A Tribute to Fred Astaire…
Copyright by Morgan McFinn
It’s New Year’s Eve in a little wooden bungalow along the banks of the Kampot River in southern Cambodia. I suppose it’s New Year’s Eve damn near every place else on the planet, as well. I’m just trying to bestow upon this piece a bit of local habitation which I’m told good writers do. Allegedly, a point of specific geographical reference is appreciated by discerning readers. Why?...I have no idea. Perhaps, they consider the writer more worldly. Most people haven’t a clue where Cambodia is…never mind the Kampot River. Then again, I understand that most Americans don’t even know where Cleveland is…well, other than the people who live there. Do people still live in Cleveland?
In any case, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m old enough to remember watching Fred Astaire films on television leading up to Guy Lombardo and his orchestra at midnight. The film plots were fairly routine stuff…boy meets girl, falls in love, woos her, gets jilted, perseveres, wins her heart and they live happily ever after until the next film. You don’t watch Astaire films for compelling plots. You watch to marvel at the dancing. No one ever did it better than Mr. Astaire. George Ballantine, Rudolf Nureyev, Michael Baryshnikov and Bob Fosse are all on record declaring him the best dancer of all time. There is definitely something awe-inspiring to have the privilege of observing greatness. It’s not necessarily important what that something is. I’ve worked with vertical mill operators and tool and die makers who were great at what they did. For Astaire, it was dancing. If only I could write like he could dance…if only I could do anything like he could dance. Somebody once asked me who my favorite dance partner of his was. It’s an impossible question to answer…I never paid that much attention to who he was dancing with. It could have been a hat-rack which, in one routine, it was. If I recall correctly…it may have been a naked Ginger.
One exception…Cyd Clarisse. ‘Dancing in the Dark’ in the park in the movie ‘Bandwagon’. She and Astaire together were poetry in motion.
And, it wasn’t just the dancing. It was the whole aura about the man. Namely, the supreme elegance and gracefulness. He was compelling just standing still with his feet crossed. It was his style and, sadly, that style is no longer in style. Rudeness and crudeness prevail across the board…not least of all, in the fields of what’s meant to be entertainment.
Hopefully, the prevailing fashions will ooze down the sewers of cultural history where they belong. People would be well advised to watch a Fred Astaire film every so often just to be reminded that there was a time when elegance and gracefulness were in vogue. Maybe, they could apply just a touch of it to their own lives. What’s for damn sure is that the one thing this world doesn’t need any more of is vulgarity.
Happy New Year Mr. Astaire from an admirer who lives in a little wooden bungalow along the banks of the Kampot River in southern Cambodia.