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Warner Home Video presents
That's Dancing! (1985)

"Long before the dawn of history, long before he could sing or even speak, man danced."
- Gene Kelly

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: September 14, 2007

Stars: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ray Bolger, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gene Kelly, Liza Minnelli
Other Stars: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler, Eleanor Powell, Shirley Temple, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, The Nicholas Brothers, Vera Zorina, Moira Shearer, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Tamara Toumanova, Judy Garland, Jane Powell, Vera-Ellen, Donald O'Connor, Michael Kidd, Dan Dailey, Ann Miller, Tommy Rall, Bobby Van, Bob Fosse, James Mitchell, Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera, Cyd Charisse, John Travolta, Michael Jackson
Director: Jack Haley, Jr.

MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:44m:17s
Release Date: July 24, 2007
UPC: 012569795310
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-AA B

DVD Review

After the monumental success of That's Entertainment in 1974 and its sequel, That's Entertainment, Part 2, in 1976, film fans had to wait almost a decade before writer-director-producer Jack Haley, Jr. scoured the vaults again for his terrific salute to terpsichore, That's Dancing!. More narrow in focus than its predecessors, this equally captivating clip compendium spans the entire breadth of motion pictures—from nickelodeons to music videos—as it celebrates the grace, style, athleticism, and innovation of human movement. Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis, Jr., Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ray Bolger, and Liza Minnelli introduce an array of classic and contemporary numbers spotlighting tap, ballet, ballroom, disco, even break-dancing. Though a few routines fail to knock our socks off, most are spectacular examples of talent and imagination, and inspire renewed respect for this exhilarating discipline.

Unlike the That's Entertainment films, That's Dancing! doesn't cull its clips from a single studio—namely MGM—and enjoys a much more comprehensive feel as a result. The wider access allows Haley to delve deep into the history of celluloid dance, more closely chart its evolution, and focus on such essential icons as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (who toiled at RKO), James Cagney and choreographer Busby Berkeley (who worked for Warner Bros.), and the unlikely but charismatic pair of Shirley Temple and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (who made movies at 20th Century-Fox). Of course, there's still a healthy quotient of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer material, but because Haley made a conscious choice not to repeat numbers used in the That's Entertainment series, several of those sequences are decidedly second-rate. A case in point is a tribute to Astaire and Kelly's MGM years, in which Haley includes a sub-par Royal Wedding production number and pleasant but forgettable pas de deux from Three Little Words to illustrate Astaire's magnificence, when a simple reprise of The Band Wagon's Dancing in the Dark would have made a much stronger statement.

That said, it's still amazing how much first-rate MGM material Haley unearths that wasn't used in the That's Entertainment films: Kelly and Donald O'Connor tapping their souls (or should I say "soles?") out in Moses from Singin' in the Rain; Ann Miller, Tommy Rall, Bob Fosse, and Bobby Van exuding vivacity in the high-spirited Tom, Dick, or Harry number from Kiss Me, Kate; and a sexy Cyd Charisse exorcising those Communistic Red Blues in one of my favorite dances from Silk Stockings. Tapper extraordinaire Eleanor Powell also receives her due with a pair of fine routines—one in a hula outfit—that showcase her awe-inspiring gifts.

Baryshnikov naturally covers ballet (with clips featuring such artists supreme as Moira Shearer, Rudolf Nureyev, and Margot Fonteyn), while Minnelli tackles Broadway, presenting memorable numbers from Oklahoma!, West Side Story and Sweet Charity. That's Dancing! even tips its hat to contemporary film (and dance), care of Saturday Night Fever, Fame, Flashdance, and Michael Jackson's Beat It music video. There's also a specialty by the fabulous Nicholas Brothers, an amazing tap dance by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and a rare Ray Bolger outtake from The Wizard of Oz, among many other gems.

Whenever possible, Haley breaks away from the That's Entertainment blueprint, offering up complete numbers instead of mere snippets, which allows viewers to fully appreciate the intricate choreography, clockwork precision, and ethereal grace of each performance. Dance is a wordless language, and Haley smartly realizes complete immersion is the quickest way to understand it. Of course, Astaire, Kelly, and their army of larger-than-life colleagues are excellent translators, and their incomparable work—laid out with care and affection in That's Dancing!—speaks for itself.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratiovarious - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Just like it did with the That's Entertainment films, Warner has fashioned a meticulous transfer for That's Dancing!, seamlessly preserving the original aspect ratios of the original material. Clips from the '20s, '30s, and '40s are projected in full frame (with appropriate black borders when viewed on widescreen TVs), while more recent performances maintain their proper widescreen ratios. Though the hues on the narration sequences can't compare with the lustrous Technicolor that enhances the vintage numbers, the pristine source print makes the difference less jarring. The only specks and scratches show up on the oldest clips from the silent era—and even then, their appearance is surprisingly limited. Contrast and clarity are terrific in both color and black-and-white, and all the performances are more vibrant and immediate as a result. This is another stellar effort from Warner, which treats this marvelous material with the care it deserves.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Once again, Warner technicians have cleaned up the antique soundtracks, eliminating almost every audible pop and crackle. A tinny quality still pervades some of the oldest clips, but taps are crisp and distinct, and the orchestrations sound rich and full. Best of all, this remastered DD 5.1 track adds presence and punch to more recent clips, as well as the on-camera introductions by Kelly, Davis, Bolger, Baryshnikov, and Minnelli. All the narration is clear and easy to understand, and both Henry Mancini's elegant score and the closing credit pop song by Kim Carnes enjoy fine fidelity.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction by Gene Kelly and writer-director-producer Jack Haley, Jr.
Extras Review: The mediocre supplements begin with an all-new, three-minute introduction to the film, which intermingles interviews with Gene Kelly and writer-director-producer Jack Haley, Jr. (filmed at the time of the movie's theatrical release) with brief glimpses of the numbers that appear in That's Dancing!.

Four vintage (and somewhat repetitive) featurettes follow, beginning with Invitation to Dance, a six-minute overview that describes the search for rare material and painstaking process of piecing together the clips into a cohesive whole. Shots of Henry Mancini performing the picture's title tune at the piano, along with on-set footage of the narrators enhance the comments by Kelly, Haley, and co-producer David Niven, Jr. The Search, which runs a scant two minutes, is little more than a truncated retread (although we do learn the film's rough cut was a full hour longer than the final release print), while The Cameras Roll, which also runs two minutes, focuses on the star narrators. Most interesting of all, The Gathering chronicles a reunion of dance greats on the MGM lot, and features brief interviews with Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler, John Travolta, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Ray Bolger. Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Jane Powell, and Shirley MacLaine also can be glimpsed during this nostalgic two-minute featurette.

The film's original theatrical trailer is also included, but sadly Kim Carnes' Invitation to Dance music video is missing. Too bad.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

That's Dancing! may not be the definitive dance documentary, but it's an exhilarating celebration sure to excite and enlighten both musical fans and those unfamiliar with this dazzling cinematic art form. Warner's sparkling transfer makes the classic routines leap off the screen and helps seal a hearty recommendation for this entertaining clipfest.

 


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