“I don’t go to the movies much – if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all…Oh, no offense. Movies are entertaining enough for the masses, but the personalities on the screen just don’t impress me. I mean, they don’t talk. They don’t act. They just make a lot of dumb show…”
Cinema was essentially created as an escape. A sort of mirror to our times, but heightened with dramatic flair, suspense, humor, or otherwise an alternative reality to our own. No other period in Hollywood history matches this otherworldly view as within the golden age of musicals. Escapism took shape in Technicolor extremes, where people break out into a song rather than contemplate their mistakes. A little tap dance when words are insufficient. This is not reality, but another dimension of reality filled with smiles, laughs, and a more care free innocent time. We all know the good old days were not really good old days for everyone. Times were rife with violence, racism, sexism, closeted sexual identities, and many more hushed tones within society. The musical tossed all of that aside for the sheer exuberance of fun.
A lazy Saturday morning, the local art-house theater presented a single showing of the Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly film of “Singin’ In The Rain” for a charity organization. A worthy cause and the perfect film to bring in an audience of all sizes and shapes. Many were patrons who knew the film by heart and many were viewing it for the very first time. What better venue to watch a big brassy Technicolor spectacle than on the big screen with big sound for the uninitiated with this classic film. “Singin’ In The Rain” remains the pinnacle of Hollywood musicals for it perfectly grasped all its conventions using stellar wit, imagination, and the brilliant musical talents of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, under the direction of Stanley Donen.
It was an absolute joy to see my ten year old watch with amazement the comic antics of Donald O’Connor defying gravity and laughing at how truly awful the voice of Lina Lamont (played with Academy Award winning comic gusto by Jean Hagen) was. There was even a little cinema history lesson for him about how the silent film industry was turned on its head by the advent of sound introduced into cinema with the spectacular success of The Jazz Singer. The pure joy of the musical numbers cast a spell upon him and myself included. This film made us forget for two hours and brought constant smiles and laughs in the best way possible. It is proof of a great film when sixty-five years later audiences will still clap after their favorite musical numbers. We found ourselves doing the very same thing. Its energy and sense of exuberance has not lost its luster in all that time.
Afterwards, we talked about what we had seen. Everyone we saw on screen was gone (Debbie Reynolds being the last to go recently). Their work certainly lives on in a ten year old’s mind today. The stunts were performed by real people. The incredible dancing and shenanigans throughout were carefully rehearsed. The musical was at the height of it’s popularity when “Singin’ In The Rain” was released. People flocked to these movies because it meant something to them. Yes, a way for escape; to daydream and imagine a world without pain and suffering. Just a little heartbreak is all. It was this talk afterwards that set in motion how much history there is to teach our young minds. To be a child in this day and age with so much to reach back to and experience for the very first time, if we adults just slow down and take the time to let it happen.
Gene Kelly was the athletic dancer, while Fred Astaire resembled the refined toe tapper. Kelly was always a favorite with me simply because of his every-man persona and jaw dropping choreography which displayed a dance which sometimes felt as if anyone could do it if they put their mind to it. Of course, this was the deceitful brilliance of Kelly. No one could dance like he could. Not even Astaire. Within all the musical sequences, one has always stood out from all others for me with the peculiar quality of sexiness and eroticism surrounded by the typical Hollywood innocence of the film. Take a closer look at the entire “Gotta Dance” number, in which a young innocent goes to the city to make it big on Broadway. Kelly infuses his personality with innocence, joviality, and charm until he meets a dangerous woman, played by the lustful Cyd Charisse. When these two dancers meet, lightening strikes. You can practically see the electricity and seductive eroticism charging the celluloid image. These two were made for each other as dance partners. Charisse, an accomplished and equally athletic dancer in her own right, matches Kelly move for move and boldy seduces him right in front of us. It made an impression at a young age and seeing it again today, brought back memories of that wide eyed innocence being dismantled brick by brick.
Cyd Charisse, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
“Singin’ In The Rain” (1952) directed by Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly, written by Betty Comden/Adolph Green, photography by Harold Rosson