ASTAIRE DANCING: The Musical Films by John Mueller
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ASTAIRE DANCING: The Musical Films

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One of the most satisfying, rich and witty film books ever written, with superb commentaries on all of Astaire's 31 musicals and elaborate frame enlargements (2,300 in all) that pin down each step or gesture. Seen large like this, with every accomplishment and shortcoming duly noted, Astaire becomes no mere song-and-dance man but one of the most profoundly inventive artists of the century. No exercise in sentimentality, the book looks hard at what works and doesn't work in Astaire's agonizingly perfected routines. Astaire has never been the happy-go-lucky character he so often plays. He'd think nothing of waking a co-worker at 4 a.m. to reveal an inspired new turn or bit; might spend three or four days of rehearsal working out ten seconds of a routine. Even so, he can't believe his work is any good. Says sister Adelle: ""So when people tell him they like it, he thinks they're being nice. Trying to let him down easy."" During the filming of Top Hat, he broke 12 canes over his knee in pique. Says Astaire: ""I've never got anything 100% right. Still, it's never as bad as I think it is."" The well-over 200 dances he choreographed contained some anecdote that advanced the plot. They also made his partners look marvelous, since a good dance team is only as wonderful as its weaker partner. And the dances made songs bloom with a specificity and detail that had their composers in rapture. The acme for songwriters was to work on an Astaire musical. Mueller, a dance enthusiast and director of dance films himself, charts every nuance of interpretation with a light hand but X-ray vision. ""What holds everything together,"" he says, ""is Astaire's distinctive sensibility: the casual sophistication, the airy wit, the transparent rhythmic intricacy, the apparent ease of execution, the consummate musicality. . . The constant quest for originality, for doing something new and fresh in each dance, was almost an obsession. . ."" A book whose sheer (but thoughtful) delight can never fade.

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 1985
Publisher: Knopf