9.07.2013

Affect and the Hollywood musical: "Your sunny, funny face"



Is Fred Astaire sexy?  He made a career playing opposite such iconic female stars as Ginger Rogers, Cyd Charisse, and Audrey Hepburn, though they always feel a little bit out of his league.  He never smolders in the way that Cary Grant does, nor does he have Bogart’s raffish charm, or even Jimmy Stewart’s boy-next-door handsomeness.  Astaire’s looks are goofy, cartoonish, which makes it all the more dazzling whenever he starts dancing, and his entire body becomes a conduit for a kind of graceful dynamism, a brilliant energy that shoots out of his feet.  Nor was Astaire ever a very good singer.  His high, wavering little voice feels its way quietly through his songs.  The general effect of Astaire’s star persona is endearing: as with Stewart, his appeal lies in his sweetness and his affability, the broadness of his grin—and, of course, in the anachronistic elegance of his dancing.  Astaire makes us feel comfortable, perhaps because we aren’t likely to be threatened or intimidated by his looks.  Hence the slightly comic irony that materializes when, in Funny Face (dir. Stanley Donen, 1957), Astaire must convince Audrey Hepburn that "though [she’s] no Mona Lisa, / for worlds [he’d] not replace / [her] sunny, funny face.  I wouldn’t replace Astaire’s face either, but his is by far the funnier one.     

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