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GeezerNoir

COMPARE AND CONTRAST Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell

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https://youtu.be/Izcnb_2TlK8

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https://youtu.be/YytpfVcyDZg

Dr. Ament asked us to compare the dancing styles of Eleanor Powell and Ruby Keeler as seen in the two clips pictured above and included in Thursday's (6/7/18) Lecture notes.  So here goes.  I'd say the styles reflect the studios.  MGM for Powell and WB for Keeler.

Powell is all like, "I can dance faster and longer and kick higher than anybody, and I smile the whole damned time, because that's how we do things here at MGM.  And we're all about America and the American way and God bless America, that's for sure."

And Keeler is like, "Well I can't dance as fast or kick as high as Powell, but there's nobody around this joint who can measure up to me, either.  And I get down on the street and dance with the tough guys.  You wanna make something out of that, Eleanor?!  Yeah, I didn't think so!"

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On 6/6/2018 at 11:50 PM, GeezerNoir said:

 I'd say the styles reflect the studios.  MGM for Powell and WB for Keeler.

Powell is all like, "I can dance faster and longer and kick higher than anybody, and I smile the whole damned time, because that's how we do things here at MGM.  

And Keeler is like,   And I get down on the street and dance with the tough guys.  

Agree, definitely different studios.  

First, dancing styles.  Keeler seems to be using a clog style, something like Riverdance.  More of a folk peasant style.  Almost like she's tapping, or rather, clomping, in wooden shoes.  The banging of the taps is the key sound.    Powell is much more in the style of Ann Miller, where the taps are percussive and blend in with the music, more like drumsticks keeping in time with the music.   The shoes are lighter; the taps are lighter, with less knee bending, more like ballet or ballroom. 

Keeler dances in a limited area with a mostly a fixed camera shot;  Powell is all over the place, dodging instruments, twirling, with a much larger area to be choreographed, more camera angles, with varying wide shots, close ups, and a cast of thousands.  Powell is surrounded by people and set in white so she stands out like a butterfly (or moth);  Keeler blends in more with the background.   Keeler has a limited dance of a few choruses, which she intros with her wobbly voice.  And she removes her skirt... va-va-voom!, not really.  Powell has a lengthy routine, including acrobatic flip at the end.  Powell is a lot smoother  Keeler is more the appetizer to give the flavor of the song, an intro the rest of the production.  Powell is the main event. 

Both are wearing similar black outfits, but Powell's has sparkle and has flashier accessories (hat feather, braid).  Keeler has the polka dot flounce sleevelets but that's about it for variety.  Powell also has better stockings;  you can see the top of Keeler's stockings a few times where the shorts didn't cover them.  

 The 42nd Street number costumes, set and vignettes remind me of Guys and Dolls. The number tries to capture a milieu and atmosphere.  Powell's set is a battleship deck, but it could also be an airplane hangar or Grand Central; the background isn't as important as the star.  It could be an expanded Vegas act.       

Warner's as the working man's studio, and MGM as the grand fantasy studio were evident even in these early films.  Keeler is clunkier, Powell is more graceful.  Plebian vs. patrician.    It was interesting seeing the colorized version though, haven't seen that before.   

 

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Bless you Pastiche!  Excellent analysis, and of course that is what Dr. Ament was really looking for.  Well done!

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Watching , I felt Powell had a more fluid ,languid quality while Keeler felt more staccato and foot oriented . She didn't use her upper body . It's like the comparison of Kelly and Astaire . Astaire and Powell has an ekegance in dance while Kelly and Keeler had a more athletic presentation. 

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Are they seriously showing colorized clips? That’s not the 42nd Street that Warner Bros made. This doesn’t lend the course much sense of seriousness or accuracy. Also the Born to Dance clip’s frame is completely stretched out of shape. Come on Ball State/TCM, you can do better than this!

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Undoubtedly, Powell is the better more talented dancer.  Keeler is all below the waist movement, mostly just feet.  Not much arm movement.  She appeared very methodical as if even though she was singing, mentally she was reciting 5-6-7-8!  Definitely playing on the cute factor though.  Powell, on the other foot, (horrible pun intended) made her dancing look effortless.  She had leg kicks, spins, turns, lunges, balances, more movement in the upper torso with slight back bends, swaying, lots of arm movements.  Her dancing flowed. She showed personality and enjoyment.  All of this I took note before I viewed Thursday's Lecture Video.  No surprise she was a ballerina first as her tap dancing had a "ballet-esque" style to it.

