Home
In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 12, 2005 / 7 Menachem-Av, 5765

We can't possibly know America if we don't know Astaire and Rogers

By David Gelernter


Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | I'm on the Council of the National Endowment for the Arts, which means I get a privileged overview of the American arts scene. But the most exciting news in American art right now (in my opinion, not the NEA's) has to do with works that everyone can get a look at — a series of black-and-white movies that are over 60 years old, the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films of the 1930s.


Astaire made nine movies with Rogers during the '30s. I've always considered them the crown jewels of American film, arguably of all American culture. The first batch are finally appearing this month in high-quality DVD versions, nearly eight years after the first DVD players were sold in the U.S. Obviously public demand for these movies hasn't been overwhelming. Why do Americans pay so little attention to their own national treasures?
BUY THE SET!

Click HERE to purchase it at a discount. (Sales help fund JWR.).


Partly it's the art community's fault. The memory is fading at last — but during the 1980s and '90s, New York's Whitney Museum of American Art tried hard to convince us that true art is the ongoing struggle to express hatred for the U.S. mainstream and do it as offensively as possible. The Whitney's influential biennials were dominated by hilariously hyperventilating denunciations of racist, sexist, homophobic, hypocritically "religious" America. And that was dead-typical at the time. Museums thrived on upper-middle-class business, but the nation at large saw "art" as an unpleasant form of toxic waste.


That wasn't always true. And the Astaire-Rogers masterpieces (like Jackson Pollock's widely admired drips, Willem de Kooning's slashes and Mark Rothko's glimmering hazes) made it clear that art doesn't need a message. Great art is usually "escapist": Check out the gorgeously colored late-medieval miniatures of the Limbourg brothers, or Titian's blowzy nudes, Vermeer's subtly erotic domestic scenes, Ingre's romantic fantasies, Matisse's luminous and ebullient cut-outs, Joseph Cornell's mesmerizing micro-worlds in glass-fronted wood boxes. I could go on.


The Fred-and-Ginger escapist masterpieces reach from "Flying Down to Rio" (1933) to "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" (1939) — all black and white, all brilliant. Astaire and Rogers worked together once more, on "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949) — a gently amusing color film that comes nowhere near the quality of their earlier stuff.


Astaire may be the greatest of all American dancers; Astaire and Rogers are certainly the greatest dance team. He succeeds where Disney's "Fantasia" tries and fails: He lets you see music. He was a peerlessly great dancer in part because he was a great musician: His piano solos in "Roberta" and "Follow the "Fleet" are highlights of the series. The Astaire-Rogers films of the '30s also include (hypnotically catchy) songs by Vincent Youmans and the Cole Porter mega-hit "Night and Day." Irving Berlin wrote three of these scores, Jerome Kern two, George Gershwin one. How to explain all this talent in one short series of films? Easy. It was a miracle.


These are quintessentially American masterpieces: Astaire and Rogers are virtuoso artists, but they never seem unreachable or untouchable. He's charming but funny-looking, she stops just short of beautiful. The films are sweet but never sentimental, romantic but rarely soppy, witty but never sarcastic or bitter or political. Gershwin's hit "They Can't Take That Away From Me," which debuted in "Shall We Dance?" — is a lovely, sad and moving song, in a major key. American all over.

Donate to JWR


These films are great art, but they're also tongue in cheek. Only the dance numbers take themselves seriously. The dialogue never bogs down; the champagne scripts are wry and dry. The super-glamorous sets are deliberately over the top, sometimes hilarious.


Rogers (so we're told) once said, "I did everything Fred did, but backward and in heels." The claim is so silly that I can't believe she ever made it. Her technique is nowhere near Astaire's. When the going gets tough, she steps aside and lets him do his stuff. She has only one dance solo in the series; he solos in every film.


Yet none of Astaire's other dancing partners holds a candle to Ginger. Her seductive, wise-cracking cool and lyrically elegant way of moving make up for her technical limitations. She might be the most underrated great actress in American film. Katharine Hepburn is supposed to have said, "He gives her class, she gives him sex" — and that story I believe, because the claim is true. The Fred-and-Ginger dances are controlled thermonuclear explosions of romantic passion. The censors would have banned them if they'd been sharp enough to see what was happening.


The greatest moment in the whole series comes in "Swing Time," when Fred dances alone before a projected backdrop of three shadow-Astaires to a song that pays tribute to the black dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. At one point, Astaire stands with his back to the viewer, feet planted, hands swaying in an ocean of music. His barely moving figure sweeps you into another universe — as great art always does. The subtext is moving too: a plain vanilla dancer plus a Jewish composer paying homage to a black hero.


The debut of these DVDs reminds us that we can't possibly know America if we don't know Astaire and Rogers — and that without great art, we are only half alive.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.



Yale professor David Gelernter is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, Jerusalem. To comment, please click here.


ARCHIVES


© 2005, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles