black film appreciation

9

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FRED ASTAIRE! (10 May 1899)

“…At the time [Fred Astaire arrived in Hollywood], musical numbers usually fell into two aesthetic categories. Some directors attempted to mimic the theatrical experience by pulling back to an extreme wide angle and filling the stage with an army of chorines. Others, notably Busby Berkeley, let the camera do the dancing, and sent it zooming overhead, underwater and through the legs of sequined models in geometric displays on revolving stages.

Astaire proposed something simple, yet brilliant: keep the camera close enough to see the actors’ faces, yet wide enough to include their entire bodies, and never lose sight of them as they whirl and glide across the floor. Nothing could be concealed within the unblinking gaze of the camera, therefore only the most talented, experienced and graceful performer could carry such a scene. Astaire not only held the attention of the moviegoer, he made the intricate dances seem almost effortless. Even today, musicals rely heavily on editing and other visual pyrotechnics to inject energy into the dance numbers, which reflects not only a trend in contemporary cinematic style, but also indicates a shortage of dancers with the absolute skill and photogenic grace of a Fred Astaire." -Bret Wood.

"He is terribly rare. He is like Bach, who in his time had a great concentration of ability, essence, knowledge, a spread of music. Astaire has that same concentration of genius; there is so much of the dance in him that it has been distilled." -George Balanchine.