As punishment for my film school sins I’m watching all of the AFI Top 100 films that I haven’t seen. I will be reviewing them and grading them as I watch them.
Going into this experiment had you told me that I was going to like a musical more than a drama about teenage angst I wouldn’t have believed you. That is, however, exactly what happened. The first thing that struck me about Singin’ in the Rain was how ubiquitous it is in our culture. I felt like I had seen ninety percent of the film through clips, homages, advertisements and of course classes in film school. The scenes of the actors and production crew struggling to record sound were shown to us in history of film to demonstrate changes in technology; Levis did a commercial which used Gene Kelly’s likeness sometime in the 90s; The Simpsons and Family Guy make homage to the film several times as does A Clockwork Orange (I mean it’s kind of an homage, maybe more of an allusion). Watching the film was like flipping through the annotations of a novel comprised of pop culture.
The second thing that struck me about the film was the craftsmanship of the actors. All of the dancing is spectacular, but Cosmo Brown’s solo effort while singing Make ‘Em Laugh had me counting the seconds between takes. We were taught in film school that the modern film has a cut every 3-4 seconds on average. In Singin’ Cosmo Brown plays the piano, dances, sings, bursts through sets and smiles continuously for 20 seconds or more several times. It made me think of the talent of these stars and the stars that came before them, the silent movie actors and comedians who did their own stunts, the vaudeville actors who could entertain in a variety of ways; it was impressive in a way that modern films can’t be because the visual language has changed and our expectations of film have changed. That’s not to diminish modern film; it’s only to celebrate the merits of a very good old film.
By the end of the film, I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t like musicals and I was a little nervous because of the hokey acting when Don Lockwood is addressing the crowd on the red carpet, but the film’s charm is undeniable. Aside from the Broadway Melody Ballet, which was impressive but too long for someone who doesn’t love musical numbers, I enjoyed all of the singing and dancing. And the film has a nice ending that wraps everything up nicely and sees our villain get her just deserts. An entertaining movie worthy of inclusion on the list.