Cavell on Astaire (again)

A good while back, I posted a film clip, from The Band Wagon, that Stanley Cavell made the subject of his Presidential Address to the APA in 1996 (that paper was entitled “Something Out of the Ordinary“). You can read that post (and see that clip) by clicking here. I thought I’d go ahead and post a clip of the other scene in that film that Cavell has chosen to write about as well, in an essay entitled “Fred Astaire Asserts the Right to Praise” (available in the collection, Philosophy the Day After Tomorrow). We offer this clip here for your viewing pleasure, but also as a teaching aid, in case any of you decide to assign this essay in one of your courses.

Cavell introduces the clip like this:

We left Astaire, in the first routine, nervously syllabifying his song (Da-da-ing). Two friends hail him, and in the course of his then strolling with them down 42nd Street (a principal site of the old “Broadway”), where he had been a star, his friends excitedly chattering about a great new script for his comeback, and for a new kind of theater, Astaire becomes disoriented, asks what has happened to the Broadway theaters, points to one or two absences of places he had played, and contrives to extricate himself for a while from their company. (A flâneur has–has he not?–to be alone within the world.) He crosses a wide, crowded sidewalk toward an amusement Arcade and at its entrance asks a man behind a counter, “Say, didn’t this used to be the Elgin Theater?” The man’s answer is at once to put a hot dog in Astaire’s hand. The routine has begun.

What unfolds is a masterpiece of dance, or of something inseparable from serious dance, as complex and eventful as the earlier routine on the train platform was simple and uneventful. In it, the issues raised by the first routine are settled, or unsettled, taken to a new place. Not only have Astaire’s feet become visible, but they seem to become the leading characters of the routine. And he not only does not continue to hover, but at a certain point leaps to earth, with extraordinary consequences. Just how and where has this man managed this metamorphosis or quasi-metempsychosis (not finding a new body but finding his own body anew)?

Here, now, is the film clip:


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