How Movies “Play It Cool” Through Music and Dance

What "cool" meant, and what it means now.
Oct. 18 2013 1:52 PM

Cool Moves

From Al Jolson to Channing Tatum, how dancing in the movies creates—and commodifies—cool.

Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction
Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.

Miramax Pictures

The swivel of Elvis’ hips, Audrey’s zany bohemian dance in a Parisian café, Travolta’s uber-confident stroll through ’70s Brooklyn. Film has long played a part in shaping our definition of cool, and its efforts go far beyond the rebel without a cause and the yuppie, free-wheeling teen playing hooky from school. Music and dance in the movies—whether it’s the frustrated angst of teens, the aloof gait of hip aristocrats, or the sexy saunter of a private detective—have helped to communicate to generations various understandings of what it means to be hip.

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Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

Chris Wade is a video and podcast producer for Slate and occasional contributor to Brow Beat. Follow him on Twitter.