Friday, November 26, 2010

Film #39: Ugetsu (1953)

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Initial Release Country: Japan

Times Previously Seen: none

Teaser Summary (no spoilers)

Pair of overly ambitious, 16th century farmers run into seriously nasty business while chasing money and glory.

Uncut Summary (The full plot, including spoilers. Fair Warning)

In 16th century Japan, the land is torn by civil war. In a tiny village, two neighboring farmers, Genjuro and Tobei seem to have the necessities – land to tend and loving wives. Genjuro even makes pottery in his spare moments, which he sells for extra money. Despite having their basic requirements satisfied, both Genjuro and Tobei seek more.

With a far-reaching civil war nearing their village, the two men see a chance to chase their ambitions. Though the village head cautions them to stay with their lands and families, Genjuro and Tobei make for a nearby city. Genjuro hopes to sell his wares for a hefty profit, and Tobei dreams of finding a lord under whom he can become a great samurai. Genjuro does make a tidy sum selling his pottery, but Tobei finds only bitter disappointment. He finds a general and throws himself at his feet, only to be mocked and pushed away. He is taunted due to being a peasant and not even having a spear or armor to fight with.

On returning to their wives in the village, the men undergo a change. Having tasted some financial success, Genjuro begins work on a massive amount of new pottery, with a plan to sell it for a greater profit in a much larger city. Tobei, still tasting his humiliation, is far from discouraged and assists Genjuro with his pottery. His hope is to be able to afford the armor and spear he needs to join an army and find martial glory.

Gejuro and Tobei take their families with them to chase their dreams.

On the day that the two men finish their batch of plates, cups, and other earthen wares, the village is attacked in a nighttime raid by one of the nearby armies. Genjuro and Tobei, with their families, manage to escape capture and to save the pottery. In a difficult moonlight sojourn, they run across various victims of the armies, but eventually make it to the largest city.

In the city, things finally start to look up. The men's pottery is selling very well in the hustle of the market. Then, Tobei sees the object of his desire – a stately general whom he wishes to follow. He grabs a fistful of his and Genjuro's coins and runs madly after the general, despite his wife Ohama's pleading that he stay with her. Tobei evades her, buys the required spear and armor and abandons his wife.

Back at his stall, Genjuro continues to sell his pottery when a beautiful noblewoman, Lady Wakasa, appears with her elder handmaiden. Genjuro, who is stunned by the Lady Wakasa's looks and bearing, sells them several items and is told to deliver them to the Wakasa estate just outside of town.

Without his wife, Miyagi, or child, Genjuro delivers the pottery to Lady Wakasa, who invites the humble craftsman inside her home. She showers Genjuro with praise for his goods, and Genjuro expresses the honor he feels at such accolades. Lady Wakasa then makes the bold proposition that Genjuro remain with her and marry her. She courts him with a traditional love song, after which she and her servant hear the voice of her long-dead father, the daimyo Kawasa. The deceased patriarch apparently approves of his daughter's proposed marriage to this simple farmer. Genjuro, now hypnotized by the phantasmic atmosphere and the Lady's strange beauty and sorrow, accepts and stays.

Their husbands now in the throes of military and marital glory-seeking, Ohama and Miyagi are left to fend for themselves. Tobei's wife Ohama is soon beset by a gang of thugs who rape and humiliate her. Miyagi and her son try to make their way back home, but have to fend off starving transients and other peasants. The women are surviving, but only with the greatest of perseverance.

Tobei eventually gets his chance. He happens across an injured general who has just been willfully beheaded by his lieutenant. Tobei rushes in, steals the general's head, and presents it as a trophy to a rival general. He is then showered with a title, a horse, and vassals. With his new platoon, he goes to celebrate in a local brothel, where he finds none other than his disgraced wife Ohama, who is now a prostitute. After Ohama heaps scorn upon him, Tobei realizes the errors of his ways; the two reconcile, to a degree, and agree to head back to their village and continue to make amends.

