by Jim Ridley
Certain topics are as reliable as Duraflame logs for igniting movie-geek arguments: Casablanca vs. Citizen Kane, Chaplin vs. Keaton, Truffaut vs. Godard. Add to that the age-old debate over who was better, Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. People usually take sides along these lines: Astaire was either seamless grace personified or slightly chilly, while Kelly's brash exertion exuded either joy or undisguised desperation. Frankly, it's a sorry moviegoer indeed who'd deny himself the pleasure of either artist's company.
For the next six weekends at The Belcourt, the spotlight is on Kelly, in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday Aug. 23. The theater's Kelly tribute begins this Saturday and Sunday at noon with one of his early star vehicles, Charles Vidor's 1944 Cover Girl with Rita Hayworth; it's followed by Vincente Minnelli's boldly stylized 1948 cult favorite The Pirate (Aug. 11-12), with Kelly in boisterous form and phenomenal shape as an actor who poses as a swashbuckling bandit to woo Judy Garland, then Busby Berkeley's Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Aug. 18-19) — which should be interesting if you saw Kelly's directorial partner Stanley Donen dissing Berkeley's splashy style in The Story of Film.
There's no Singin' in the Rain, alas, but if you've never seen Minnelli's An American in Paris on the big screen, its eye-popping Impressionist tableaux shouldn't be missed Sept. 1-2. But the biggest treat may be rare screenings of the wonderful 1949 Comden-Green-Bernstein musical On the Town (Aug. 25-26) and its tart 1954 follow-up It's Always Fair Weather (Sept. 8-9), initially conceived as a sequel catching up with the cynical, disillusioned (and now former) buddies. The latter features the star in a famous routine on roller skates — as does midnight movie Xanadu (Aug. 17-18), Kelly's last film role, made when the Hollywood great was in his late 60s. See here for showtimes and more details.