Wherein unreasonably free time is dedicated to proving Jonah Hill is funnier than you.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

On the Town to Stomp the Yard

Two things appear in 1949's On the Town that you won't find in any post-Moulin Rouge! movie musical:
  1. An — even then — egregiously inaccurate conflation of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras[1]
  2. Dancing-as-spectacle
Yes, there are heavily-choreographed sequences in movies like Enchanted and films focused on dance have proliferated since the success of You Got Served, the joys therein are kinetic rather than athletic. Even at the end of Stomp the Yard — when the IRL-accomplished dancers Columbus Short & Darrin Henson somehow end up dueling — we are prompted to be hyped by the crowd's cheers, drama of competition and rapid camera cuts more than we are to marvel at either performer.

In contrast, towards the end of On the Town, Gene Kelly has a daydream that recaps the movie plot in the form of a 7 minute ballet with a shot ν of ≈3.3dHz. His tap-pas de deux with Vera-Allen "When You Walk Down Mainstreet With Me," has a shot ν of ≈1.7dHz. The shot frequency of the final battle in Stomp the Yard is ≈50dHz; there are more shots in its first 30 seconds than in the entire mini-ballet. We are forced to focus on Kelly; the camera moves only to keep him in frame.

One big difference between On the Town and recent dance movies is that in it Gene Kelly was a huge star — and making his directorial debut — while most of this decade's dance leads were nobodies; Short, Channing Tatum, Garbielle Union and Jessica Alba[2] all had their first lead roles in dance flicks. You don't go out of your way to showcase nobodies. At the same time, since they can't sustain stories through star power, don't you need them to propel plots through performance? It's not like the dialog in Step Up has anything on On the Town's quips.

A lot more could be said about On the Town, including its coding of sex, its treatment of post-WWII gender roles, the potshot at fabricated celebrity (contra 'American Idol'), and the curiously inoffensive-yet-gag-presentation of NYC's minorities. The explorations of the Madonna/Whore duality and psychological-disorder as an epiphenomenon of modernization — in "Miss Turnstiles Ballet" and "Prehistoric Man," respectively — could launch a thousand theses.

None of those, however, would give me an excuse to post a picture of Meagan Good.

[1] A museum docent at "The Museum of Anthropological History" places both an unnamed sauropod and an Homo erectus ca. 6m BCE. However, the K-T boundary was discovered in 1943, before the stage musical On the Town was completed. While the Taung Child/Piltdown Man debate was still going on, no museum would expect even australopithecines to be 6m years old. Of course, this was an anthropological museum dumb enough to have a dinosaur.
[2] Of course, Alba was the star of 'Dark Angel.' Double-of-course, nobody really watched 'Dark Angel.'