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JulyDiaz

Swing Time

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Put on your best dancing shoes for Swing Time with Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire! Paul & Amy caper through the 1936 film's strange comic beats, spontaneous choreographed dances and timeless tunes. Plus: an interview with choreographer Kat Burns (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) about Fred & Ginger's dance numbers, and Andrew Ti and Tawny Newsome from the "Yo Is This Racist?" podcast stop by to discuss "that scene."

 

Next week's film is The French Connection! Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824, and follow us on Twitter @Unspooled. Don't forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts!

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You can tell Paul and Amy don't play table top role playing games if they don't know there are 100 sided dice before this.

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My friend and I hated this movie sooo much - I just have a lot of trouble doing Paul's "eh, I'll just let the whole thing wash over me" thing, when there are plenty of films that don't need that excuse/perspective

 

From moment one, just Everyone's an asshole, Pop being just weirdly terrible at most moments, just straight up revealing the fiancee thing to Penny (which made me cry while laughing), the Insane laugh-ending...just... Ugh. My friend was like, "Shouldn't This be on How Did This Get Made?" and I kind of wish it was.

 

Oh, also, no one Needs to defend the past with, '...but that's what was acceptable at the time', because there has Always been people who were not onboard for all forms of terribleness, historically - especially some black performers at the time, who would've preferred to Actually be on that stage instead of a (very talented) white guy

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Oh, also, no one Needs to defend the past with, '...but that's what was acceptable at the time', because there has Always been people who were not onboard for all forms of terribleness, historically - especially some black performers at the time, who would've preferred to Actually be on that stage instead of a (very talented) white guy

This for sure. If you want to pay tribute to Bill Robinson, maybe dance with Bill Robinson.

 

Not that Bill Robinson wasn't hugely well known from the movies he did with Shirley Temple at this time (which is, I believe, the first interracial dance couple on film) but include him. Robinson was only in a handful of movies and died penniless. His funeral was paid for by Ed Sullivan. I think Robinson gave a lot of money to charity but still Fred Astaire was a millionaire until he died.

 

And, since Swing Time has no Simpsons appearances, here is Bill Robinson:

 

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I loved so much of this film but, rightfully so, was really knocked sideways by the 'Bojangles of Harlem' scene (not 'Mr Bojangles') - the things that were great effects, like the shadow dancing and the uncrossing of the giant legs, weren't enough to forgive the blackface and 'face-on-shoes' image (and the casual retention of his blackface in his next scene backstage). That's why I was so happy to hear in today's podcast such a brilliant use of Earwolf crossover, with Tawny and Andrew from 'YITR' giving their perspective on this really problematic element. As a white guy I found this scene really uncomfortable and clueless, but it's terrific to get an expert opinion on the details of the scene.

 

The thing that I found most striking about this segment was not that Astaire was 'paying tribute' to Bill Robinson, but that his tribute was inaccurate and heightened, wearing costumes that weren't associated with Bojangles, and, as this New York Times article notes, he's not moving in the same way as Bojangles either. So what's the point of the tribute?

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I haven't listened to the episode yet, it wasn't ready for download when I left this morning, but I watched the movie and left with one question: why is it in the top 100 films?

 

If can't just be because of the crazy good dancing, right? (I seriously thought Fred & Ginger were animated a few times because of their moves, I must admit.) But anyway, there's got to be something else to this movie besides the dancing to put it in so high regard, and I just didn't see it. That's not really a criticism either, I thought the movie was ok. But hoping the pod (and this thread :) ) can shine more light on its esteem.

 

Also, I am now a Ginger Rogers fan. She knocked me out.

 

I have more thoughts but I'll wait until I listen to Paul & Amy later.

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I haven't listened to the episode yet, it wasn't ready for download when I left this morning, but I watched the movie and left with one question: why is it in the top 100 films?

 

Paul and Amy hypothesize it's because of the film's position in the Library of Congress, and the final stair-dancing scene, which was considered the greatest dancing achievement ever at the time. They also suggest laziness on the part of the AFI!

