July 05, 2013

Wife's Choice: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN Appeals To The Film Nerd In Me

"Why don't you go out there right now and recite the Gettysburg Address?"
There's no reason for me to beat a dead horse.  Old time musicals simply aren't my jam, and most of the problems I had watching An American In Paris can be directly translated to Singin' In The Rain - most egregious is the impressively staged but protracted "Broadway Melody" song and dance number which is only a minor step up from the lengthy dream sequence that concludes Paris.  Gene Kelly's musical prowess simply cannot be denied and he's certainly entertaining.  And once again there are some really captivating visuals in the musicals numbers (all directed by Kelly himself) that are just stunning to behold, particularly Kelly's duet Cyd Charisse and her extraordinarily long white shawl.  But in the end I get bored with musical routines that don't actually have any impact on the story and feel like nothing more than spectacle for spectacle's sake.

That being said, there are two things in the movie that I genuinely enjoyed.  First of all, I love movies about making movies, and the era when "talkies" began to crowd out the old silent films is endlessly fascinating to me.  There are some great bits when the crew starts shooting their first film with sound and struggle to hide giant microphones around the set.  And the first screening of The Dueling Cavalier is rife with clever audio gags like the cacophonous racking of a pearl necklace, or the volume of Lina Lamont's voice drifting in and out as she moves her head away from the microphone.  In fact, I would have gladly traded a dance number or two for an extended version of the audience cracking jokes at all of The Dueling Cavalier's terrible sound cues.

I remember the change from optical to digital special effects, and I've witnessed the embrace of digital capture and non-linear editing over working with actual celluloid, but while the results are fascinating it often feels very selective in terms of which aspects of filmmaking are directly affected.  Sure you've got actors wearing motion capture suits and acting against tennis balls that will eventually become digital monsters on the big screen, but that's nothing compared to switching from what was essentially pantomime to a full on physical and vocal performance.  In fact, it's easy to see why Debbie Reynolds's Kathy Seldon disparages Kelly's Don Lockwood earlier on in the picture, rightfully asserting that film acting and stage acting are so incredibly different it's almost not even worth comparing the two.  It's understandable that a lot of actors would have trouble transitioning from just having to look good on camera, hit their marks and adopt the right facial expression to match the scene, but having to both believably deliver dialogue and convey emotion and character through words is a whole other barrel of monkeys.  I'm can't help but wonder if I'll ever get to see a similar shift in the industry, where filmmakers utilize some new form of technology (perhaps fully immersive 3D holograms?) that so completely alters the way an actor has to perform for the camera that some people simply cannot handle the change and are left watching as the industry moves on without them.

There's one other scene in Singin' In The Rain that I absolutely adored, and that's Donald O'Connor's infamous "Make 'Em Laugh" routine.

Holy balls, that's not only hilarious, but it's also one of the most jaw-dropping displays of physical comedy I've ever seen, made all the more impressive considering that O'Connor supposedly smoked four packs of cigarettes a day.  As a kid, I spent almost every Sunday morning watching old Three Stooges shorts, fostering a lifelong love of pratfalls, eye-pokes and other forms of great physical comedy.  It's also why I'll love Jim Carrey forever.  Not only is O'Connor seemingly a man made of rubber (the bit where he runs into the wall and tries to fix his flattened face is priceless) but the entire routine is full of great Stooges-esque sound effects that really punch up O'Connor's already astounding physical work.  "Make 'Em Laugh" was an absolute joy to watch, thoroughly cracking me up from start to finish.

It's easy to see why Singin' In The Rain is such a beloved classic, and if I was fonder of the musical genre as a whole, then this would almost certainly be one of my favorite films.  But while I enjoyed the film overall, I don't exactly see it as a movie I'll be revisiting with any great frequency.

I am curious to check out Donald O'Connor in The Buster Keaton Story though...

Title: Singin' In The Rain
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Starring: Gene Kelley, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse
Year Of Release: 1952
Viewing Method: DVD

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