This week’s film topic is one that I have been thinking of writing for a few weeks now, but was waiting for the right time. It’s funny how just last week Cinema: Counterpoint was on the subject of re-makes and all of a sudden there is an announcement that there would be a re-make of the 80’s classic “Dirty Dancing”. At that point I figured that the time was right to go ahead with this week’s topic: What really are the best “Dance” films of all time? * Please note: The key idea here is "dancing" - a musical by itself is another topic, and thus perhaps another week.
Therefore, here are my top-10 selections on the subject from #10 to #1 spanning eight decades. (Note: “Footloose”, “
” and “Hairspray” were also considered, but failed to reach my top-10 list.) Chicago
HAIRSPRAY: John Waters' tribute to big hair and intro to the hip and groovy 1960's!
#10. DIRTY DANCING (1987): Although it may rank in the top-3 in most people’s book, I never felt that the actual dancing in the film was really that strong. Additionally, I was never a real fan of Swayze films – but Jennifer Grey was certainly fun to watch during those years. Fun film, and emotional in parts, but the substance is lacking as is the case with so many films during this decade.
Memorable moments to the tune of "Hungry Eyes" by Eric Carmen
#5. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954): I can recall the first time I saw this film….February of 1989. I would say that I have seen it close to 20 times since and that might be an understatement. Now you and I have talked highly about this film in the past Jer, so I highly expect it to make your top-10 list this week.......The film features seven tremendous songs that perfectly match the title. How the film is off the top 100 list for AFI is beyond me, but it certainly makes my top-ten for dance films. Set in the mid-1800’s. The film really is a happy one recalling a simpler time when love was in the air (a small forecast to #2 on our list) and kindness was king. Jane Powell as Millie is just tremendous and she really shines during the barn-dance scene when the brothers cut-in. What is also key here from a cinematic standpoint is how the film utilizes ‘Cinemascope’ to full advantage. Audiences are treated to acrobatic and thrilling dance routines that fill the screen with action. ‘Lonesome Polecat’ remains one of my favorite numbers from the film, but all of them are memorable along with the film in particular.
Enjoy this clip in which the 7 Brothers try to court the 7 Brides at the "Barn Dance!"
#4. SHALL WE DANCE? (1996): Forget the re-make with Gere and Lopez as it pales in comparison with the original. Upon initial viewing on DVD about eight years ago, I was sold at the opening scene. Koji Yakusho plays a miserable Japanese businessman who continually takes the train to and from his workplace. Each night on his return home he sees a faint light in a window above with the silhouette of a ballroom dancer. This becomes his mantra and eventually his inspiration. Secretly, Yakusho begins to take dance lessons and falls in love with both the woman as well as the art of dance. The wonderful parallel in the film is that we have two individuals who have lost their passion: A man who has lost his passion for living, and a woman who has lost her passion for dance / dance competition. Although the actual dancing in the film is somewhat limited, the film teases us until the final scene where our main character is completely liberated from his rigid life. The blends of culture, drama, movie-making and reality are really what make this work in the most genuine and heartfelt fashion.
The original trailer for the 1996 Japanese film
#3. THE BAND WAGON (1953): Released just one year before ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ with Gene Kelly, this film is rarely discussed yet remains perhaps on the Fred Astaire’s greatest. Astaire can well be considered one of the most incomparable entertainers of the past 80+ years in film. An instant success at RKO studios in
, he danced with shoes that simply came to life on screen. Eventually, he would revive the golden years at MGM during his later films. Frankly speaking, I have never seen anyone in this film genre even come remotely close to this kind of talent. Nonetheless, choosing just a couple of his films is a real task considering the likes of “The Band Wagon” and “An American in Hollywood ”. “Royal Wedding” was also released this year featuring Astaire’s famous ceiling and walls dance which was just one of the tricks filmed in the genre by MGM studios. In “The Band Wagon”, the score brings the dance arrangements to life and vice-versa. Astaire reveled in this film and the opportunity to dance with Cyd Charisse was a rare yet highly prized one. How can anyone ever forget the dance routine between the two titled ‘Dancing in the Dark’ with the Paris Central Park setting? Then again, we head to the exhilarating and very sexy number titled ‘Girl Hunt’ almost resembling a spoof from a detective novel. Astaire lights a cigarette off-screen, then the story unfolds and the scene is white-hot for about three (3) minutes. Astaire always referred to Cyd Charisse in the number as having ‘more curves than a scenic railway’. In sum, let’s call “The Band Wagon” one of the greatest and most influential dance films to ever be produced on screen.
Astaire sneaks into the "Dem Bones Club" to meet up with the sexy Cyd Charisse.
