Tuesday, March 25, 2008

MMWAM: Singin' in the Rain

The following review, while appearing on The Film Experience blog, is decidedly not the opinion of Nathaniel Rogers or The Film Experience blog, but belongs solely to his crusty guest contributor, JA of My New Plaid Pants. Its appearance here does not indicate any approval, agreement, vetting, endorsement, or anything of the sort, or perhaps even coming close, by Mr. Rogers and his fine establishment.

Y'all voted to make me watch a musical. And I did.

So this is what is thought of as The Greatest Musical Ever Made, huh? Two hours of shameless mugging and buffoonery? Singin' in the Rain is a disgrace to the "talkies" - I kep hoping some intertitles would pop up and shut these morons up...

Wow, that'd be a downer, eh? If I actually came on here roaring like that? Scared ya, didn't I? He gone and done it; he's gone deranged, you thought. Well relax your furrowed brow, turn away that business-end of your hammer and take that alcohol-soaked rag out of the wine bottle; I couldn't keep up the hate-charade for even one paragraph. Hell, the truth is, I had to do some household chores at the exact half-point of watching the film and I couldn't dry the dishes fast enough to get back to the movie.

So yes, it is true. Singin' in the Rain was an absolute pleasure, a joy, to watch. It's harder to write about things when you sorta kinda wholeheartedly like them, though. Where's the fun in that sort of nonsense? One's critical faculties turn to "durrr" when faced with something so effortless, so enjoyable. But I owe y'all all a review, something beyond "durrr," so let's look at it.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when my hateful, rage-filled defenses were broken down by the film. When I first laughed out loud, and realized it was inevitable that I was probably gonna love this movie. It was with this woman:

"She's so refined. I think I'll kill myself."

Nothing melts this cynical heart quicker than some good suicide humor.

And I'll just come right on out and say it: I kinda wanted to make shameless, dirty love to Gene Kelly. What a pip!

Sexy scar alert!

I was afraid at the start that he'd slide into ham territory; see, one of my main problems with musicals is that I get a little... uncomfortable... when somebody's trying so very hard to, well, Make Me Laugh (yeah... I'll get to Donald O'Connor is just a minute...). It's why I feel nauseous whenever I go to stand-up - if you can see the desperation in their eyes, the wild-eyed terror to please, I want to crawl out of my skin. But I guess there's a reason Gene Kelly was such a big star - who'd have thunk it? - never do you see the seams; never does it feel like he's trying. Effortless.

And as many times as I've seen the "Singin' in the Rain" number, in all sorts of contexts other than within the actual film, seeing it now, in the right context... I get why it's so revered. It's one of the most magical things ever put on screen. My eyes actually kinda welled up, it made me so happy.

Now as for Donald O'Connor...

I have to say he worried me at first. He was the frantic yang to Kelly's yin, all slapsticky buffoonery... but then, about midway through the "Make 'Em Laugh" number as I became progressively worried for his safety - he had to have some bruises after filming that thing - I realized he was actually sending up the hamminess I so fear. He was taking the shtick so far over the top that I breathed a sigh of relief - this movie was definitely smarter than I was afraid it wouldn't be.

As for Debbie Reynolds, well, she was just a doll. No, I mean that literally. Her resemblance to a plastic doll was uncanny and, frankly, slightly terrifying. Tell me if you can spot anything different here from above:

I thought not! Mutant! Plastic baby woman!

I kid. I kid because I love. She too could be described as a "pip." But alas, my heart will always truly belong to another...

Yes, my long sordid history of falling for the villain continues... Jean Hagen as the ditzy (but then not so ditzy, but then mostly ditzy again) villainess star seeking to go all Ursula the Sea Witch on Debbie's voice is and will always be my ain true love.

Give 'em squeaky-voiced hell, Jean!

And because being pervy amuses me, I did find myself wondering at some of the weird subtext within the film. If a dance between two people falling in love symbolizes their, uh, let's just say "courtship" - and I'm pretty certain that's a pretty surefire way to read it:

Then what exactly was going on with the "Good Morning" scene?

Mmmhmm. Heathens!

There was a load of subtext bubbling under the surface of the film between Kelly and O'Connor's characters; I'm sure it's been written about by now, though, so I'll have to go do some digging, check that out. Anybody got anything?

What exactly what Moses supposing anyway?

If I had one problem with the film, it came right at the end: why couldn't they tell Debbie (I just realized I'm calling all of these actors by their own names instead of their characters) what they were going to do when they forced her to stand behind the curtain and sing for Jean Hagen?

