Over the last 3 months I’ve been undertaking a 6 month diploma course in the History of Tango organised by the Argentine Institute of Tango (Instituto Argentino del Tango) together with The Latinamerican Academy of Social Sciences (Academia Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales).
It’s been an interesting journey with a strong focus on historical facts that have been documented through iconography rather than word of mouth or history books. So far, so good, however, at the very outset we were warned by the teachers that much of the information being taught would be information that isn’t widely known or accepted by the tango community at large, and they even went as far as saying that in many cases this new information has not been accepted by Argentinean academia in general.
Their argument being that many of the historical books we read today are based largely on a handful of books that were written a century ago (or more) that were not based on facts, or that were based on incorrect information and therefore they cannot be relied upon, it is largely unfounded information and often based on the writers’ ideology or on hearsay.
In this pursuit for actual facts, we embarked on a lovely journey that has involved the study of a range of iconography from old street maps of the city of Buenos Aires, to magazines, newspaper articles, paintings, photographs, old recordings on phonograph cylinders, and films, to name a few.
Which brings me to the topic of the blog, and that is the 1933 film ¡Tango!
¡Tango! is a black and white Argentinean romance musical that debuted on the 27th of April 1933. Directed by Luis Moglia Barth, it was the first production for the film company that would later become ‘Argentina Sono Film’ and the first Argentinean film made using optical sound technology.
The film has a basic storyline and is a goldmine in terms of showing us what tango was like in the early 1930’s. I encourage everyone to watch it, it’s freely available on YouTube and is 1hr 15mins in length.
The cast includes Tita Merello (Tita), Libertad Lamarque (Elena), Alberto Gómez (Alberto), Pepe Arias (Pepe el Bonito), Juan D’Arienzo, Luis Sandrini (Berretín), Juan Sarcione (Malandra), Azucena Maizani, Mercedes Simone, Edgardo Donato, Osvaldo Fresedo, Pedro Maffia, and many more.
Newspaper advertisement dated 19th April 1933.
Notice the handholds.
Drinking mate at the milonga.
Again, notice the handhold.
Arms often straight out, rather than in the embrace we are familiar with now (as per couple on the left).
Many of the women in the film rest their arm on the man’s shoulder, along the length of their arm, and sometimes on their chest.
Observe the handhold.
Orquesta de señoritas, there were several orchestras with female only musicians both in Uruguay and Argentina. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of information available on this subject as there are few photos and possibly no recordings. However, it has been said that some (NOT ALL) of the female only orchestras were used for marketing purposes to attract male patrons to the venue and where ‘pretending’ to play as may be the case in this scene. I have also learnt that in Montevideo there were at least two locations where actual female musicians played frequently, one was Cafe Palace.
Dance Academy that teaches tango with or without ‘cortes’. Tango without ‘cortes’ is tango that is simply walked. The moment the walk is interrupted in order to do a figure the tango is then referred to as having ‘cortes’, or ‘with cuts’. Dancing with ‘cortes‘ may also have implied that it was an improvised dance.
Do you recognise the violinist on the left? Juan D’Arienzo would have been 33 years of age here.
In the film we can see that the dance-floor was rather chaotic, there was no line of dance as we know it today.
More embraces… and who says you can’t enjoy a glass of wine or two at a milonga!
Notice the handholds.
Notice the embrace, her entire arm is resting on his arm, shoulder and front of his chest.
Osvaldo Fresedo and orchestra with a harp player. Fresedo would have been 36 years of age in the film.
As I said earlier, I encourage you to watch it, the music is captivating, as is the dancing, and see who else you can identify in the film. Enjoy!