Friday, July 20, 2012

Gene Kelly: Carefree Elegance . . .

"Singin' in the Rain"
Associated Press

In my summer writing course, I broke the monotony by showing videos of dancing styles, and after showing David Byrne in Stop Making Sense and dozens of Russians dancing to Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz," I happened to show Fred Astaire and then Gene Kelly on two consecutive days and realized that I was getting at two different styles without really realizing this:
Kelly danced in order to choreograph. It's not exactly the image many of us have of Kelly, whose defining and deceptively casual approach centered on virility and athleticism. He embodied a new ideal of the American male dancer that contrasted with Fred Astaire's debonair elegance. Kelly's elegance was carefree.
If I were a better teacher, I could instruct on this difference of style in writing, a difference made clear to me in Gia Kourlas's article, "He Made a Splash, and Dance History: Gene Kelly as Choreographer" (NYT, July 13, 2012). I assume that most readers know both Astaire and Kelly, but if not, the check out every video showing them on YouTube! I merely want to note how he met his wife Patricia when he was 73 and she was 26:
When she met Kelly, she said, she had no idea who he was[, though this is hard to believe]. A self-described "nerdy Herman Melville scholar," Ms. Kelly was hired as a writer for a television special about the Smithsonian Institution, for which he was host. They connected, not through his films but through their love of poetry and etymology. It goes against his image, right?
And he taught her how to walk:
Early in their relationship he fixed Ms. Kelly's walk. "I got those 'Pygmalion' lessons," she said with a laugh. "'Go up the stairs. Go back down the stairs.' I'm grateful for it now. Everyone asks, 'Are you a dancer?' He said that I walked like I just got off a horse."
That's how I walk, I suspect, but more like the horse itself, and not just any horse, rather, a draft horse, clomping my way around town or wherever.

Maybe I need to watch more Gene Kelly, or Fred Astaire, work on my style . . . but you can see both stylists together here.

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At 8:22 AM, Anonymous Tom Ball said...

One of my favorite Astaire clips is Him doing Puttin on the Ritz. There's a mystery there...his cane defies the laws of physics, and nobody has ever figured out how he did it.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I showed that one to my students, too, and I also wondered how he did it. I assumed trick photography, but that doesn't explain it completely.

Is it possible that very slender threads raised it to his hand -- strong enough for raising but weak enough for breaking by a quick movement in a different direction?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:59 AM, Anonymous Tom Ball said...

Actually, I just figured it out, which is too bad, since I preferred to be amazed. He does the trick three times, but you can see how it's done the first time he does it. If you slow down the video or pause it at the right time, you see a small vertical rod pop up out of the floor and throw the cane into the air.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ah, but that merely pushes the mystery back a step, for how does the "small vertical rod pop up out of the floor"?

You'll find that as you trace the causative events backward in time, you'll eventually reach a first cause that cannot be explained, thereby leaving all subsequent events as mysterious as before.

So . . . the cane trick remains magical.

Yours in mystagogy and obfuscation . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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