It seemed a needlessly cruel route to go that added a dash of false melodrama to what had proceeded so naturally up until then. I guess it was just because Debbie looked cute with tears in her eyes:

Still, I smiled as he brought her back to the stage (after semi-creepily screaming for the crowd to stop her from escaping) and they duetted us out on a happy high.

Here are some other random things that entertained me, but I don't know enough about the context on which the film was riffing, my musical knowledge being so lacking, as to really comment upon (all y'all who know such thing, please feed me your knowledge in the comments!):

Spider Woman rocked! I wanted more of her.

The weird costume song. Apparently this was something that was actually really featured back in musicals back in the day? And Singin' was making fun of it, I guess? The only time I remember seeing this happen was that INSANE scene in The Women when the film slid to color and the most ridiculous outfits I'd ever seen were suddenly paraded out - that scene seemed even more over-the-top then this one. Also, I'm convinced this model was a man:

Those giant pearls are totally hiding an adam's apple.

I don't know what the hell was going on here:

But Gene Kelly sure did look fine dressed all in black.

I know I'm forgetting some things, but I'll let y'all remind me what you find great about Singin' in the Rain in the comments.

And a hearty thank you to everyone who participated in the voting, and has checked out what I've had to write whilst here at The Film Experience. But my biggest, heartiest thank you goes to Nathaniel, for allowing me to pollute his blog with my ramblings once again. I'd be lying if I said I was a little worried I might find myself locked out after not adoring West Side Story completely! But no, he's a generous and kind soul. Thanks, Nat! And thanks everybody! Look for me over on the wrong side of the tracks next time around...


Jen said...

I'm pretty sure that "Spider Woman" is supposed to be a nod to the Theda Bara "Vamp" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theda_Bara At least, that's what I always assumed - I have absolutely no evidence to back it up.

As for the costume sequence - well, I got nothing. It always confused me, too.

SusanP said...

Great post, JA. I nearly started to choke when you started off being negative (the horror! the shock!) but then I relaxed and enjoyed your review.

I love the chance to "see" a great film again through the eyes of someone who has never seen it before.

And that little doll photo gag? THAT did make me choke (with laughter).

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review! I applaud your courage for diving into a genre you don't usually like.

I'm very happy you loved Singin' in the Rain! My absolute favorite thing is also Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont. For years and years I resisted seeing The Bad and the Beautiful because I just didn't see how Gloria Grahame's performance in that could possibly have earned her the Oscar over Jean Hagen. Well, I finally saw the movie and I was SO RIGHT!! Gloria's performance was okay, but, c'mon...Jean Hagen gives a gloriously wonderful comic performance. It's a pitch perfect performance. In my fantasy Heaven, Jean has rightfully gotten the Oscar from Gloria (with the "Big Guy"'s approval, of course).

Always enjoy your work on MNPP, too! I check it out almost daily!


Anonymous said...

yeah, that first part of the post terrified me. but glad to see you loved it. excellent review.

Thombeau said...

Great post of one of my very favorite flicks! "Round tones!"

Go here for another wacky take on it!

Anonymous said...

I too enjoyed your review!
I wanted to add that I am sorry that West Side Story got voted in and not Sweet Charity...which I believe would been a better choice for you.

If you're ever looking to watch another musical, go with Sweet Charity.

Catherine said...

Oh, I AM glad you liked it! *clasps hands, flutters eyelids* No, seriously. The first paragraph had me quaking in fear/anger, but as I read on I got progressively more delighted. It's a testament to the sheer joy of the film that even glancing at stills from it make me smile.

Although I do think Gene Kelly is a brilliant dancer, I still prefer Donald. The constant mugging, the ridiculous accents, the skinniness - I just find him really endearing and cute. Gene sometimes scares me a little, watch "Moses Supposes" again and check out his expression at the very end, when they're singing "AAAAAAA!". Terrifying.

One of the funniest line readings in the film is when Gene is hitching a lift from Debbie and is getting all prevy and flustered. She completely ignores him and sings out "Here we are! Sunset and Camden!" in an hilariously cheerful manner. It gets me every time.

Another thought: at the party scene near the beginning, after you see the "Spider Woman" strutting her stuff, you see a rather large guy dancing delicately with some girl. He always reminds me of the gay art-dealer uncle in Far From Heaven, the one Cathy and Elle meet at the art show.


this was a great joy to read from afar mere hours before hopping on a return flight. It'll have me singin... yes singin' on the plane.

Anonymous said...

Great review, JA. You had me laughing out loud - though I was a bit worried reading that first paragraph. ;)

I loved the stills you used and all of your commentary. Every time that girl says "I'll just kill myself" I'm rolling on the floor laughing. This has got to be the best film musical ever.