#2. STRICTLY BALLROOM (1992): Believe it or not, this may have been the film that actually got me ‘back into film’ once again after leaving film school. I am well aware of the fact that this is not exactly the type of film to make AFI’s top-100 list, but what is blended throughout this film just seems to work on precisely the right level. How can one watch this film and not be completely transfixed? Is it possible? Here’s an Aussie dance movie that is, well – awesome (ahem). The story itself may be somewhat predictable, but the plot has real originality embedded into it. Scenes are full of dry humor; dance scenes are both perfected and poignant; the cinematography and costume design are amazing; and the dialogue as well as the performances remain first-rate. The use of flash-backs are also a wonderful bonus in the film offering us insight many of the characters. Without spoiling too much for you, I highly recommend “Strictly Ballroom” and consider it not only a brilliant work of art, but one of the true gems and secrets when it comes to dance films.
Music video to John Paul Young's "Love Is In The Air" with highlights from the film
#1. TOP HAT (1935): Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing cheek to cheek yet again – need we say more? Not really, but we will. I am not sure where to even begin or to end with discussion of this film, but let’s call it almost the ‘perfect’ musical / dance movie if that is fair. The talents of both stars as well as the score by Irving Berlin were showcased at a high level in this film – one that never seems to really age. Irving Berlin always said that the motivation for writing such amazing and memorable tunes was simply as a compliment to the showcasing talents of Fred Astaire. The most difficult number for Astaire was likely the ‘Top Hat’ scene (the cane doubles as a machine gun of course) which he rehearsed time and time again until virtual perfection was reached. The bottom line is that every song in the film not only complements ‘Top Hat’ perfectly, but each one stands tall all by itself. Astaire’s ‘Top Hat and Tails’ performance is just one of the sequences that should always be relished. None of the dance sequences were easy to film and just one viewing of the film will prove that fact. Other memorable tunes include: ‘Cheek to Cheek’ (one that extremely difficult to film, but features Ginger Rogers in the amazing turquoise satin dress with feathers) and ‘Isn’t it a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain’ which are of course written by the astounding Irving Berlin. The film is light in terms of plot – like a soufflé really. What wasn’t light were the profits as ‘Top Hat’ was the most profitable film in RKO history at the time raking in over $3 million. Winner of four (4) Oscar nominations, ‘Top Hat’ remains perhaps the most elegant and sophisticated ofall Astaire / Rogers films, and of course all dance films ever to be pieced together.
The famous "White Tie and Tails" number starring the one and only Fred Astaire!
JER: Now we’re talkin’! I have been dying to get my dancing shoes on for a while and now I can. The fact that our tastes in musicals, especially ones with memorable choreographic dance numbers, will be difficult to not repeat. I am leaning on a more contemporary selection with some very classic choices as well.
#10. FLASHDANCE (1983): Choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday included classical ballet, figure skating, modern dance and a bit of hip- hop/ break dancing to this contemporary classic. The highlights, of course, are peppered into the film every time we visit Mawby’s Bar. It is here that several waitresses moonlight as dancers on the bar’s stage. It is not a strip bar, but a PG-13 version of one. Men still howl and hoot at the girls while they strut and grind their stuff… but the clothes stay on at this joint (BOO!) The film is more recognized for its iconic “water poured on the sitting dancer” scene, but the overall presentation mixes good- time humor with dramatic moments. The soundtrack was a force to be reckoned with in its time. Films like FOOTLOOSE, TOP GUN and FLASHDANCE were vying for top spot honors for best compellation soundtracks throughout the 1980’s.
Michael Sembello's video for his chart- topping hit "Maniac" including film clips!
#9. PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981): Director Herbert Ross and Choreographer Danny Daniels bring forth a very classic homage to the days of radio music and dance hall days. Like the previously mentioned entry of
CHICAGO, this film also takes place in the during the Depression era. It is in this world that music saves the mind from disaster and offers a little escapism from the harsh realities of unemployment, hunger and homelessness. The real world offers us a bleak look at Steve Martin playing Arthur Parker, a sheet music salesman. His life is dull and drab, unhappily married; he finds new life in a school teacher played by Bernadette Peters. Through the sheet music he sells, he lives a life of fantasy and big Busby Windy City type numbers involving singing and lots of dancing! Both Martin and Peters offer up great moments both individually and collectively. Berkley-
A dream sequence with Bernadette Peters and her classroom of disruptive kids performing "Love Is Good For Anything That Ailes You."
#8. XANADU (1980): I know I may get some back- ended comments for this particular selection, but give me an opportunity to plea my choice. It may not have been the big box office draw or the most memorable film with outstanding dance numbers, but it was a movie I took notice of theatrically and have not been able to put it down since. Combining Olivia Newton- John and Gene Kelly in a modern musical, including a fantastic soundtrack from both Newton- John and ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) the dance sequences paid tribute to the big band sounds of the 1940’s, the flashy New Wave sounds coming into the 1980’s and keeping a pulse of the leveling popularity of roller- disco (roller skating/ dancing to disco music, kids). The highlight for many musical enthusiasts was the grand ‘comeback’ of Gene Kelly… and boy, can he still kick his heals! He even roller skates in the movie. It’s campy, it’s kitzchy...it’s XANADU!
