19.12.13

I Got, Rhythm!: An American In Paris (1951)

Often times when I am encountering films it proves to be a singular scene of misguidance and ill-conceived execution that cause me to dismiss a work entirely.  This is often frustrating as it proves to come in the closing moments of a film and make everything that has occurred previously moot and irrelevant.  My most notable case of this problem occurs in Ben Affleck's The Town, an exceptionally well made film up to the point of its awful ending.  In contrast there are the occasions when the execution of a film is less than stellar, particularly in comparison to the actors and directors involved leading to a certain degree of tuning out on the part of the viewer, who is hoping for equal excitement as to their other works.  All but turned off to the film, the closing segments of the film take such a dramatic switch as to become wholly engaging and captivating in a way that only occurs with the most focused and concerted efforts.  An American In Paris absolutely falls within the latter, proving to be a work that is lesser than Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me In St. Louis, as well as not possessing the captive qualities from Gene Kelly that make Singin' In The Rain a masterpiece in cinema.  Indeed, I was quite upset with An American In Paris, not because it was bad by any stretch of the imagination, but because it had moments that pulled from the previously mentioned films, as well as attaining a few moments of choreography on par with The Red Shoes and never seemed to push to coalesce them together.  I was upset, that is, until they did move together rather brilliantly in the final section of the film an extended and thrilling dance number whose sense of scope necessitates not only an enormous soundstage, but also a movement through filmic temporal space with clever cuts and edits that make the magic of Paris come to live both in a historical understanding of the city, as well as a loving eye of the filmmaker.  In terms of Americans abroad in film, this work is quite prolific, cowering only to the likes of The Third Man and a few other significant films.  It is no Singin' In The Rain, but, to be fair, most films pale in comparison anyway.


An American In Paris centers on three artists in Paris, the first is the World War II veteran Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) who has taken to the tenement lifestyle as he struggles to make it as a painter of various Parisian landmarks.   Jerry's friends include the concert pianist Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) who has been living in the space of Paris on various artist grants for nearly half a decade, only managing to stay financially above water with the help of his friend and night club singer Henri Baurel (Georges Gu├ętary).  After hearing from Henri about an attractive young woman, Jerry takes to the streets to attempt to sell his work, scoffing at the various American college girls abroad and their misguided attempts to overanalyze the various artwork on display, including his own.  Yet, when Jerry is approached by a wealthy woman named Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) who buys his work on the spot he becomes somewhat suspicious of her intentions.  This hesitation is verified later, when Milo admits to wanting to use the guise of helping Jerry as an artist to attain his affection, also admitting to finding him incredibly attractive.  Jerry is despondent, thinking this is far from where he wanted to be as an established artist and travels to an art show at a Parisian nightclub to sulk.  It is at this point that Jerry notices the beguiling Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron) who he takes an instant liking to, finding her absolutely stunning and attempts to pull her away from her various gentlemen.  While Lise is initially confused and a bit taken aback, she eventually falls to Jerry's charm and agrees to go on a date with him.  Jerry is given a gallery open by the still infatuated Milo, although upon her realization that he has taken a new romantic interest in Lise, she begins to recoil, only furthered by the insistence on the part of Jerry that he be afforded an opportunity to establish himself as an artist on his own.  Jerry's world is made all the more frustrating when it is revealed that he is pursuing the very same girl that Henri had spoken of at the beginning of the film.  After a series of seemingly misguided daydreams, Jerry and Lise are able to reunite, all to the perfect swell of a Gershwin composition.


I rarely approach things from a formalist standpoint, because it is a slippery slope I do not care to become heavily involved with.  Indeed, understanding how things are executed within films while incredibly important, does tend to take the magic out of the enjoyment, as is the case for Days of Heaven a film which possesses an absolutely captivating scene that has been deconstructed multiple times, leading me to hesitate actually viewing the film as I know it will invariably lack in the magic that occurs.  In the same vein, I actively avoid researching the special effects execution at play in 2001: A Space Odyssey because to do so would almost certainly assure that it loses some of its inconceivable execution, or perhaps not, because that film still manages to exist in an impossible film world regardless.  As such, I want to merely touch on some of the elements that make that final scene in An American in Paris so exception.  Primarily, it occurs as a result of the mixture between the fabricated and the real, there is a seen where Kelly and Caron flutter from one set to another, the space starting as clearly impressionist sets, to somewhat more realist sets and ultimately resting in the space of a stage where actual dancers and actors occupy the table.  The actors remain frozen though as to allow for a remaining temporal space that seems surreal, but still exists within a rather simply executed cinematic trick.  This holds true for the use of space during this sixteen minute ballet sequence, wherein it seems to extend and evolve continually never resting on a single fixed area.  Much of this is afforded through a crane that is panning and moving without cutting, therefore, moving sets and shifting dancers can be done in a small space, but still without being noticed in the diegetic space.  Of course, this is still a feat of precision and some editing does allow it to work smoothly.  Even then, there are still inconceivable scenes of cinematic magic, the most notable one being the closing of the sequence when Gene Kelly moves from being a superimposed image over a backdrop to fading into frame while the background dissolves.  It is absolutely stunning.

Key Scene:  Refer to the paragraph above.

Bluray should be an obvious choice in this regard.

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