`Top Hat' is song and dance at its best


Film Column

September 13, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The Saturday revival series at the Charles delivers pop perfection tomorrow with the 1935 smash Top Hat.

In the dialogue and situations, the director, Mark Sandrich, and the writers, Dwight Taylor and Allan Scott, deftly milk all manner of farcical misunderstandings. Fred Astaire plays a song-and-dance man headlining a London show, Ginger Rogers a high-society model who mistakes him for his married producer (Edward Everett Horton). Irving Berlin provided the music and lyrics; as usual, the key numbers - "Isn't This a Lovely Day?" and "Cheek to Cheek" - divulge and heighten the couple's true feelings.

In addition to Horton, and Helen Broderick as his wife, the character actors who make each bit of wordplay count include Eric Blore as Horton's valet and Erik Rhodes as the malaprop-spewing dress designer Alberto Beddini.

In this, their biggest hit, Astaire and Rogers make a superb comic-romantic team, though he still dominates the dancing. Top Hat is the movie that inspired Graham Greene to describe Astaire, in his freedom and lightness, as "a human Mickey Mouse."

The screening starts at noon; admission is $5. Call 410-727-FILM.

Cinema Sundays

The next morning, Cinema Sundays at the Charles kicks off its fall season of exclusive advance screenings and after-movie discussions with The Kid Stays in the Picture. From documentary filmmakers Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen, who last gave us On The Ropes, it's a slick first-person portrait of Robert Evans, Paramount studio's one-time savior and the producer of Chinatown, who thinks his life is as glamorous and magical as an Astaire-Rogers picture. Albeit one with sex and drugs.

Although it may seem like an odd keynote choice for what's often been a cutting-edge series, it fits the rangy temperament of host and programmer Gabe Wardell, who has run the series for the last 94 programs. (This November marks the third anniversary of the death of series founder George Udel.) He's tried to give his audience entree to the whole world of movies, whether frothy or foaming with political ferment.

Often, that's meant going beyond the world of movies. "A series like this accentuates the shared aspect of watching a film," explains Wardell. "Some people would deny that watching a film is a political experience. By selecting films that deal with issues that are ripped from the headlines, we tap into people's experiences beyond the walls of the theater.

"Last year, we presented in the wake of 9/11 because we wanted to give everyone a place to gather and share in each other's company. The film, Himalaya, a look into a foreign, remote culture, brought us into a new world, and reminded us how small our world really is. The series has addressed numerous political and social issues, including a number of hot-button films on the Middle East, as well as Qayum Karzai's memorable presentation of Kandahar."

Karzai, owner of the Tapas Teatro restaurant adjacent to the Charles, is the brother of Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. As his participation indicates, Wardell often selects speakers who connect with the content of a movie. When it comes to film, he says, "Some are critics, others novices. It is always instructive when we can bring in someone with experience that relates directly to the film, like the arctic photographer who spoke at the screening of The Endurance, or when we had someone from the Maryland Film Office speak before State and Main [David Mamet's comedy about a Hollywood film production invading a Vermont town]. People respond to the variety of voices and experiences we can present."

The $15 single admission price includes coffee and bagels and can later be applied to a series membership. The doors open at 9:45 a.m. and the movie starts at 10:35. Information: www.cinemasundays.com.

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