Given the choice, I must admit that in most cases, I’d rather watch a movie that was released in the last 5 years than one that was released in the last 60. Not because there aren’t hundreds of amazing movies I would watch over and over again that were released in the early to middle 20th century, but because I’m usually more interested in issues of current reality than I am in watching what is much more likely considered to be a “classic.”
That being said, no movie musical I’ve seen in the past 5 years can even hold a candle to the magic of a “Classical Hollywood” musical like Singin’ in the Rain. It feels like a complete joke to me to even attempt to compare the likes of something like Mammia Mia, Rent, Hairspray or Nine to the standard of musicals to which I hole all others to. Nothing is as perfect as Singin’ in the Rain. Nothing can come close to the amazing talent we are watching on screen. It is folly to even try to compare any leading man of a musical still living to the likes of Gene Kelly. Trying to judge Singin’ in the Rain from a modern musical generic standpoint feels like comparing freshly picked and perfectly ripe apples to last week’s orange peels that have been sitting on my countertop rotting.
It is particularly hard to review Singin’ in the Rain from an unbiased standpoint knowing that it is consistently named in the top of “Best of” film lists in multiple categories, especially considering that it is a movie made 59 years ago. And while it is difficult, to assess its technical merits as such, there is something to be said about some of its simplicity in its filmmaking choices.
For starters, the absolute best part about Singin’ in the Rain is the long takes of musicals numbers with full body shots. This technique involves very little camera movement, and often just follows the actors around, keeping their entire bodies within frame while they dance, sing and act. On one hand, I could see how this could be boring for someone used to watching a Jerry Bruckheimer film with an edit every 3 seconds, but the “simple” cinematography of this film is most of what gives it its magic. Much of the narrative of Singin’ in the Rain revolves around concerns involving filmmaking. How do we as an audience know that who we perceive to be singing a song is who is actually singing a song? And in a film where we are trained to question if what we are seeing is actually reality, the one thing we can be certain of 100% is that the dancing we see by Kelly, Reynolds and O’Connor is all them. We know because we can see their faces and their full bodies in motion. And while I wouldn’t be so bold as to argue that such talent as theirs completely doesn’t exist in any musical stars of our time, it can certainly be said that since musical numbers are not shot the same way and are edited together differently, that (at least for me) the magic of watching what I know is the actor doing the dance is gone. Watching the Richard Gere tap dancing scene in Rob Marshall’s 2002 film Chicago is a perfect example of this. Gere dances, but the song is edited between takes of him on stage and him in the courtroom, and there is never a full body shot of him dancing. The delight I get from watching Gene Kelly tap dance while playing the fiddle without any edit or break is gone when watching Gere. And while it may seem like outdated cinematography and filmmaking, when it comes to a musical, I’d rather watch things the way they used to be.
However if there is a downside to Singin’ in the Rain it is its small gaps in storytelling. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s kinda cheesy. And very predictable. I know the minute Gene Kelly falls into Debbie Reynolds car that they will be together at the end of the movie despite their initial hostility. And the “Broadway” number really has no point in this film, and it feels like it is just tied in because one of the filmmakers decided they wanted to put in a Broadway dance number. Granted, now that I think about it, this could be a parable to the silliness of the plot structure of “The Dancing Cavalier,” so maybe it is intentionally bad narrative at that point, but either way, its silly.
Singin’ in the Rain is not a perfect film by any means. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a damn good one either. Overall, it’s cheerful, magnificently shot and acted in, and shines some sunlight on even the rainiest day. 5 out of 5 stars, and I’d recommend it to anyone.