Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dance, girl, dance (1940)

What an odd duck this is from Dorothy Arzner, one of the few female directors of the time. During the 70s Arzner was firmly claimed by feminist film theorists who proceded to mould her into their desired image, along the way discounting her own view of her films, aspirations and ideals. Much has been made of 'disrupting paradigms' as if being gay automatically made one a revolutionary in all aspects of one's life and the image of her in masculine clothing has been as much analysed and over interpreted as her work. Which is a shame because this is quite an enjoyable film.

This is the story of two dancers - one makes it big as a burlesque star, Miss Tiger Lily White, one sticks to classical ballet but accepts the $25 dollar paycheck to act as a stooge - stick a ballet number after a red hot burlesque number and you've guaranteed they'll be howling for more of the Tiger Lily.

Arzner, speaking of another film, rather let the feminists down when she said her favourite character was not the strong women but the male who suffers for not knowing his own heart (an uncomfortable moment for feminist critics). Much the same element is noticeable in Dance; there is much sympathy for the suffering of the male romantic lead, who is clearly not in love with his leading lady. And his leading ladies are pretty fabulous. Maureen O'Hara, she who suffers for her art, is a real sweetheart who has the sense to recognise her naivety. Lucille Ball - oh how I love her in her early days, all streetwise savvy - a real wisecracking broad who knows where the money is and man does the girl have chutzpah! She makes a fabulous burlesque queen - a wink from her certainly packs a punch! Here there is no case of good girl / bad girl. In fact this is one of the real features of Azner's movies - the lack of typical Hollywood judgement. Sure the girls have a bit of a cat fight, but they're all square by the end of the film. No one has to choose between a career and love. No one is saved by love. The leading man goes back to his wife but you're pleased for him. Maureen gets her art and possibly love - but the main emphasis is on her new career opportunities. And Lucille gets the money and a flourishing career she's clearly in charge of - she's certainly not going to get chewed up and spat out by 'bad' low class vaudeville.

There's a fabulous 'go girl' moment when Maureen turns upon the jeering crowd and returns their gaze - the objectified performer returning their stare levelly. It's not so much 'oh you're horrible men' as 'you foolish men' for these girls know just exactly what they're doing and they're calling the shots. A lot has been made of this and, while I'm suspicious of much of the rhetoric surrounding this director, it is a great moment of female solidarity.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-feminist. And I've only passing familiarity with Azner scholarship. It just seems that just because Azner was a lesbian, every decision she made has become politicised. And in this way you deny her the right to be an individual. I'm also probably a bit cranky with film theorists in general and their impenetrable discourse. I dunno. I've watched six films in a row and think the little grey cells are a bit tired.

1 comment:


ahh no, being lesbian certainly doesn't equate to being a womyn's liberationist - i remember going to a few lesbian separatist functions in the 70s and being horrified at how some treated others - it was no different to the use and abuse by some men!!!!

but i am a great believer in the adage - "the personal is political"....

and this definitely wasn't a 'ditzy womon' movie - the womyn had 'sass' - i too loved Lucille Ball in this era...