For Chris's Valentine's present I got him An American in Paris, in part because of my secret scheme to get musicals included more regularly in our Tuesday movie night line-up, and in part because it's one of my favorite movies of all time. We watched it last night. I hadn't seen it since my early adolescence when I would kick my younger siblings out of the basement so I could pause, rewind, and rewatch every dance sequence and attempt to reenact them myself. This obsessiveness apparently stood me in good stead, for last night I mentally anticipated each time step, each airplane roll, each inside-out fouette as though I was placing my hands over a keyboard after a long absence away from a computer.
God, it's such a good movie. The layers of backstory, not necessarily spoken, just understood: Milo Robbins, the poor little rich girl, simultaneously supremely confident and crushingly insecure, swooping in to "sponsor" (read: devour) hottie artist Gene Kelly because she likes his, uh, "work." Nina Foch's performance is SO GOOD, and something I never noticed or appreciated in my younger days. Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron in her first film, in a role that Michelle Williams should play if they were to ever, God forbid, update it), a young girl who has grown into exquisite beauty with absolutely no awareness of it and consequently no self-consciousness, engaged to a man she loves deeply as someone who's raised her and cared for her since her parents' death when she was a child, unexpectedly in love with a brash young American. Jerry Mulligan, peacocking around Paris with his muscly forearms and his paintbrushes, overly cocky and under-talented yet somehow still lovable, I think because he is so unaffected by Milo's patronage and passes at him and instead is wholeheartedly focused on his work and the girl he so desperately wants (and also because the filmmakers intelligently gave him a dance number with a flock of French schoolchildren). Adam Cook--why is he in this movie? Yet Oscar Levant plays him--is him--as so wry, self-loathing, self-deprecating, and honest that he becomes an integral character when really he seems there for little more than to provide piano accompaniment. I found myself laughing hysterically watching him light multiple cigarettes and drink his companions' coffee--he's transparently, frantically hoping those same companions, Jerry and Henri, will not discover the knowledge that he alone possesses that the woman they are both declaring their love for is the the same one. And Henri himself, the other man, the older father figure to whom Lise is engaged: how can you hate him? Even Jerry likes him. When Henri so enthusiastically introduces his fiancee--Lise--to Jerry, not knowing that Jerry and Lise have said a bitter goodbye earlier that day, Jerry swallows his heartbreak and makes the occurrence a pleasant one, not wanting to hurt Henri perhaps even more than he doesn't want to hurt Lise. And then when Henri and Lise's taxi pulls away and her eyes are overflowing with tears and he's watching her, his own heart breaking for her rather than breaking for himself (even though it must be). Of course he tells the taxi to go back. Of course!
The 17-minute, ground-breaking ballet at the end is the highlight. The best moment--of the ballet and of the entire movie--comes when the cheerful traffic scene suddenly evaporates and Kelly and Caron are silhouetted against a smoky background. The music changes, elongating into horns and strings, and they melt into each other in a slow, rapturous duet amongst the fountain's statues. The camera swings, following them; Gene Kelly is dragging Leslie Caron, arching, through the statues and her leg swivels in a wide circle that magically echoes the camera's swing and the swing of the music. It's one of the most spine-tingling moments in cinema.
Here, I found it. The moment I'm thinking of comes around 1:38-1:40, 41, but the whole excerpt is so gorgeous; watch it all (WITH THE SOUND), or better yet, rent the film.