[This post is part of my Blind Spot Series, in which I watch, for the first time, famous movies I should have seen long ago. And seeing as the movies in this series are generally well known and regarded, I don't necessarily discuss their plots or thoroughly critique them. These movies have already been analyzed to death; so anything I could bring to the table would be superfluous at best. What follows is merely my reaction to watching An American in Paris for the first time.]
Just a few pages into Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, I'm already floored by the man's mastery of prose. With this book, Ford said to the world, "You wanna see what I fucking got? Do you? For reals? Well I'm gonna show ya'; but brace yourself, cause I ain't holding back." The way he so effortlessly navigated through a sentence, turning the written word into his bitch, is incredibly disheartening: no matter how I try I will never match his work. Nevertheless, The Good Soldier has further inspired me to create. Which always happens when I take in great art—even art that doesn't necessarily appeal to my specific sensibilities.
So I suppose it's fitting that I watched Vincente Minnelli's An American in Paris the same day I started reading Ford's book. But before I get up in this movie's guts, I just gotta get something off my chest: People fucking baffle me. One complaint I've heard over the years, more than a few times, in regard to Musicals is: "How can people watch that crap? People just breaking out into song—it's so unrealistic; no one does that." This is the equivalent of grousing on the lack of verisimilitude in a zombie movie. Musicals don't attempt to mimic real life. They aren't docu-dramas; they're...well, they're movies about people spontaneously breaking into song and dance. Artifice is the point; that is the aim.
Which is why, incidentally, I've never been moved by a Musical. My admiration for these movies has always been academic rather than emotional. As soon as a movie veers from the world of reality, which musicals so purposefully do, I am set adrift. There is nothing left to emotionally ground me, to connect me to the material. But that doesn't mean I'm not awed by these movies. (Note: I'm not trying to say it's impossible to be moved by a Musical. They just don't touch me that way. No, not even The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.) If you've listened to my podcast episode on The Raid, you know that I admire beautiful technique; I love watching professionally trained folks excel at the skill they spent years honing. So for me, the beautifully choreographed, exquisitely constructed musical numbers in An American in Paris—especially the stunning sixteen minute ballet climax—are no more or less thrilling than the kung fu choreography of a movie like The Raid.
So yeah, I get it if you don't like Musicals; they're not for everybody. I'm not saying that you have to like Musicals—everyone has personal preferences—I'm saying that you have to approach them with an understanding of what they are attempting to do. If you complain that Musicals are like really boring and stupid and stuff because there's no story, just a bunch of singing and dancing, and then you gleefully watch a movie that is just a ninety minute series of car crashes; then your argument is invalid. Your real complaint is that singing and dancing don't appeal to you. Which, fair enough.
Of course, the reverse is also true: anyone who loves and admires Musicals, anyone who sings the praises of An American in Paris and its aforementioned virtuoso sixteen minute dance climax needs to stop complaining about mindless action movies. To me, they're one and the same. Let's be honest, what is An American in Paris' climax if not Minnelli masturbating onto the screen? 'Folks, this is where the narrative stops. I'm just gonna pull out all the stops, assemble the greatest dancers Hollywood can buy, choreograph them to glide through a meticulously designed sound-stage, and let my fluid camera effortlessly capture the whole thing.'
If this were an action movie, this section would be the explosion filled show-stopping orgy of destruction. If this were porn, this section would be...um, it'd probably be bukkake—an endless, uninterrupted series of money shots.
As I said, neither action movies nor Musicals have ever moved me, but, when done well, they have always left me mesmerized. And what Minelli did here is goddamn inspiring. But again, it's all a matter of personal taste: some people like this stuff, others don't. Just don't make an irrelevant complaint about it.
(Side note: I generally try to avoid the sort of distracting, irrelevant, low-brow focus on performers' appearances endemic to so much amateur online movie criticism; but Jesus Christ, Leslie Caron was hot as fuck. I was a huge fan of Father Goose when I was a kid; and I'd be lying if I said the prospect of seeing her hot mug weren't one of the reasons I always watched the flick when it played on TV.)