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One thing I've wondered is if the AFI wanted to make sure you include certain types of movies. Maybe do an all encompassing look at 100 years of film as opposed to the actual best 100 movies. And an old fashioned musical/dance film needed some kind of inclusion. I might have pushed for Top Hat over Swing Time just because one doesn't feature a racist minstrel section in black face.* Not that I think these movies are bad but if I were ranking the top 100 American films, I wouldn't include Swing Time at all.

 

*On the other hand, I don't necessarily think we should be erasing black face from history. People of the time fucking lived with it. It's really shitty but pretending it didn't exist for the rest of time is minimizing the struggle people of color had at the time. Presenting stuff like Swing Time with the proper context and acknowledging how difficult it was for black dancers and actors who could have been as big as Fred Astaire is important.

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*On the other hand, I don't necessarily think we should be erasing black face from history. People of the time fucking lived with it. It's really shitty but pretending it didn't exist for the rest of time is minimizing the struggle people of color had at the time. Presenting stuff like Swing Time with the proper context and acknowledging how difficult it was for black dancers and actors who could have been as big as Fred Astaire is important.

Agreed, I found it such an interesting moment where Fred and Ginger have their first kiss behind the door, then they giddily say goodbye to each other, and then he happily runs to his dressing table and starts smearing the black makeup on his face, humming the 'Bojangles' song, entirely untroubled by the image he's about to portray. It's easy for us today to see how terrible it is, but part of the point behind minstrel shows was not just the makeup, but it was the double effect of seeing that the performer has transformed themselves. By showing him beginning to put the black makeup on, we get to see that transition before we see him in full makeup in the next scene. This allows the audience not only to enjoy the dancing, but to note the transition of the actor, which is the whole reason white actors would perform in blackface, rather than just having an African-American performer do the dance. It's those layers that were interesting to audiences then, and his carefree use of the makeup shows that it's no big deal back then.

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*On the other hand, I don't necessarily think we should be erasing black face from history. People of the time fucking lived with it. It's really shitty but pretending it didn't exist for the rest of time is minimizing the struggle people of color had at the time. Presenting stuff like Swing Time with the proper context and acknowledging how difficult it was for black dancers and actors who could have been as big as Fred Astaire is important.

 

This is also my attitude towards blackface (and other kinds of casual racism) in old movies. It's a thing that happened. It doesn't mean we "excuse" it, but sometimes you need to acknowledge that two things can be true at the same time. A movie could have (1) some truly outstanding elements, like the Fred-Ginger dance scenes, and (2) also some bad stuff that has played even more poorly over time.

 

As to whether Swing Time belongs on the Top 100, probably not (the story isn't any great shakes either). But some things about it are worth preserving.

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But nobody is saying we need to scrub history and forget these things happened. Even in the podcast episode, the hosts and guests spent a fair amounts of time discussing this issue. I don’t see how removing Swing Time from the AFI list - especially given the weak story - is somehow going to make us forget about black face makeup when people today are still using it (for example, on every goddamn Halloween).

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Also, Paul saying he has never watched a movie that included black face makeup...

 

DW7OvzK.jpg

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But nobody is saying we need to scrub history and forget these things happened. Even in the podcast episode, the hosts and guests spent a fair amounts of time discussing this issue. I don’t see how removing Swing Time from the AFI list - especially given the weak story - is somehow going to make us forget about black face makeup when people today are still using it (for example, on every goddamn Halloween).

You're right. The podcast doesn't say that. That's more of a response to my own post where I argued maybe put in Top Hat instead of Swing Time. That way one doesn't need to endure the black face.

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The fact that we can all watch this movie with its included black face scene automatically indicates that no one is trying to erase this from history. But this list is from 2007 and is literally called "AFI's 100 Greatest American Films" which automatically indicates they are celebrating this movie, to which I say this movie should not be celebrated any longer. Times change and we can all appreciate the massive amount of beautiful dance work done, but as pointed out before, Top Hat is a better film overall with just as much beautiful dance work.

 

ETA: I'm not even suggesting Top Hat purely just because it doesn't include a scene like that, but rather I genuinely do think it's a better movie.

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Also, Paul saying he has never watched a movie that included black face makeup...

 

DW7OvzK.jpg

 

Perhaps, like June, he doesn't actually remember the movies he watched for HDTGM.

