Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hank Ballard, composer of "The Twist" and later James Brown collaborator

Chubby Checker doing some inter-racial Twisting
with a woman whose name has been lost in the mists of time

My beloved spouse and I saw Hairspray last night, the new movie adaptation of the stage musical that was adapted from the 1988 film of the same name. The plot revolves around the integration of a Baltimore pop-teen-dance TV show in the early ‘60s.

Coincidentally, James Wolcott has a brief history of the Twist in the current Vanity Fair. Wolcott identifies the source of the dance. Songwriter Hank Ballard saw black teenagers doing the dance on the real-life prototype of the Baltimore show fictionalized in Hairspray, The Buddy Deane Show, and wrote the song. Chubby Checker covered it, and the dance spread like crazy from there.

Wolcott mentions that the Twist was the first popular dance to de-couple the dancing couple and set people dancing singly, which in some respects is the birth of the ‘60s.

I’ve written before of what a loss it represented when the waltz did away with group dancing and ushered in couples dancing. I enjoy couples dancing, but its joys are less ecstatic, communal, and social than in other forms of dancing.

* * *


Some reactions to the film.

1. The acting is charming throughout. The standard blond villainess -- actually, her blond villainess daughter -- is even able to make the malapropism “moral turpentine” funny.

2. I love musicals. Serviceable tunes, witty lyrics -- it’s the mass dancing that I love.

3. John Travolta in fat suit does a great job in the Divine drag role (both pictured). Though the fat jokes would have been less comfortable if an actual overweight woman had played the role, and the love scenes would have been more touching too. And -- cowards! -- Travolta doesn’t get to smooch “her” husband Christopher Walken onscreen! Lame!

4. Great to see Travolta in a musical again.

5. The fetishization of dark black skin in one of the numbers sung by the black characters was historically simplistic and morally off.

6. Likewise the super-valorization of the white people who took part in the civil rights struggle. Yes, they were brave and good, but I doubt that the protest march was the brainchild of a white teenager, and I doubt that black people prostrated themselves in gratitude.

Despite my cavils, my spouse and I enjoyed it. Great dancing, mostly charming lyrics, mostly sweet story, terrific acting -- we laughed a lot.

In real life, The Buddy Deane Show was never integrated.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?