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Archive for October 27th, 2011

by Joel Bocko

An American in Paris (1951/United States/directed by Vincente Minnelli & choreographed by Gene Kelly)

stars Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, George Guetary, Nina Foch

written by Alan J. Lerner • photographed by Alfred Gilks (ballet photographed by John Alton) • designed by Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons • music by George Gershwin, Conrad Salinger • costumes by Orry-Kelly

The Story: Wealthy, debonair Henri (Guetary) loves pretty young Lise (Caron), a girl he cared for during the war. Lonely heiress Milo (Fochs) loves cheerful yet skeptical artist Jerry (Kelly). Unfortunately Lise and Jerry love one another and as they dance their way into each others’ hearts against a romantic Parisian backdrop, they must struggle between the pull of money and loyalty on the one hand, and true love on the other.

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First of all, this isn’t just an American in Paris, it’s an American Paris – not a City of Lights that is or ever was, but rather a Paris dreamed of across miles and miles of sea and continent, far away in Hollywood. That’s an important point. This Paris is full of authentic touches (productions of the time attempted to reproduce specific areas on soundstages) and cultural references, but it’s also purposefully artificial. Likewise, Jerry is more an idea of a painter than an actual painter – we only glimpse his canvases, and his patter consists of the cliches of bohemian artist life (though Kelly’s a rather clean-cut bohemian) rather than technical insight or the passion of vision. For those who don’t like musicals because of their gap from reality, this is not the musical to win you over. But for those who love bravura dancing, full of machine-gun-fire taps and the gracefully propulsive gestures and flexes Kelly specialized in, or intensely creative choreography and stage direction, replete with artfully tangling and untangling bodies and sensuous, eye-popping colors, An American in Paris is right up your avenue. And yet it isn’t all make-believe.

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