An incredible tribute intermixing great clips and touches from the amazing sountrack...a must see! Thank you SinDrome6
#7. SINGIN’ IN RAIN (1952): Most people will always attribute the dancing styles of Gene Kelly on this film, but the real scene stealer title is rightfully placed on Donald O’Connor! The man was literally made of elastic as he could ricochet off walls and dance floors like a rubber ball. The highlight would have to be the “Make Em Laugh” number in which O’ Connor’s character, Cosmo Brown, stops at nothing to do what it takes to get a smile when the going gets tough! I would unjustly be moving forward without mentioning Kelly’s fancy footwork throughout the film.
Enjoy the show-stopping "Make Em Laugh" with Donald O'Conner! Amazing!
#6. THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980): Call this film what you want: a musical, a tribute to the blues, a slapstick comedy... but I have always perceived this film as one big dance number followed by another. The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi) literally move their bodies to the music for that particular scene they are playing in. One scene I would like to bring to your attention is towards the end of the film during Cab Calloway’s rendition of “Minnie The Moocher.” Both Aykroyd and Belushi are outside of the venue that their concert is supposed to take place in… they pause for a moment to hear the music bleeding from within inside and begin to take their steps in beat with the music… delivered with a straight face, the signature look for the brothers. Glorious and grand dance numbers which includes James Brown’s “Old Landmark” and Ray Charles’ “Shake A Tail Feather” are just some of the highlights of this musical comedy from director John Landis.
The sexiest ad you'll ever see to fly the friendly skies. Yes, that is Sandahl Bergman (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) singing and dancing in "Air- otica"
(2002): I know this film did not make your list because of the extensive and greater selections you made; however, I feel it has a rightful slot on mine. Being that Bob Fosse was the original Director of Choreography in its Broadway debut, it only seem fitting to include, if not be inspired, by Fosse’s style and musical interpretation to the actual musical pieces involved. The better part of the film is presented in dance: recollection of memories and thoughts, a character’s point- of- view and straight up skirt- rising moments at the nightclubs. 1920’s CHICAGO is vividly and colorfully brought to life with the accompaniment of great Prohibition era jazz. Chicago
CHICAGO's "Cell Block Tango" with heavily-inspired Bob Fosse moves!
#3. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954): I have to go along with JC on this choice. I remember seeing this film when I was about 15 or 16 years old and recalling what an impression it made on me then. The dance sequences were amazing, if not astounding. Mind- numbing musical numbers mixed circus- like pratfalls and physically demanding requests to the body unlike anything I had for its time. Remember, these were actually skilled dancers and performers doing this all on their own. Today, you could almost cheat with the wave of a CGI wand to create movements the body dared not try. We'll never see this again!
Enjoy the classic trailer including great moments from this classic musical
#2. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977): This was my first official R rated film that ever saw (thanks Mom). The impression wasn’t made on the sexual nature or language used by these
Brooklyn Italiano- Americanos from the late 70’s. The long lasting images were the ones that took place at the 2001 Space Odyssey discotheque that the boys would go to on Saturday nights. They were ‘the faces’, the boys with the blow- dried hair that was brushed back, the open collared shirts with the gold crosses or Italian horns dangling off for exhibit, they were clean- cut and they knew how to shoot an inviting look at any woman across the dance floor. The film is a time capsule and a voice- piece for a generation. Choreographer Deney Terrio went unaccredited for his ‘dance instructor’ assistance to the film. Word has it that Terrio worked privately with actor John Travolta to teach and fine- tune his entire slick dance moves throughout the film. Terrio relied on the latest dance crazes that were known for its time including The Hustle, The New York Hustle and other Latin flavored tangos and salsas blended with the historical sounds of The Bee- Gees playing loud and proud for accompaniment. Terrio would later become the host of the then- popular “Dance Fever” television show between 1979 through 1985.
A moving scene as Tony and Stephanie dance and share a moment caught in "More Than A Woman"
#1. MARY POPPINS (1964): As Donald O’ Conner is the laughable, elastic dance man for SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, the same can be said about Dick Van Dyke’s Bert in Disney’s Academy Award winning musical, MARY POPPINS. Arguably, more of a musical than a dance film, Walt Disney spared no expense in presenting the popular children’s story to life. Combining live action with animation, an honorable mention must be made to the Academy Award winning soundtrack by Robert and Richard Sherman combing heartwarming ballads and high- energy orchestrations to complement the movement of this classic family film! Disney was creating a staple of recognizable technology that would be often imitated by other studios, but never duplicated for quality and entertainment value. Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins weaved her dance steps throughout the film, but it is Van Dyke who “steps in time” throughout the better half of the film. Partnering with animated penguins or fellow chimney sweepers, Van Dyke never seems to take a minute to catch his breath!
