Ten Thousand Bytes of Cinematic Critique
The first time I saw An American in Paris, I was blown away by the final dance montage, a non-speaking six part avant-garde interpretation of Jerry (Gene Kelly) Mulligan's recent experiences in Paris, set to backgrounds designed to represent the art styles of French Impressionist artists like Manet, Renoir, and (Post-Impressionist) Rousseau. It was amazing to behold; something I had never seen on film before, not in that style, not with that approach, and not to that effect.That alone is enough to make this one of my favorite movies, which is fortunate because the rest of the film doesn't fly quite as high, although it does have many other interesting points. Gene Kelly is the star of the show, not just because he gets top billing but because the man was a dynamic performer. He could act, sing, dance, and looked like he could pick you up and break you in half. I'm not a homosexual but I would have made love to him.The dance styles throughout the film are diverse, including tap, ballet, jazz and modern styles, all set up with top notch choreography by, of course, Gene Kelly. Unfortunately, the music by the Gershwin brothers doesn't really entice me all that much, especially the song "S'Wonderful," which had been covered ad nauseum back in the day and was overrated to boot. The rest of the music also had that saccharine aspect which was so common back in the day.For a romantic comedy, there is heavy amounts of drama and angst, which is actually a nice touch. Adam (Oscar Levant) Cook, Mulligan's friend, is a struggling composer and concert pianist "that has never performed in concert." Levant was an actual musician, so there are a few scenes where he shows his prowess at the piano. He also was very good with comedy, offering some of the film's many, many great quips, as well as providing some great, yet subtle, visual humor (by which I mean, not slapstick). His dream sequence in which multiples of himself performs a grand concert to an audience of himselves, and then his awakening to realize he's still stuck going nowhere, is a curious combination of comedy, music, and melancholia.There is also much anguish of the romantic kind, and there can't really be a happy ending for all participants. The romantic evolution between Mulligan and Lise (Leslie Caron) Bouvier is iffy, a progression that is not all that credible. She laughs at Mulligan's jokes that aren't always funny, while Mulligan falls head over heels despite only seeing her about three hours per week. Plus, Caron's smile is somewhat psychotic, as if director Vincente Minnelli was yelling at her to smile wider, WIDER, WIDER!Nevertheless, romantic comedies are usually not written the best, and as far as the genre goes, An American in Paris is one of the best of its kind. Furthermore, the dancing is the primary reason anyone should watch this film, so the non-dance performances are more like secondary bonuses. Due to its style and presentation, An American in Paris is one of the more unique films put to celluloid, deserving of all of the praise it has received for the past five decades and comfortably positioned in my favorite list of movies.
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