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Things We Love: Dance, Girl, Dance

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TCM posted a great write-up on Dance, Girl, Dance today -- ahead of its airing again on July 8:



Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), a film by the only female director in Hollywood at the time, Dorothy Arzner--was a failure at the box office. Critics plotted it somewhere on the disheartening spectrum between non-event and total disaster. As The New York Times' Bosley Crowther bemoaned, "Dance, Girl, Dance is just a cliché-ridden, garbled repetition of the story of the aches and pains in a dancer's rise to fame and fortune. It's a long involved tale told by a man who stutters." But like most films with implications so vast and bold as to help us see the cinema with new eyes, Dance, Girl, Dance had to wait patiently in a dusty archive somewhere for history to catch up to it.

Like all of Arzner's films, Dance, Girl, Dance made the surprisingly daring assertion that the dynamics between women are varied and complex. The story of a ballerina, Judy (Maureen O'Hara), and a burlesque dancer, Bubbles (Lucille Ball), Dance, Girl, Dance explored the tensions between these two types of dance and, by extension, these two types of women. High and low class, art and commerce, the good girl and the--ahem--experienced woman about town: Dance, Girl, Dance seemed to have it all for a generation of 1970s feminist film scholars who were also trying to unmoor the tropes that had historically defined on-screen women. Arzner's films became foundational texts for these thinkers who were not only changing the face and focus of academic film studies but shaping the era's broader conversations about power relations in society. Perhaps more than any other Arzner film, Dance, Girl, Dance seemed conscious of the traditional perspective it was upsetting and deliberate in its address.

One moment in particular from Dance, Girl, Dance captured the hearts and minds of feminist scholars, and continues to be a show stopper today, a moment when the cinema reaches out to call our name. Bubbles has struck success with her burlesque show and brought on Judy as her stooge--the ballerina's dignified dance to contrast with Bubbles' salacious (and vastly preferred) numbers. Show after show, Judy gets booed off stage by audiences who demand exactly the kind of entertainment they paid for. Facing a particularly rowdy house, Judy is about to run off stage in embarrassment, but stops short. She gazes out at the heckling crowd and her eyes--those distinctive Maureen O'Hara eyes--narrow. She marches to the front of the stage while the orchestra peters to gaping silence. We see her from back stage, a glowing white silhouette in spotlight before a vast dark audience. Gone is the buoyancy of ballet; here she faces her crowd feet rooted. And when she addresses them, we cut to a new angle; we are now among the people, our seats at home just a few more in that stunned music hall. Standing strong, Judy delivers a breathtaking monologue that challenges us to think hard about the image before us, to take it seriously, to interrogate our relationship to it, and to imagine that it too has a perspective. You'll have to watch to see exactly what Judy has to say to us, but I hope you'll feel as much as I do that moments like this and films like Dance, Girl, Dance teach us anew the joy of critically engaging with the cinema.



MORE: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/953594|0/Things-We-Love-This-Month.html

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