by Jim Ridley
Gene Kelly 100th Birthday Celebration: An American in Paris
Sept. 1-3 at The Belcourt
One of the best jokes in Singin’ in the Rain has Gene Kelly laying out to a studio mogul his big “Broadway Melody” number — which the movie stops dead to unfold in elaborate art direction, vivacious choreography and eye-popping, screen-filling Technicolor — only to have the suit reply, “I can’t quite visualize it.”
It may have been a subtle dig at the 17-minute ballet that climaxes Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 Best Picture winner An American in Paris, one of the most extravagant extended sequences in all of movies. It’s fashionable today to knock the movie for its naked ambition and lust for prestige, but even in its pretentious moments you’ve never seen anything quite like it — it’s a movie besotted with beauty, whether it resides in the sublime Gershwin songs, the Impressionist canvases that Minnelli and his art directors meticulously recreate, or the face of Leslie Caron, the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who off-screen was still suffering the effects of her near-starvation during World War II. And for a welcome dose of tartness, there’s the great character actor-pianist Oscar Levant, whose sour-apple kisser and sardonic delivery never failed to improve a picture.
The movie is not to be missed on the big screen in 35mm — thank you, Belcourt. The theater's current Kelly series ends next weekend with the underrated It's Always Fair Weather and a Skype Q&A with Kelly's widow Patricia Ward Kelly.