Well, here’s something you don’t see everyday: a well-written essay by Stanley Crouch. Sure, he goes overboard comparing Fred Astaire to Louis Armstrong–the essay’s entire concept is a stretch to begin with–and he takes an unnecessary swipe at Ginger Rogers. But here’s a taste of why Crouch is (for once in his damn life) compelling instead of windbaggy:
Astaire, who well understood swing, was one of Armstrong’s children. As Arlene Croce and others have observed, Astaire took the cinematic dance number away from the artifice of overhead shots and camera positions that were unlike what one would see in person. Astaire had no need for a logistical visual genius like Busby Berkeley. Astaire wanted the camera to serve the dancer so that all the complexity, nuance, and expression would be the dancer’s responsibility. He would not stand for crosscutting or anything other than the camera being far enough away to capture his entire body. The reason: His instrument stretched from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Novelty shots and startling setups were replaced with a luminescent individual power held in place by an overwhelming ease. Astaire gave the impression that the way he was moving at any moment was three things plaited together: the only, the most natural, and the best choice.
There’s more; hop to it, folks.