(Italiano) Le leggende del musical hollywoodiano parte II. Dedicato a Gene Kelly

Dazzling smile and cunning eye, in 1937 moves the first steps in the Big Apple, but the encounter between Gene Kelly and dance, happens many years earlier. Yes, because in Pittsburgh, his home town, Kelly starts taking classes at only 7 years, at the behest of her mother. It’s not love at first glance, as you might think. In fact, teased by his peers, abandons the dance and then resume a few years later, when he realizes that the girls were attracted by the boys able to dance and that the dance was a good vehicle to woo them. As they say, Gene Kelly saw us along. Not by chance is remembered as one of the most eclectic personalities in Hollywood, as the one who revolutionized the dance on the screen and especially the way to look at this discipline. It is known, the dance was considered and it is in some respects still today, as best suited to the feminine gender, but Gene Kelly with his athletic and energetic style, has cleared many clich├ęs, becoming a source of inspiration for later generations. Even Michael Jackson held him as a model, as reported in an article of the Republic of 1996, following the disappearance of Kelly, and in which personalities of the show and not only, have spent words of gratitude and affection towards him.

Of course we all associate his name with two masterpieces of the musical comedy, Singing in the rain and An American in Paris but there are many, several other interesting works of which Gene Kelly has been the protagonist. Before I report a few, I think it is necessary to make some considerations to better frame the level of professionalism that you are talking about. First Gene Kelly was not only a very good dancer, but a creative all round, that during his experience in Hollywood, he learned about the specifics of the cinematic medium, what you could get through the filming, editing and the small, yet rudimental, special effects. Understanding the potential of the medium, was his fortune and the principle of his revolution. In most cases, he was the author of the choreographies himself and he loved experimenting with the possibilities that the cinema was able to offer him. Examples are two sequences in two different films: “L’alterego Dance” in the film Cover Girl (1944) and “Jerry Mouse and Jene Kelly Dance”, in Anchors Aweigh (1945).

In the first case, Kelly dances with himself reflected in a glass and, in the second, with a cartoon mouse to which he tries to teach tap-dance steps. In Each of these numbers emerges an extreme confidence with the objects or entities surrounding, with which Kelly establishes a real dialogue, and the choreography becomes a story always different, where to mutate are subjects, objects, situations and feelings, but never the naturalness with which they are narrated. The expression of the face is always impeccable, does not betray the fatigue and every movement seems extremely simple. Obviously that result comes from interminable tests, fatigue and practice of perfectionism. Many colleagues remember him as one of the most authoritative filmmakers on the set. He demanded the utmost from himself and his collaborators and this, perhaps, allowed him to perform small miracles during his career, transforming the beginners of the dance, in dancers perfectly to the height of the role. This is the case with Frank Sinatra, co-starring in Anchors Aweigh, and Debby Reynolds in Singing in the Rain. Looking at the number paired with Frank Sinatra, I hardly noticed the difference, and I admit I felt some surprise. In truth, Gene Kelly taught at his mother’s dance school in Pittsburgh before leaving for New York and certainly knew the trade, but transferring a skill to someone else, is not always simple and the result is not discounted.

Before saying goodbye, I want to suggest a less well-known project, but in my opinion extremely interesting, of which Gene Kelly was the author and protagonist. This is Invitation to dance 1956, produced by MGM. The film is divided into three chapters without dialogue, where the story is entrusted exclusively to choreographies. Kelly signed some dancers of the most important European dance companies of the time, with the intent of making the dance known and valued as an art form. He wanted to give them maximum visibility and take part in only one of the episodes, but MGM forced him to participate in all three chapters. The production house was not convinced of the marketability of the film and did not make life easy neither to him nor to the other dancers who did not feel free to fully express their creativity. The film was a box-office flop, but won the Golden Bears for Best film at the sixth edition of the Berlin International film Festival in ‘ 56.

Exhausting in a single article The contribution that Gene Kelly has left in the film musical and the collective imagination, is practically impossible, but I hope to have been able to give you some ideas and have aroused at least a little ‘ your Curiosity. For those wishing to deepen, I suggest you to consult the Encyclopedia of World biography and the article of the Republic of which you find the link in the first lines. As anticipated at the beginning, in addition to the films already mentioned, you mark Me and my Gal (1942), with Giudy Garland, Brigadoon (1954), along with Cyd Charisse to whom I dedicated an article last week, and Black Hand (1950), one of the very few dramatic roles played by Gene Kelly, again for MGM. If you liked this article, or want to give me suggestions for the next, leave a comment at the end. Since I took taste, I greet you with a couple of videos and I wish everyone good continuation.

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