Why Swing Time Is the Greatest of All Dance Films

Over the course of their ten films together, the fleet-footed Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers took many memorable spins. But their dancing in Swing Time, the sublime 1936 musical that marked their sixth pairing, is a cut above. “I think of [it] as the best dance film ever made, because of the way that dance is integrated into the film,” says critic Brian Seibert in this video, a clip from a supplement included on our new edition of the movie. Seibert goes on to show how the three-hop step introduced in the feature’s very first dance—initiated when Rogers’s instructor reluctantly gives a few pointers to Astaire’s gambling hoofer (who himself is feigning two left feet)—is incorporated into later, much more complex numbers. When glimpsed fleetingly during the characters’ eventual performances together at the Silver Sandal nightclub, those three hops serve as a reminder of just how far the two have come since that inauspicious first dance. Such compositional sophistication is, as Seibert finds, on a par more with the ballets of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins than with the standard, then as now, for Hollywood musicals.

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