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Announcing “En Pointe: The Ballet Blogathon”

I’ve always been in awe of ballet dancers. The commitment, the grace, the appearance of effortlessness and weightlessness, the total control of every muscle that is moved, the power and yet the beauty. I’ve always thought of ballet dancers as occupying a position at the peak of physical prowess and dance.

In that spirit, I am delighted to announce – in conjunction with Love Letters to Old Hollywood – “En Point: The Ballet Blogathon!” And I am so grateful to Michaela for co-hosting with me!

The blogathon is devoted to all-things ballet related on film. Anything balletic at all. A film that features a ballet, a film about ballet dancers, filmed-versions of actual ballets. Any movie from any period at all, as long as it contains something about ballet.

We are also making an exception and allowing reviews of Esther Williams and Ice-skating. We only ask that you emphasize the ballet side of those films.

When:  August 4th & 5th, 2017

Rules: Because of the diversity of ballet films and topics available, we are only allowing two people to write about any given film.

To sign-up, simply leave us your blog name, blog address, and the film or topic you wish to cover in the comments section below. On either of the two days of the blogathon, all you have to do is provide either Michaela or me a link to your post and we will add it to our completed list of posts. Also, please feel free to grab one of the banner found below (created by my good friend Andrea from Into the Writer Lea) and help us advertise the event.

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me or Love Letters to Old Hollywood. I will be so excited to read everyone’s contributions. I always come away from a blogathon with my horizons expanded…as well as my to-watch list.

Participants 

Love Letters to Old Hollywod – Shall We Dance (1937) and Ten Favorite Water Ballets from Esther Williams

Christina Wehner – A Winter’s Tale (Royal Ballet, 2015)

Into the Writer Lea – The Glass Slipper (1955)

Caftan Woman – The Mad Genius (1931)

Thoughts All Sorts – Ballerina (aka Leap) (2016)

Cinematic Scribblings – The Red Shoes (1948)

Blogferatu – The Black Swan (2010)

Reelweegiemidget Reviews – The Black Swan (2010)

Life’s Daily Lessons Blog –  Song of Scheherazade (1947)

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You – Center Stage (2000)

Taking Up Room –  Save the Last Dance (2001) and An American in Paris (1951)

 Critica Retro – Never Let Me Go (1953)

An Ode to Dust – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – On the Town (1949)

The Movie Rat – Dreams in Suspiria (1977), George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (1993) and Billy Elliot (2000)

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society – Hans Christian Andersen (1952)

Screen Life – The Turning Point (1977)

The Midnite Drive-In – White Nights (1985)

Silver Scenes – The Unfinished Dance (1947) and Russian Ballet Films of the 1940s-1960s

Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews – Limelight (1952)

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2017 in Movies

 

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Lili (1953)

lili_film_posterI can’t quite make up my mind about Lili. Is it sweet or a trifle disturbing? Is it a musical or a movie with musical numbers? Is it too short or just not fleshed out by the actors? I’m not even quite sure if I liked it or not. I think I did.

The story is based on a short story by Paul Gallico, which was later turned into a novella while the film was still playing in the theaters. The story is darker, from what I understand, which might account for the feeling that there is something dark beneath the surface of the musical.

Lili (Leslie Caron) is a naive sixteen year old orphan who falls in with a carnival and falls in love with the magician, Marco the Magnificent (Jean-Pierre Aumont), a shameless ladies man who is secretly married to his assistant, Rosalie (Zsa Zsa Gabor), but doesn’t want anyone to know. He gets Lili a job as a waitress at the carnival, but she’s too clumsy (it was funny to see Caron playing a clumsy child, since she is neither clumsy nor a child – she was 21).

But when Lili thinks she must part from Marco and tries to commit suicide, she is prevented by puppeteer Paul Barthelet (Mel Ferrer), who uses his puppets to coax her away from the tall ladder she was going to jump off. There is an instant and charming rapport between her and the puppets and Paul asks her to join his show and their show soon attracts the attention of several important men from Paris who want to take the show out of the carnival.

Paul himself has fallen in love with Lili, but is completely unable to express it. A deeply gloomy and morose man, Paul was formerly a dancer, until his leg was injured during the war (I assume WWII). Now, he is angry at most everything and the only way he can express himself is through his four puppets: Golo the giant, Carrot Top, Marguerite the ballerina and Reynardo the fox.

lili1953_81426_678x380_01252016050229In fact, in a curious way, the heart of the film is between Lili and the four puppets, who she bonds with almost as if they were real, forgetting that Paul is the one behind them. In fact, it is her relationship with the puppets that forms the basis of her romance with Paul, when she finally realizes that everything she loves about the puppets is really coming from Paul.

I have to say, however, that I’m not at all sure how I feel about Mel Ferrer’s performance. He is almost too creepy, a possessive lover just waiting to happen. A bit stiff, too. Leslie Caron, however, seems perfect. She make her naive character relatable and believable as she grows wiser to the world. She also gets a few dances in the film, with the big one being the dream-dance where she comes to realize that behind each puppet she loves is the man she loves.

Jean-Pierre Aumont is also quite convincing as the magician who is all flash, but no substance. One also can’t help but feel for his long-suffering wife, determined to stay with him even though she knows what kind of man he is. It’s hard not to predict a grim future for her.

But on the whole, there is something very charming about the idea behind Lili, though something just doesn’t quite work and I can’t put my finger on what it is The film is only 80 minutes. Did it need to be longer? Know the characters better? Was it Mel Ferrer I found unconvincing? But still, something fairy-tale-ish and charming remains behind. It’s a unique film. It is set in a carnival, which forms the backdrop of the story, but the real world is between Lili and the puppets. A world of affection, gentleness, human frailty and forgiveness, wisdom, vulnerability and perfect trust.

This post was written as part of the At The Circus Blogathon, hosted by Critica Retro and Serendipitous Anachronisms. Be sure to look up all the other great posts!

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“Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo” – music written by Bronsilaw Kaper and lyrics by Helen Deutsch.

 
26 Comments

Posted by on November 12, 2016 in Movies

 

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Cyd Charisse in the “Gotta Dance!” Blogathon

GottaDance_CydGeneClassic Reel Girl is hosting the Gotta Dance! Blogathon today – which is the birthday of Bill Robinson as well as National Tap Dance Day – and I am thrilled to be participating in this celebration of the dance in film by offering a tribute and meditation on the unique talent and beauty of Cyd Charisse.

I have been reading about movie musicals recently and in one article Cyd Charisse was described as “stiff” and in a book she was called “cool,” two words that would never have occurred to me to use to describe her dancing (though perhaps her acting). Interestingly, both comments were made in relation to her dance partnership with Fred Astaire and I’ve discovered that devoted Fred Astaire aficionados are not always as enamored of Charisse as they are of some of his other partners (namely Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth).

The reason this is, I believe, is the nature of her dancing. Cyd Charisse is primarily a ballet dancer and although Fred Astaire didn’t care for ballet, it’s influences can still be seen in his dances with her. In ballet, often the man is there to hold the ballerina up and make her look good. Fred Astaire obviously does much more than that, but it is true that in a certain way Cyd Charisse complements Astaire less than say Ginger Rogers or Rita Hayworth. Rather, he complements her and her style of dancing.

Gene Kelly, on the other hand, was almost better at ballet than tap (as Brian Seibert, author of What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing argues convincingly) and he was interested in expressing himself balletically, making his dances with Cyd Charisse seem more natural to him, though I must confess that I still prefer her collaboration with Astaire, despite those films being less typical of his style. I think the reason is the same reason that Fred Astaire aficionados don’t care for her as much (apart from the fact that she didn’t do any tap dancing).

Usually, a Fred Astaire dance is how he does his wooing. Ginger Rogers resists him until they dance and then you knew her attitude towards him has changed. Not so much with Gene Kelly. He seems to have been more interesting in expressing himself through dance. This means that the lady he is dancing with is not doing as much besides helping him express whatever thought or feeling he is having. The big ballet sequence in An American in Paris has nothing to do with winning the girl (she already loves him, but she’s engaged). It’s more about him working out his internal conflict.

