Friday, August 24, 2007

Last Funny Face

One final Funny Face musing...

The ultra-sophisticated, ultra-classy, ultra-graceful Fred Astaire and the ultra-sophisticated, ultra-classy, ultra-graceful Audrey Hepburn together in a movie, should be ultra-sophisticated, ultra-classy, ultra-graceful. Well, it is. But that doesn't always make for ultra-exciting.

Don't get me wrong. Watching the two on screen together is a delight. But as much fun as you have with the them, you never really feel as if your are in the midst of a great love affair. Fred is very charming and knowing, but it seems as that if Audrey were to leave him he would be fine in a week or two. Same with Audrey.

But lets talk about the dancing. Their first number, set to the title song, is great. it takes place in a photographer's darkroom (remember those?) It doesn't try for much. And it achieves it. Very nice little "Getting to Know You Number." Very much along the lines of the dances he would do with Ginger Rodgers at the start of the Astaire/Rogers movies.

But the big smoochy number somehow fails to deliver. As lovely as the dress is that Hepburn wears, it just isn't made for dancing. It is made for being photographed. Also, the fact that it is a wedding dress somehow adds a dimension of "commitment" to the number that doesn't help. We are not allowed to see two people fall in love, as she is already "commited." When combined with Astaire's extremely casual, sweater combo they just look like a very nice, odd couple.

Also, the location shoot overwhelms the story. It is the most beautiful, picture postcard scene behind a church, next to a babbling brook, complete with wite swans and yellow flowers on the greenest lawn you will ever see. But everytime the camera moves you are distracted by the same said swans paddling into view or the amazing Roman aquaduct that just appeared behind the dancing duo.
Hepburn once remarked how disappointed she was when she was shooting the scene. Evidently the grass was very wet and soggy. So whenever she was moving, she would just feel herself sinking into the mud. Not such a wonderful feeling psychologicaly when you are dressed in white.

So instead of enjoying dancing with her idol, she was worring about making sure her shoes didn't kick up pieces of muck.

When I first saw the pas de deux, I was a bit underwhelmed. But after having watched the movie a few times, I can now see the dance for the well constructed piece that it is. Writing this I realize that it is a beautiful piece of film making. But as a dance lover (as opposed to being a cinephile), there is a part of me that would love to see the same dance on a soundstage with Hepburn in a dress that moved well and Astaire in a more elegant outfit.

That would probably also have allowed for more takes, as location shooting puts you on a tighter schedule.

Before I leave, I just need to give one more kudo to the choreographer, Eugene Loring, who had to develop a dance that could be performed on two sloping lawns seperated by a brook that the dancers traveled across on a raft.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Beautiful Poses

Its odd that as I right this one of my lead dancers with the company has just gotten an off season job doing a corporate event for Fabrege. Modeling jewelry as she emerges from a 7 foot tall Fabrege egg.

So I guess it is a day for being fabulous. (How I dislike that word. Something I have to come to grips with. I guess too often people see some of my work as "fabulous" when i was really going for "sublime." The idea of beauty on a grand scale to some just means increased style over substance. Where as I think "more" beauty can add to substance.)

Anyway more Funny Face

Another highlight of the movie occurs after Audrey has bought into the idea of becoming a high fashion model (she originally was a bookseller who was taking advantage of an opportunity to go to Paris to meet a high brow philosopher.) What we see is basically a series of quick scenes of different photoshoots around Paris. The following are publicity shots taken from an slightly different angle than what you would see in the movie. The movie is also in color which adds to the effect.

Audrey had a long-standing, exclusive relationship with the designer Givenchy. They met when he was retained to design Audrey's wardrobe for the movie Sabrina, another Cinderella story. The famous anecdote is that he was excited because he was expecting KATHRYN Hepburn to walk through the door (Audrey was not that well known at the time). So when Audrey showed up, he was noticably disappointed. But not for long.

In addition the the visual feast of a new Givenchy collection for Audrey, movie viewers were also treated to a sort of travelogue around Paris. It must not be forgotten that this movie was shot in the days before the Internet AND color TV. So the only way that you could see Paris (or Rome or Tokyo) in all its glory was to go there. Or see it on a big screen. Movies shot "on location" were a special treat to movie goers. So different today, where movies are becoming more elaborate by shooting in little studios and layering everything in with computers.
While all of the location shooting makes for a beautiful film, it doesn't always serve some elements of the musical genre, which will be discussed in the next blog. Oh and another little bit of useless movie trivia info... the dog in Audrey's arm is her own. She was fond of little terriers and always traveled with one.

The above pic is actually from my favorite shot, at the flower market. But it is from the wrong angle. The movie camera is actually to the left and she is looking into it, surrounded by a blaze of color.

Again, the "real" shot is to the left.

