Singin’ in the Rain Sparkles at 60

I thought I’d seen Singin in the Rain too often to notice anything new about it, but the beautifully remastered 60th anniversary print proves me wrong.  Each frame is sharper, and the details sparkle.  For the first time, I noticed the glittering emeralds in Cyd Charisse’s bracelet, the jeweled straps on Lina Lamont’s shoes in the opening scene, and the way the feathered skirt of Lina’s dress flutters so gorgeously around her at the Dancing Cavalier premiere.

Speaking of Lina, I have to say that over the years, I’ve grown uneasy with the film’s attitude towards her.  Don often threatens her with physical violence, grabs her by the arms, shakes her. I also think her humiliation at the end of the film is excessive; yes, Lina is mean and scheming, but some of her scheming is reasonable, since she’s trying to protect her career in a fickle industry.  The film suggests that Lina gets too uppity; she’s manageable when her (male) co-stars, directors, and producers can laugh at her supposed stupidity and lack of talent, but when she starts to outmaneuver them, when she attempts to assert control, they humiliate her and cut her down to size. For me, Lina’s treatment is the one sour note in an otherwise joyous film.

Singin’ in the Rain is a movie about the movies, and it highlights the artifice inherent in filmmaking as well as the pure imagination of the artists and filmmakers. On one hand, Don can’t express his real feelings for Kathy without the artificial trappings of a movie love scene in the song “You Were Meant For Me.” In “Good Morning,” on the other hand, Don, Cosmo, and Kathy’s imaginative play turns raincoats into dresses, matador capes, guitars, and dancing partners. Then there’s Cosmo’s priceless bit with the dummy in “Make ‘em Laugh,” in which the dummy stands in for an overeager suitor, dance partner, and adversary. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I always laugh out loud when Cosmo throws himself up from behind the couch, as though the dummy has tossed him in the air. The title song, with its ecstatic choreography, shows us how Don’s inner reality, his happiness in love, shapes his perception of his external circumstances; it may be pouring rain, but “from where [he] stand[s], the sun’s shining all over the place”  Splashing about in puddles with his umbrella, Don calls to mind a grown-up Christopher Robin, another character with a powerful capacity for imagination.

Singin’ in the Rain excels at mining humor from the filmmaking process, as it does in its presentation of the love scene from The Dueling Cavalier.  Following comedy’s rule of three, the film presents this scene to us three times:  first, Don and Lina shoot it as a scene from a silent picture – their angry verbal exchange totally contradicts the love scene they’re playing; second, they try to shoot the scene while wired for sound for the first time, resulting in hilarious difficulties with the microphone; finally, we watch the scene at the premiere of the film, with the image and the sounds disastrously out of sync. By reiterating the love scene, the filmmakers establish our familiarity with it, so that the humor stems from the disjunction between how the scene plays out each time and how we know it actually should be.

Singin’ in the Rain encapsulates the moviemaking process in a skillfully layered sequence for the song “Would You.” First, we see Kathy recording the song in the studio; we cut to Lina recording it as well, painfully off-key; cut to Don and Lina filming the song for The Dancing Cavalier, with director and crew hovering about and Kathy’s voice on the soundtrack; then the camera closes in on Lina, the color drains to black-and-white, the soundtrack pops and crackles, and we’re watching the scene as it would actually appear in The Dueling Cavalier; finally, the camera pulls back out and we’re watching Don, Cosmo, and studio chief RF Simpson watch the scene.  Multiple layers of process and viewership, all condensed into one stunning sequence.  Much like the film itself, which combines satire, humor, and affection into one joyous ode to Hollywood.

Note: For more on Singin’ in the Rain, check out my earlier post about the film and my article on The Artist, which discusses the connections between that film and Singin’ in the Rain.

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