21 February 2012

Fred and Ginger

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their first film 
together Flying Down to Rio (1933).

Katharine Hepburn reportedly once said of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, “He gave her class, she gave him sex.” Theirs was a perfect pairing. And through ten films together, they became the most famous dance team to ever grace the silver screen. In The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, Arlene Croce offers a detailed examination of their work that is both informative and entertaining.

After covering Astaire and Rogers’ prehistory, Croce looks at each of the ten films, beginning with full film credits and a story synopsis before going into a detailed analysis from the creation of the dance numbers and use of music by the most popular composers of the day to the production and supporting players who were an integral part of the films (Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes).

"Pick Yourself Up" from Swing Time (1936)

I have seen and loved all of the Astaire and Rogers films and so was particularly interested to read the behind the scenes moments. During the filming of Swing Time (my favourite of their films) we learn that while repeatedly performing a series of pirouettes for “Never Going to Dance” Roger’s feet began to bleed. Or that the floors on which they danced were overlaid with Bakelite, which scarred easily, requiring that they be covered with cardboard during rehearsals and long breaks had to be called during filming so the floors could be cleaned up. We also learn about Astaire's creative process, including the fact that he rehearsed all of the routines alone save for the company of choreographer Hermes Pan and pianist Hal Borne. Not even Rogers was allowed to join in until Astaire and Pan felt they were ready.

"Cheek to Cheek" from Top Hat (1935) with that dress.

The book is brimming with film and production stills. It even includes a wonderful analysis of Follow the Fleet by director Mark Sandrich that looks like a blueprint of the film.

Perhaps my favourite thing about the book is that it also serves as not one but two flip books (I collect flip books, which may make me a bit biased). Flip the pages one way and you can watch “The Waltz in Swing Time” from Swing Time in the top corner; flip them the other way and you get “Let Yourself Go” from Follow the Fleet. Who could ask for anything more?

"The Yam" from Carefree (1938)

The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book is available from various sellers here.

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