The elections and the world news have let me a bit down lately. For example, Richard Baehr, a brilliant political analyst, sees a major war coming in the Middle East. The implications are Apocalyptic. I need a pick-me-up — and what better to do that than Fred Astaire?
I was very excited to find on YouTube one of my absolutely favorite numbers from Swing Time, my favorite of the Fred and Ginger movies. Although every dance in that movie is sheer perfection, the Bojangles of Harlem routine is particularly good because it’s such an amalgam of everything that is American: Fred Astaire, the son of Austrian immigrants, dancing to music written by Jerome Kern, the son of German Jews, does a beautiful homage to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, one of the most brilliant dancers who ever lived, and a man who also happened to be a black American during a time of tremendous discrimination.
People watching this dance are often taken aback because Astaire is in blackface. It’s the only old movie, though, where that doesn’t disturb me. Fred isn’t in blackface to denigrate African-Americans. He’s in blackface because he’s trying to get into the very skin of one of his dance idols — and this respect shows. In any event, here it is. See what you think.
UPDATE: By the way, if you want to see Bill Robinson’s own perfect rhythm and amazing . . . well, delicacy, for want of a better word, check out this scratchy old video from 1932: