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An American in Paris

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS



USA, 1950


Director: Vincente Minnelli

Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Picture Corp.; Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 113 minutes. Released 1950. Filmed 1 August 1950 through fall 1950 at MGM studios, Culver City, California; also on location in Paris.


Producer: Arthur Freed; screenplay: Alan Jay Lerner; photography: Al Gilks and John Alton (final ballet); editor: Adrienne Fazan; art directors: Preston Ames and Cedric Gibbons; set decorators: Keogh Gleason and Edwin B. Willis; music: George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin; music directors: Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin; costume designers: Orry-Kelly, Walter Plunkett (Beaux-Arts Ball costumes), Irene Sharaff (final ballet costumes); choreography: Gene Kelly.


Cast: Gene Kelly (Jerry Mulligan); Leslie Caron (Lise Borvier); Oscar Levant (Adam Cook); Georges Guetary (Henri Baurel); Nina Foch (Milo Roberts); Eugene Borden (Georges Mattieu); Martha Bamattre (Mathilde Mattieu); Mary Young (Old woman dancer); Ann Codee (Therese); George Davis (Francola); Hayden Rourke (Tommy Baldwin); Paul Maxey (John McDowd); Dick Wessel (Ben Macrow).


Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Story and Screenplay, Cinematography—Color, Art Direction—Color, Scoring, Costume Design—Color, 1951; American Film Institute's "100 Years, 100 Movies," 1998.


Publications


Books:

de la Roche, Catherine, Vincente Minnelli, Wellington, New Zealand, 1959; reprinted in Film Culture (New York), June 1959.

Griffith, Richard, The Cinema of Gene Kelly, New York, 1962.

Truchaud, François, Vincente Minnelli, Paris, 1966.

Springer, John, All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing, New York, 1966.

Kobal, John, Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance, New York, 1970.

Burrows, Michael, Gene Kelly: Versatility Personified, St. Austell, Cornwall, 1971.

Thomas, Lawrence B., The MGM Years, New Rochelle, New York, 1972.

Knox, Donald, The Magic Factory: How MGM Made "An Americanin Paris," New York, 1973.

Hirschhorn, Clive, Gene Kelly: A Biography, London, 1974; revised edition 1984.

Stern, Lee Edward, The Movie Musical, New York, 1974.

Delameter, James, Dance in the Hollywood Musical, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.

Guerif, François, Vincente Minnelli, Paris, 1984.

Brion, Patrick, and others, Vincente Minnelli, Paris, 1985.

Minnelli, Vincente, I Remember it Well, Hollywood, 1990.

Harvey, Stephen, Directed by Vincente Minnelli, New York, 1990.

Naremore, James, The Films of Vincent Minnelli, New York, 1993.

Yudkoff, Alvin, Gene Kelly; A Life of Dance and Dreams, New York, 1999.


Articles:

Jablonski, Edward, in Films in Review (New York), October 1951.

Harcourt-Smith, Simon, in Sight and Sound (London), January-March 1952.

Johnson, A., "The Films of Vincente Minnelli," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1958 and Spring 1959.

Minnelli, Vincente, "The Rise and Fall of the Film Musical," in Films and Filming (London), January 1962.

Behlmer, Rudy, "Gene Kelly," in Films in Review (New York), January 1964.

Cutts, John, "Dancer, Actor, Director," in Films and Filming (London), August-September 1964.

Truchaud, François, in Télérama (Paris), 13 December 1964.

Steinhauer, W., "Ruekblende," in Film und Ton (Munich), March 1973.

Classic Film Collector (Indiana, Pennsylvania), Fall 1976.

Johnson, Julia, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 1, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Verstraten, P., in Skrien (Amsterdam), February-March 1984.

Medhurst, Andy, "The Musical," in The Cinema Book, edited by Pam Cook, London, 1985.

Dalle Vacche, A., "A Painter in Hollywood: Vincente Minnelli's AnAmerican in Paris," in Cinema Journal (Austin, Texas), no. 1, 1992.

