Dance Crazy in Hollywood
Hermes Pan began choreographing Hollywood musicals in 1933 and for three decades was the man who made the stars dance and created an American dance culture through pictures. The last film of Pan before his death in 1990, this program is both a unique collection of the best of Hollywood dance and a precious archive of one of cinema's greatest choreographers.
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The DVD at hand - titled "Dance Crazy in Hollywood" is subtitled "A Film about Choreographer Hermes Pan.". It was a French/USA production made in 1990 (when Pan was 81 years old) and it was directed by Robert Kuperberg. A search of IMDb shows that Kuperberg died earlier this year in Paris and that he directed 21 documentaries. Interestingly this film is not mentioned.
After four minutes of dance numbers from unidentified films (until the final credits) like "Can Can" (Sinatra dancing) and "Cleopatra" (mostly topless women dancing in pasties) we hear a brief narration by a French woman speaking in English. (If you don't laugh when you hear her say that Pan choreographed for man also but he preferred to do it for women such as Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse, Rita Hayworth and Michael Jackson", I'll be surprised! From this point out the only "narration" is from Pan himself, stuttering through why he was such a good chorographer (he was) while discussing some of those he liked but never worked for. This would be interesting if he then introduced clips to see the dances and that they were in decent condition. We're not so lucky. Nearly every print was fuzzy or out of focus or jumpy. When Kuperberg decides to show us aerial scenes of downtown Hollywood - often in the middle of a musical dance number - the camera shakes! There are films that have nothing to do with Pan. We are given two Soundies (The Marshalls - who sing, not dance - are shown in "Showboat Melodies". WHY? - and then a really poor print of Bill Robinson tap dancing.). At one point Pan talks about the song "Shall We Dance" and what plays in the background? "Cheek to Cheek"!
As I said nowhere during the film are the names up the films shown provided until the final credits. I guess most of them - they were obvious - but a novice might not. I'm not sure who decided to leave Pan to just say what he wanted to and not edit out the "uh"'s as well as some embarrassing comments. At what point he says (I'm probably paraphrasing here, but close) that "as I professional choreographer I noted that white people always clap on the beat while blacks always click on the backbeat". Really? All of them?
What makes the DVD also problematic is the packaging. Like all the other Arthaus releases I've seen there is a nice 24-page booklet enclosed with seven nice photos of Pan accompany four-page essays on his life, in English, French and German. None of this has any real relation to what is in the film.
I'd really like to know more about Pan and his career - and hear an edited version of his comments. But with really fuzzy prints, often very poor sound and jumpy camera shots, this film is definitely a head-banger!
I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.