Thursday, June 9, 2011

Retro Matinee Feature Showing: Swing Time

On the bus ride home from work, I pass a dance studio with a sea of young dancers in the window, or being hand held across a bustling street as a busy world races on by. I wonder if they know Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Or about the joyous (that's the only word that seems fitting) music of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin that fills the pictures. How much do we Americans not know or are forgetting about our rich culture history?

It seems almost every blurb on the back of an Astaire-Rogers film (there are 10) says it's one of their most beloved by fans, and it's easy to see why they would all be beloved. So far, I've seen Follow the Fleet, Top Hat, Shall We Dance, Barkleys of Broadway and my favorite so far, Swing Time. The Gay Divorcee is next in line.

Leonard Maltin summed up the appeal of the Astaire-Rogers films, but this also speaks a lot about our times:

"We live in such a cynical time that it might be hard for some people - younger people - to really appreciate what these films did for audiences then and still do for audiences that discover them today. Which is to make you feel better. They make you feel better about life. They make you feel better about yourself because they lift your spirits. And some people dismiss that as mere escapism, or as mere fluff. I don't think there's anything mere about it. I think it's art of the highest quality."

Isn't he so right? Our times do seem so cynical. Do people really feel better about themselves sitting on a couch wasting valuable leisure time as we glumly witness the dysfunction displayed on reality television. Does that lift spirits? Find me a family unit without dysfunction, there's is just on display for our judgement.

How much of culture today is about shock value. In the pop world, what will get people talking - a violent video? A meat dress at the Grammy's? Are these things really art? If it is, in my humble opinion, it's of the lowest value. Yet this is what millions of us embrace. It might be other's cup of tea, but it’s just not for me.

Cancelling cable this year and being more selective about what I watch is one of the best decisions I've made. I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Maltin, these films are art of the highest quality, which is what I want to fill my life with. Art that makes me better.

People need hope in their lives, and we need more hope in our culture. The Astaire-Rogers films were made in the lean economic years of the 1930s, but you can watch them in 2011 (far too lean for many Americans) and in two hours feel good about life. I want to feel good about life and have my spirits soar, don't you?


  1. Edie Falco asked the other day, who are these Kardashians? What did they ever do to deserve the attention heaped upon them? Why are they being asked their opinions about real issues in our lives? I don't know much about them except for their names, and now it seems that they are nothing but products of a well-driven marketing program. And many people have gone along with this farce!

  2. Hi Ted. Timing it seems, since we live in tabloid times of anything goes and no talent required.

    It's striking that we've had a hard couple of years economically, and for entertainment, many choose to numb themselves instead of turning to something that will bring joy. Entertainment is supposed to bring happiness.

    Perhaps as I get older, I don't enjoy "vegging out" with mindless entertainment as I did in years past. Time is too precious.