Singin' in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain ★★★★★

I got to introduce the film at the Ritz 5. Here’s the writtten version of what I said:

I’m so excited for you to see the film, and excited to see it on the big screen. But I wanted to share a few things to think about while we watch the film:

First, a note on Singin’ in the Rain’s lasting cultural influence. Not only is it the highest rated musical on the AFI Top 100, at number 5, but it continues to influence filmmaking today, including 2011 Best Picture Winner The Artist (which covers the same time period in Hollywood) to its huge influence on the direction of the musical numbers in 2016’s La La Land. It is also my favorite movie musical.

Singin in the Rain was made in the early 1950s and set in the 1920s, which is equivalent to the time between our present day and the setting of Stranger Things. 
The driving force of the plot is the changeover from silent films to “talkies” and the disruption felt throughout Hollywood as studios rushed to adapt to sound. Although screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green take license with the speed of this changeover, all of the ways filmmakers experimented with sound shown in the film–cameras in soundproof boxes, hidden microphones, and overdubbing actors with unfortunate voices–are accurate to techniques that were tried in this time period. 

Another aspect of the film that makes it a throwback is that out of the dozen or so songs in the film, only two (“Make ‘em Laugh” and “Moses Supposes”) were written for the film. So this is kind of a jukebox musical, pulling songs from many MGM musicals of the 1930s. While those movies are all but forgotten by the general public, Singin in the Rain lives on. 

Despite this, I would not call Singin in the Rain a nostalgic film. For one, It doesn’t hold the past as superior to the present, preferring to mock aspects of the “studio system” and the way movies were made at the end of the silent era. The movies within the movie are a key source of humor, rather than then being held up as artistic triumphs from a bygone era. 

Another way that the film is not nostalgic is in how it depicts Gene Kelly’s character Don Lockwood reacting to these changes. He only has a few moments where he resists the future, and never fights to keep making movies the same way. In this way, Singin in the Rain uses the past to instruct us on how we should face the future. Not resent it, but embrace it.

Despite being a throwback to the 1920s and 30s, Singin in the Rain is a thoroughly modern film. This is especially noticeable in choreography, designed by Kelly himself, and the way the musical numbers are shot. 

A stage, of course, can really only go 180 degrees, and the action is always staged with a static point of view in mind. It is as if you have the best seat in the house at a stage play But the way Gene Kelly and his co-director Stanley Donan (DAWN-in) shoot the musical sequences are not about capturing a stage performance, but about creating a truly cinematic form of dance. While still keeping a clear view of the choreography, Donan and Kelly’s camera is frequently in motion–a partner in the dance, rather than observer. The techniques they use not only imbues the action with a greater sense of motion, but also better informs the eye in terms of where to look, emphasizing faces, bodies, and motion with the camera. It brings the dance off the stage and into more interesting spaces, and giving the dance (and the use of props within the dances) a more spontaneous feel. Even the musical numbers that do take place on stages are still created with a free-moving camera in mind. All of this is so flawless you may not even notice it while watching the film, because each scene is so effective at drawing you into the dance. 

So with those things in mind, please enjoy seeing one of the all-time great movies the way it was meant to be seen–in a theater.

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