An American in Paris
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
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.
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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.
An American in Paris
An American in Paris ★★★★ 1951
Lavish, imaginative musical features a sweeping score, and knockout choreography by Kelly. Ex-G.I. Kelly stays on in Paris after the war to study painting, supported in his efforts by rich American Foch, who hopes to acquire a little extra attention. But Kelly loves the lovely Caron, unfortunately engaged to an older gent. Highlight is an astonishing 17-minute ballet which holds the record for longest movie dance number—and one of the most expensive, pegged at over half a million for a month of filming. For his efforts, the dance king won a special Oscar citation. While it sure looks like Paris, most of it was filmed in MGM studios. ♫S'Wonderful; I Got Rhythm; Embraceable You; Love Is Here To Stay; Tra-La-La; I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise; Nice Work If You Can Get It; By Strauss; Concerto in F (3rd Movement). 113m/C VHS, DVD . Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Nina Foch, Georges Guetary; D: Vincente Minnelli; W: Alan Jay Lerner; C: John Alton; M: Ira Gershwin. Oscars '51: Art Dir./Set Dec., Color, Color Cinematog., Costume Des. (C), Picture, Story & Screenplay, Scoring/Musical; AFI '98: Top 100; Golden Globes '52: Film—Mus./Comedy, Natl. Film Reg. '93.