that on the set of Top Hat the feathered dress that Ginger Rogers wore in a dance scene really bothered Fred. He wanted it out. The dress remained in the scene. The female won that battle of the sexes in real life. 

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?

Along with the post moral code standards influencing the portrayal of the female character woman were also pushing for change in society. The women in this film are a lot more in control and sometimes even in charge of the relationship (Madge and Horace). 

  

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So, something I noticed in Top Hat vs Broadway Melody: the strong female lead role was the object of romantic interest in Top Hat, whereas in Broadway Melody she actually loses her affianced. That seems like a big change in only 6 years! Of course, Top Hat is pure comedy whereas Broadway Melody is much more on the dramatic end of the spectrum, so that may figure into it as well.

Actually, I think that is a major difference in Top Hat vs the other clips this week: Top Hat is purely screwball comedy, where as the other clips were more dramatic. 

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Am I the only one who can't watch the Cheek to Cheek routine without thinking of another movie, The Green Mile?  In the Green Mile, John Connor, the gentle giant, who is wrongly convicted and on death row watches Fred and Ginger dance Cheek to Cheek and he is in utter wonderment. They are the most beautiful creatures that he has ever seen.  Later in the movie as he is escorted to death row, he sings, " heaven, I'm in heaven..."  That scene really gets to me.  Astaire and Rogers really do look and move beautifully and  while "isn't it a lovely day" is amazing,  Cheek to Cheek is the dance scene that takes my breath away. 

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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 men need to work harder to 'get the girl.' There's a or independent spirit to the women in the film. There's a sense of partnership in the dancing seldom seen so prominently on film.  The women hold their own with the men in both the dancing and drama.

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

The production value is amped up and overall the production is more high society and a time when people were not doing well. It's also bolder with more clearly developed archetypes. The music is also better developed. the dancing and sound are more sophisticated and daring in execution. The dancing says so much than regular dialogue

  1. 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?

To keep spirits up from the Depression, to mirror the social times of the era and also to represent the times it was made in. The films are culturally relevant and interesting.

I also loved watching Buddy Ebsen dance. As good as he and his co star are, they are matched equally by their counterparts. http://forums.tcm.com/topic/186357-daily-dose-of-delight-4-from-top-hat/#

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8 minutes ago, MsAllieB said:

Ginger also holds her own, but she always plays a fiesty and strong female, in as much as her characters allowed, she is rarely a weak wilting flower in any of their films

It seems to me that Fred and Ginger are basically playing the same types of characters that they played in Roberta, and they continued to do so thru most of their RKO pictures.  In Roberta, Ginger sings "I'll Be Hard to Handle" and I believe she wears real pants (not a riding outfit) in some of their dances.  

 

11 minutes ago, MsAllieB said:

WHO FLIES TO ITALY FOR THE WEEKEND!?

Doesn't the early part of the movie take place in London?  I haven't seen it in a while, but that is the way I remember it.  It would be a shorter flight.

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Quote

 

Jerry: “May I rescue you?”

Dale: “No, thank you. I prefer being in distress”

Top Hat (1935)

 

 

There’s always this “battle of the sexes” element in most of the Astaire-Rogers musicals. In this clip, however, I don’t think any of them are trying to prove they’re better than the other. I think this scene represents the realisation of how they weren’t so different after all, and that they could actually get along and have respect for each other, regardless of their genders or their first impressions.  I believe this dance reflects how both man and woman can be equals, and it does it in such a subtle but marvellous way. Not only the clothes or the handshake at the end show us this, but also, for example, when Fred makes Ginger spin, and Ginger makes him spin too! In two occasions! I think that’s wonderful. Ginger’s character isn’t leading the dance, but she’s not going to let a man dominate her. And Fred’s character might be leading the dance, but still wants Ginger’s character to know that he isn’t afraid of her daring personality, he actually likes it. If you’ve seen other Astaire and Rogers films, you’ll realise that Ginger’s characters are always the ones who make the first “real” move to transform their obvious attraction into something concrete (such as a kiss or a marriage proposal). Sure, Fred tries to win her heart first, but nothing (again, “concrete”) really happens until Ginger decides to do something about it. And I like that about their characters, I think it defies the established gender roles and that’s quite an interesting message.

I think it distinguishes itself from other Depression-era musicals because of some of the things already mentioned above, and the integration of both the song and dance into the film. How the songs and dances can convey such powerful emotions and key moments in the plot is truly splendid.  

