Singin' in the Rain is probably the most well-known musical in Hollywood history, and it also happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time. So of course I was beyond excited to go see this year's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, The Artist, set in the same time period as Gene Kelly's classic, in 1920's Hollywood when talking pictures were beginning to replace silent films. But the uncanny similarities between the two films were initially too much for me, and throughout most of the first half of the film, I would keep turning to my date (my husband who is somehow willing to put up with my distracting movie outbursts at every show, no matter what the topic), and give him these "Really? Really?!" gestures over and over. Singin' in the Rain references were making me feel duped, and the fact that no one else recognized them made me feel even more duped (the one time my husband and I tried watching Singin' in the Rain together, he fell asleep midway through, so he was of no help to me!) I know both films document the history of the talking picture, so of course there will be some overlap. And obviously costumes and props and other minor details will also be identical, as to keep true to the time period. But maybe I should explain something first - I am a huge fan of Gene Kelly, going back since I was a child. His duet with Jerry Mouse fascinated me, and his dancing style was blue-collar and working class, similar to my own family's background. No top hat, no coat tails, just tap shoes, a white tee-shirt and some slacks (and sometimes even roller-skates or trash bin lids). And did I mention that I own every, single one of the actor's films on DVD? I used to own as many as possible on VHS, and when it was time to make the switch to digital, I could not bear to throw away anything with Mr. Kelly's face on it; the old VHS tapes are now in my parents' basement. He is a legend, and in 1996, as I was watching the Academy Awards during their memorial reel, I saw my dream of meeting my idol die along with him. His face showed up on the screen, and I was devastated. First of all, how did I not know that he had passed (the public internet didn't really exist then)? And then, to find out like this, I was stunned.
Singin' in the Rain is known as the quintessential musical of all time, incorporating all components of a successful 1950's MGM-era musical: singing, dancing, humor, a period piece, a dream sequence, great story line, handsome leading man, adorable and innocent leading lady, a villanous tramp, Hollywood setting, and catchy song numbers; it had everything! And it even had a little truth in it. Which brings us back to The Artist.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed The Artist quite a bit, actually; it was definitely the most entertaining film I have seen in a long time, and it is worth viewing in the theater. It reminds the audience what going to the movies is all about - the grandeur of what it used to be, how it was a big to-do and how the theater was a special place that transported you to another world for about two hours.
So, I got over my Singin' in the Rain chip-on-my-shoulder, and I began to watch the film for what it was becoming. Once the talking picture era was introduced in The Artist, the film began to transform into its own being. It became a much darker, deeper story with beautiful emotional portrayal by lead actor, Jean Dujardin, accompanied by his supporting sidekick, Uggie the dog: a movie about movies, shedding light on Hollywoodland's historical transformation. There were multiple love stories of friendship, of admiration, of unrelenting loyalty, and a love story with fame and fortune, and this film became something that was unexpected to me but so wonderful to watch take shape. With a beautifully orchestrated score and very minimal sound effects (no talking whatsoever), you are 100% engaged by the beauty of these actors, their sets, and their voiceless communication. It is genius -- in a time when we are overstimulated with interactive 3-D hi-def in-your-face entertainment, this simple idea of a silent film, yet simply done beautifully, is exactly what we need in our lives to be entertained.
THE BARE FEET™ FIVE: 1. Show times for The Artist: I would highly recommend seeing The Artist in theaters, while you still can. For show times, go to Fandango.com. 2. More Jean Dujardin: The lead actor, Jean Dujardin, is one of the most famous actors in French cinema and TV, known for comedy - check out some of his work, including If I Were A Rich Man, Mariages, and Brice de Nice 3. Singin' in the Rain: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the release of the film - if you have not seen it yet, now is the time to experience this classic film. If anything, watch it to see the most beloved dance sequence in film history from the title song! 4. Other Gene Kelly films worth watching: Not only am I a huge fan of Gene Kelly, but I am also a huge fan of Frank Sinatra. Luckily, these two artists were in quite a few films together including Anchors Aweigh, On The Town, and Take Me Out to the Ballgame. 5. An American in Paris: Another one of Gene Kelly's most beloved films is An American in Paris, with music set to George & Ira Gershwin hits. To kick off Gertrude's Paris Festival at NYC's Symphony Space, there will be a showing of the film on Sunday, April 1st, 2012 at 5pm. For more information on tickets, go to SymphonySpace.org