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I have always like 42nd Street as a movie but I could never feel Ruby Keeler was a very good dancer. I feel she is clunky and too heavy stepping. I have always thought Eleanor Powell was very good and so pretty. It is obvious she had more well rounded dance training ie: basic ballet. I wondered why she never really achieved great success and then I heard how she was treated by the studio system and she chose to walk or tap away. My daughter is a fantastic tap dancer so I do see the dancing through her eyes. Although today’s styles are much different there is much to be said for good old fashioned tapping.

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14 minutes ago, Dorota Gale said:

  ...Powell, on the other foot, (horrible pun intended) made her dancing look effortless.  She had leg kicks, spins, turns, lunges, balances, more movement in the upper torso with slight back bends, swaying, lots of arm movements.  Her dancing flowed. She showed personality and enjoyment.  All of this I took note before I viewed Thursday's Lecture Video.  No surprise she was a ballerina first as her tap dancing had a "ballet-esque" style to it.

Princess of Tap once pointed out in another thread about musicals that the difference between some of the musical flim dancers and the more elite dancers is that the best of the best all had ballet training.  I agree with this. It just elevates dancing to a new level, weather you are a jazz dancer or tap dancer, or whatever. The exception is probably Donald O'Conner. He said he never took ballet in his life ( and smoked 5 pks of cigarettes a day, too.)

I have a feeling Ms. Keeler had no ballet training, too.

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Both are 2 different type of styles of dance. And you can tell which is MGM/WB.  

MGM had that 30s feel of a big set and almost dancing in one long take.

The WB clip was more into special effects and set changes during the song and dance of 42 street. Lots of camera cuts during the song

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Powell's dance was much more sensual with lots of hip action and high kicks.  In this clip the dance seemed to be more important than the music supporting it.  The music was only used as a backdrop and emphasis to the dance. This dance seems to reflect MGM style of everything being over the top and theatrical.

 

Keeler's dance was much more fast paced and technical in performance.  In this clip the dance seemed to be a complimant to the music with the song being the star of the clip instead of the dance.  Warner Brothers was less reliant on musicals in the early days and this clip reflects that with its minimalist approach to the dance number.

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I had suspected that Powell was classically trained in dance. There is no doubt she was quite skilled. But I actually preferred Keeler's routine. I'm no dancer, so it all looks difficult for me; I just like Keeler's simpler style more than the intricate steps of Powell. I'm also not into elaborate staging and a huge dance ensemble backing the main dancer.  Their talents and strengths fit for the studio they worked for, being that MGM was all flash, style, and BIG production. Seems that Keeler fit Warner's more down-to-earth, simple style.

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Eleanor Powell’s clip showed how MGM centered the number around Eleanor Powell. There are long shots and close-ups focusing on the whole package. She also had a long line and was very flexible. Her movements were so fluid. She would slink down to the floor again and right back up again. I could go on and on about the balletic moves she incorporated into her numbers. Check out her dancing styles to Begin the Beguine in Broadway Melody of 1940.

Ruby was a hoofer. . Her movements were very clunky. She seemed like she was working very hard where as Eleanor Powell’s seemed to move effortlessly. I felt that in the clip from Ruby’s movie was used as a break between the larger numbers and Busby’s extravagant productions.

 

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Powell was a tap dancer and was also trained in ballet. Keeler was technically a "hoofer." Keeler didn't have much of a voice, but somehow, she managed to convey the spirit of the song to the audience. When I think of Powell and Keeler, I think of their tremendous smiles as they dance. 

Here are a couple of excellent articles to prove the point: 

Eleanor Powell: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eleanor-Powell

Ruby Keeler: http://streamline.filmstruck.com/2016/08/15/ruby-keeler-come-and-meet-those-dancing-feet/

Both were extraordinary and wonderful in their own ways, and I love watching both of them dance! 

 

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Others have already commented on the very thing I thought of as I was watching this: Powell is more of an Astaire and Keeler is more of a Kelly.  (NB: I love both Astaire and Kelly.) To wit:

  • Powell: effortlessness.  There is a lightness about her even as she is moving so very rapidly. 
  • Keeler: exertion.  She is just full on hoofing, and there is more 'oomph' to her movements and to the sound.  (Yes, I know the foley artist had something to do with the sound, but still.)
  • Powell: aristocracy.  Everything about that number spoke to class and elegance, made most obvious by the glamour of the set and the sheer scale of the production, but also by the grace of her dancing.
  • Keeler: proletariat.  There was far greater simplicity in the dancing, and in the overall approach to the production.  If the MGM number were done on a Bollinger sort of budget, Warner's was a six pack of Schlitz. 

