I have this weird interest in the popular culture image of tango, for a large part constituted by various more or less successful renditions of the tango on the silver screen.

As a matter of fact I have been looking for this particular rendition since I saw still photos in the tango book by Collier et al. And thanks to Tangocommuter, I realized Valentino (1977) by Ken Russell was released on DVD. Well, sort of, like many of Valentino’s silents, it was actually a print on demand edition, no extras, no subtitles etc, just the movie.

Mr. Valentino early catched my attention as the iconic Hollywood tango hero, and he was a fascinating character – but we’ll stick to the tango for now.  One thing that puzzled me in tracing back the origins of some of the tango cliches, was that people were talking dismissively of the tango of Rodolpho Valentino, but his dancing wasn’t at all that bad. Bear in mind that there are some really awful tango scenes in the history of film, and that the tango of the turn of the century must have been rather different from the tango of the forties and fifties.

In particular, I remember the milongueros talk about the ridiculous tango of Valentino in Tango: Bayle Nuestro, which was released in 1988. After watching Nureyev’s Valentino, some additional pieces found their place.

Tangocommuter actually warned me about not having too high expectations. Now, where I live, renting is not really an option, all out of the mainstream has to be ordered on the internet. I can live with that, although it means I end up having a rather eccentric dvd collection. Russell apparently wasn’t too happy with the result himself, calling it his biggest mistake. I have to confess I haven’t really watched many of his films, but if you ask me, he comes off as something of a prick that regrets not picking the script that won several Oscars and his supposedly introspective  list of mistakes includes gems such as “ Never give an unreliable member of the crew a second chance”. Maybe I just don’t get the British sense of humour, but I’m not sure how it applies to himself. I would choose Valentino every time, and other people have successfully made a classic out of related material. (Apparently they both quote/parody one particular love scene of Valentino’s Monsieur Beaucaire)

Anyway, Russell’s work hasn’t really aged well, it’s a typical 70s flick, and not in a good way. It’s not really historically correct either, which is ok I guess, but I would think Valentino’s life had enough drama as it were. And Nureyev isn’t really an outstanding actor. Ballet dancer: yes. Tango dancer: not really.

Which brings me to the missing piece of the puzzle. Or at least it will serve as my working theory for now. Isn’t it much more likely that the milongueros of the eighties had Russell’s/Nureyev’s Valentino in mind when they spoke of Valentino, considering it ran only a few years earlier, while the silent movie was from 1921. I somehow doubt ‘The four horsemen’ was shown regularly in Argentina after the sound movie arrived around 1930.

Possibly, the image of Hollywood tango is actually Russell’s image of Hollywood’s image of the tango. Now how is that for distorted tango?

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