An American in Paris (1951)

Song-and-dance movies are kind of like porn:  if you’re looking for plot, you’re watching for the wrong reason.  This movie kind of makes that clear, in that the final twenty minutes are dominated by an extended dance sequence which apparently – though I was far too ignorant to pick up on this on my own – were themed around particular French artists.  Dance fixes everything, of course, so all the problems that were raised throughout the film (standard romance fare:  somebody is betrothed to somebody else, etc.) are entirely dispensed with by the end.

The plot is this:  Jerry Mulligan is an American soldier who stays in Paris after the war to become a painter.  His buddy is a pianist and his buddy is a singer, and so they probably spend more time breaking out into song-dance-numbers than Jerry spends painting.  (Granted, a movie spent watching somebody paint might not be a better alternative.)  A rich American woman expresses interest in Jerry’s art – or possibly his body – but Jerry falls in love with a French girl instead, who also happens to be dating the singer.  Everything works out in the end via a massive dance number.

I don’t know a lot about the classic dancer/film stars of this era, as evidenced by the fact that I spent half the movie thinking the star was Fred Astaire rather than Gene Kelly (thanks, Madonna).  I do recall being bored to tears in the show-stopping numbers of the movies or cartoons that I did see as a kid.  That part where Judy Garland sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in The Wizard of OzAnd it’s still in black and white?  Snooze.  I suppose it’s a little different if I’m watching an actual dance performance, but I don’t have much patience for tap-dancing on film.  Like, the sounds are probably dubbed in later anyway, right?

One thing that I don’t often notice while I’m watching movies that stood out here were the interesting transitions.  There’s a moment where a character lights a cigarette, which then dissolves into a dancing woman reaching for a lamp.  Obviously, it’s much harder to explain than to actually notice.  The final dance sequence also did some neat things that seemed to blend the set of a stage performance which techniques that could only be done with film – like reconstructing a Paris street drawing done by Gene Kelly, the titular American artist, into a backdrop that morphs with each of a series of scenes.  It’s visually arresting, if not necessarily something that held my interest forever.

There’s also a quirky trick in the beginning that I liked, where someone introduces a character and then subverts it somehow, like by panning the camera to a figure in a window and then saying, “Oh, no, that’s not me.”  Like the other techniques, I was hoping there might be more of that, but after a description-through-dance number with the French girl, it kind of disappeared.

Ah, well.  It’s not supposed to make sense, is it, as long as you get what you came for.


Theme:  the American man

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:   ‘S Wonderful?


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