Thursday, August 23, 2012


1) Today happens to be Gene Kelly's 100th birthday, so in honor of the director/choreographer/star of the greatest movie ever made, some random thoughts on Singin' In The Rain.

2) Seriously, this really is the greatest movie ever made, outstanding at every conceivable level.  The three movies I always cite as my all-time favorites--this, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dumbo--all have in common the ability to reveal new facets with every viewing.  It may be something as simple as a slinky camera move you never noticed before, or a clever bit of editing (or, in the case of Dumbo, an unexpected hommage to Nosferatu), or just the fact that there are no bad scenes, nothing draggy that you fast-forward through on the tenth or twentieth viewing.  These three movies literally get better and better the more I watch.  And, God knows, I've watched them plenty.

3) In the first paragraph, I referred to Gene Kelly as the director/choreographer of Singin' In The Rain, but of course he co-directed and co-choreographed with Stanley Donen.  It's hard to say which of the two was the dominant voice.  Kelly's career as a director, aside from his work with Donen, was pretty dire (although I'm one of the few people on the planet with a soft spot for Invitation To The Dance),  but he'd clearly spent his career up to this point dreaming up inventive ways to put dance on film.

And Donen had been right there with him the whole time, as his assistant and finally as his co-director for On The Town.  Nobody really disputes that the actual staging of the dance numbers was pretty much all Kelly, but there's so much more to Singin' than just the dancing.  Donen would later direct such great comedies as Bedazzled and Movie Movie and such elegant entertainments as Charade and Two For The Road, so it's tempting to credit the crackerjack timing and perfect pacing to him.  On the other hand, Donen was also responsible for such utter shit as Surprise Package, Staircase and--shudder--Blame It On Rio, so let's not get carried away.

Most likely, it really was a joint effort, two guys really excited to see what they could do, bouncing ideas off each other right up until it was time to roll the cameras.  And even then, if either Kelly or Donen had a better idea, they'd use it.

4) Not to indulge in relentless superlatives, but is this the greatest screenplay ever written?  I think so.  Yeah, you might say, but what about The Rules Of The Game or The Seventh Seal or Chinatown?  Sure, I'd respond, but consider everything Betty Comden and Adolph Green do so perfectly in their script: They find an interesting setting, and evoke it perfectly, without ever making us feel like they're showing off the research they did; they tell a wholly original story, which seems almost impossible in the context of a fifties musical comedy; they pack in every conceivable type of joke, from pratfalls to sight gags to wordplay to plain old-fashioned one-liners, butthrough it all, manage to keep the humor consistently character-based.

And what characters!  One of the joys of Singin' In The Rain is the time it spends just hanging out with the people populating the story, and how it seems to like them all.  Even poor Lina Lamont, ostensibly the villain, has most of the best lines.  And she's not mean, not really, she's just acting out of her own best interests.  (Also, she's not very bright.)  When she finally gets her comeuppance, it's humiliating, yes, but not cruel--it's about what she deserves. 

5)  Let's have a moment of Lina, shall we?

How did Jean Hagen not become a huge star as a result of this, one of the greatest comic performances ever?

6) It's not my favorite number from the movie--not when you consider Moses Supposes or The Broadway Melody or Make 'Em Laugh or, of course, the title number, which is pretty much the greatest use of celluloid in the history of the medium, a blast of pure joy--yeah, anyway, this may not be as good as those, but this number perfectly demonstrates what is so great about this movie.

If done now, this would be considered post-modern: It deconstructs the elements of the very scene we're about to watch, it reveals the utter phoniness of the medium.  Then it puts those pieces right back together, and enchants us all over again.  That's Singin' In The Rain in a nutshell: It works every time.