Fred Astaire – American Film Insititute

Fred Astaire

9th AFI Life Achievement Award Honoree

Fred Astaire

In a professional career which began in his childhood more than 75 years ago and is still flourishing today, Astaire has displayed and perfected his unique artistry as a dancer, singer, musician, actor, and choreographer. He has reached the pinnacles of success both critically and with the mass audience in every medium he has touched with his genius — first vaudeville and the musical stage, then film, radio, and television.

Astaire is one of that handful of figures who have changed the course of film history through the sheer force of their talent: in the same way that Charles Chaplin transformed motion picture comedy from crude slapstick into a popular art form, Astaire revolutionized the musical film and turned it into a means of artistic expression which captivated the public. His series of classic Depression Era musicals with Ginger Rogers made them the most popular romantic team in movie history. Astaire’s later work took his restless imagination to new heights as he continued to experiment with the possibilities of dance on film.

With his stage and film musicals, Astaire also introduced to the public many great songs by the finest American lyricists and composers of his day, including Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and the Gershwins. They, in turn, paid tribute to the creative influence on their work of Astaire’s technical sophistication, his tasteful expression of emotion, and his personal elegance.

The standards of excellence Astaire imposed on himself, his dancing partners and his other collaborators ensured that his films are as fresh and exciting today as when they were made. In the words of critic Arlene Croce, “An Astaire dance was usually the kind of dance that one could imagine seeing on a real stage, but the experience was so dazzling that the only sane response was gratitude to film for having brought it into existence.

The Life Achievement Award is given to an individual who has, in a fundamental way, advanced the art of film. For that reason we are proud to honor Fred Astaire and his incalculable contribution to the motion picture musical.

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THE HISTORY OF THE AFI LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

The AFI Life Achievement Award — the highest honor for a career in film — was established by the AFI Board of Trustees on February 23, 1973 to celebrate an individual whose career in motion pictures or television has greatly contributed to the enrichment of American culture.

The award is given to a “recipient whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art; whose accomplishment has been acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the general public; and whose work has stood the test of time.”

In 1993, the AFI Board of Trustees extended the criteria to encompass individuals with active careers and work of significance yet to be accomplished.