Tap dancing was never lovelier | The Velvet Café

astairSaturday night. My 17 year old is on her way out to see some friends, and pops into the living room to say goodbye.

She throws a glance at the TV screen and then she turns towards her parents. In her face I see disbelief mixed with pity and contempt. And I don’t think it’s referring to the bottle of wine we were sharing. It was our choice of movie.

I expect an “Are you serious?” or “Why don’t you get a life?” but instead she pulls up a video camera and starts to film us. For what purpose I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll find myself on YouTube as an example of the species Unusually Pathetic Parents.

Growing older
I can’t say I’m surprised at her lack of approval. I was never much into tap dancing either when I was young.

My memory may be blurred, but as far as I can recall, it was way more common to see it back in the days. The Swedish public television used to show a lot of “old movies” (that will say in black and white), especially in the weekends, and in those matinees it was perfectly normal for people to suddenly throw themselves into a dance- and song number. I just couldn’t get it.  They had put some smattering thing under their shoes and the stomped with their feet ridiculously fast, so what? I’d rather see them go on with the plot!

Something has happened over the years. Maybe it’s a part of the package of growing older. For years you find it incomprehensible how adults can eat such horrid things as olives. And then all of a sudden you find yourself happily munching on them without quite knowing how it happened. One day you wake up realizing that you now prefer beer to soda and that you’ve become addicted to coffee. And tap dancing isn’t the annoying break when nothing happens. On contrary: it can be the very reason for a movie to exist.

That is definitely the case with the movie that enchanted us this night, You Were Never Lovelier from 1942, starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. This is a romantic comedy with a rather thin, silly plot and flat characters, where the most original thing about it is that it takes place in Argentina. Completely forgettable at its best – quite annoying at its worst for the way it portrays women as mindless and obsessed with courting and getting married. And yet – it’s so old that you haven’t got any choice but to forgive it. Admittedly there were film makers around at that time that feel more modern today – Frank Capra being one of them. But there isn’t much point in judging old movies for being dated. They are what they are.

Divine dancing
If it only was for the plot, this would be a 2/5 rated movie at the most. However it’s not because of plots and acting that you watch Astaire and Hayworth. It’s because of the dancing. And the word that comes to my mind when I’m trying to describe it is “divine”. I’m really not prone to tossing around words like that (for instance I’m very sceptic to the word “masterpiece”), but there is something unearthly about the quality in those dancing numbers.

If the movie wasn’t so old you could almost have suspected them for playing tricks with us. But there’s no CGI involved in this. It’s all about practice. And I’m not talking about ordinary repetition, aiming for “good enough”. I’m talking about obsession, insanity, practicing that could go on for weeks to nail just a single dance number because nothing but perfection was acceptable. Will the world ever see anything like that again?

Fred Astaire is probably the most well known and loved dancing actors ever, only challenged by Gene Kelly. But what took me a little by surprise was how good Rita Hayworth was. She really matches Astaire in her dancing skills and what more – she’s radiant. Such a beauty! And I couldn’t help thinking: how strange isn’t it that such a gorgeous woman nowadays would be considered if not “fat”, at least slightly overweight, at least for an acting or model career, where you’re at an advantage if you look as if you’re suffering from a deadly disease?

Rita Hayworth. If you listen to me from your heaven: You were never lovelier! You made our Saturday night extraordinary. Even if I can’t convince my 17 year about it.

You Were Never Lovelier (William Seiter, US, 1942) My rating: The dancing: 5/5 The rest: 2/5

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