Before the Twist and the Macarena and the Mashed Potato, there was the Tango, the first international dance craze, the first to cause mass hysteria and public outrage, as critics went as purple as any present-day haters of hip-hop, as they denounced the universal appeal of a mongrel music that sprang from the bordellos of Buenos Aires to the ballrooms of the world.
“It is a monotonous and expressionless dance, with the stylized rhythm of coupling,” wrote an appalled Argentine commentator in 1933. “It does not arouse in the spectator’s spirit feelings of joy, of enthusiasm, of admiration, of desire. It is a dance without soul, for automatons, a dance of everyone’s sorrow: It is the same sorrow we feel upon seeing young horses tied to a hoisting machine.”
Such harangues have done nothing to halt the enduring popularity of tango, one of the last dances standing from the past century. But there is another reason we come today to praise it.
Without tango and its patron city, Buenos Aires, we would not have the strange noir fantasia of Robert Duvalls’ B-movie vanity piece, “Assassination Tango,” generally reviled and ultimately ignored upon its release in 2002 but which now retains its rightful place in the Duvall canon somewhere between his haunting youthful cameo in “To Kill a Mocking Bird" and his autumnal masterpiece, “The Apostle.” And every Duvall performance--with graying pony-tail or not--that we can get in his pushing-80-plus twilight years is worth a thousand ham-bone Pacinos.
Bring it on Bobby D. We will always have a place on the dance floor for you.