Even so, I think the four-way comparison has to end there as Kelly truly was a gifted artist, and because he incorporated ballet in many of his movements, he did use his upper body extensively.  I don't mean to take anything away from Keeler, but she doesn't do a whole lot of that.  Additionally, on the other side of this comparison, I feel that Astaire brings more charm to most of his numbers than I'm getting from Powell here.  I've liked her better elsewhere - here it all feels a bit forced and mechanical.

And... in this case, I actually preferred watching Keeler dance!  It was earthier and more fun, and there was a muscularity to her dancing despite those skinny little stems of hers.  I wish there had been more of it.  I've never been a big fan of big production numbers: just give me a dancer or two and put the camera where I can watch their legs and feet fly.

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The clips with Keeler shows her working hard, hoofing it.  And certainly she taps well, but it looks like she is working hard and her hand movements are all over the place.  She seems so focused on her steps that she forgets she needs to do something with her hands.  Instead, her hands look like they are in the way most of the time.

Powell on the the other hand makes her efforts seem natural, graceful and simple.  she seems to always be conscious of her hand gestures and placement.

Keeler is like watching a workout.  Powell is like watching a dream.

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Eleanor Powell is a much better actor and shows her athelicism.  Lots of personality.

Ruby Keeler is more typical.  Kind of cloggy.  Powell is more graceful and playful.

Keller is just straight forward dancing.

 

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I really enjoy watching Powell dance.  Her facial expressions really add to the fell of how she is dancing and she is so athletic and graceful at that same time!  Keeler is a great dancer also, but just doesn't have that smooth flow to her dancing.  Of course, I haven't seen a movie with her dancing (just the clip) so I'm interested to see if I change my mind.  

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I watched both clips twice and seen both movies before and I still come away with the same opinions I’ve always really had. Eleanor Powell was a fantastic dancer and didn’t need a lot of props and gimmicks. Sure a musical needs them but she didn’t.  Ruby Keeler needed them. And she always looked like she had to work so hard at. She literally was watching where her feet were going. It reminded me of the juniors in a dance recitals. I had heard she got a break because of her husband Al Jolson, I’m sure I’ll either be corrected on this or will be made more informed, which I welcome.  While it seemed so natural for Eleanor. I did enjoy 42nd Street for the lavish production it was though. 

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Keeler was a typical 'hoofer' and followed the tap dance style already established in previous early musicals by choruses of hoofers before her.  There was a certain pluckiness and give-it-all-I've-got-and-not-surrender-till-I drop attitude about her, so you almost found yourself rooting for her. As in: "Come on, kid...you can do it..don't give up!"

Powell ushered in an era of grace and awe of dancers' ability & style. She was light on her feet, almost acrobatic, accomplished, inventive and you weren't rooting for as w/Keeler, so much as you were open-mouthed admiring of her performances. As in: "Wow! That's amazing/beautiful/ I could never dance like that."

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I agree with others on the styles that are what the studios want from dances.  I do want to point out that when you look at Keeler, I believe they also focus on her facial features so that you won't realize that she isn't really using all her body the way Powell does as a dancer.  I also think when we look at their dancing styles we need to look at the set design and the props that can be manipulated for use by each dancer.  That then further sets what we, as the audience is seeing when we look at the dance in its entirety.  If we could find a clip where the 2 dancers are just dancing on an empty stage, void of any other distraction than we really could go further on this topic.

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1 hour ago, Zea said:

Keeler was a typical 'hoofer' and followed the tap dance style already established in previous early musicals by choruses of hoofers before her.  There was a certain pluckiness and give-it-all-I've-got-and-not-surrender-till-I drop attitude about her, so you almost found yourself rooting for her. As in: "Come on, kid...you can do it..don't give up!"

Powell ushered in an era of grace and awe of dancers' ability & style. She was light on her feet, almost acrobatic, accomplished, inventive and you weren't rooting for as w/Keeler, so much as you were open-mouthed admiring of her performances. As in: "Wow! That's amazing/beautiful/ I could never dance like that."

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.

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I see Eleanor Powell as more stylistic, refined, and graceful. Ruby Keeler is more athletic and forceful in her dancing. I compare Powell to Fred Astaire and Keeler to Gene Kelly as far as dancing styles go. All are wonderful dancers, but they do have different styles.

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I still like what my mom (now deceased), who grew up in the depression and was a huge movie lover, said about Ruby Keeler. I asked why Ruby was more famous now than Eleanor Powell, who was a much better dancer. She said, “Powell was beautiful and we admired her, but we LOVED Ruby Keeler. She wasn’t perfect but she seemed like she was one of us! She made you feel like you could be a movie star too if you worked hard enough.”

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