At the Wakasa Estate, Genjuro is experiencing otherworldly delights. The grounds of the estate are heavenly, and his new wife seems utterly, obsessively devoted to him. However, he does sense that something is amiss. On his first return trip to the city by himself, a traveling monk sees Genjuro and detects what he calls “a hint of death” on him. It is revealed that the entire Wakasa family has been dead for years, and that Genjuro must be in the thrall of the demonic spirit of the Lady. The monk paints wards of protection on Genjuro's body. Upon returning to the estate, Lady Wakasa and her servant sense Genjuro's betrayal and try to tempt him to remove the wards, so the he can remain Wakasa's wife for eternity. Genjuro resists the temptation and escapes their grasp for good.

Genjuro enjoys a heavenly picnic with his spirit bride.

Back in the village, Tobei and his wife are finding a new kind of happiness. Tobei has rededicated himself to his work on his land and has abandoned any hopes of becoming a great soldier. He and his wife have found some form of peace.

Genjuro finally makes it back to his village in the deep of night, where he finds Ohama oddly awake and calmly tending the home fire while their son sleeps. Seemingly, they made it back home safely while Genjuro was in the clutches of the demon Wakasa. Genjuro expresses his relief at seeing Ohama and their son, apologizes for his foolishness, and lays down in exhaustion.

In the morning, the village head wakes Genjuro and his son. When Genjuro calls for Ohama, the confused village head tells him that Ohama has died a month prior, and that his son had been at the village head's house being taken care of. Genjuro makes the slow realization that he had been welcomed home not by his wife, by by her spirit.

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (done after 1 viewing, before any research)

Pretty cool movie. I was genuinely unnerved at a few moments, too.

Really, the whole thing amounts to a supernatural cautionary tale/parable. In this sense, it wasn't too hard to see where it was going from the start. The method of getting to that ending point, though, is the strength of this movie and why I really enjoyed it.

For the first portions of the film, it just seems like two average Joe's (or Ichiro's, I guess) who overreach themselves. Any viewer who's read an Aesop's fable or Grimm's Faerie Tale or two can see where it's heading for these two fellows – a painful lesson in knowing one's limitations and enjoying the good things that life has given you. In this sense, it's a very Japanese tale in that the men's ambition's are punished rather than rewarded, and this is the interesting part of the story to me.

The tale of the foolish Tobei is pretty obvious; the man is an obvious buffoon from the start, so it's no surprise that he makes bad decisions and that he and his wife suffer greatly for it. The unusual tale is the relatively upstanding Genjuro's. The man isn't necessarily avaricious. He seems to simply want to make enough money to buy his wife, whom he loves, the occasional kimono. While in a capitalistic society, such an attempt to modestly improve one's material lot in life is lauded, in the story of Ugetsu it invites demonic predation. This is actually the frightening part of the tale and what sets it apart from a more juvenile cautionary tale – Genjuro really isn't that bad a guy, but he's put through emotional hell for showing a tad of initiative.

On the horror aspect of the movie, it's incredibly effective. This is certainly not a “horror” movie, but the supernatural elements are so well-played that they are brilliant. For most of the movie, things are very straightforward, from the characters, the plot, and even the camerawork and visuals. For nearly 45 minutes, the acting and story are very naturalistic and commonplace. This is why, when Genjuro first goes to the Wakasa estate and I heard the deep, echoing murmurings of the dead general, it cut right to my gut. Following on the footsteps of a chilling song by the Lady, this whole scene is like cold, sharp razor blades tickling the back of your neck.

Here's the geisha dance that Lady Wakasa uses to lure Genjuro into her clutches. We Westerners may not find it appealing, but it has a very haunting quality due to Noh techniques of power acheived through minimalist movements and sounds:

Enhancing the effect of the supernatural portions of the movie is the cinematography. As mentioned, most of the movie is very traditional in its filming - it's solid, but nothing creative. Then, when the Lady appears, things shift. We start seeing some parts of the story from unusual angles. The costumes and set designs take on a polished, dreamlike quality. Even before Wakasa's true nature is revealed, we can sense that there is something artificial an untrustworthy about her and her home. This technique is not hard to pull off in a color film, and with modern technology, but in Ugetsu it was done in black and white. In an intellectual way, this is more impressive to me.

Ugetsu is, in my mind, a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, as impressive as some of those parts are. The story is certainly interesting, but far from novel. The dialogue is engaging, but not exactly fresh. The acting is refreshingly naturalistic, but not amazing. However, with the filming and themes providing cohesion, and the fact that the movie is a very efficient 95 minutes, I find that I'd certainly watch it again.

Take 2: Why Film Geeks Love This Movie (done after some further research)

Lots of interesting analyses written about this movie, all of which add several layers of appreciation for me.

Unlike several other films on the TIME list, Ugetsu was recognized internationally as a masterpiece right away. It's clear from this original TIME review that not only was its international release not delayed (as opposed to the years-long wait for Ikiru), but it was showered with critical acclaim.

In reading essays on the movie, a few things stand out. One is the use of camera and sound, and the way that director Mizoguchi made such effective use of distinctively Japanese artistic elements. This essay by Keiko McDonald describes how Mizoguchi drew from canvas painting, noh and kabuki elements to evoke myriad feelings, such as the connection between farmers and land, and the supernatural aspects of Genjuro's interactions with Lady Wakasa.

Another is Kenji Mizoguchi's storytelling. Ugetsu, taken from an 18th century collection of short stories, is meant to describe the overall effects of war on the common person. As with many of his scores of earlier films, he uses the plight of common women to illustrate it. In this essay, critic Philip Lopate points out something that alters my previous opinion. While I had suggested that Ugetsu is really a cautionary tale, Lopate suggests that it is, rather, a realistic look at the effects of war. It is not meant to moralize, but rather to simply focus one's gaze upon the way humans behave. In Mizoguchi's visions, men often seek aggressive change, causing pain and sorrow, even if unintentionally, to themselves and those whom they truly love.

I guess it's this last idea that makes Ugetsu both a uniquely Japanese film and one that connects with any group: it's a beautifully artistic look at a rather sorrowful truth about humanness. It's certainly not an overwhelmingly cheery message, but there is some hope for contentedness, if not joy.

Here's the final scene, in which Genjuro recalls his loving wife, while her benvolent spirit comforts him with the wisdom of acceptance:

That's a wrap. 39 down, 66 to go.

Coming Soon: Tokyo Story (1953)

The final of the Japanese ichi-ni-san panchi (1-2-3 punch, English speakers). I've this sad little number about geriatrics before, and am not overly relishing a second viewing. Maybe an older, wiser me will appreciate it more. Or I'll just get tired of looking at mama- and papa-sans.

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Film #38: Ikiru (1952)

Title for Us English Types: “To Live”

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Initial Release Country: Japan

Times Previously Seen: none

Teaser Summary (no spoilers)

Crusty old bureaucrat is diagnosed with stomach cancer, seeks for ways to squeeze some life out of his remaining months.

Uncut Summary (the full plot, including spoilers; fair warning)

In a stuffy Japanese city hall building, the aging Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) sits at his desk for the section chief within the massive bureaucracy. He does nothing more than robotically stamp forms, a task that he has done for over thirty years.

And then, a change. He learns that he has stomach cancer. This shakes him to his very fiber, as he begins to realize that he has done nothing of substance with his life. He begins to dwell on his relationship with his son, whom he lives with, and realizes that they are totally detached emotionally. This is clear through his son and daughter-in-laws' plans to edge Watanabe out of his own house and pension. This becomes known to the now-terminal man, but he is lost in his search for his soul. He decides to try and spend his remaining months living. The problem, however, is that after 30 years of being an automaton he doesn't know how.

Kanji Watanabe (left) beginning to realize his mortality & wasted life.