Blaney, Dorothy Gulbenkian, "Gene Kelly and the Melting Pot," in USA Today (Arlington, Virginia), 3 August 1992.

Sharaff, Irene, "Un Américain à Paris," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1996.

Zetterberg, Anna, in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 38, no. 2, 1996.

Cohen, Clélia, "Un Américain à Paris," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1997.


* * *

An American in Paris, one of the most successful and popular musicals in the history of film, is also one of the few Technicolor musicals to be taken seriously by critics during the Golden Age of Hollywood when many such films were made. Its grand finale, a 17-minute ballet, focused attention on the fact that films did not have to contain a serious message to be worthy examples of the art form. An American in Paris won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1951, captured five other Academy Awards, and was placed on most lists of best films for that year. It stands as a prime example of a type of musical collaboration made during the studio system.

Difficult critical questions arise regarding the complicated assigning of credit involved in evaluating such movies. First of all, An American in Paris is an example of "producer cinema," being one of a list of musicals made by the famous Arthur Freed unit at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The Freed unit was also responsible for The Bandwagon, Singin' in the Rain, The Pirate, Meet Me in St. Louis, and many others. Secondly, the creative input of star Gene Kelly, who did the choreography of the ballet, is undeniable, as are the myriad contributions made by MGM's outstanding roster of technicians— costume designer Irene Sharaff, cinematographer John Alton, art director Preston Ames, musicians Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin, and many more. Finally, it is most certainly a film by director Vincente Minnelli as it contains his recurring theme of characters in pursuit of their dreams, as well as his typical use of color, costume, and decor. Minnelli's musicals are among the most elegant and polished of the MGM musicals and his flair for camera movement, elaborately constructed long takes, and richly styled backgrounds contribute much to the film.

The opening scenes of An American in Paris, in which its characters wake up in "this star called Paris" and go about their daily routines, constitute an homage to Rouben Mamoulian's 1932 film Love Me Tonight. In addition to the famous ballet, the innovative musical numbers contain a subjective characterization of Leslie Caron, presented through music, dance, and color. As she is described, images of her appear on screen, each with a different Gershwin tune, different color, costume, setting and color-coordinated background. She is portrayed as sexy, studious, demure, athletic, etc., while the style of dance interprets her inner quality. Other musical numbers include the pas de deux "Our Love Is Here to Stay," which is a beautiful blend of music, setting, costume, and dance, photographed simply with a tight frame around the two dancers as the camera follows their movements. The old-fashioned "I'll Build a Staircase to Paradise" is a tribute to an earlier tradition, the Ziegfeld Follies musical number. The musical highlight of the film is the ballet itself, which is based visually on a series of famous paintings by Dufy, Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others. The ballet's story parallels the film's narrative in an oblique manner. An ex-G.I., who has stayed on in Paris after the war, meets a young French girl, falls in love with her, and loses her. Following the ballet, a brief scene depicts a reconciliation, allowing for the inevitable happy ending.

An American In Paris has undergone something of a critical devaluation in the past decade. Other Minnelli musicals (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Pirate, The Bandwagon) are considered superior works, and the Kelly/Stanley Donen Singin' in the Rain is more popular with general audiences. An American in Paris is frequently criticized as being too sentimental, too romantic and, because of the ballet, too pretentious. Nevertheless, the film undoubtedly contributed to the maturing process of the musical genre. By challenging the idea that audiences would not understand or accept a long ballet deeply linked to the narrative of the film it helped to free the dance visually and to expand the horizons of viewers as well as the creative possibilities for the artists making musical films.

—Jeanine Basinger

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"An American in Paris." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"An American in Paris." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/american-paris

"An American in Paris." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/american-paris

American in Paris, An

American in Paris, An. Orch. piece by Gershwin, score of which incl. parts for 4 taxi-horns. F.p. NY 1928.

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"American in Paris, An." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"American in Paris, An." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/american-paris

"American in Paris, An." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/american-paris