The penultimate shot has Audrey gliding down the steps in front of the winged statue of Nike. The dress and scarf are a brillinat red. There is one more shot after this one, in a wedding dress, which serves as a backdrop fro the big romantic dance number. More on that next time.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Funny Dances

More Funny Face.

Audrey started out as a dancer. A ballet dancer to be precise. All this just adds to the Hepburn mystique. It's always surprising for people to see her idancing and singing, as she really became known as a dramatic artist, but she was very comfortable in musicals.
Unlike My Fair Lady, where her voice is dubbed, in Funny Face, Audrey sings her own songs. Is it the greatest voice in the world... no. But it is charming and vulnerable. And it must be remembered that Audrey introduced the song Moon River in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
But her best dance on film is the solo she does in Funny Face.

And that said, it is a highlight of dance on film. Choreographed by Eugene Loring, the dance takes place in beatnik bar in Paris. The piece of music is a great riff on the Gershwin song, How Long Has This Been Going On? Fred sits this one out, although I am sure he was dying to do something, since the music is so groovy.

Make sure that you come back to this number a few times, because you really need to look at the two guys who back up Audrey. The piece is like 3 solos that intersect at various points. The guys are already dancing before the number starts, so keep a sharp eye out for them.

The dance techniques that the guys are using is typical of the jazz dance of the time. And I don't use the term typical to be dismissive. Although the piece was just meant to be a charm number for Audrey, it really stands out as the gem of the movie.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Not so Funny Faces

As a continuation of yesterday's blog on Funny Face...

One of the things that really make this movie work is the use of real models from the period. The first is Suzy Parker.

An Avedon muse, Suzy was THE face of commercial photography. As beautiul as she was, she had an accessibility to her. She had an uncanny ability to be both the most beautiful woman in the world AND approachable.

Suzy only appears at the beginning of the movie (under the credits) and then again in the big "Think Pink" montage number which starts the show. And Avedon's influence is all over these montages. None of the Suzy's pictures shown here are from the movie. They are just being displayed to show her versatility (and to show why I think she is a goddess.)

But the thing is if you opened a fashion magazine in the 50's and 60's, you would have seen Suzy everywhere. She had a stab at acting, but she really didn't have a talent for it. Or at least her directors never seemed to be able to bring it out in her. Because of her beauty, she was pushed into dramatic roles, but I think she probably would have made a better light comedienne. For non-fashionistas, she is probably best remembered for appearing on a classic Twilight Zone episode. In it, the world has decided that, thanks to the benefitd of plastic surgery, everyone should be beautiful... and if you don't want to be beautiful something is wrong with you.

Suzy plays multiple parts, along with Richard Long (the uber-classically handsome Jarrod Barkley from The Big Valley). In this world of perfection, everyone wants to look like Suzy and Richard. Deep philosophical Twilight Zoney message aside... who could blame them?

The second Avedon muse who appears in the film is the incomparable Dovima.

Dovima had a much more high fashion look than Parker. As such, she was not as recognizable to the general public, but her extreme elegance was well known in more elevated circles. I happen to have large version of the above photo at home. I love how composed Dovima seems, while on close inspection you can see that the elephants are moving around quite a bit. It reminds me of an episode of America's Next Top Model (yes, I admit to it). But where those models had to pose with one elephnat in a bathing suit, Dovima is working with an entire herd in an evening gown. AND making art.

Anyhow, in the movie, Dovima has an actual part... Marion, the intellectually challenged model.

The part is really just another dip into the Lina Lamont stereotype from Singing in the Rain. Beautiful woman with horrible voice and not too much upstairs. But like Jean Hagen in Singing in the Rain, Dovima's own intelligence allows her to make a bit more if the part.

It is questionable whether it is actually Dovima speaking, as her dialogue sounds dubbed, but it could be her. There just might have been an issue with her projection in the studio. In either case, the voice that she uses (or that is overlayed on her) is a bit too over the top. But what she does physically is out of this world. At varios times, she is asked to pose and when she does so, she shoots out a barrage of ultra chic and funny postures and looks that no one else could possible do. There is a section where Fred Astaire is trying to get her to think deep thoughts about a modern sculpture where her attempts are simply beyond description. But like the rest of the movie, they just float by. Not to be hammered in. Just one more delight.

I've included this backstage pic with Astaire, Hepburn and Hepburn's husband, Mel Ferrer, because it shows a bit of what the real Dovima must have been like. Yes, this impromptu photo is probaly staged, but of all of the people in it, it is Dovima, who seems the most comfortable just being herself.

Next up, Audrey gets jazzy.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

All That Glitters... not

Hi Blog.

My niece is visiting, so I have been busy showing her the sights. She turned 21 this year, so I made sure to take a road trip and show her sin city... Las Vegas. While we were there, we took in Jubilee at Bally's.

