Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jumping with Symphony Cyd

Cyd Charisse died today at age 86, and if you're too young or too 'feard of musicals, you owe it to yourself to get to know her work. For Hollywood has never seen legs like Cyd's, and she knew exactly how to move them. There's something both beautiful and severe about her face, and it never seems quite as comfortable as her body does, but that makes her all the more fascinating; there's a sense that while dancing her body gets away from her, gives her up, exposes her in ways any actress now disrobing in an age of casual screen nudity doesn't come close to. It's both precise and a release, and how much joy that must be, and why, say, in The Band Wagon when she and Fred Astaire complete the worldess "Dancing in the Dark" number and slink back into that hansom cab, it's as if they've had the best sex of their lives. It's also why she's the perfect embodiment of the Soviet aparatchick [sic] in Silk Stockings, slowly giving herself over to the decadent pleasures of the West--her body moves decadently itself and simply, finally, found its place in Paris and silk (go YouTube that stocking dance, a dress-tease, as it were). Communism doesn't stand a chance. After all, as Pauline Kael writes about her performance in The Band Wagon, "When the bespangled Charisse wraps her phenomenal legs around Astaire, she can be forgiven everything, even her three minutes of 'classical' ballet and the fact that she reads her lines as if she learned them phonentically." In some ways she is the last great silent movie star, for she didn't have to speak a word to get us to feel many things.

So, while you need to see The Band Wagon, Silk Stockings, It's Always Fair Weather (I highlighted that for you last summer), and of course the way she turns Gene Kelly to jelly in Singin' in the Rain (good thing for Debbie Reynolds she only had to beat out Jean Hagen and not Charisse), there's also moments like this one in Party Girl, a musical, sort of, by Nicholas Ray, whose directorial skills are decidedly more atuned to the dramatic (ah, In a Lonely Place, The Lusty Men, and Bigger than Life). But even Ray knew enough to let Charisse turn her back on the Tula Ellice Finklea she was at birth and become a legend of the most decidedly motion pictures.



Blogger Mike said...

One of the sexiest screen women from an era where Hollywood was decidedly un-sexy.

That scene in Singin in the Rain? Man, what can you say?

4:18 AM  
Blogger Cookie Jill said...

Class all the way.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

That dress is a character in the dance, too. I think I need one of those.

2:02 PM  
Blogger George said...

Shoot. I had a whole thing about the dress to write, or at least ideas to try to write, and forgot. Charisse had a habit of being attached to much gown, as if designers couldn't help but try to balance those wonderful legs with as much material as possible. Not that her legs need any balance.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

Legs, balance, beauty...do I need to say more??
Margaret,a fellow dancer at heart

7:01 PM  

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