While visiting with some friends the other evening, we sat down and watched a movie together. The movie was, An American in Paris * directed by Vincente Minnelli, although often Gene Kelly stepped in as director while Minnelli was involved in a divorce with the singer/actress Judy Garland.
I remembered only segments and the basic premise of the film but I forgot just how well it was performed. Gene Kelly of course was an impressive legendary dancer. The scenes were vivid and lush, created in California to look like Paris with masterful choreography. Truly a dance musical which stands out from most others of the same genre. I was once again reminded of how a simple plot with the right direction, actors and attention to detail could still be relevant nearly 63 years after it was released. There wasn’t a single element created or enhanced by computer imagery, no gimmicks such as explosions or a fake sense of danger, no swearing, and no gratuitous sex scenes. The 17-minute ending dance sequence, cost half a million dollars and took a month to film. No words are spoken during the last 20 minutes and 25 seconds of the film. In short, it carries none of the elements modern films do to engage & hold audience attention.
Action and science fiction films control most of the film industry output with movies long on foul language and short on clever comedy. Having said all that, I sound like nothing more than a curmudgeon, romantically longing for things which never really were. In truth, there are films from the past which stand out in comedic timing, real mystery, and clever dialog. These are given short shrift by a new style of action, comedy, and plot development.
James Coburn had a long and colorful acting career and towards the end of it, he offered these terse comments;
People think that acting is an easy chore. “Why, I can do that”. Like they have today. Tits and ass, and this studio who’s always doing his trip. Shooting and killing and blowing things up. Nah. That’s junk. It’s terrible junk. Commercial shit is what it is. And everybody likes it because it’s easy. Nobody has to think about anything. They just sit there and sensitize themselves or desensitize themselves to anything real. And it’s, “Oh boy! Wasn’t he great? See that gun he had?” They’re made for thirteen, or fourteen-year-old boys.
It’s difficult to find fault with his observations.
* American Film Institute rates An American in Paris at #9 on the list of the 25 Greatest Musicals from the last 100 years.