Jubilee is an old-style topless Vegas revue that has been running for 25 years. A few of SDB's dancers have gone on to perform there. It may not be as artistically satisfying, but it is much more financially lucrative. Say what you want about Vegas, but it DOES keep a lot of singers and dancers employed.

As for the show itself, it pretty much is a time capsule of the type of show and taste of Vegas of 25 years ago. The performers who understood that, seemed to be having the best time playing at being a showgirl or a chorus boy. But some of the performers should have been fired. And since Jubille has a new contract every 6 months, maybe they will.

Honestly, if you aren't going to enjoy displaying your "body beautiful" in various permutations of feathers and sequins (that leave little to the imagination) then why not get a job at the McDonalds on the Strip? Because it doesn't matter how gorgeous you may think you are, if you are just phoning it in, or worse, then the audience can tell. And there were a few dancers onstage, some in large parts, who weren't doing us any favors by gracing us with their presence.

That said the show was well rehearsed and clean. If there were a few less than involved dancers, at least they were on the right foot and in line with the others.

And a note to some of the "leads." If the audience is looking at the back up dancers instead of you, maybe its either time to put a little more into it or make a graceful farewell.

And talking about taste and style...

Another excursion that was taken with my neice was an evening at unique, fun Sand Diego establishment...

Cinema Under The Stars shows a variety of movies in an intimate setting in Mission Hills. While some of the movies are closer to current fare, the majority are more along the lines of Casablana or Rebecca or my favorite thing of the moment...

Funny Face is basically a Cinderella story that takes uses as its backdrop the wonderful world of high fashion in the late 50's. What makes the move so wonderful is not just the performances of the ultra sophisticated and so elegantly graceful that they couldn't be human beings, Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, but the participation of Richard Avedon in the project.

Avedon was THE fashion photographer of the era. Astaire's character is patterned somewhat on Avedeon. Although Funny Face IS a studio film, Avedon's input gives the film a visual viewpoint unlike any other. Later, Avedon was quoted as saying that Audrey was his ultimate muse. Lucky for us that Audrey is also dressed in this film (as she was in most) by the designer Givenchy... who also calimed her as HIS ultimate muse.

So Funny Face gives us a woman dressed and photographed by two artists at the hight of their ability.

I'll be talking more about what makes this movie so special in the days to come.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Those Hazy Days of Summer

Back again!

So much has happened since I last wrote to you my little blog.

I went off to England to teach jazz dancing and have returned. Its an annual trek I do for friends.

Much fun was had and I had my favorite Indian dish at my favorite Indian restaurant in England. Allo Chat at The Prince of Bengal in Watford. Its an appetizer, but I always ask them to bring me 3 orders. It is a spicy, sour potato dish. Much yumminess.

The students were very nice and I caught up with a hip hop instructor from New York. James Jackson from Broadway Dance Center.

We make quite a pair sightseeing in London. He is black, over 6 feet and tres' urban chic. I on the other hand look like a slightly chubby, sweatsuit wearing version of the Devil (I am currently sporting a goatee.) And together we took the streets of London by storm.

Oh and it DID storm. The whole middle (center, heart) of England was flooded.

But that didn't stop us from visiting our fave English fast food place...

They have a brilliant idea, which I am sure would be a huge hit in the States. They have one kind of pasta. Penne. Which they give you in a Starbucks type cup (small, medium or large) and then you choose which sauce you want on it. Fast and tasty.

So now, I am back and teaching at our combined Dance Place San Diego Summer Program. Pretty much just teaching a choreography class. I am getting a headstart on the Joplin piece that will be premired in October. I already did a couple of pieces that were shown at our Intimate Evening performances and at our In Studio fundraiser.

And I am currently, as I write this, getting into a semi heated discussion regarding whether or not we should do a new piece for our LD that we take out to schools...

A discussion that is now over.

My niece is also in town, so I am dropping her and her friend off at various San Diego locations as I go off to work and then picking them up afterwards.

Today's location was...

The World Famous San Diego Zoo.

I love the zoo. Am a member and have been going ever since I was a wee small child. I even did a summer kids program there. But it wasn't a Zoo Camp. It was a Zoology course for gifted kids.

They would take us to the zoo every weekday for one summer.
We would be spilt up into groups of 4 or 5.
Be given worksheets and projects.
And then let loose at 8:30 and be told to be back by 12:30.
Unattended 10 year olds running rampant at the zoo.

A quite eventful summer, that included may trips to the sea lion pool, a brand new (not to well thought out) attraction called the Wolf Walk (that was closed within the year) and a tiny romance with the daughter of the zoo's offical photographer, Ron Garrison. Ah, youth!

And what is my favorite animal at the zoo?

The Snow Leopard. Such big paws! And that tail!

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