Vintage movies provide respite from the dark Oscar Slate – Deadline

Let’s face it: Navigating the Oscar nominees list is a challenge this year, so I was intrigued by a filmmaker’s winning formula. “The key is to mix and match,” he advised. “I watch the characters painfully cross Nomadland, then turn to dancing Fred Astaire Top hat. I go from Ma Rainey’s black background at Easter parade. The objective: “It is the real against the unreal; I need them one after the other to appreciate them. Or survive them.

His explanation may seem offhand, but it reflects the escape mechanism adopted by some moviegoers to deal with the lockdown year isolation – a new dig at Hollywood glitter. The current list of nominees clearly reflects the themes of the day – race, caste, sex politics, immigration. He also embodies the anguished Hollywood vibe.

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All this would have intrigued Fred Astaire. In his film Funny head, when Astaire hears a friend describe a girl as “very intelligent”, he quips: “You are as interested in her intellect as I am.” In fact, Astaire was a shrewd and cultured man who respected women but also knew how to take advantage of his flexible arms and flashing feet.

Rigorously apolitical, Astaire devoted himself to the cause of entertainment. I had always looked forward to my occasional dinners with him years ago when he regaled me with stories of his fights with David O. Selznick and the other powerful Hollywood players. His battles revolved around issues like camera position – he wanted the camera to follow his precise movements rather than mimic the extravagant aerial shots of Busby Berkeley. “If the camera dances, I don’t,” he said.

The stars of the Astaire Generation would be puzzled by the edgy vibe of today’s Hollywood, where every passing phrase or passing tweet is subjected to scrutiny. The director who mixed up the films told me he couldn’t remember a time when the filmmakers, or the executives, were so restless. “When I hear myself shouting ‘Action’ to start a scene, I instinctively add, ‘it’s unofficial,’ he says.

While he jokes, the mandates of diversity and political nuance nonetheless tend to dominate professional conversation, with “human resources” casting its long shadow. In a sense, the movement to “contextualize” films from an earlier era reflects these attitudes.

HBO Max shot Blown away by the wind for a month until he could insert a four-minute intro to establish perspective – a narrator explaining to viewers that the film “denies the horror of slavery.” The AMC series Mad Men was also removed due to a blackface scene, then restored with an animator explaining that the scene “shows how commonplace racism was in America in 1963.” In both cases, the official position of the company was that it was “determined to speak out against injustices within our society”. The TCM series, Cropped: Classic Movies in the Rearview Mirror, started on March 4.

Admirers of the films of a generation ago might argue that their ignorance of social issues was part of their charm. Once again, Astaire’s work reflects this challenge: in the midst of the worst depression of the 1930s, Astaire played a well-to-do shrink who fell for glamor Ginger Rogers (Carefree, 1938). As World War II raged, Astaire emerged as a high-flying player in Buenos Aires who plays horses and falls in love with Rita Hayworth (You have never been more beautiful, 1942). During the Cold War, Astaire was cast as a high-profile American producer who mingles with a Russian femme fatale played by Cyd Charisse (Silk stockings, 1957).

Astaire died in 1987.

Of course, these films all profess a Hollywood gloss that combines Astaire’s dancing with lush scores by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin or Jerome Kern. And no one seems to think about caste or even notice race. Even the anguish seems overwhelmed. No wonder they still bring comfort to weary Academy voters.

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