The change in roles between men and women in these screwball comedy musicals might have to do with how even though the Flapper and the “naughty” Pre-Code dames were already gone, women still wanted to experience the freedom they knew they deserved. They could now vote and work and the actresses were the ones who really attracted the audiences. They were starting to realise this and wanted to show the world that they had the same rights as men, and these characters allowed them to do that.

tophatkiss.gif

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I am totally in love with Fred Astaire and this is one of my favorites of the dances he and Ginger Rogers perform.  The words of the song and the intimacy of the setting further the plot as we watch the growing attraction between this couple who are destined to be together.  Their compatibility is symbolized by their dance moves as they mirror each other’s steps. The fact that the costumes are so similar gives us a rare view of two pairs of legs moving in unison during much of the number.  The movie plot follows two people who are perfectly matched despite the running joke of mistaken identity that confounds Ginger and prevents her from finding true love until the error of her supposition is revealed. 

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Before I comment on the Top Hat questions, I wanted to comment on the dance sequences featuring Eleanor Powell and Ruby Keeler from the Lecture Notes.  Eleanor Powell's body carriage is entirely different than Ruby Keeler's.  Powell has a much more **** posture and seems to move from the waist down.  Her arms are out-stretched, but more rigid.  Powell performs several notable high kicks, acrobatic moves, and a myriad of turns (and I don't know how she didn't fall down at the end of the finale in "Born to Dance!"  After watching the Lecture Video, I now know that Eleanor Powell began as a ballet dancer before learning tap.  She is absolutely astounding!!  Ruby Keeler is delightful, but has an entirely different delivery.  She has a tendency to move her whole body (arms included -- although they were outstretched, as well); and her movements were more fluid.  Keeler seemed to be more of a hoofer, at least in this number.  Also, I noted that her shoes were more flat than those that Powell wore in "Born to Dance."

  1. What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat?  In the clip, Ginger Rogers is every bit the equal of Fred Astaire in this "anything you can do" type of number.  I noted that Ginger imitates Fred's moves but turns in the opposite direction several times, perhaps indicating that she will not be content to merely follow her partner (in dance and in life).  She has her own direction to go that is independent, yet compliments Fred's movements.  Also, in the fabulous "Piccolino" number, the costumes are in strong contrast to one another.  That is, Ginger's dress, which appears to be white, is in contrast to Fred's black tuxedo.  Yet, though equally strong in contrast, they compliment one another beautifully! 
  2. How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week?  Not that the other musicals have not been "smart" or funny, but this one truly is.  The sound quality is better.  The sharpness of the black and white is beautiful and well defined.  Also, the two main characters are more equals and very strong characters.
  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 think women were coming into their own, within limitations.  Also, the mention of divorce, lust, etc. are touched upon, but are woven into comic lines (Rogers:  "Your husband wants to divorce you and marry me."  Crawford:  "Then he wants to do right by both of us.").  These themes are treated much differently than had they been made in pre-code times.

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This is definitely a battle of the sexes dance!  She can match him step for step in technice and can be very playful.  Even though the subject maybe the same as Broadway Melody's dancer trying to gain equality, this film is post code so there was no insinuation about the woman being a sex symbol nor were they able to be so free with clothing that would suggest free woman who could be used.  This woman would be address as an equal or there would no consideration of love or relationship.  The shake at the end initiated by the man led to equality.

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1. The determination of women to not merely be objects, as they are usually portrayed in musicals.

2.  It is not quite as stage-style as the earlier films.

3.  The Depression was dragging on, and women were beginning to make themselves known.

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I know some say he is “choosing”’when they dance and leading her but you are loosing the context when you think that. She doesn’t have to dance at all. she had previously refused to dance with him. She’s dancing b/c 1.they have nothing else to do. 2. her competitive personality wants to take the challenge. He’s not bossing her, she’s doing him a favor every time she responds.  This song is used as dialogue to move the story and evolve the characters relationship, instead of as an aside or dream sequence. As for During this song pre-code I think she would’ve been kveling over him after a brief few steps here she has her moment of vulnerability with the thunder and she doesn’t crumble, it’s not over, she recovers. 

