Entertainment » Movies

Swing Time

by Greg Vellante
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jun 26, 2019
Swing Time

Georges Stevens' "Swing Time," a recent addition to The Criterion Collection, is a dazzling, yet disappointing, product of its time. Released in 1936, the film is certainly ahead of the game in terms of its humor, the romantic chemistry between its two leads (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), and the stunning choreography and rhythmic filmmaking that define the movie's collection of toe-tapping musical numbers.

But in an instant, all that charm fades. After our lovestruck protagonists share their first kiss, "Swing Time" takes a sharp turn and reminds you that the 1930s were not the most forward-thinking time for American culture. Ginger Rogers leaves the dressing room, floating on air, and a beaming Astaire heads back to his mirror and begins smearing on blackface. "Oh, no," I said to myself, as I was immediately pulled away from a movie that had previously had me transfixed with its undeniable charisma.

What follows is the movie's longest musical number, "Bojangles of Harlem," where I was left torn between my enjoyment of the undeniably impressive dance routine and the cringe-worthy display of outdated racism. To be fair, the blackface is acknowledged in both the included booklet essay by film critic Imogen Sara Smith, as well as in a video interview with film scholar Mia Mask that's included in the bonus features. But all in all, it's tough to distance yourself from the carefree intolerance.

On the plus side, this Criterion Collection release looks and sounds fantastic, with a new 2K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. And despite the 20 minutes or so where the film takes a discriminatory detour, it's still a delightful musical romance that's worthy of your time. Taken in context, it's interesting as a piece of history, despite its harsh reminders of how prejudice reigned in the past (and how it still exists today).

Bonus features on the Criterion release include:

• Audio commentary from 1986 featuring John Mueller, author of "Astaire Dancing: The Musical Films"
• Archival interviews with performers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and choreographer Hermes Pan
• New interview with George Stevens Jr.
• "In Full Swing," a new program on the film's choreography and soundtrack featuring jazz and film critic Gary Giddins, dance critic Brian Seibert, and Dorothy Fields biographer Deborah Grace Winer

"Swing Time"


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