Friday, December 17, 2010

1951 - An American in Paris

My new job as an events waiter is proving to be quite the boon for associating with the rich and famous. Yesterday, I worked on an event for Lincoln Center, in which John Guare gave a speech. Coupled with Monday's sighting of Susan Sarandon, I now have a double connection to one of the film's already reviewed for Matt vs. the Academy - Atlantic City was written by Guare and starred Sarandon. An entirely meaningless connection, I know, but it's the little things...

Earlier today, I watched the Academy's eventual choice for Best Picture of 1951...

An American in Paris
Vincente Minnelli
Alan Jay Lerner
Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, Nina Foch
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
6 wins, including Best Picture

The man of the title is Jerry Mulligan (Kelly), a struggling artist who has moved to Paris for inspiration. His good friend, Adam Cook (Levant), an accomplished concert pianist who has never played a concert, introduces him to French cabaret singer Henri Baurel (Guétary) and the three spend most of their time hanging out in the café near Jerry's apartment. Enter Milo Roberts (Foch), an American art aficionado who has the money to make Jerry's art dreams come true. While on a date with Milo, Jerry meets and flirts with Lise Bouvier (Caron), who happens to be the fiancée of Henri. Jerry and Lise begin a romantic affair that is inevitably hampered by the secrets they don't want to share. Then, everybody dances.

An American in Paris is a spectacle - there's no doubt about that. It's a daydreamer's paradise. Not only does the audience experience the wonder of the make-believe, but the characters on screen seem to be fantasising in vibrant colour every chance they get. Set the whole thing to a bunch of familiar toe-tapping Gershwin tunes - I Got Rhythm, 'Swonderful, Embraceable You, to name just a few - and you've got yourself a fun piece of entertainment that requires nothing more from you than to simply relax and enjoy.

Each of the musical numbers is built upon a unique concept and crammed with imagination. All the elements combine to reach a pinnacle of creativity - impressive sets, extravagant costumes, atmospheric lighting and incredibly inventive choreography (tap-dancing always inspires awe and Gene Kelly's gracefulness makes it look so easy). It's lucky these numbers are so entertaining because they are certainly not brief. The final dance extravaganza (pictured) is over fifteen minutes, which apparently left only about sixty seconds to wrap up the storyline. Consequently, the conclusion is abruptly contrived and utterly inexplicable. That said, the script by Alan Jay Lerner (of Lerner & Loewe renown) is witty from the get-go, as evidenced when Adam Cook introduces himself by acknowledging, "It's not a pretty face, I grant you, but underneath its flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character."

Being an extravagant musical, the majority of the performances are suitably exaggerated. But it's the dancing that we're here to see and Gene Kelly's smooth footwork delivers, as does Leslie Caron's exquisite ballet technique. Meanwhile, Oscar Levant provides the humour. For fans of classic television, keep an eye out for Noel Neill - Lois Lane to George Reeves' Superman - as a sidewalk art critic, and Hayden Rorke - Dr. Bellows from I Dream of Jeannie - as an art dealer acquaintance of Milo.

1 comment:

  1. Comparing musicals to other genres is really difficult. I mean how do you match up Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant to Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh and Karl Malden? With musicals, acting and dialogue take the backstage to score, choreography, singing and dancing. In this regard I think An American in Paris holds it own with some of the best screen musicals. It is hard to top Gershwin and Kelly's common man's American tap and ballet.

    While the singing was passable, Levant's comic daydream to the wonderful Concerto in 'F' and the lovely duets of Kelly and Caron were highlights. Were there ever a more toned dance team that those two?

    The "American in Paris" ballet was easily the standout, and one of the most beautiful musical sequences ever put to film. Gershwin's three note intro leads to a fifteen minute combination of various music and dance styles, with the simply stunning backdrop of the French Impressionists distinctive art. There's no doubt in my mind that Kelly and Donner's interpretation is what won the film its Best Picture Oscar.