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This clip and indeed the whole movie shows the screwball nature of relationships.  Contrast this to Broadway Melody where there is barely a hint of the idea of women being independent and being comfortable with that idea. Fred has to accept Ginger as she is, not as he may want her to be. The same can be said of the wife, who is very strong minded and independent. Broadway Melody to be fair was the first Musical and in a different era regarding the nature of relationships, storylines evolved afterwards.

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Daily Dose:

The Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire type musicals vs other Depression era musicals, seems to upgrade, or rather, evolve from "backstage musical" storylines, showcasing a musical about a musical, where the end result or the course of the film is revolving around putting on a show, we now enter into using the natural "two to tango" courtship (for lack of a better word), between the guy and the girl as the musical, which is almost a dance sequence itself in real life.

Also, what I've always loved about TOP HAT, is that you begin to see what's the usually "typical" case of the girl chasing the fella role reversed. Where you have Fred chasing after Ginger, as is a similar case in SHALL WE DANCE (1937).

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 Ginger Rogers often noted that she did everything Fred Astaire did but backward and in heels.  Although in this scene, Rogers is not wearing heels or dancing backward much, the idea that she can match and challenge Fred in any step is the essence of this battle of the sexes.  At this time when some women were seeking divorces from unsatisfying marriages, this dance sequence shows that Rogers will not settle to less than an equal to her partner Astaire.  Their dancing is a tete-a-tete--sometimes Astaire leads and other times Rogers leads; no person has more authority than the other.  They do briefly embrace, but the majority of the dance sequence is side by side.  Each one is free to express her or his style of expression as they sync to the rhythm of the steps.  The handshake at the end is an acknowledgment that they both have won in collaborating in these moments of fun.  This same exchange of steps is repeated in The Barkleys of Broadway where Rogers once again is wearing pants and taking on the challenge of a competition with Astaire.  This musical is different from others of the Depression Era in that Rogers does not give into the male charm.  She is her own person who demands that Astaire must accept if the romance is to happen.  The film presents women of the 1930s an opportunity to define their own character as an individual instead of a reflection of the men they are with.

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1. This is not so much a battle but a challenge or dare to be an equal partner in the dance possibly intimating a relationship of equal passion. Astaire puts out the challenge and Rogers takes it up and then some.

2. This seems more modern, natural and in the present. Although their are moments with that Broadway feel it seems to have a closer affinity to modern film musical.

3. Women, out of necessity, had to step up to support their family and themselves at the tail end of the Depression and on the eve of World War.

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Although I have been a fan of classic films for years, this week will be the first time that I will have seen more than a clip of any of Fred and Ginger's movies. I knew this song already, because one of the albums I play in my high school art classes for my students is a collection of Fred Astaire songs. I will say that hearing the recording pales in comparison to seeing the whole scene. 

Although I agree with some of the other responses have said, about this not being an amazing example of the battle of the sexes, it feels very must like a dance in a screwball comedy. It feels very much a contemporary with some of the screwball comedies of the 40s, like the Lady Eve or Bringing Up Baby. Granted, those were made a few years later, but there is still some element that feels very screwball.

Maybe its the whole charm of the scene. There is an ease to the acting, singing and dancing between the two. It looks enjoyable to perform. I was also reminded of the story Debbie Reynolds told about working on Singin' in the Rain, being bullied by Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire coming in and letting her come watch him rehearse. I'm reminded of how hard he worked to get to the effortless dancing on screen, and Ginger Rogers was no difference. 

As I said, it feels very 1930s. He starts off as being charming and she isn't having any of it. But as the song progresses, she gradually warms up. Her body language softens around him and she begins to match every move he makes. She is just as interested in pursuing him as he is her at this point. 

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Top Hat brings to audiences a new kind of movie relationship between men and women. Call it a battle of the sexes if you like, call it an attempt at a wee bit of equality if you dare, but whatever you do, call it a slick, clever, sophisticated film.

Top Hat is full of witty repartee between Jerry Travers (Fred Astair) and Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers), with she throwing the first line just as often as he. Movie goers mostly had come to expect females to be on the receiving end of a slant, returning nothing much more than a blank look in response. But Dale is prepared for the verbal volleys, and she gets the last word as often as does Jerry. She takes her boldness a step further in the dance number ”Isn’t It A Lovely Day”. When Jerry rises from the bench, clearly wanting her to dance with him, Dale stays put in a display of playful defiance to his authority. As they dance in competition with one another, they take turns leading. This is a new view of women in film, and the power she exerts is punctuated by her masculine riding attire. (Notice also that she is mounted astride when she rides up to the bandstand, though this bit of action is not necessary to put the point across.) In American culture of the modern day, audiences have become used to seeing and hearing women (in film and out) assert their authority, but it is also important to remember that if we speak of a woman taking the lead, that means we are also speaking of a reversal of the man’s role: he is following. This is perhaps a more profound way of looking at the situation, and it couldn’t be animated more perfectly than in a dance where the traditional leader is the man. Dale drives the point home by doing some sneaky footwork that is not answered by Jerry. It is effectively her “so there”.

