Laughing and Crying and Dancing: The Limits of Human Behaviour in Swing Time (1936)

Neofetou, Daniel. 2021. Laughing and Crying and Dancing: The Limits of Human Behaviour in Swing Time (1936). Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 38(6), pp. 541-558. ISSN 1050-9208 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In contrast with the preceding films in their RKO cycle, the Depression era Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers vehicle Swing Time (1936), directed by George Stevens, expressly figures its protagonists as working class as opposed to the bourgeoisie. This has led Graham Cassano to argue in one of the few scholarly articles on the film that it indicts bourgeois values and portrays an oppositional working class community. However, this article argues that, while Swing Time certainly opposes the domination of capital, it does so not in its championing of working class culture against the supposed decadence of the wealthy and privileged, but rather by instantiating and engendering a form of reason and rationality which capitalism impedes. Central to this are two scenes near the end of the film in which all of the characters present burst into uncontrollable uproarious laughter. Deploying the theoretical resources of the German philosopher Helmuth Plessner, it is argued that this laughter reveals the truth of selfconsciousness which is dismissed or suppressed by capitalist reification, by rendering inescapable that subjectivity is dependent on (inner and outer) nature which eludes its mastery, and revealing the potential for intersubjective openness in a manner which is currently blocked.

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6 June 2020Accepted
18 June 2020Published Online

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Date Deposited:

09 Jun 2020 10:44

Last Modified:

22 Jun 2021 10:21

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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