Evan B’s review published on Letterboxd:
“What do you have to be so conceited about? You’re nothing but a shadow on film, just a shadow...you’re not flesh and blood!”
ok so I just started reading a book called Film, Philosophy, and Reality, which so far, basically argues movies are well-suited to address and explore metaphysical questions (specifically ideas about reality vs. appearance), given their very nature as appearances that seem real while we know they‘re not. after reading about that, it was all I could think about during this fruitful rewatch of Singin’ in the Rain—a movie which proves itself as not only a gloriously fun time and mind-boggling showcase of talent, but an interesting play on themes central to cinema as an artform.
right from the start, we’re forced into a stark juxtaposition between reality and appearance, as Don Lockwood narrates for his starstruck fans a fiction of his life that’s contradicted by humorous flashbacks. his love life with Lina is a total fabrication for the press, just as the movie sets around him are abound with artificial fakery. the inherent falsehood of the cinematic medium is further highlighted through the innovation of talkies, which allow Kathy’s voice to replace Lina‘s unnoticed. by the end of the film, the curtain is climatically raised so that reality (Kathy) is exposed from behind false appearance (Lina). it’s a symbolic restoration of truth complete with a final shot that finds Don and Kathy embracing in front of their movie poster, true in life to their false image on the billboard.
this thematic emphasis on reality triumphing over the fake appearances of Hollywood is of course deeply ironic, given that the film itself is a highly artificial Hollywood production—an imitation of an imitation, as Plato would’ve called it—and not only that, but a musical that embraces and celebrates heightened artificiality as a key attribute of the genre. while this tension between reality and appearances might be a rather obvious one, it’s made all the more compelling thanks to its function as ironic self-reflexive commentary on movies and musicals—its message not only suited to its medium and shaped by it but inextricably interwoven.
that analysis aside, Singin in the Rain also remains just a big dose of fun that’s packed with witty dialogue, happy characters goofing around, and ridiculously skillful tap-dancing numbers that make my jaw drop, every time. with the important exceptions of some appalling gender politics courtesy of the patriarchy and the despicable absence of anyone except white people courtesy of an extremely racist film industry aside, it’s hard to find a fault with this exuberant MGM classic. plus, tonight I got to watch it (in a socially distant manner) with a friend who’d never seen it, and it’s always a thrill to experience something familiar alongside a fresh pair of eyes. 😊