Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Top Hat (1935)

WHO: Stars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are the #1 & #2 reason (not necessarily in that order) to watch this.

WHAT: Though the most well-made of the films starring Astaire and Rogers is probably Swing Time and my personal favorite (thanks to its Frisco Bay setting, the presence of Randolph Scott, and most of all its assortment of songs) is Follow the Fleet, there's one film I think of first when I picture the famous dancing duet: Top Hat. In many ways it's the most quintessential and elegant of their pairings, an airy plot filmed in an RKO studio set made over as an elaborate Art Deco fantasyland version of Venice and featuring indelible supporting players such as Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Erik Rhodes and (as in more than half of Astaire & Rogers's RKO films) Eric Blore.

As surface-smooth and innocent as this film appears to be, it easily sustains a more adult reading, if you watch it while keeping in mind that every dance sequence is really a metaphor for sex.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Stanford Theatre at 5:40 and 9:25.

WHY: The Stanford Theatre's classics-only programming, as we know it today, was initiated in 1987 when David W. Packard (son of the David Packard who founded Hewlett-Packard) rented the theatre to screen 26 Fred Astaire films after the star's death. The series was such a success that Packard and his foundation purchased the theatre the following year. As the theatre's website tells the story:
Some people said that watching Fred Astaire in a real theatre was pointless because everybody could see his films on late-night television. But our 1175-seat theatre was nearly sold out for two solid weeks. Many people came every night, and we received 700 fan letters. This is why the Stanford Theatre still exists.
In less than two weeks, there'll be another chance to see Astaire and Rogers on the Stanford screen, when the venue plays Swing Time and Roberta July 13-16- the 16th being the 102nd anniversary of Ginger Rogers's birth.

Another film featuring Rogers, Gold Diggers of 1933 screens at the Tannery in Berkeley this Sunday as a presentation of the Berkeley Underground Film Society. I haven't yet sampled the presentations by this group, but hope to this summer.

HOW: Top Hat shows on a 35mm double-bill with another Astaire/Rogers classic, The Gay Divorcee.

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