Singin' In The Rain

Singin' In The Rain defies an auteurist reading. As the film's star, co-director, and co-choreographer, Gene Kelly would seem like a likely candidate for authorship, but the fact that Kelly shares the last two roles with Stanley Donen reveals the film's collaborative nature. Similarly, songwriter-turned-producer Arthur Freed could rightly be singled out for his part in its creation, since he came up with its concept of a film that would showcase the songs he'd co-written with Nacio Herb Brown. Finally, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green can claim much of the credit for Singin' In The Rain's success, since they turned a mercenary assignment into an enduring work of art. Ultimately, however, as the audio commentary for the double-disc Singin' DVD suggests, the film represented a triumph of the studio system rather than the genius of a single powerful vision. Faced with the unenviable task of building a movie around Brown and Freed's dated songs, Comden and Green hit upon the idea of making the film a nostalgic period piece, a move that allowed them to gently send up the songs' Tin Pan Alley corniness while reveling in their simple power. Set during film's awkward transition from silence to sound, Singin' stars Kelly as a vaudevillian turned movie star whose successful series of films with Jean Hagen seems doomed to end with the arrival of sound; Hagen's abrasive, squeaky voice suddenly becomes a problem when audiences demand to hear as well as see their idols. Caught in the angry tide of shifting public tastes, the studio behind Kelly and Hagen's latest film decides to make it a sound picture and then a musical, and fresh-faced ingenue Debbie Reynolds is enlisted to overdub Hagen's lines. Escapism raised to the level of art, Singin' In The Rain inventively satirizes the illusions of the filmmaking process while celebrating their life-affirming joy. Half parody, half homage, the movie became the apex of the splashy MGM musical, while showcasing the collaborative possibilities of the studio system. At the time of its release in 1952, Singin' was overshadowed a bit by An American In Paris, which won the Oscar for best picture and was at the time viewed by many as Kelly's magnum opus. Yet 50 years later, the fizzy pop exuberance of Singin' resonates more strongly than Paris' tasteful ambition. The Singin' In The Rain DVD set provides plenty of extras, including a pair of documentaries and an audio commentary by many involved, plus film historian Rudy Behlmer and Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann. The documentaries and commentary provide an engaging look at the work and dedication that went into the film, but the DVD's most essential feature is its generous selection of clips from earlier movies featuring songs that would later surface in Singin'. Few films have been this effective in using music to further their narrative and deepen their emotional impact. The achievement seems all the more remarkable given that those songs are just bits and pieces from the years before.

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