He begins by trying the hedonistic route. While drinking heavily at a local bar, he confesses his condition to a young pulp writer. The writer takes Watanabe out for a wild night of drinking, dancing, singing, and women. Watanabe begins by having some fun, but in the end is left with a hollow feeling of being unsatisfied with this definition of “living”.

The next morning, Watanabe runs into his co-worker, Sakai, a lively and friendly woman young enough to be his daughter. Watanabe becomes taken with her vitality and general happiness, and begins to spend time with her. Sakai is happy to oblige at first, and the two enjoy each others' innocent company, but Sakai eventually becomes nervous about Watanabe's obsessive fascination with her. In the end, she leaves her job at the city office to work in a toy factory. When Watanabe finally grills her on how she can always be so cheerful, she responds that making toys for children simply makes her happy. This is the small spark Watanabe needs.

After his two mysterious and unprecedented weeks away from work, Watanabe returns with a new mission: to make some kind of difference in the world before he dies. He reviews old cases in his stacks of papers and finds a past request to have a children's park built in a small, squalid neighborhood. He decides to finally stop the “pass the buck” system of his offices and take charge. He gathers his staff and heads out to the potential park site.

Flash forward five months. Kanji Watanabe has just died and the mourners are all at the wake in the family home. In attendance are several of the more prominent politicians from city hall. It soon becomes clear that the park of Watanabe's quest has not only been built to phenomenal success, but the credit for it is being taken by the mayor. This claim of responsibility, however, is up for serious debate.

As Watanabe's co-workers, family, and acquaintances pay their respects and recall the final months of the deceased's life, it becomes clear that Watanabe was, indeed, the singular force that led to the park's construction. Through sheer force of will and a quiet, unwavering refusal to take “no” for an answer, he got the plan passed through every stodgy section in city hall, even openly defying local gangsters and the mayor himself. After overseeing the park's construction, it was here that Watanabe chose to die on a snowy winter night, finally succumbing to the cold while singing the forlorn old tune “Song of the Gondola”.

In recounting their co-worker's tale of dedication, the still-living bureaucracts make drunken pledges to reform their ways and begin to perform their tasks with more active compassion. Of course, their talk is only so much hot air. In the end, nothing changes at the city offices. However, we are left with the joy of young children playing in the glittering new park that was left by Watanabe's iron will. It was here that he decided to pour all of his remaining life energy, and we are left with children's joyous laughter to echo the final acts of a man who, in the end, figured out some way to imbue his otherwise forgettable life with some meaning.

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (done after 1 viewing, before any research)

Ikiru is another great movie that I'll likely never watch again.

I came into this one expecting an outright depressing tale, based on the synopsis on the DVD cover, and that's what I got for a while. In the last 45 minutes, though, an interesting transformation took place within the film itself and in my connection to it.

For the first 90 minutes or so, things played out not unlike I expected. A man learns that he has 6 to 12 months to live, begins to seriously examine his life and try to find the vitality that he's let drain out of himself for the previous three decades. In going to the likely areas of first vice, then young love, there are no great surprises. Still, there is something there that sets Ikiru apart from other end-of-life, soul-searching movies. It has the gumption to stare the abyss right in its terrifying face.

Throughout the various episodes Watanabe experiences, he perpetually wears a haunting death mask. His distant, eerie gaze belies the fact that he has turned his sight inward to the extent that he becomes downright creepy. During most of these moments in the film, there is absolutely no music or sound. If you allow yourself to become lost in Watanabe's stare and try to ponder the existential questions that consume him, you may find yourself in the same very real place as this loosely fictional man. We all may end up right where he is, and what, exactly will you think of your own life when you can see the end of the road coming? I found myself getting quite pensive at times during the watching.

