Saturday, February 12, 2011

This is romance: An American in Paris (1951)

The director of An American in Paris (1951) may have been Vincente Minnelli, though I tend to think of that classic musical as a collaboration between Minnelli, Gene Kelly and the Gershwins, Ira and George. Take any one of them away from the film, and it would not be the same.

Sometimes it seems fashionable to denigrate this movie's ambitious desire to transport the viewer into a reverie of Paris--not as it was--but as it existed in the American imagination for much of the twentieth century. Watched alone or with a sympathetic soul, the film, strung on one of the more threadbare plots in movie musicals, may still have a deep-rooted appeal, rooted in its music and dance. Perhaps the restoration of the movie, which is due to be unveiled at the upcoming TCM Film Festival, will renew appreciation of some of this movie's strengths, which is never more evident than in this quiet scene. The talented gamine, Leslie Caron brought a background in ballet to her role, but her quiet charm flowed best for me in this scene. Gene Kelly was aware that one of the differences between himself and Fred Astaire, the other great dancer in American films, was that in regard to dance, "I work bigger. Fred's style is more intimate...I'd love to put on a white tie and tails and look as thin as him and glide as smoothly. But I'm built like a blocking tackle." Dancing in a deceptively casual style with Caron, this may be Kelly's most intimate dance moment on screen, with the orchestration highlighted by the evocative sound of a single liquid violin caressing the melody.

"Our Love is Here To Stay" may not always be true in the real world, but at this moment in this film, the music, gestures, and dance convey a naturalness that is evergreen and seems utterly sincere. Mr. Minnelli pointed out years later that the scene was filmed far from Paris in "Studio 20, [where] the water was agitated by a motor, the view of Notre Dame was a cyclorama. It was all an illusion." Still, what it seemed to be...

Untitled from moira finnie on Vimeo.

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