2/4/08

SILK STOCKINGS PT. 2: LEO GASPS, ASTAIRE KICKS ASS

ritzrollandrock

Here are two more clips from the Fred Astaire/Cyd Charisse starring, Cole Porter music and lyric-ed, Leonard Gershe/Leonard Spiegelgass scripted, Peter Lorre/Jules Munshin/Janis Paige co-starring and Rouben Mamoulian directed 1957 musical "Silk Stockings." Both feature Astaire--first with the great Janis Paige--in enormously good form: energized, athletic and funny. He was fifty-six when this was shot and seems to my eyes to be perhaps a year or two older than the man who you first saw in 1933's "Gay Divorcee."

First up is "Stereophonic Sound", a very funny Cole Porter jab at the current state of filmmaking , Hollywood now contending with competition from television and pulling out all the stops--Three-D, Cinemascope, Cinerama, etc.--to keep audiences coming to theaters. This number is curious as it was written for the film (not the stage version) and flies in the face of Hollywood's usual boring philosophy that it's imperative to avoid any mention of Hollywood in the movies, that audiences aren't interested in self-reflection from the film industry. This enormously stupid canard is as old as the Hollywood Hills and is still very much with us. Once a producer named Robert Rehme, former head of the AMPAS, lectured me on this subject (I forget what exactly I was pitching him but it was a Hollywood tale of some sort), sternly insisting to me that Hollywood had no business making movies about movies, that it never "worked" for mass audiences. I started reeling off title after title --multiple versions of "A Star Is Born", "Sunset Blvd."--a classic film and forty years later a hit stage musical--"Dreamgirls", "Gods And Monsters" etc. Moments later I was shown the door.

Second is Astaire's socko finale "The Ritz Roll And Rock"--a sort of Elvis in Tails number that has about as much to do with rock and roll as Porter's "Now You Has Jazz" (from the previous years "High Society") has to do with jazz. But Porter always has tongue firmly planted in cheek and one gets the sense that he wasn't quite so concerned with writing a song that worked for the genre as he was in demonstating that all genre songs are inherently reductive and therefore deserving of comic treatment. Thus the very title "Now You HAS Jazz", rather than seeming condescending, can be read as a joke by Porter on how preciously high-hat everyone had gotten, by the mid fifties, about dixieland and traditional jazz. In much the same way, the premise of "Ritz Roll and Rock", as presented in the opening line of the song ("Rock and Roll is dead and gone...since the smart set took it on!"), can be seen as a satirical swipe at the newly popular music that was, in fact, spelling the end of the previous era. Whether or not he knew that, it seemed to Cole Porter that Rock and Roll was merely a street thug which needed only to be confronted by Fred Astaire (and a bunch of chorus boys in tuxes) to be exposed as the cowering bully that it truly was.




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