The Iconic Dance Scene from Hellzapoppin’ Presented in Living Color with Artificial Intelligence (1941)

After Charles Lind­bergh “hopped” the Atlantic in 1927, his his­to­ry-mak­ing solo flight set off a craze for all things “Lindy.” Of the count­less songs, foods, prod­ucts, and trends cre­at­ed or named in hon­or of the famous one­time U.S. Air Mail pilot, only one remains rec­og­niz­able these more than 90 years lat­er: the Lindy Hop. Devel­oped on the streets and in the clubs of Harlem, the dance proved explo­sive­ly pop­u­lar, though it took Hol­ly­wood a few years to cap­i­tal­ize on it. In the late 1930s, the musi­cal Hel­lza­pop­pin’ brought the Lindy Hop to Broad­way, and in 1941, Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures turned that stage show into a major motion pic­ture direct­ed by H.C. Pot­ter (now best known for Mr. Bland­ings Builds His Dream House).

An often sur­re­al, fourth-wall-break­ing affair, Hel­lza­pop­pin’ is remem­bered main­ly for the five-minute Lindy Hop musi­cal num­ber that comes about halfway through the film. It fea­tures a dance troupe called the Harlem Con­ga­roos, played by the real-life Whitey’s Lindy Hop­pers, a group of pro­fes­sion­al swing dancers found­ed at Harlem’s Savoy Ball­room, the ori­gin point of the Lindy Hop as we know it today.

Its appear­ing mem­bers include Frankie Man­ning, whose name had become syn­ony­mous with the Lindy Hop in the 1930s, and Nor­ma Miller, who as a twelve-year-old girl famous­ly did the dance out­side the Savoy for tips. Hel­lza­pop­pin’ pre­serves their ath­leti­cism and vital­i­ty for all time — with a hot jazz sound­track to boot.

Like most Hol­ly­wood musi­cals of the ear­ly 1940s, Hel­lza­pop­pin’ was shot in black-and-white, and cinephiles will main­tain that it’s best seen that way. But just as the tech­nol­o­gy pow­er­ing long-haul flights has devel­oped great­ly since the days of Charles Lind­bergh, so has the tech­nol­o­gy of film col­oriza­tion. Take DeOld­ify, the “open-source, Deep Learn­ing based project to col­orize and restore old images and film footage” that “uses AI neur­al net­works trained with thou­sands of ref­er­ence pic­tures” – and that was used to pro­duce the ver­sion of Hel­lza­pop­pin’s Lindy Hop num­ber seen at the top of the post. It all looks much more con­vinc­ing than when Ted Turn­er attempt­ed to col­orize Cit­i­zen Kane, but in lovers of dance, what­ev­er sense of real­ism DeOld­ify con­tributes will main­ly inspire a deep­er long­ing to expe­ri­ence the cul­ture of Harlem as it real­ly was in the 1920s.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1944 Instruc­tion­al Video Teach­es You the Lindy Hop, the Dance That Orig­i­nat­ed in 1920’s Harlem Ball­rooms

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

Watch Metrop­o­lis’ Cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly Inno­v­a­tive Dance Scene, Restored as Fritz Lang Intend­ed It to Be Seen (1927)

Rita Hay­worth, 1940s Hol­ly­wood Icon, Dances Dis­co to the Tune of The Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive: A Mashup

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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