Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Singing in the Rain (5 Stars)

Many people consider "Singing in the Rain" to be the best musical ever made. Yes, it is brilliant, though I'd rate "Cover Girl" higher. Both films feature Gene Kelly as lead actor/dancer/singer. He did it all.

First a little story. When I was growing up Hollywood musicals were often shown on television. I don't know how often I saw "Singing in the Rain", but it must have been more than once. I didn't appreciate musicals. I thought they were silly and old fashioned. That changed in my second year of university. Virgin Records had a Christmas party in Birmingham. In those days Virgin Records had a small shop next to the Magistrates Court on Corporation Street in Birmingham. It was a beautiful store, very dark, the windows blacked out with posters. The salespeople were hippyish. I felt at home. They had a Christmas party every year, but this was the first and last time I went. My friend Mick Cooksey persuaded me to go with him and his girlfriend. It was an exclusive event. The tickets were sold over the counter in the store, and they were only offered to the regular customers.

The party itself was divided into two rooms. One was a big bar with loud music that I didn't much like. In the other films were being shown. The floor was covered with mattresses on which we could either sit or lie down to watch the films being projected onto the wall. There were three films being shown: "Singing in the Rain", "Cover Girl" (which I hadn't seen before), and a third musical which I missed. Probably I was still in the other room when it was shown.

Mick fell asleep very fast, and his girlfriend lay down next to him. I sat watching the films, absolutely fascinated. Something about the surreal atmosphere, surrounded by semi-intoxicated people sitting or lying on the floor, overwhelmed me. More than that, the films overwhelmed me. However often I may have seen "Singing in the Rain" before, this was the first time I enjoyed it. I forget which order the films were shown in, but I enjoyed "Cover Girl" more. It's still my favourite musical from the classical period of Hollywood musicals (1930 to 1960).

A few years ago (before I started my blog in 2010) I bought DVD box sets of the films made by Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, the two men considered to be the biggest stars of the Hollywood musicals. After watching all of them I came to the conclusion that Gene Kelly was the most talented of the two. It wasn't just the singing and dancing. It was Gene's vibrant personality that won me over. It was impossible not to like him. Apart from that, he was more athletic than Fred Astaire. This was most apparent in one of his films that wasn't a musical, "The Three Musketeers", made in 1948. I watched open-mouthed as he jumped around the set, performing all the stunts himself. My immediate impression was "That's not Gene Kelly, it's Jackie Chan".

Gene Kelly's co-star in the film was Debbie Reynolds, who was 19 at the time she appeared in the film. As you probably know she died on 28th December 2016, one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher. I wanted to watch this film immediately in her memory, but I still haven't unpacked all my boxes after moving to Germany, and I couldn't find it. I'm making up for it now.

It's appropriate that I'm watching the film now, shortly after seeing "La La Land" in the cinema. That's the in film at the moment. It's been nominated for 14 Oscars, and it's the favourite to win the Best Film award. I have to ask why. It's a poor imitation of a Hollywood musical. My first thought after watching it was that Emma Stone is okay, but Ryan Gosling lets the film down by being a poor singer and an even worse dancer. After watching "Singing in the Rain" today I have to correct my opinion. Comparing the two films, I have to say that Emma Stone is also a disappointment. She doesn't come anywhere near Debbie Reynolds' talent. 14 nominations? People have short memories. If the Academy judges had watched "Singing in the Rain" first they wouldn't have given "La La Land" a single nomination. "Singing in the Rain" is best known for its title song, a solo dance number by Gene Kelly, but watch the joint number of Gene and Debbie, "You were made for me". This blows away anything in "La La Land".

As for the film itself, it was a piece of nostalgia. It was made in 1951, but set in 1927 at the dawn of movies with sound and (more importantly) music. The first talkie (or rather semi-talkie), "The Jazz Singer", has just been made. Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, an actor in silent films, eager to make the transition into sound. His main handicap is his co-star, Lina Lamont, who has an awful voice when she's speaking, let alone singing. By chance Don meets a young performer, Kathy Selden, who has a perfect singing voice. Don quickly falls in love with Kathy, but how can he persuade the film studio bosses to give her a role in his next film?

The film features an early form of lip synching. Lina stands on the stage moving her lips while Kathy is behind the curtain singing. When the curtain is raised and everyone sees Lina is a fake she has to run away in shame, just like Mariah Carey on New Year's Eve. Technology might change, but fakers will always be with us.

Debbie Reynolds
April 1, 1932 – December 28, 2016

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