I spent a perfect Sunday yesterday eating brunch and ordering Chinese food and sitting around my apartment with my charming inamorato watching movies. Among the movies watched was Smile, one of the most grievously under-rated films of the 70s. It is funny and smart with great performances by every working character actor of the past 30 years, a cast against type Bruce Dern, a very young Melanie Griffith, Barbara Feldon (Agent 99!) and Michael Kidd (more on him later). Essentially, everything that's wrong with middle-America is pretty much skewered. Michael Ritchie also directed the similarly excellent original Bad News Bears and The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (Seriously. If you've never seen this, rent it immediately.).
I couldn't help comparing it favorably to the Siti Company and Charles Mee's bobrauschenbergamerica which I saw a couple of weeks ago. I think the show was essentially trying to make the same points that were made (30 years earlier) in Smile. I'll likely get flack for it, but I really had a lot of problems with the show. It felt airless and arch and didn't work for me at all. But, enough about that and on to more important things, namely Michael Kidd!
In Smile, Michael Kidd plays the "Hollywood professional" who is hired to stage and choreograph the pageant. He is very, very funny in the movie. I didn't realize for years after first seeing Smile that in real life Michael Kidd was one of the most successful choreographers of the 20th century. He was a Jew from the Lower East Side who got a scholarship to the School of American Ballet and received 5 Tony awards for choreography, including for the original productions of Guys and Dolls and Can-Can. He co-starred in It's Only Fair Weather with Gene Kelly and choreographed the film Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. But, for people who really care about dance on film, the most important thing he ever did was to choreograph The Band Wagon in 1953. Fred Astaire mostly choreographed his own dances (collaborating with Hermes Pan on his films of the 30s), so working with Kidd was really something of an anomaly, and the results were spectacular.
Completely coincidentally, as I've been wanting to write something about Michael Kidd and The Band Wagon since yesterday, I discovered that today is Fred Astaire's birthday and my delightful movie-watching companion has an excellent blog post about him up today.
Below is the most famous sequence from The Band Wagon - Michael Jackson payed tribute to it in his Smooth Criminal video and it was also referenced in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical Once more With Feeling. Unfortunately, this truncated version was the only one I could find on YouTube. I have a feeling MGM is sending out cease and desist letters in bulk. But you can mostly get the idea.