A few weeks ago, Cyd Charisse died, and the TCM channel put on a retrospective of her films. Since I am a fan of movie dancing, and especially of the ballet-trained Charisse, I wanted to see these, but was busy that night. So I taped them, and last night I watched "Silk Stockings."
I'm still in a state of delayed feminist outrage.
The film, made and set in the 1950's, features Charisse as a Russian "commissar" who is in Paris to retrieve a Soviet composer, who is defecting. Instead of carrying out her mission, she falls in love with Fred Astaire and, after several improbable dance numbers, also defects. All right, it's a musical comedy; it was the Cold War; nobody expects a biting political analysis of American-Soviet relations. Nobody even expects a plot that makes sense. I'm fine with all that.
What I'm not fine with is the underlying message about the female commissar. Before Astaire, she is a capable woman with a career, beliefs (however politically severe), and shoes a person can walk in. After Astaire, she sings lines like "Without a man, a woman is a zero" and "To a man, a woman is a woman/ To a woman, a man is her life." She becomes unemployed. She wears four-inch heels. She faints from stress.
Now, I know this movie is a period piece and one should not judge period pieces by contemporary standards. (I once heard a panelist at an SF con say that no one should ever read Homer "because he was a slaver." Gene Wolfe, also on the panel, turned purple.) Nonetheless, "Silk Stockings," made not in the ancient world but within my own lifetime, angered me. Nothing could have made clearer why we needed a Women's Movement.
But the dancing was terrific.