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Friday, December 7, 2007

My Vintage Life

Last week, in addition to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I went to the SF Art Deco Show.

The Concourse was filled with vendors from around the country selling incredible vintage furniture, art, accessories and clothing. The recorded music of San Francisco's Royal Society Jazz Orchestra added to the energy of the room.

The Boy remarked that both of us are nostalgic for an era we never lived in, and it's quite true. Everything from the 20s to the 40s: movies, fashion, books, architecture, cars (and for me especially, the makeup and hairstyles)--we can't get enough of it. It seems more natural for me to be attracted to the look of things from those years than the present time. I have always been that way. It's almost like remembering, sometimes wistfully.

And then I made a beeline for the vintage clothing sellers. The selection was so overwhelming that I didn't end up buying anything at all. I felt like I was in a museum, but better, because I could touch the velvets and silks, and try things on. I spent a great amount of time trying on hats. It was heaven.

It's amazing to see how some of these delicate dresses have survived over the years and are still truly beautiful. At 2pm, there was a fashion show, and it was tailor-made for me. The theme was the Evolution of Dance and Fashion. The presentation started with the late 1800s and the waltz. All of the gowns were authentic to each period being described and they were exquisite. The dresses, most of which had such imaginative designs and details and beautiful beading, were so flattering to the women's figures. They enhanced their femininity without being overly revealing.

The fashions became shorter and more free-flowing as the waltz evolved into the foxtrot, Charleston, etc., all the way up to the Mashed Potato, but my interest peaked at the tango, of course. I wished I could have been one of the models (she didn't know how to demonstrate the steps like I could have) but more likely it was that I wanted to wear one of the dresses.

The merging of dance and fashion and films swirled through my head that day, especially since I ended up at the Silent Film Festival that evening.

I wanted to share the following tango movie clip with you: Rudolph Valentino in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). (You may have already seen it on Tango Love and Other Devil's great post about tango in the movies, but I think it's worth watching again.) I find this clip in particular so compelling. I like the energy and look of this short dance so much more than anything you could see on Dancing with the Stars and its ilk, that other brand of tango made for popular consumption.

As La Tanguera notes wisely, the style of dancing cannot be compared to the mastery of tango dancers then or now. I like watching this clip and viewing it as if I am seeing it for the first time, when the movie was released in 1921. According to wikipedia: The film was a commercial and critical success and made Valentino a star, earning him the nickname "Tango Legs." (And ladies, check out the spurs on his boots. In those days, it was the man who wore the dangerous stilettos, no?)

Talk about a shot heard around the world. Valentino had millions of adoring fans, so I'm trying to imagine the impact that his tango dancing must have had on the world at large. I'm guessing that he must have played an instrumental role in bringing tango into the awareness of the modern masses which, in some way, connects to us today.


Alex December 7, 2007 at 6:37 PM  

Hey Baby...

In the book "Tango:The Art History of Love" (which I don't have with me right now...), if my memory serves me, the author makes a fairly compelling argument of how Argentine tango exploded (at least in Europe) after Valentino's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse came out. Don't quote me, but I am reasonably sure about this...

tangobaby December 7, 2007 at 9:15 PM  

Cool! I will have to get that book. I would love to read more about it--Thank you!

Anonymous December 8, 2007 at 9:40 AM  

How decadent! And terrific! And -- well, just effing brilliant. Although I think a couple of the locals must have gotten pointers from this clip.

Is it just me, or do Valentino and Gardel look like brothers separated at birth?

danzarin December 8, 2007 at 12:20 PM  

Great clip...Much better representation of tango than any of the caricatures that we see as part of todays Holywood movies...

Elizabeth December 10, 2007 at 11:18 AM  

It is interesting how these older photos and films of tango come up from time to time in the tango world. Just last week my partner was in a "men's technique" class and the instructor talked about the influence of Valentino's movies on tango, and also about the macho quality, the sense of male competition and fighting, all being a part of tango. The teacher was also using it, (as I understand it) to show how "close embrace" was not the real tango or early tango, as some would have us believe. Not that Valentino was "real tango", but he was drawing on some aspects of tango at that time of course. And you can also see the roots of that style in film of actual dancers of that time. No?

dutchbaby December 11, 2007 at 10:03 AM  

Please let me know the next time this show comes to SF. I would love to go to it. I would only have to figure out how to restrain myself!

dutchbaby December 11, 2007 at 10:03 AM  

Please let me know the next time this show comes to SF. I would love to go to it. I would only have to figure out how to restrain myself!

tangobaby December 21, 2007 at 11:31 AM  

Boy, I dropped the ball on replies to this post. Sorry gals.

Johanna, I think you're right. There definitely is a resemblance but perhaps part of it was just the Latin lover image prevalent at the time? Those guys looked good.

Danzarin, I agree. Even though the technique is not what we would call perfect, you can see the passion in their dance. So different from today's presentation of tango in movies with its showiness and quick, choppy edits that don't allow you to focus on the dancers.

Elizabeth, yes, you get the pervasive feeling of the influences of tango, the setting of it. Whether it is real or imagined, it adds to the dance itself. It's not performed in a vaccum.

Dutchbaby, they have another show in the spring/summer. I'll be sure to keep you posted. Save your pennies until them.