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Perhaps, like June, he doesn't actually remember the movies he watched for HDTGM.

Or when he's on Unspooled he can't bring himself to admit he's watched anything that bad lol.

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The fact that we can all watch this movie with its included black face scene automatically indicates that no one is trying to erase this from history. But this list is from 2007 and is literally called "AFI's 100 Greatest American Films" which automatically indicates they are celebrating this movie, to which I say this movie should not be celebrated any longer.

 

Well, that's part of my point. I think you CAN celebrate the movie even with the blackface in it. There's stuff in it worth celebrating. I think sometimes (not here yet), people do make all-or-nothing pronouncements that the whole thing should be thrown out due to an objectionable element. I usually can't go that far.

 

I agree that it doesn't belong on the Top 100, because that's a very high bar to clear. (Actually I think we all largely agree on that.)

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Well, that's part of my point. I think you CAN celebrate the movie even with the blackface in it. There's stuff in it worth celebrating.

 

I agree that it doesn't belong on the Top 100, because that's a very high bar to clear. (Actually I think we all largely agree on that.)

I understood your point. I just don't agree with it. Celebrate the dancing, yes, but I don't wish to celebrate the movie as a whole.

 

ETA: Also want to clarify, to Andrew's point that I also agree with, I'm not saying we can't enjoy this movie for all the good parts about it. I just find the troublesome part being that it's on this list (that we definitely all agree it should not be on) because this list is a celebration of the greatest movies and that puts everything about this movie on a pedestal that I do not think this should be on.

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ETA: Also want to clarify, to Andrew's point that I also agree with, I'm not saying we can't enjoy this movie for all the good parts about it. I just find the troublesome part being that it's on this list (that we definitely all agree it should not be on) because this list is a celebration of the greatest movies and that puts everything about this movie on a pedestal that I do not think this should be on.

 

Yeah, I think it's a fair point to keep it off a lofty perch like this due to a particularly objectionable element (especially if there is another similar example without that problem).

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Yeah, I think it's a fair point to keep it off a lofty perch like this due to a particularly objectionable element (especially if there is another similar example without that problem).

For sure, and honestly if this movie had maybe been stronger in every aspect (like I agree with Paul that the plot is really lacking) then maybe I would feel differently. Cause I'm sure we'll get into it once we get there but Gone With The Wind definitely has questionable portrayals but that movie is, in my opinion, on a whole different level than this one.

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I just wanted to pop in and say, I know we are only a few episodes in, I love that everyone is posting. This has been great to read

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Along those lines... I always listen to HDTGM and love it, but I'm not compelled to post/discuss -- b/c I'm really not usually compelled to watch the movie beforehand. (I'm just not SO into movies that I like watching bad ones. If a movie done on HDTGM is easily streamable for me, I may watch it but mostly I just don't bother.)

 

On the other hand, now Paul is talking "good" movies, I want to keep up and educate myself on these films as well... so I'm glad to have this forum to come and discuss them with you all.

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Wanted to address something that Kat Burns mentioned on the episode. She said that the foley artists were not doing their job, because during the Bojangles of Harlem number, Fred Astaire's claps sounded like his taps. However, this is because Astaire was using hand castanets (you can see them in his palms), which make sort of a click/clacking sound. In minstrelsy, there was often a "Bones" character, who played the castanets. This is another reason why I think the Bojangles number leans more racist and less tribute (along with the clownish outfit and the buffoonish movements). As far as I can tell, Bill Robinson didn't use castanets in his act.

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Along those lines... I always listen to HDTGM and love it, but I'm not compelled to post/discuss -- b/c I'm really not usually compelled to watch the movie beforehand. (I'm just not SO into movies that I like watching bad ones. If a movie done on HDTGM is easily streamable for me, I may watch it but mostly I just don't bother.)

 

On the other hand, now Paul is talking "good" movies, I want to keep up and educate myself on these films as well... so I'm glad to have this forum to come and discuss them with you all.

The movies we do in the Musical Mondays thread over in HDTGM are usually pretty good - there's the occasional HDTGM-worthy one but usually we have a good time discussing great musicals. You're welcome to join us!

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