As maybe a corollary to our recent Rock Aldas and Grouchos thread, I’ve been thinking about a few instances of musical and other artistic performances and works that almost singlehandedly justified an entire genre that never previously appealed to me – and that may cause me some pause to this day.
One of my favorite Lenny Bruce bits from his Carnegie Hall Concert album begins with the self-confessed jazz afficianado talking about this relatively new genre of rock ‘n roll. He says that he doesn’t dig most of it, slipping in a mocking chorus of “Yackety Yack,” but that there’s one song out called “Spanish Harlem.” He asks his audience if they’ve ever heard it, quoting the opening verse. “It’s so pretty,” he says. This one rock ‘n roll song has clearly opened his mind to the fact that the genre may contain other gems. Dig?
Tonight, after the kids went to bed, my wife reminded that I could catch the end of the Vincente Minelli-Gene Kelly-Leslie Caron masterpiece, An American in Paris. I quickly turned it on just in time to catch the mindblowing, long fantasy sequence that ends the movie, a scene that chokes me up in recognition of its beauty just thinking about it. Sure enough the sequence got me for at least the 25th time. I’m not a big fan of dance and choreography by any means, but Gene Kelly is by far the one dancer I love seeing in action. He’s so athletic, not showy. I can appreciate him as an athlete more than an “entertainer.” Likewise, the fantasy ballet sequence that brings home An American in Paris strikes me as a work of art that fully expresses the emotional content of the film. It’s not some stitched-in talent show piece, as I find most dance sequences, even in the better musicals. The Gershwin music with the choreography and the choreographed camera work speak to me like no other dance sequence I’ve ever seen. Only Saturday Night Fever‘s big dance to “More Than a Woman” comes remotely close to speaking to me on any level.
Those of you who know me and know my complete lack of interest in dance and musicals may agree with my wife that my love for An American in Paris is the most surprising thing that I love.* I’m still shocked myself, but as I told her, that scene is so pretty and well done that, for me, it singlehandedly justifies the entire art of choreography. It’s the only thing that keeps my mind open even a sliver to the possibility that any other piece of choreography I’ll ever see might contain a shred of worthwhile storytelling and emotional content. I’m still a complete oaf when it comes to appreciating choreographed dance, but at least I’m willing to believe it has a place in the arts.
Continue reading »