Dick Van Dyke leads up to the classically outrageous "Step In Time" number! Wow!
Johnny Chazz, I can definitely see your taste and flare for the golden age of musicals reflected in your selection of top 10 films, but I was a little taken back by your selection of STOMP THE YARD. I know you have always tried to be more well- rounded in contemporary pop culture, but the choice of this movie? On your list? At number 8?
Honorable mentions would have to go to Disney's NEWSIES starring a very young Christian Bale, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and maybe even THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (who doesn't know how to "Time Warp"?)
"Seize The Day" sequence from NEWSIES with Bale leading the boys into a frenzied singing and dancing number!
I can only brace myself for what will, no doubt be, a hailstorm of pelting comments to my selections! Let them fly!
JOHNNY CHAZZ: Of course
will make the top-10 list of most fans, and I am not surprised to see it on yours Jer. The film was well done, but I simply did not see " CHICAGO " in the same light as everyone else. The year 2002 was a below-par year for films, CHICAGO looked like a diamond in the rough, and I just did not view it in such a limelight. It was well choreographed and staged, but the cast was one that I had a few issues with - a fun movie, but not sure it was Best Picture quality. However, I will agree with your comment that the musical interpretations were quite impressive from a contemporary standpoint. Chicago
FLASHDANCE was close to making my list, but probably falls in the 12-15 range. Still, I can see why it made your top-10.....touché.
I am so glad that we danced in tandem to our selection of SEVEN BRIDES as the film is certainly a classic and should be a top-10 on any film-critic / film-lover's list. Precisely as you said, it was CGI-less and the raw-talent simply simply explodes off the screen.
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER as I can see made your list in a similar spot as mine - glad that we agree on this without any need to go any further into discussions based on the film's global popularity.
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN is not only a great song (nice version by the original Louis Prima), but yes, Jer - the film is quite entertaining and I must admit that although it does not fall into my top-10, it is certainly a top-15 or top-20 candidate. Nice pick here -
THE BLUES BROTHERS is what most would call a comedy-musical, but we will call it 'what we want' as you say and label it in the dance-film genre. I was never a big fan of this film and I am not exactly sure why. I always found the film to be a bit too comedic, and almost clumsy and that foundation did not offer me enough of those genuine and serious traits that most other dance films seem to possess. Still, I do believe that many others would place this on their list, thus the selection does not shock me.
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is an absolute classic, thus you will receive no arguments from me here. Kelly's footwork is the charm of the flick and it will always stand the test of time.
I see nothing wrong with the selection of XANADU in this category as I must agree with you Jer on a few levels. The homage to Gene Kelly and classic dance films combined with the roller-skating as a form of dance blended the classic with the modern making this not only a cult-classic, but a dance film that was true 'eye candy'. The presence of the ELO soundtrack was also a bonus, but that is off-subject of course...still, being that we are both fans of the group, it must be mentioned.
Nice selection with MARY POPPINS and it is hard to go wrong with anything produced in the 1960's especially with the likes of Julie Andrews. I have not seen this film in countless years, and I should re-visit it to assess how it works as a 'dance film' and not one that falls strictly into the fantasy genre.
As for 'Stomp the Yard' - I must agree, Jer, that the film is probably not what most would consider in their top-10, but the style and techniques of dance used in the film with contemporary sounds was fresh - and on some level that seemed to work for me. Please note however, that it is not a top-5 for me, but #8 is where it falls and granted the film is not exactly well-written and offers little in the way of cinematic value, I still felt as though I remained entertained, intrigued, learned a few funky moves for my own dance repertoire (ahem). The opening and closing scenes were also impressive along with all of the energy and talents that went into the dance sequences. As a modern dance film for this decade, I must give it some props.
I am a bit surprised not to see “Dirty Dancing” (as I know your love for the 80's) on your list as well as any of the Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers films that many consider to be the best ever made. Your list remains bold however and you back it up - so that goes commended.
With that, I turn the final comments over to you, Jer, as we begin to close out this week's segment. This has been a great deal of fun to discuss as the topic is light and we are resurrecting films from many decades gone by for our audience / readers to perhaps look into.
JER: That turned out to be a lot less painless than I thought. A very interesting topic with many thoughts and opinions as to what makes it to a top ten list! I think we represented a wide range of different musicals from different times and eras representing a variety of different styles and interpretations. With that said I will rumba out of this talk and leave it to your thoughts! Do you agree with our selections or did we miss the dance all together? What would you place on the list? Please feel free to comment and let us know!
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