Thank you for this wonderful review - it made me smile. And now I'm going to have to watch the film again right now.

And, yes, Jean Hagen totally rocked.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you liked Singin' in the Rain! And put up with West Side Story. I agree with Jen, I think the Spider Woman is supposed to be a Theda Bara-type.

And the big fashion production number, yes, they did a TON of that sort of number in the late '20s and early '30s. The Great Ziegfeld has a good MGM example of it (but I don't recommend you watch that; it's biggest claim to fame is that it's one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time), and the number is probably riffing off Busby Berkeley's early Warner Bros. style, too.

All the songs in Singin' in the Rain were actually written back in that era--I think "Make 'Em Laugh" was the only new song--and appeared in the first talkie musicals (most of which are godawful), so they're definitely parodying themselves.

Adam said...

Good review.

How did you get such good screen shots?

Jason Adams said...

jen - Thanks for that info on Theda Bara! I just read up on her; she sounds great. Silent Film is another area I know far too little about.

catherine - I think Gene's occasional creepiness only added to my sudden burst of lustful feelings towards him. What can I say, I have a soft spot for creeps.

nathaniel - Fly safe!

jandy - this morning I did some reading up on SITR as I typed this out (well okay, I just read it's Wikipedia page) and I saw that about how all but one of the songs had been used in older movies and I was shocked - shocked I say! They all fit so wonderfully together.

adam - I took screencaps by playing the DVD on my computer using VLC and grabbing them from the screen using the Preview tool (I'm on a Mac).

Anonymous said...

One of the most fun moviegoing experiences I had was at the opening of a brand-new theatre on my college campus. They showed "Singin' in the Rain," and an entire audience full of college kids who had never seen it before just watched, enraptured. That's when you know the real power of a good movie, when 400 other people are just as thrilled as you are.

SusanP said...

JA: If you like your Gene Kelly creepy you should check out An American in Paris -- In the scenes where he's making his first moves on Leslie Caron he is definitely a little creepy and predatory....

It also has great Gershwin songs.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think part of the reason for making the movie was because the producer (Arthur Freed) wanted a movie that would put together a bunch of the old songs he had written with Nacio Herb Brown. In fact, that was in part what inspired them to set the story in the days of the first 'talkies,' - because the songs had been written back then.

There are two new songs in the movie - 'Moses,' written by Comden & Green, and 'Make Em Laugh.' But 'Make em Laugh' wasn't really new because it was actually a rip-off of Cole Porter's 'Be a Clown.'

Anonymous said...

the great thing about gene kelly is he looks equally very yummy from both sides!

gabrieloak said...

So glad you liked Singin' in the Rain. If you didn't I would have thought you needed your head examined. (Only kidding.)

I think the reason why Singin' is so wonderful is that it doesn't have those deadly aspirations to be high art that some other musicals have. Those kind of moments can kill portions of even the best musicals (like An American in Paris). Yet you could argue that Singin' is one of the most artful musicals ever made.

I heard Gene Kelly could be a bit of a prima donna off the screen but he's really amazing on screen. (It's worth taking a look at his work in Cover Girl, which is equally memorable.) I have mixed feelings about Debbie Reynolds in other films, but no mixed feelings about her in Singin'. She is just perfectly cast. And than there's Donald O'Connor, who was one of the most likeable hams in show business. And Jean Hagen never had a better role.

gabrieloak said...

anonymous: Are you referring to a a screening at Wesleyan? Only asking because I'm an alumnus and attended a screeening there of Singin' to open the brand-new theater there.

Glenn Dunks said...

I've always had a crush on Gene Kelly. He's smokin'

And, yeah, I kinda thought the cuteness would win you over! Just like that big giant odd musical extravaganza sequence. I was completely thrown at first, but then loved it. Although I dislike "Moses Supposes" because, as I recall, it has absolutely nothing to do with anything.

Anonymous said...

To Gabrie, I'm not sure if you'll see this, but yes! Jeanine Basinger was brilliant to pick Singin' in the Rain for the opening film. I'm an alumna, and I miss that theater dearly. That's where I saw Lawrence of Arabia in 70 mm too!

gabrieloak said...

anonymous--Thanks for letting me know that you were talking about Wesleyan. I don't know if you'll see this either. I work at Wes right now.

Anonymous said...

"good morning" is one of my favourite musical moments in the movies!

although I get a kick at their "staying up all night" being just after midnight... that's when I usually head out for a night on the town! ;o)