An American In Paris (1951)

An American In Paris (1951)

So I’ve managed to get myself a little behind in these updates, and all of my incredible insights into An American in Paris have been steadily slipping out of memory for the last few weeks.  I’ll simply have to satisfy myself here with a brief summary of some lingering thoughts and considerations.

Firstly, what an astounding difference it makes to watch a film in colour.  With such astute attention to visual imagery, it seems wholly appropriate that An American In Paris be our first full-colour Best Picture winner since Gone With The Wind.  It’s almost as if the Academy were biding their time and waiting for the perfect colour film to arrive to give this to, and in my opinion it was well worth the wait.

Vincent Minelli’s visual work is strong and engrossing, and Gene Kelly’s choreography demonstrates the mind-blowing capabilities of dance.  Emotion features strongly in many of his finely choreographed pieces, such as the love dance on the riverside, but what I found more interesting still was the way that Kelly can use movement to delineate character.  That we can tell from the way people move their bodies a person’s age, their relationship to others within a space, or in some cases even get a hint of their socio-economic background, is astounding.  Kelly really pushes his cast to the limit here – I seriously wonder how long some of these performers bodies lasted before giving way to years of painkillers.

And of course, the incredible music.  I often register the development of music across the course of the BP canon but, being such an ethereal form, I find that it’s presence often takes a backseat in writing about the movies.  After all, the intention of music within film is normally to support the action, not override it.  Not so in An American In Paris. The unsparingly luscious score is taken almost entirely from the work of George Gershwin, one of the most artistically and commercially successful composers of the 20th Century.  And what an amazing journey his music takes us on.  Check out Adam’s incredible piano solo for a prime example.  Gershwin was a true virtuoso of the piano and orchestra.  I love him.

An American In Paris culminates with a massive, mind-blowing dance over 15 minutes long that has to be seen to be believed.  I didn’t think it could get any bigger than The Great Ziegfeld, but I think An American In Paris has done.  Even though I am prone to struggle with musicals, this film is breathtaking in it’s combination of audaciousess and subtlety.  This is the Hollywood musical at it’s complete and utter best.

All About Eve (1950)

All About Eve (1950)

The world of theatre is something which has always intrigued me, ever since I was a child.  Something about the lifestyle, the people and the personas have drawn me back time and again, and are probably the reason that I have chosen to plough ahead with a career in theatre (*as a disclaimer, know that I use the term ‘career’ as unpretentiously as possible, yet the truth is that I earn my living in this industry).  All About Eve, a window into the world of performance and fame-mongering, is a total joy from beginning to end.

The young girl of whom the film is titled worms her way into the life of theatre star Margo Channing, eventually usurping her position as the era’s most famous and sought-after actress.  Eve is a liar and a fraud who has faked her way into the circle which makes her famous, and the film boils down to a warning about fame and the vapid people who will try anything to have it.

Bette Davis is every bit the star her character Margo embodies, her larger-than-life persona charismatic and fascinating.  Anne Baxter is gentle but creepy as Eve, a girl who has made herself blank and unobstrusive so as to climb the ladder to stardom.  And rounded off by a surprising, early-career appearance by Marilyn Monroe (possibly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen), this is one of the most charismatic female ensembles I have ever had the priviledge of watching.

The film ends with an ironic twist as a newly honoured Eve comes home to find that she has obtained her own fauning wannabe-actress.  In accepting this new arrival, Eve resigns herself to a life of surface values and textures, a threatening existence where at any point all she has earned could be stolen.  She has found what she was searching for, but she will always be missing that vital component of truthfulness, in herself and in those around her.

Theatre is a world of constant performance.  In an industry of larger-than-life personality, it would seem hard to tell reality from falsity, yet in truth when you are honed to analysing and understanding people the way actors, writers and directors are, you can easily get a sense of a person’s essence.  Perhaps this is the most interesting aspect of All About Eve.  I think that the characters see Eve’s true intentions from a mile off, and yet they resign themselves to let it play out.  Because deep down, we all know that true fame is something which happens to somebody else, and if it happens to happen to you, you know that there will always be those who would do anything to take everything you have for themselves..

All The King’s Men (1948)

All The Kings Men (1949)

A sharp warning about the corrupting influence of power, All The King’s Men is a magnetic and harrowing watch which chronicles a Southern American governer’s political career, trailing his incline from every-man to corrupted political mogul.  Played superbly by Broderick Crawford, Stark’s story is narrated by his aide and confidant Jack Burden, distancing us from the events and inviting us to make more dispassionate observations about the process of Willie’s fall from grace.

In what must surely be a defining example, the plot is often advanced via the (now) cliche of spinning newspaper headlines and radio broadcasts, a reference to the rise of the media and to the irremovable space they hold in our engagement with life and politics.

Despite an undeniable sense of the contemporary, there’s something very Shakespearean about the structure of All The King’s Men (I believe I counted a body count of five by the film’s end).  We could go further still in an analysis of All The King’s Men and consider the ways it uses Aristotilean constituents to construct it’s drama.  Aside from clarity of plot, character, theme and diction, Aristotle claimed that tragedy resonates best when it is about ‘great men’, or people who hold a position of power and authority.  When a leader falls from grace, the tragedy is all the greater for it.  An example in contemporary film is the tragedy of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, where Dent’s descent into maddness and corruption are made all the more potent by his position as Gotham City’s District Attorney and one of its final saviours.  Such is Stark’s tragedy – his position as a favoured and trusted figure in politics makes his descent into corruption all the more devastating and powerful.

Given the film’s proximity to the close of World War II, it’s easy to draw certain parallels between Willie’s rise to fame and the rise of various fascist leaders of the 20th Century.  It’s hard to read if the film’s message is that Willie’s corruption is an inevitable result of power itself, or whether Willie’s socialist background underlines a hint of the ‘witch-hunt’ which would soon grip American politics.  At any rate, there is certainly a sense that power is something which the individual must be well wary of: whether that power be manifested in the self or in another.

All The King’s Men is drama at it’s finest.  Well-written, acted and shot, it’s a film that should not be missed.