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Five Insanely Romantic Fred Astaire Dances

Five Insanely Romantic Fred Astaire Dances (photo)

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Call me old-fashioned, call me an insanely committed movie dork; hell, call me an insanely committed, old-fashioned movie dork but there’s nothing I like better on Valentine’s Day than a quiet night in with my wife, a home-cooked meal and great old films. Our favorites are the classic MGM musicals. You can’t go wrong with Gene Kelly, of course, but I think Valentine’s Day belongs to Fred Astaire, who produced many of his best onscreen moments with a woman at his side. The air of romance in Astaire’s best films is so thick it’s beyond intoxicating: it’s positively infectious. Here are five of his most insanely romantic dance numbers.


“I’ll Be Hard to Handle”
From “Roberta” (1935)
Featuring Astaire and Ginger Rogers

The first image we think of when we think of Astaire is the elegant gentleman in top hat and tails, squiring Ginger Rogers to some impossibly lavish Depression-era ball. And nobody made unattainable opulence look quite as warm and inviting as Astaire and Rogers. But the most famous dancing team in movie history often had their best chemistry in more casual numbers, like the ebullient “Pick Yourself Up” from “Swing Time” or the rambunctious “I’ll Be Hard to Handle” from “Roberta,” which captures the team at their most flirtatiously playful. Astaire and Rogers play former sweethearts who reunite in Paris and reignite their relationship. The routine, a high-spirited tap, finds the pair even finishing each others sentences — through dance of course — as they trade intricate steps back and forth like fast-paced screwball banter. Bonus points for the all-natural tap sounds, which are clearly coming straight from Astaire and Rogers’ feet and not from any artificial post-production sweetening.


“So Near and Yet So Far”
From “You’ll Never Get Rich” (1941)
Featuring Astaire and Rita Hayworth

Astaire built a persona of gentility and refinement, and as he aged he played opposite a lot of much younger leading ladies, a situation that often made him look like Mr. Rogers romancing one of his fans. He wasn’t exactly known as a sensual dancer — which is why I love this Latin-flavored number he did with the gorgeous and very sensual Rita Hayworth in 1941’s “You’ll Never Get Rich.” It’s called “So Near and Yet So Far” — a title that could refer to fact that dance, while pleasurable, is not nearly as pleasurable as what dance often acts as a stand-in for in old movies, namely sex. Astaire seems genuinely enchanted by the hip-shaking Hayworth as they twirl on an ocean-view balcony. The number ends with Hayworth leaning back into Astaire’s arms, so near and yet so far, as they cuddle and exit stage right. To do what, we’ll never know.


“They Can’t Take That Away From Me”
From “The Barkleys of Broadway” (1949)
Featuring Astaire and Rogers

“The Barkleys of Broadway” was Astaire and Rogers’ final cinematic pairing, and it only came about after Astaire’s original co-star, Judy Garland, needed to be replaced at the very last moment. When they made “The Barkleys,” Astaire and Rogers hadn’t danced together for ten years, adding a great deal of poignancy to the film’s plotline, about a husband-and-wife dance team who split up and then reconnect, and to this touching final number, where Fred serenades Ginger with George and Ira Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” The words are almost too perfect for a legendary couple reuniting for what would be the last time onscreen: “We may never, never meet again on that bumpy road to love / Still I’ll always, always keep the memory of / The way you hold your knife / The way we danced ’til three / The way you changed my life / No, no they can’t take that away from me.” After Astaire’s touching vocal, the pair enact an elegiac final dance, a celebration for has been and what will never be again. It’s not one of their most intricate or most graceful scenes, but it feels more charged with genuine emotion than anything else they’d ever danced.


“Dancing in the Dark”
From “The Band Wagon” (1953)
Featuring Astaire and Cyd Charisse

A simple walk in the park becomes a rapturous dream of falling in love in “Dancing in the Dark” from Vincente Minnelli’s “The Band Wagon.” The scene contains no words of either the spoken or sung variety. Instead, everything is communicated through movement: Astaire and Cyd Charisse’s hopeful glances, followed by their first tentative steps, and culminating in remarkable duet between two incredible artists. Astaire tended to be the most graceful member of any pair he danced in, but Charisse is his equal: watch the effortless way she bends in his arms around the 3:15 minute mark, or the her seductive swoon into Astaire’s neck after the twirl at 2:03. The choreography perfectly matches the rise and fall of Arthur Schwartz’s soaring music: the climactic crescendo is echoed by the dancers’ symbolic climb up a small flight of stairs to a waiting carriage. Also: I’m no fashion expert, but I think dresses like Charisse’s, which bounces and floats with her every movement as if it’s made out of some kind of gravity-defying material, desperately need to make a comeback.


“He Loves and She Loves”
From “Funny Face” (1957)
Featuring Astaire and Audrey Hepburn

Here’s one of those potentially creepy May/December romances I was talking about: Astaire was a full thirty years older than Audrey Hepburn when they made “Funny Face” together in 1967. After a series of comic confusions and misadventures, Astaire, a fashion photographer, and Hepburn, a model, have finally realized their mutual love for one another. Still dressed in her fashion show wedding gown, she looks adoringly into Astaire’s eyes as he sings “He Loves and She Loves” then joins him for a low-key “stroll” through the French countryside. Most of Astaire’s musicals were shot on soundstages, so there is something especially striking about watching him move through director Stanley Donen’s lushly verdant mise en scene, and the choreography makes the most of the freedom that comes with location shooting — it’s not every film that you see two dances connected via a ride on a river raft. Despite the age difference, the chemistry works. Hepburn seems genuinely smitten with Astaire; in my favorite moment from this dance, they’re so enraptured by each other’s presence they nearly dance themselves right into a pond.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.