Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Favorite Movie Dance, Bar None

In general, I detest movie musicals. When actors begin to dance and sing in a mob, I just wish they'd sit down and shut up. It's probably a genetic thing. My grandfather deeply loved classical music, but if male ballet dancers in tights began doing scissors kicks to Stravinsky across the TV screen, he'd turn it off. My aunt rose and stalked out of the theater during SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. She claimed she'd been offended by the broad Morning After grins of the Brides. Later, she admitted that the sight of all those actors caroling and prancing around "was enough to make me throw up twice." An uncle has said he can endure THE WIZARD OF OZ, but is waiting for the non-singing, non-dancing version. As for me, over the years I've sighed loudly, gossiped, shredded Kleenexes, devoured Milk Duds, and griped my way through other musicals which friends insisted I see.

But every once in awhile, a song or dance arises so spontaneously in a NONmusical that it's lodged like a sweet ember beneath my ribcage before I even know what hit me. Take Rudolph Valentino's smoking hot tango toward the beginning of the great old silent FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE. He awes the murderous drinkers in a cutthroat cantina with his coldly sexy moves, hurling his little monkey-woman partner all over the floor. Ninety years after that scene was shot, it still reduces a female audience to infatuated silence...and a good portion of the male. Or there's that moment in GODFATHER II when the little Vito Corleone, child of a murdered father and murdered mother, completely alone, friendless and quarantined in a foreign country, sits up in his pauper's nightshirt and sings his Italian folk song--in an unwavering voice.

And then there's this movie dance, my all-time favorite....

The film is Jim Jarmusch's DOWN BY LAW, and involves the escape of three prisoners who rush into a swamp for concealment. The most eccentric fugitive is played by Roberto Benigni (of course), and when the trio happen upon a young woman (Nicoletta Braschi), she and Roberto instantly fall in love. One minute they're strangers, and a few heartbeats later you sense they'll never willingly be parted. It's a wonderment, something like watching a car go from zero mph to 1000.

At the breakfast table next day, the fugitives are eating their bacon and eggs. Roberto says casually, "Let's have some music." He turns on the radio and we hear Irma Thomas's slow, lovely, funky version of the blues song "It's Raining." Roberto and Nicoletta begin to dance. Gradually it turns into the sweetest, most intimate and sensual dance you ever saw. There's no showy choreography, nothing especially graphic, just chemistry and true love. And it doesn't hurt that you know Roberto and Nicoletta are married in real life.

You can see it on YouTube, and if you haven't, don't wait another minute:

Down By Law - It's Raining

I'd write it in gems if I could.


  1. BUT BUT..I LOVE 'Seven Brides For Seven Brothers' My university roomie and I had three deep dark secret guilty pleasure movies we would share with no one. After a few doobies and some rums and a fresh pizza on the way we would spend our end of week watching movies and could never get enough of ',Seven Brides' 'The King and I' and 'Fiddler on the Roof' I still see him during an all night study session ripping off his shirt, jumping onto the large library table and belting out a rousing chorus of 'If I Were a Rich Man'...forever we were in deep and good with the Jewish lobby in the engineering dept.

  2. Cal, no wonder you and your roommate loved Seven Brides after "doobies and some rum"! I really liked your image of your roomie jumping on a table and singing "If I Were A rich Man". In Fiddler On The Roof, my favorite part is at the first wedding where all the dads and brothers and uncles leap into the blazing knee-drops of that incredible Cossack dance (which, by the way, I also happily watched at a REAL wedding this summer!) Yes, those are great moments.

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