Thursday, June 19, 2008

simply cyd (there was only one cyd)

The divine Cyd Charisse, who left us on June 19th at age 86 or thereabouts, was a full-scale movie star, even though few people, fans included, thought of her as an actress per se. Perhaps it's too intricate to think of dance as a highly stylized form of acting. But that's what it is.

Cyd Charisse elevated every move she danced on film, even in the most benign MGM musical, to a tidy little drama. Working with some of the best dancers and choreographers, she became adept at a singular kind of storytelling. Michael Kidd, Eugene Loring, Hermes Pan, Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were all her choreographic mentors.

And each time, I'm sure she exceeded their expectations, particularly with the graceful sexuality that she managed to sneak into each number for and with them. OK, perhaps she wasn't really that sneaky about it.

Although Charisse eventually segued into dramatic roles in such films as Joseph Pevney's "Twilights for the Gods," Nicholas Ray's "Party Girl," Minnelli's "Two Weeks in Another Town" and Phil Karlson's "The Silencers," one mostly remembers her fabulous dances on film, each punctuated by those long, shapely, seemingly endless legs:

The "Broadway Melody Ballet" from Donen and Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" ... "Dancing in the Dark" and the "Girl Hunt Ballet," both from Minnelli's "The Band Wagon" ... And those otherwise anonymous dance numbers from Rouben Mamoulian's "Silk Stockings," Donen-Kelly's "It's Always Fair Weather" and Minnelli's "Brigadoon."

A handful of wonderful, lyrical musical moments. That doesn't seem like very much. And yet, it's a lot.

Cyd Charisse - that wasn't her real name, of course, and yet she managed to effortlessly embody it - was alternately exotic, beautiful and just plain radiant. And sexy.

And she could dance.

And that made her ... cinematic.

More than cinematic actually. Divine.

Note in Passing: Turner Classics, which coincidentally screened "Brigadoon" yesterday (June 18th), will be showing "The Band Wagon" at 9:15 a.m. (est) on Monday, June 23rd, and will also devote an evening to the actress-dancer on Friday, June 27th, with screenings of "Singin' in the Rain," "The Band Wagon" and "Silk Stockings," beginning at 8 p.m. (est).

(Artwork: Cyd and Fred in the sublime "Dancing in the Dark" number from Minnelli's "The Band Wagon")


Janeen said...

She was certainly singular. I could never understand why MGM would only push some of its musical stars. It seems to me that Charisse never got the exposure or promotion that went to Ann Miller and Eleanor Powell. As good as she was, Cyd Charisse could have done so much more for MGM

joe baltake said...

I know. I personallyhave always been bothered by those "That's Entertainment" films which seemed to hype Judy, Gene and Fred exclusively. And Astaire wasn't really a Metro star; he made his name at RKO. But MGM liked to think that it invented anything to do with movie musicals. The studio really never did much for Jane Powell, Howard Keel or Marge and Gower Champion, all of them aces in my book