Here's a haunting scene from Kanji's night on the town, when he breaks into a forlorn love song from his youth:

Back to the narrative. The last portion of the movie took me by surprise, as there is a severely abrupt jump from a Watanabe newly rejuvenated by the new park project, to his funeral five months later (the narrator dedicates about 3 seconds to explaining this to us, the addled viewers). From there, the movie becomes a series of flashbacks that tell the rest of the tale. In that final 45 minutes, the movie says so much about the value of living personal dedication while condemning the ineffectiveness of stale, bloated bureaucracy. In watching all of Watanabe's coworkers lament Watanabe's death, we see nearly every possible facet of humanity. They all go through periods of reverie, nostalgia, sycophancy, guilt, defensiveness, and in the end, dedication that they will become true difference-makers in their offices. These final booze-drenched promises, of course, come nowhere close to getting fulfilled. This leaves us with perhaps the ultimate message of the film: why is it that only a person who has nothing to lose is the only one who helps others in need?

In this, you can see that the themes and narrative are the true strengths of the movie. Some other aspects of the film are not exactly world-beating to me. The acting is old-school. It's solid, especially for its era, but there were still some conventions that were prevalent in a lot of acting of the day that stand out to me in a negative way. Mainly is the very slight overacting at certain moments of higher emotion, especially laughter or sorrow. It's not enough for the actors to chuckle naturally – they have to erupt with ear-piercing cackles. They can't just cry – they have to collapse into a heap on the floor. It's not as bad I may make it seem, but a few moments stood out to me.

One thing I can't knock is, as you may imagine, the directing and cinematography. Akira Kurosawa was an absolute master. Before this film, I had seen many of his dozens of films, including epic action masterpieces like The Seven Samurai or Throne of Blood, more humorous adventure tales like Yojimbo, and the more measured psychological crime dramas like High and Low. Even though I already thought it before, the humane Ikiru confirmed my notion that Kurosawa was incredible at any cinematic story he decided to tell. Between the camera work and use of sound, the meditative, somber mood is set beautifully.

The movie is pretty long, clocking in at 2 hours, 20 minutes, and to be honest, it sometimes feels like it. However, it's clear that there is no wasted time. By the time you get the end, with the near-death but redeemed Watanabe gently swaying back and forth on the park swing, contentedly singing the lonely lyric, “life is brief”, you can't help but feel that you've joined him on a spiritual journey every bit as epic as Ulysses or Beowulf.

Take 2: Why Film Geeks Love This Movie (done after further research)

Wow. Researching this movie is almost akin to a religious or epiphanal experience, not unlike the film itself.

While not exactly opening my eyes to anything in the film that I didn't notice upon first watching it, the thematic depth is confirmed and expanded upon. In reading several different essays and reviews, it becomes clear that, among Akira Kurosawa's brilliant films, Ikiru is often cited as his true masterpiece. This undoubtedly is for doing something that writer Alexander Sesonske points out as being exceptionally difficult: create a film about death that carries very real emotional power from start to finish. In this essay, Sesonske agrees that Ikiru is a masterwork, but he feels that Kurosawa's sexier tales of the samurai still have an equal place among the great films of the world. I agree.

Writer Donald Richie goes deep into analyzing the film's place among great existentialist tales in history with this piece. He reminds that Kurosawa's favorite writer was Dostoyevsky, whose stories sometimes featured protagonists very much like Kanji Watanabe – those who need their death to become tangible in order for them to enact a meaningful life. One can endlessly debate what “meaningful” is, and Richie points out that this is a hallmark of great tales – that they can be interpreted differently throughout time and among different peoples.

I think that, of all of the different summations of the ultimate message of Ikiru, my favorite comes from the original TIME magazine review, written upon Ikiru's delayed release in the U.S. in 1960:

“To live is to love; the rest is cancer.”

Watching it in isolation robs it of its emotional punch, but here's the extremely touching and iconic ending:

That's a wrap. 38 films down. 67 to go.

Coming Soon: Ugetsu (1953):

The second of a cluster of three movies done in the Land of the Rising Sun in the 1950s. I'll see how this one does in the wake of such a weighty film like Ikiru.

