Masculinity, Femininity, and Breaking from Social Norms in Top Hat, a Comedy by Mark Sandrich

Representations and performances of identity in the film (e.g. masculinity and femininity or race and ethnicity)

In the comedy Top Hat directed by Mark Sandrich, in 1935, he had the popular tap dance duo, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, star as the main characters. Both of them were wealthy which we can see not only the settings, but mainly in their wardrobe. This film shows how women were beginning to break their traditional norm which is seen through the choreography and clothes worn by Ginger Rogers. This film also displays masculinity through the choreography and clothes worn by Fred Astaire.

This film is one of the first films to show women in masculine roles and outfits. During this time as well, the Great Depression was occurring, therefore this film was a way for the viewers to escape reality and be in an affluent setting with rich characters. In this comedy, we only see men in tuxedos and women in elegant dresses. They are constantly in hotels that only affluent and famous people can afford, it seems. This once again let the audience travel to the scenes and feel a part of the magic on screen.

In the first dance scene, Jerry basically sings on his own about having no ties to his affection with women. Which at first surprised me because this is a time where the traditional norm of man and woman being together were still very prominent. In this tap dance number, he is constantly tapping his feet at a fast pace and seems to be moving without a care in the world. He is moving so smoothly, which shows that he is a smooth man. We see later he is very smooth by the way he picks up Miss Tremont. Also, Jerry’s tuxedo includes everything elegant (bow tie, boutonnière, handkerchief, top hat, and cane). His outfits represent masculinity without him even doing anything. When someone says the words true gentleman of the 30’s, the outfit Jerry is wearing is exactly what I picture.

In the second dance number, Miss Tremont is wearing an outfit a man would wear. She is seen wearing a hat, suit, boots, and even using a walking cane. This outfit is perfect for what happens in the scene… Beddini is telling her that she must listen to him and come to Italy with him for business. She says no because she wants to pursue her feelings for Jerry. When he says he will fire her, she still isn’t fazed and chooses to

stay for her personal reason. This is something women are just learning to do during

this time, they are just starting to be seen as an individual who has their own wants and needs and can do whatever they want. It’s even better that she is wearing a suit to show that there is no, and shouldn’t be a, difference in the way women are treated compared to men. She showed that women can say no to a man, even if costs them their job. Additionally, in this scene, Miss Tremont does the same exact choreography as Jerry does, like tapping at a fast pace while also swinging their arms and body. When they are side-by-side Miss Tremont and Jerry look very similar, because they are both wearing a kind of suit. Miss Tremont mimicking Jerry’s dance moves shows that a woman can do pretty much anything a man can do. She even walked the way Jerry did to show a woman can be masculine if she pleased.

When Jerry performs in the show set up by Mr. Hardwick, the choreography is Jerry with a bunch of other men who look exactly like him. They’re all dressed up in tuxedos, top hats, and walking canes. This further proves what the masculine look during the time period was. His solo involved constant tap dancing, throwing his legs out, and constant use of the cane as a prop. The cane was a very masculine prop because mainly affluent men used walking canes. Jerry moved very smoothly, like the gentleman he is in this number.

The scene at the dinner party, the only people dancing are pairs of a man and a woman, there is no one dancing alone. This shows how the social dynamics of the time period were very proper, traditional, and that everyone has the same values. Miss Tremont is wearing a typical elaborate dress seen on women in ballrooms. When they start off, Jerry is the one leading like a typical male role, but as the scene goes on, both of their choreography gets stronger and more difficult. They then start to dance the same choreography. There choreography is intense, and involves Jerry constantly twirling, lifting, and dipping Miss Tremont. Jerry shows his strength and masculinity by making Miss Tremont seem as light as a feather, and sweep her off her feet. Miss Tremont showed her femininity by being able to keep up with Mr. Travers and do the same choreography as him wearing an elaborate dress and high heels. She’s jumping, being lifted, and kicking her feet out all while wearing heels, which shows how strong and talented women are. She also moved so softly but intense at the same time,

showing how a woman is gentle but strong at the same time. Miss Tremont really stole

the show though when she was lifted in the air and kicking her legs out mid-air while the music intensified. I think this scene the woman was spot light, but without a masculine man to support her, she would most definitely fall.

In the last scene at the wedding, once again we see only pairs of a man and woman dressed in ballroom attire. Miss Tremont is wearing a sparkly dress that shines like the star that she is. The women’s dresses expose their legs, which shows the sexual side of femininity. Once again, we see Jerry and Miss Tremont dance together doing to the same choreography, yet she’s in heels. Having both of them do the same choreography made them seem equal, no one had a more elaborate part to prove their masculinity or femininity. Their duos were perfect for this time period, showing that anything a man can do, a woman can do as well.

The comedy Top Hat showed audiences of the time that whether you are a man or woman, you can still dance the same moves and not be looked down upon. Miss Tremont showed her femininity through her wardrobe and choreography while Jerry showed his masculinity through his wardrobe and choreography as well. Sandrich did a great job showing that women are just as great as men, and that they can be as independent as a man can. This film definitely helped women of the time break free of the social norm they were forced to follow for so long and be strong, sexy independent


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