1953: Fred Astaire (1899 - 1987) and Cyd Charisse perform a dance routine in the film 'The Band Wagon', directed by Vincente Minnelli for MGM.It’s the same with the dream sequence in Singin’ in the Rain, which he dances with Cyd Charisse. She’s fantastic as a Louise Brooks-type vamp, but you don’t get the sense you really know her. And that brings me to Cyd Charisse and what she often expresses through her dancing. As an actress, she is indeed somewhat “cool” and “stiff,” enigmatic, aloof and almost unknowable. But when she dances, she comes alive and suddenly, you feel, she is showing the real person inside.

As I said, I’m not sure Gene Kelly brings this out as much, even in Brigadoon (though their dancing is beautiful), but Fred Astaire does, especially in Silk Stockings, which is almost more of a showcase for Charisse than it is Astaire. “All of You” is not just about Fred Astaire wooing through dance, but drawing out the highly controlled Ninotchka and cajoling her into dancing. For her, it is a liberation, a coming alive and expressing herself in the way she is meant to instead of burying it under austere rhetoric and party solidarity. The film also features the lovely dance where Ninotchka has hidden silk stockings, a corset, a hat and other feminine items of dress around her room and it is a moment of self-discovery for her.

On a side note: it’s a testament to what a gracious and unassuming dancer Fred Astaire was – though a perfectionist and 100% committed to his art – that he could adapt himself to whoever his dance partner happened to be (even Burns and Allen or Joan Fontaine).

Another frequent dance partner for Cyd Charisse was Ricardo Montalban. They danced together in five movies, all of which had totally inconsequential plots, but nevertheless contained some real dance delights. Because the dances are not integrated into the plot, they don’t reveal much about the characters, but that doesn’t dint one’s enjoyment because Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban really seem to be enjoying themselves and each other. Montalban was not a dancer, but he possessed a natural athleticism and grace and he and Charisse generate a good amount of spark.

In another film – actually a Margaret O’Brien film, The Unfinished Dance – the entire arc of Cyd Charisse’s character is how she discovers that dancing is her life (and consequently her identity) and she dumps her fiance at the end so she can become fully committed to ballet. In another film – Meet Me in Las Vegas – much of the conflict between her and Dan Dailey is that she cannot give up ballet and he cannot give up his ranch. Ultimately, they compromise. But these are examples of how closely her characters are identified with dance. Without it, she almost doesn’t exist as a character.

cyd-charisse-in-silkesstrumpan-(1957)-large-pictureMy sister did ballet for many years and she has a lot of opinions about what constitutes good dancing. For her, one of the signs of skilled dancing is control. Buster Keaton had perfect control (though not a dancer). His body never did anything he didn’t want it to do and it’s the same with Cyd Charisse. As marvelous as Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth are as partners for Fred Astaire, you don’t want to look too closely at their arms, leg kicks or spins (which is a move that always gives the show away –  I took tap for seven years and profoundly sucked at spins).

But control is not “stiff.” There were few dancers more sexy than Cyd Charisse and in her case, perfect body control merely indicated reserves of sexiness, making her dances all the more potent. There never was anyone quite like her. She could do ballet and jazz (how she could do jazz!) and was so sensational, I’d watch an inferior movie, just to see her in one dance.

Be sure to read all the rest of the entries in today’s celebration of dance. Thanks again to Classic Reel Girl for hosting this wonderful event!

Below are some examples of Cyd Charisse. I tried to pick dances that were less known, which is why I omitted the sublime The Band Wagon.

“All of You” is the first dance between Astaire and Charisse in Silk Stockings. They discuss love (she maintains it’s a chemical reaction) and he can’t seem to make any headway until he starts dancing. The dance begins around the 5:30 mark.

And here is the lovely dance where she first puts on silk stockings in Silk Stockings.

From On An Island With You – the plot is barely there, but there are two lovely dances with Montalban and Charisse, as well as a few aquatic dances with Esther Williams.

Another example of a fun dance stuck in the middle of a film (Fiesta) for no other reason than it is fun.

Once again, in It’s Always Fair Weather Cyd Charisse loosens up through dance – though her love interest, Gene Kelly, is not present (how did those two not have a dance together in this film!). When Kelly first meets her, she seems like the ultimate, stereotypical career woman ice-queen and here she reveals herself to be far more accessible and grounded than he supposed.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Movies

 

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