Please be sure to pick up all empties on your way out.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Film #37: Singin' In The Rain (1952)

Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Initial Release Country: United States

Times Previously Seen: once (about ten years ago)

Teaser Summary (no spoilers)

Cheeseball silent film star stumbles through transition to talkies while finding love and dancing, wearing a shit-eating grin.

Uncut Summary (The full story, including spoilers. Fair warning)

It's 1927 and silent film stars Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina LaMont (Jean Hagen) are the toast of Hollywood. They are in the middle of a string of commercially successful, if formulaic romance/adventure movies. Despite their obvious film success, however, the two could not be more different in real life. Don is a happy-go-lucky man who, with his closest friend Cosmo (Donald O'Connor) has worked his way up through the entertainment world by building his singing and dancing chops in all manner of low-brow acts. Lina is a no-talent, dim-witted, high maintenance egomaniac who seems to believe herself a princess simply because she plays them in the movies.

Along comes the landmark film The Jazz Singer – the first talking picture. While most of Hollywood dismisses it as a novelty gimmick, the film's smash success sends all other studios scrambling to follow suit, including Don and Lina's. The transition could not be rougher. Though Don has some trouble, the biggest problem is Lina, whose pretty face is no longer enough. Her high, shrieking New York “city goil” accent cannot be tamed into anything listenable. Not even costly enunciation lessons can can break through her thick skull or provincial, nasal voice.

To the rescue comes Don's new love, Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), an adorable, spunky little entertainer whose remarkable dancing ability is only outdone by her incredible singing. Cosmo hatches the idea of using Kathy's voice as an unseen proxy for Lina. Since Lina's is the beautiful face that viewers know and love, they'll have her lip synch the dialogue and songs as Kathy sings them.

Cosmo, Kathy and Don rip through one of their many happy little tunes.

The plan works, and the latest Don Lockwood/Lina LaMont film is made. Once the movie is in the can and awaiting its premier, however, Lina starts to do the one thing that she probably shouldn't: think. Jealous of Don and Kathy's love and Kathy's genuine talent, Lina attempts to legally blackmail the movie studio into making Kathy her permanent voice. The studio head is furious, as he has plans to groom Kathy into their next big star. Flustered, all are left to stew on Lina's selfish machinations.

Everything comes to a head at the movie premier, where the film is shown to an audience who loves it. To roaring applause, Lina decides to really drive her plan home. She attempts to give a speech, but her true voice and condescending comments baffle the crowd. The uncertain viewers demand that she sing, “like in the picture.” Knowing that she has no hope of singing as well as Kathy, Don and Cosmo create the perfect set-up: they tell Lina to lip sync the words as Kathy sings the song just behind Lina and a dividing curtain. In the middle of the song, the curtain is raised, Lina is exposed as a fraud, Kathy's true talent is revealed, and all of the good guys live happily ever after.

Exit, stage right.

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (done after this most recent viewing, before any research)

This musical very often flirted with sliding into the same category as Meet Me In St. Louis, West Side Story, and The Sound of Music: musical films that I simply can't stand. It did, however, manage to fall just on the right side of the line separating amusing viewing from insufferable fluff.
I guess the key ingredient for me was the intentional cheese factor. There is a self-awareness that, while not perfect, was present enough to provide some timeless laughs. From the jump, you get Don Lockwood's shit-eating grin as he shows up at he and Lina's latest premier. While on the red carpet for the pre-show interview, he claims to have always used the word “dignity” as his motto. During this pompous speech, we're treated to a montage of ridiculous and demeaning jobs that he's taken in the past. The scenes are actually pretty funny, and the sarcasm underlying it works well.

This self-effacing tone keeps surfacing occasionally throughout the film, though in fits and starts at times. When its not there, Singin' In the Rain does become rather tiresome. The most obvious moment of this is a bizarre “advertising” sequence during the “Beautiful Girls” number, which seems to be nothing more than an excuse to show off an array of fashion models posing in various costumes. It was a rather bizarre waste of screen time.

