Monday, July 22, 2013

"I Can't Quite Visualize It; I'll Have to See it On Film"

A post on Rod Dreher's blog, praising An American in Paris, gets my Monday morning started off right, by reminding me of one of the, in my opinion, greatest segments in the whole history of cinema: the "Broadway Rhythm" ballet from Singin' in the Rain. I’m not a huge fan of American in Paris, and I speak here as someone who is a bit of an obsessive when it comes to Hollywood musicals. The praise for that film is surely deserved; the choreography, costuming, and more which went into the dance numbers, particularly the concluding dream sequence set to George Gershwin’s music, is immense. It’s just that, for this viewer anyway, shoehorning all that stuff in didn’t serve the movie itself very well, and the whole thing suffers as a result. Whereas in the case of Singin’ in the Rain, you have an expertly made farce, with the stylized, beautifully danced, 15-minute “Broadway Rhythm” morality play consequently serving as an exquisite counterpoint to the whole movie. “Gotta dance!” indeed. I’ve watched that sequence a hundred times, and it never grows old. Watch it again this morning, particularly its final moments. I always imagine Gene Kelly in the editing room afterwards, going through the footage, shouting at some flunky "More Gene Kelly! More me! MORE ME!!!," all so as to better set up R.F.'s final, deadpan line.


Dave Jenkins said...

no mention of Cyd Charisse? More specifically, no mention of Cyd Charisse's legs? Meeeeow....

Singing in the Rain is a genius movie by itself with the singing and dancing, but it's also an important film as a 'meta-movie' IMHO: Kelly wanted to dance and move the art form of dance as much as he could, and big studio film was the platform of the day. He couldn't simply film himself on stage dancing, so he had to put some sort of plot around it. The genius part is that he clues us into this abstract construct of a "plot" by telegraphing the whole thing with the 'Singing Cavalier'. Just as Shakespeare frequently put a play within the play, Kelly put a movie within the movie, which allowed us a suspension of disbelief when somewhat abstract extended dance pieces came into view (that otherwise would have been non-sequitir). In other words, because we were taken into confidence about the artifice of their work on the 'Dancing Cavalier', we granted license to Kelly to take liberties with 'Singing in the Rain'. In that sense, the movie is actually a slight dig at the studio system under which Kelly found himself limited.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Hey, I can't mention everything, Dave! But let it be written:Cyd Charisse was Kelly's greatest female dancing partner (and her comparison's of Astaire and Kelly are actually really astute).

A thumbs up to everything you say about Singin' in the Rain. One of the reasons it is, flat out, the greatest of the Hollywood musicals is because of its "meta" construction; every dance number, indeed every song, is a winking reference to Hollywood's past, and so we get to enjoy those performances not just on their own excellent terms, but as an extension of the whole movie's farcical plot. We're never taken out of the story, because we're brought inside the gag right from the start.