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American Pattern [1938]

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0254
Run Time
0h 27m 56s
Date Produced
"American Pattern" is an Americana ballet, co-choreographed by Ruth Page and Bentley Stone in 1937, and premiered at the Civic Opera House in Chicago on December 18, 1937. It was originally performed by Walter Camryn and the Chicago City Opera Company. In "The Centennial Celebration Monograph: 1899 - 1999," Lon Gordon calls "American Pattern" "the first feminist ballet" because of its apparently critical treatment of women's duties as housewives. Over the course of the ballet, a woman in white is torn away from her romances with men of various stations by 3 maid figures, sentenced to housework instead of romance. In this film of a 1938 performance, all the women begin en pointe, but after the first few minutes all characters switch to (mock) street shoes. At several points, the film is clearly spliced (as evidenced by a few instances of repeated choreography); the film also falls out of focus for some portions.
The film opens with a partial view of a stage whose backdrop is an industrial scene. What appear to be three factory worker men are working; they are soon joined by three flirtatious women, and then a woman in white. They each dance with her, and more women enter with a scarf for the woman in white. All take turns dancing with the men, but the woman in white is clearly the focus. The woman develops a romance with one of the men, but it is cut short by the entrance of three maids/nurses, armed with an apron, a broom, and a feather duster. The woman in white dutifully cleans while they remain, but tosses the items away as soon as they leave. In the following scene, she joins a lively dance hall. This time, when the three maids approach to break up her romance, the crowd whisks her and her partner to safety. (Intermission) Now a well-dressed but apparently drunk gentleman mingles among many dancers; when the woman in white appears, the two dance together. Once again, the maids appear and separate the partners; this time they are followed my some sort of mystic, who places a long veil on the woman in white and performs some sort of rite. She is once again carried away. The final scene begins with a number of workers, apparently prepared to rally or strike. Their (male) leader is particularly angry and is eventually left to dance an allegro solo alone; this is when the woman in white arrives, still in her mystical veil. She removes it and dances with the leader, who calms down; they seem to become a romantic couple. The workers then return, and all dance together vigorously. The maids then arrive one final time to separate the lovers. After her mate is carried away this final time, the woman in white seems to collapse into the maids' arms. In the final few moments of the film, the woman in white stands up and walks toward the front of the stage as a silhouetted person rises from a front row seat (perhaps even a spot in an orchestra pit), suggesting that perhaps this was actually a dress rehearsal rather than a performance, and the dancer is now ready to receive notes.
00:06-00:45 - Film opens with a LS of a stage (though not entirely captured by the frame) with an elaborately painted backdrop depicting industry, with three men, apparently playing factory workers, performing assembly line choreography 00:46-01:21 - Three women in black dresses enter from center and appear to flirt with the men; exit stage left 01:23-03:15 - A woman in a long white dress and hat enters from stage right; the men appear to be more polite to her; they take turns waltzing with her and, as they do so, the sets behind them change to what appears to be a street scene 03:15-5:12 - Four more women in long dresses enter together from stage left, carrying between them a large scarf/veil, which the woman in white then puts on. More such women enter from stage right and all take turns dancing with the three men, though they seem most interested in the woman with the hat. Eventually, all but this woman and one man have exited, and he dips her for a kiss. 05:13-05:34 - The couple comes out of their embrace and the man does a brief solo before exiting 05:35-06:20 -The woman looks down, perhaps sad or thoughtful, until she looks up with surprise toward stage right, which she approaches. What appear to be three maids or ladies in waiting enter with an apron, broom, and a feather duster; they appear to chase her with these items, as if to force her to forget her romance and focus on housework. 06:20-07:17 - The woman accepts the apron and does cleaning dances with each item as the three helpers slowly exit stage right. 07:20-08:20 - As soon as they've gone, the woman stops cleaning and tosses the items away; does a solo of liberation/daydreaming with large port de bras 08:20-08:48 - The woman switches out of the ballet idiom and begins to practice some dance hall steps while miming a telephone conversation; from stage left, two more women enter and do the same thing, as if to indicate that they're on the other end of the call 08:50-10:10 - Men enter from stage left to dance with the other women as the main woman exits center; additional couples continually enter and dance Jazz Age social dances together 10:10-13:30 - The woman in white returns from center, joins the group, which eventually thins out and the dances become slower and more sensual. What appear to be the three maids enter disapprovingly from stage left, at which time the remaining women in the dance hall, surround the woman in white and her partner; the entire cluster then moves away and exits stage right. 13:35 - Film goes black 13:43-14:22 - Lights come back up and 2 women enter from stage left with a gentleman in a top hat and tails. They are joined by 3 more women from stage right; all are flirtatious in their dancing together. The man, apparently "drunk," falls to the ground. 14:24-14:50 - 5 more couples enter from stage left; they perform social dances in unison 14:50-15:41 - The drunk man manages to stagger back up and begins to approach the dancers when the woman in white runs in from stage right, and, happy to see her, he gleefully embraces her; they dance, as the others all dance in the background. 15:42-18:25 - The three maids appear again from center, and separate the two; the other dancers drag the man off stage left and the maids are soon replaced with black-robed individuals who bring with them an apparently rich aristocrat, priest, or fortune teller, who places a veil over the woman's head and makes numerous mystical gestures. 18:25-18:48 - The three maids cross from stage left to stage right again, which leads the hooded individuals and the mystic to carry the woman in white off stage right after them; scenery changes again 18:50-20:50 - The stage fills with working class individuals in mock-street costumes & shoes, apparently functioning as a movement led and/or antagonized by a single angry male worker who continually startles them/scares them off with his allegro solo 20:50-21:35 - The woman in white enters from stage right, still in her mystic veil, and watches his solo continue dramatically until he falls to the ground and stays there. 21:35-25:05 - The woman removes her veil and approaches the man, encourages him back up; he appears to 'see the light' and dances with her using grandiose gestures and movements. At one point, he places her on the ground; they crawl together, he pulls her back up to standing, and they continue to dance ever-more lovingly until they stop center stage and both seem to gaze off into the distance. She is overwhelmed and upset at first, but they continue to gaze 25:05-26:43 - Suddenly workers with protest signs (?) enter and seem to cheer on the couple, now more lively; all dance together. They collapse in rows with others miming rifle-shooting, as if to enact a war scene. Then they continue to dance, and someone even tosses flyers into the air. 26:45-27:46 - The three maids return from stage right, once again intending to remove the woman in white from her male partner; he is lifted high and carried off stage left by a group of men as the woman in white, upset and overwhelmed again, is left to dance with the nurses. She collapses. The film ends without a finale or bow.
Additional Credit
Moross, Jerome (music)
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Stone, Bentley (is choreographer)