Here are a couple pieces of pop culture we would kiss if we could.
‘And Then We Danced’ and ‘The Red Shoes’
Dancing is discouraged by state decree.
We’re not quite in "Footloose" territory (yet), and the reason you can’t cut a rug right now is a good one. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday ordered that bars can reopen at 25% capacity starting Friday, but not without safety guidelines. At booze joints, patrons are supposed to keep the physical distance that helps stems the spread of the coronavirus, the reason the bars were shut down in the first place. So, no dancing for now.
If you walked through downtown Austin this week, you would have seen the lights off inside Coconut Club. Same for Highland Lounge, tables and ATMs inside turned to ghosts by plastic tarps. All of our best places to jump and writhe and wiggle and drop and bop and sweat, just as still as we’ve been kept lately.
We’re not much without our movement, as the character Merab knows in "And Then We Danced." Played with righteous sensitivity by first-time actor Levan Gelbakhiani in the heartbreaking Swedish-Georgian film, he dances with grace that speaks what he can’t, or what he doesn’t yet know he needs to say. Merab studies traditional Georgian dance, a masculine and aggressive style. But he is soft, softer still when handsome Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) joins the company. They complement each other, first as rivals, then as lovers.
The premise of director Levan Akin’s film is old Hollywood with a queer twist. "And Then We Danced" is often its best when the protagonists stop sublimating their physical life into the hard, archaic shapes their national dance demands and drift through fraught, glowing nights in a post-Soviet republic. On a getaway to the countryside, Merab becomes liquid as he dances privately for Irakli to Robyn’s song "Honey." Straining so hard against his nature that he’s breaking, Merab in another scene enters a darkened gay dance club, where there’s no sense in maintaining any sort of frame to your body as the beat stays hard enough for everyone.
"And Then We Danced," which Sweden chose as their submission for the most recent Academy Awards, might tweak at your desire for physical connection in the pandemic. It’s a swooner, though — visually and emotionally.
Speaking of classic movie magic with a twist, no film’s done more to turn dance into cinematic art than "The Red Shoes." I mean, there might be another — I love the "Step Up" movies, honestly — but this is in the Criterion Collection, and I’m feeling swept up in rapture over here.
Restored a few years ago with gorgeous colors, "The Red Shoes" layers a Hans Christian Andersen fable into its own mirror-image plot about a dancer possessed. By what? Art, love, demonic footwear. A little from all the columns, man.
The curve in the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger masterpiece is that, for a ballet movie that came out before Queen Elizabeth was on the throne, it’s trippy as hell. Some critics might say "visually stunning" or "daring in form," but nah. I’m saying this is one to call up when you need to break from reality a little and sink into the hot tub of your subconscious.
Fans of classic films shouldn’t need much convincing, with the movie’s sharp period fashions and fetch-the-chaise melodrama. But even if you wouldn’t count yourself in the Turner Classic Movies crowd, "The Red Shoes" is imbued with an otherworldly strangeness that still compels today. Moira Shearer, also a first-time film actor, cuts one of the most startling mugs in film history as the tormented ballerina Victoria. Her eyes glint with madness, helped considerably by makeup to which Darren Aronofsky’s "Black Swan" owes a Mother’s Day card. As the insatiable dance impresario who discovers Victoria, Anton Walbrook gives a discordant performance best described as "distracted Vincent Price going full warlock."
The reason most people watch "The Red Shoes," and why it endures in popular cinematic imagination, is its phantasmic centerpiece dance sequence. As the performers dance the titular ballet, reality rends itself in twain. What starts off as a classy studio movie grace note bends so far and so subtly into visual nightmare that it starts to creep out of the screen. If "The Red Shoes" had been made in the 1960s, sure, a scary acid trip vibe would check out. But 1948? What you see and what you know of the times can’t help but clash into chilling, thrilling, perhaps cursed entertainment for our hallucinatory, isolated times.
MORE THINGS WE LOVE SO MUCH
We Love This So Much: A Sondheim YouTube spiral
We Love This So Much: Dua Lipa is the sound of quarantine