more dancing, less plot

A few weeks ago, I received an email from an older family member. Not a real email, one with a subject line reading: “FW: Fw: Fwd: Fw: You think YOU can dance??…….”

It was an uncleaned piece of chainmail glurge with an attached video (attached, not a YouTube link, but an attached .WMV file) of Fred Astaire dancing with Eleanor Powell from I’m not sure which movie, maybe Broadway Melody of 1940? Anyway, it was a lovely dance number.

But let’s talk about the original author of said email. Here’s what the email said (underlines added):

YOU MAY HAVE SEEN IT BEFORE, BUT IT IS WORTH A SECOND OR EVEN THIRD LOOK.

Frank Sinatra said we will not see the likes of this again. Certainly not on Dancing with the Stars! Eleanor Powell is fully clothed with a dress below her knees. Sadly a bygone era of civility and grace.

2. The year: 1940 (70 years ago)

3. The narrator is Frank Sinatra.

4. It was filmed in ONE unedited take! Amazing!

It is considered as one of the best dance scenes ever filmed.”

Take that current era! Here’s the thing. I know it’s one of millions of silly FWDs, but good-old-days mentality has long been a target of both my self-conscious inward reflection and my outward battles. Each generation believes the one that follows to be morally bankrupt, less civil, unaware of history, more poorly educated, etc. You know that. You just deal with it better than I.

Just an aside but if you’ve ever seen any live dance (which is still happening even in the depravity of the 21st Century), you might note that it is all done in “ONE unedited take.” That is to say that I am less than impressed by unedited shots. (Unedited tracking shots, on the other hand…)

But so in overreaction to one of countless, trollish anonymous email FWDs, here’s what I’ve learned about the 1930s and 40s from watching Fred Astaire movies:

  1. Women are girls.
  2. Girls are stupid.
  3. Foreigners have funny voices.
  4. Hitting a woman in the face is an effective way of bringing her to her senses.
  5. Black people are rare, but when seen are obedient servents as quiet as a scolded child in time-out.
  6. Marriage is something to be taken lightly.
  7. If you meet a beauty, marry her immediately.
  8. If you meet a man who follows you around and never lets you live your own life because he is so obsessed with your beauty, then you should marry him, because you’re a woman — a girl — and you’re not getting any younger and good men are really hard to find.

I think of that email not as an email unto itself but as a representation for a greater, irrational philosophy of inverted ageism. I think of its generalization “Sadly a bygone era of civility and grace,” and I think to myself “well, I suppose it depends on where you look.” Wearing conservative clothing doesn’t make you a better person. Nor does being a graceful dancer make you a right-living soul. Black & white films reflected a reserved discourse of the day, not a generation of people who didn’t fuck, drink & smoke (constantly), beat children, beat wives, murder, cheat, steal, start wars,

The struggle of watching old films often lies in the cultural chasm: from blatant and oft-referenced racism in Birth of a Nation to frequent use of “faggot” in the sports classic Slap Shot to simply not identifying anymore with outdated styles of acting (the transatlantic accent? who still talks like that?) For me these struggles are mighty ones. Many movie-lovers are able to let slip their ties to contemporary worldview and enjoy the dancing, the performances, the icons of a storied age of film, the historical aspects of a certain era. I can’t.

I’d like to claim that right is right, and that my righteous morality prevents me from enjoying such drivel. Perhaps you’d like to counter that I need therapy. Maybe the happy medium lies simply in taste, not a satisfying conclusion, I know.

Good-old-days syndrome, you might suggest, makes for an easy target. Of course no generation is perfect! And as your neighbor in this generation, I certainly understand your pain. (This is still you talking). But is it worth all of these words? All of this filmic discomfort?

And after thanking you for using “filmic,” I would reply Yes. But this is less an indictment of the Baby Boomer email trolls and the grandparents who deny youth culture, and more of a cautionary tale. A story to remember as you (generational neighbor) and I grow older, wiser, more stubborn, and too fond of our own lives. No one ever says, “When I was a kid, ballplayers sucked. It was probably because we didn’t pay them enough.” And maybe we shouldn’t ever say it, but maybe we should at least investigate.

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