A look at the life, the work, and the contributions of Gene Kelly to movies and movie making. The film celebrates Kelly's putting story-telling into dance and discovering, along with Martha Graham and Jerome Robbins, an American style. It examines his partnership with Stanley Dolan, his bringing of tap and ballet into musicals, his marriages and personal competitiveness, his political views, and his work on stage as well as in film. This production details his contributions as a dancer, choreographer, and director. The narration and talking heads also discuss his muscular style, his low center of gravity, and his masculine appeal.Written by
Fulsome But Fair-Minded Portrayal of Kelly as Blue-Collar Dancer Extraordinaire
Just this week, Time Magazine cited this 2002 documentary as one of seven must-see films for any lover of dance, and I agree this is an extremely well-done feature on an indisputably gifted practitioner, Gene Kelly, by filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg (who did a similarly insightful film on Cary Grant, "A Class Apart", two years later). Originally aired as part of PBS's "American Masters" series, the film follows Kelly's life and career chronologically with an obvious emphasis on his golden decade between his 1942 film debut co-starring with Judy Garland in "For Me and My Gal" to his career peak as star, choreographer and co-director (with protégé Stanley Donen) of 1952's "Singin' in the Rain".
While his artistry and perfectionism are well-known with the results proving as much, Kelly is also portrayed fairly for his ego-driven decisions, intolerance for others who did not uphold his standards and an almost obsessive need for attention. But his intentions were clear, and his first wife, actress Betsy Blair, who provides the most cogent and insightful comments among the interviewees, shrewdly observes Kelly's desire to democratize dance for the masses. So focused on this idea was Kelly that he even produced a 1958 TV special, "Dancing: A Man's Game", excerpts of which are shown in the film showing how dance and professional sports were akin to one another.
The film spotlights memorable moments - his newspaper-tearing dance in "Summer Stock", the impressionistic ballet finale from "An American in Paris", the roller skating number in "It's Always Fair Weather" and of course, his effusive turn in a downpour in "Singin' in the Rain". His failures are also documented - an all-dance film, 1956's "Invitation to the Dance", held back from release for four years; the cynical "It's Always Fair Weather" in 1955; his direction of 1969's elephantine disappointment, "Hello, Dolly!". Several of Kelly's surviving colleagues are interviewed in brief though telling clips - Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron among others.
The inevitable comparisons with his only comparable contemporary, Fred Astaire, are here, but the analysis of their individual styles is thoughtful and respectful to both. For me, Kelly is undeniably brilliant but somewhat aware of it in his on screen persona, which comes across at times as abrasive and preening. His last years are given just a cursory glance as he was beset with illness, but it would have been nice to see his valedictory turns in 1967's "The Young Girls of Rochefort" or even the soft shoe he does in 1980's execrable "Xanadu". No matter as Trachtenberg has made an exemplary record of a most accomplished career.
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