Thursday, March 29, 2012


Debbie Reynolds dancing with Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)

Debbie Reynolds grew up dirt-poor in Texas during the Depression. As a teenager in Burbank, California, she became the class clown, and, in 1948, she was crowned Miss Burbank by imitating Betty Grable. Warner Bros. signed her first, but Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made her a star in SINGING IN THE RAIN. Gene Kelly (a tough taskmaster) taught her to dance from scratch.

As the critics at Cahiers du cinéma maintained, the "how" is as important as the "what" in the cinema. The look of an image, its balance of dark and light, the depth of the space in focus, the relation of background and foreground, etc. all affect the reception of the image. For instance, the shimmering Technicolor of a musical such as "Singin' in the Rain" suggests an out-of-this-world glitz and enchantment.

Gene Kelly kissing Janet Leigh in "It's a Big Country" (1951)

Leslie Caron kissing Gene Kelly in "An American in Paris" (1951) directed by Vincente Minnelli

Paris defined by the Impressionists was immortalized by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec with his paintings of disreputable nightspots such as the Moulin Rouge. Artists Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Cézanne all painted the Moulin de la Galette on rue Tholozé. “Everything is about to disappear. You’ve got to hurry up, if you still want to see things.” -Paul Cézanne

Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly danced along the banks of the Seine to the strains of George Gershwin's "Our Love is Here to Stay."

"Together, Donen and Kelly directed some of the wittiest, most stylish and energetic musicals to emerge from MGM. Donen's elegant visual flair was the perfect accompaniment to Kelly's dynamically balletic choreography... Outside of their collaborations the pair's directing achievements were variable... The joint offerings, however, exude brio, style, and intelligent, appealing optimism." - Geoff Andrew (The Director's Vision, 1999)

-"If we remade "Singin' in the Rain" today, when Gene Kelly sings in the rain I think he'd be looking around to make sure he wasn't going to get mugged." -Stanley Donen in The New York Times, February 9, 1996.


The clouds tumble and the raindrops gleam in his hair. A rutilant backdrop, a deserted nighttime street. His smile is wet and his wit is dry. He doesn't live in one world, but in two. The outer world consists of other people, buildings and rules, while the inner world is made up of his feelings, beliefs and dreams. Wearing a tigh sailor suit, going the subway, or tilting a straw hat, jumping high with a shiny cane, the only sounds that emanate from these cinematic halls are his soft musical murmurs, so far away that feel like champagne bubbles in my mind's ear. With rue my heart is laden when walking through one deserted filmstrip after another.

Strolling along Memory Lane I find him, numbingly mincing down this unique street. He arrives hotfooting from the studio lot, he stands alone outlining a splendid step, a nervine dance, wandering steadfast, performing tap at an unimaginable speed, awash with spotlights, glowing in the warm night. His reasoning is unerring, his weakness turns into kindness. He's Gene Kelly, whether in the European fairyland singing stiver-a-dozen ditties, or in the American heartland of the popular culture, holding romantic adrenaline, gazing at the flickering lights of the skyscrapers On the Town. The obscure stars above us light up and they drop down one by one while we dance, his words eventually latch onto my memory, and leave me no doubt his dream is not to envy, but to aspire, so I don't want to lose sight at what tomorrow still could be.


Sweet Sue said...

Love, love, love Gene Kelly. I'm like Manuela in "The Pirate." For me, he can do no wrong.

Elena said...

you're very welcome, Sweet Sue!