by Diane Claytor
Lights! Camera! Action! OK. You might not actually hear these words when Diablo Ballet again presents their very popular Dance on Film Series. Instead, more descriptive words you may hear (or even say) are incredible, fantastic, beautiful, amazing, groovy, awesome and fascinating.
For the fifth consecutive year, Diablo Ballet is teaming up with the Lafayette Library to present this very successful – and very fun and entertaining – film series that always has audiences dancing in their seats and humming (or singing) as they walk out. And this year, as a special addition, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, an international platform for the presentation and development of dance-based films, is joining in by screening highlights from their amazing 2015 celebration of dance on camera.
Most of us probably weren’t around when the first Dance on Film movie was made. And if we were, we were likely too young to know anything about movies, dancing or the film’s stars – Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. So, while 1944’s “Cover Girl,” being shown on July 21, is truly an old classic, this could be the first time many of us have had the opportunity to see it.
In addition to stars Hayworth and Kelly, other cast members’ names that might be familiar to older movie-going audiences include Phil Silvers, Eve Arden and Lee Bowman. And while the songs might not be as recognizable as those in some other classic musicals, Cover Girl was the first film collaboration of Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin, won the 1944 Academy Award for best musical scoring, and features the popular song, Long Ago and Far Away. The movie, a story of a chorus girl given a chance at stardom when she’s offered an opportunity to be a highly paid cover girl, was also Columbia Studio’s first Technicolor musical.
TCM.com calls the movie lavish and notes the positive chemistry between Hayworth and Kelly; the site also says that one of the movies’ pleasures is Eve Arden, in one of her “best performances…her acid wit and perfect timing keep the over the top glamour in perspective.” Tony Thomas, author of “The Films of Gene Kelly,” wrote “…Cover Girl marks a major turning point…at which the long-familiar concept of the movie musical as a string of songs strung together by a skimpy plot gave way to a broader concept in which the musical sequences would form a part of the plot.” A movie-goer, reviewing the movie on TCM.com states “What a treat it would have been if Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth had been allowed by their studios to become a dance team…they make a delightful duo.”
Saturday Night Fever
Many of us remember when polyester ruled, the disco ball provided sparkle and a very young John Travolta was king of disco dancing. Saturday Night Fever, being shown on Aug. 18, premiered in Dec. 1977 and it is unquestionably a classic dance film.
A huge commercial success, Saturday Night Fever contributed greatly to the popularity of disco music and, according to wikipedia.com, made Travolta a household name. Not to mention that the movie’s soundtrack, featuring disco songs by the Bee Gees, is one of the best selling soundtrack albums of all times — remaining at the top of the charts for 24 weeks. If you didn’t dance to the music in the 70’s (or even if you did), you’ll certainly feel like moving your feet after seeing the film now. Some of the better-known songs include Stayin’ Alive, How Deep is Your Love, More Than a Woman and You Should Be Dancing.
Other than Travolta, most of the cast was unknown; and in spite of the film’s immense popularity, the majority of names are still unfamiliar. The story is about a young Italian-American man who doesn’t have much going for him in his dead end job or at home, living with his parents. But he lives for the weekends when he goes to a local Brooklyn disco and dances the night away. There he’s king of the dance floor, which helps him temporarily forget the negatives of his life. When a big dance competition is announced, he convinces a beautiful and talented dancer to be his partner. And, of course, they start to fall for each other.
With glowing reviews, Saturday Night Fever was regarded by many critics as one of the best films of 1977. In fact, the late film critic Gene Siskel said it was his favorite movie (he reportedly watched it 17 times) and, referring to Travolta’s energetic performance said, “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.” It’s reported that Siskel even bought the famous white suit Travolta wore in the movie. Film critic Pauline Kael, also a huge fan, wrote a gushing review in The New Yorker: “These are among the most hypnotically beautiful pop dance scenes ever filmed…At its best, though, Saturday Night Fever gets at something deeply romantic: the need to move, to dance, and the need to be who you’d like to be.” And rottentomatoes.com states, “Boasting a smart, poignant story, a classic soundtrack, and a starmaking performance from John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever ranks among the finest dramas of the 1970s.”
For this Aug. 18 showing at the Library, everyone is encouraged to drag their disco clothes out of the closet and wear them — bright colors, sequins, bellbottoms, spandex, platform shoes, leisure suits, halter dresses, loud patterns, dancing shoes — and, of course, polyester!
Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, and Edward Stegge, Associate Director of the Ballet’s PEEK Outreach Program, will present interesting and often little known facts and humorous stories about each film before the showing. And, you never know – maybe, with a little coaxing, in August they’ll teach you the hustle. After all, as the Bee Gees sang in the movie, “You Should Be Dancing.”
On August 4, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival will show highlights from their 2015 festival, including award-winning screen dance shorts and the documentary Rare Birds, about the epic undertaking of choreographer Alexander Ekman’s 2014 A Swan Lake for the Norwegian National Ballet. Rare Birds is an intimate look at creativity. Following Ekman during production of A Swan Lake, the film tracks dance creation from ideas to hard reality. The Festival’s Executive Director, Judy Flannery, will introduce the film.
Each of the 3 evenings of unparalleled entertainment begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette. The cost is $5 per film or $10 to enjoy all 3 — and yummy treats are included! For ticket information, go to https://lafayettelib.givezooks.com/events/dance-on-film-series.