As the two dance together, they become more comfortable with one another and with their new roles. This is evidenced by a slight uptake in the tempo and by their coming together to dance in unison. But though they match footwork, they are not prepared to make physical contact. They nearly do two or three times but halt just before their hands touch. As the thunder rolls and the tempo races, our duo finally comes together to swing each other round in an exhilarating celebration of their oneness in the dance, a oneness created by equals who have built the dance in an even partnership rather than as a leader and follower. It is sophisticated and satisfying in the extreme.

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I have always thought of "Top Hat" as a genuine screwball comedy with musical numbers. The Dale Tremont character is as sharp, confident and shrewd as other screwball comedienes like Barbara Stanwyck or Roz Russell...plus, Ginger Rogers can sing and dance! It has been argued that the sexiest organic in the human body is the brain. With films being forced to clamp down on sexual situations screenwriters were forced to take the high road and sophisticated and witty dialogue started to come of age. 

   

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It's obvious that she finds herself to be his equal, not only in dance, but in life.  She dressed manly, and danced step-for-step with Astaire showing she could hold her own.  This was a warning to him that he'd have to treat her as an equal if he wanted to take this relationship any farther.  Women in this time were coming into their own with work available for them and moving about in society more and this dance just shows progress had been made there.

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Other aspects I see of the battle of the sexes in Top Hat are the strong women making her own way, he is wooing but she takes up his offer and makes it a sort-of challenge match him step for step and finally the dress of each character being similar suggests and equally you haven’t seen in other films.

Top Hat distinguishes itself from other movies from the depression era we have watched or discussed earlier this week by changing the male/female characters roles. Previously the men and women have had more traditional roles (boy helps girl) this scenario has the boy and girl on a more even field he needs to not just pursue her but meet her expectations.  Also this film uses the musical numbers to advance the story. The clip we saw today moves the relationship forward because of the dance not just as an entertaining dance number within the story.  The dance number also was more intimate than many of the larger grand stage numbers we have seen earlier this week.

I believe some reasons for the changes in roles between men and women in the screwball comedy musicals that distinguishe themselves from earlier musicals in the 1930’s are the times. Many women had to step up and help their families with income wherever possible to get by in the depression. I believe women were becoming more self sufficient which led to confidence and a new way to view themselves. An earlier post spoke of actresses becoming more popular with audiences giving them the power to take on stronger roles. This coincides with my point and seems like a natural progression.

Really enjoying these discussions! Thanks to everyone who are posting.

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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 found this scene to be very playful and a demonstration of whimsical compatability dueling tap relationship. Rogers decides, ok he’s interesting, let’s see if this may go some where. I feel the scene lacks any battle of the sexes. I see her with the upper hand throughout, Astaire already knows this, wants to be noticed. He begins with, come on...dance with me....don’t you think I’m cute? as her back is turned. The thunder brings her to make a decision in or out and the courting begins. In my opinion this is more flirty than battle, in Top Hat as well. 

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

The musicals have now lost the Broadway stage feel and grown into their own work of art.

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?

This is the natural progression of Hollywood showing men taking the blinders off and giving women the credit deserved. This clip is a fabulous even brilliant way to show America, the world perhaps, the true essence of a lasting couple. You have your dance on, I have my dance going on, now let’s dance together and blow their socks right off. 

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This is definitely one of the more opulent looking movies that we've seen from the Depression era! I love this scene, with him trying to woo her through song, but then they start their true flirting through dance.

Around this time you definitely see a shift in women, they now have more freedom (but also an obligation with the Depression) to take charge, be out in the world and outdoors instead of cooped up inside (we also see Ginger in quite the masculine outfit in this scene). And then we have Fred Astaire, who brought a delicacy and a bit of femininity to his dancing and overall performance, which brought something new to the table. I even find Fred to be more feminine and graceful than Ginger in this scene! 

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