It's really the great irony of the film to me: most of the humor is based on ridiculing the superficiality of popular silent films and its stars. And while it's funny to see how talkies exposed this superficiality in the film, the film Singin' In the Rain is, itself, a showcase of superficiality in many ways. You have to acknowledge that Kelly, O'Connor and Reynolds were phenomenally talented singers and dancers. Still, the movie is almost all about flash and show. Sure, it's not as shallow as bad silent films, in which you just needed a few few pretty faces and melodramatic physical acting, but it is still a pretty shallow exercise all the same. If not for the novelty and flash of technicolor cinematography to show off the hyper-colored costumes and sets, I have to wonder if this film would have been such a marvel in its day.

Here's a perfect example of the useless, harmless tone of the film, as seen in the well-known bit, "Good Mornin'":

Despite my skepticism at the depth of the movie, I have to admit to how incredible Kelly, O'Connor and Reynolds were. Even if several of the musical numbers were contrived and hokey, some of them were masterpieces of choreography. Granted, by the end I had pretty much had it with the songs and dances (the 15-minute long 20s number was a test) and just wanted the story, such as it was, resolved, but when I was still engaged in entertainment bits, they were a lot of fun to watch.

The real gem of the movie is the second-billed Donald O'Connor, who may not have had the tanned good looks or raw dancing power of Gene Kelly, but seemed to have more pure athleticism and better comedic timing that his better-known co-star. His “Make 'Em Laugh” routine may be one of the best I've ever seen, being heavily rooted in the physical comedy of Keaton, Chaplin, The Three Stooges, and everything in between.

Here's a link to the astoundingly energetic "Make 'Em Laugh" number.

Singin' In the Rain didn't hold up on this second viewing as well as I had hoped, but it wasn't nearly the exercise in patience that watching other musicals has been. It's a light, fun little movie that I'd recommend to someone who likes musicals in general, and doesn't need an enormous amount of plot depth.

Take 2: Why Film Geeks Love this Movie (done after some further research)

No shockers here, though a few interesting little tidbits after doing some digging.

Like other films that are on TIME's list (It's a Wonderful Life, Detour, and others), this “classic” was not hailed as such immediately. The critics in 1952 seemed to like it, but considered it a touch inferior to the previous year's Kelly dance offering, An American In Paris. Like the other films mentioned, it was only after several years on the shelf and a re-release in 1958 that the masses and critics gave the movie a more special place in their hearts and minds. At this point, it's often praised as the hands-down greatest American musical of all time. I personally don't see it as such, preferring Swing Time or even Cabaret, but I can't knock anyone for the more popular opinion.

Something I didn't realize is that not one of the songs was composed solely for this movie. They were all written years prior, for a number of other shows. This may account for the seeming disconnectedness as far as lyrics and tone go. Not that it mattered much. It's clear that musicals certainly don't need inter-song cohesion to be effective. Each song in Singin' In the Rain, if not my cup of tea, is certainly snappy or catchy.

One better-known tidbit is that during the iconic title song and dance routine, Gene Kelly was operating with a 103 degree fever. I know that when I'm in such a state, I can barely lift my arm to change the channel on my TV, let alone bound and vault around with the reckless abandon that Kelly did during that routine. Incredible. Click this link to see what he did while sick as a dog.

Another curious anecdote is about Debbie Reynolds. At the time of the film, she apparently was a gymnast rather than a trained dancer. Her lack of skills in the latter area enraged Gene Kelly into yelling at her at one point, after which she left the set to have a good cry under a piano on another set. Who should find her there but one Mr. Fred Astaire. Taking pity, Astaire decided to work with Reynolds to get her dancing up to snuff. After reading this story, I can't help but move ol' Fred a few notches further up the “hulluva guy” ladder.

So the research really does nothing to change my opinion of this movie. A good, solid musical that provided me with enough entertainment so that it wasn't a struggle to get through, which his saying something considering my general opinion of the genre.

That's a wrap. 37 down, 68 to go.

Coming Soon: Ikiru (1952):

Another film about a sad old man, this one in Japan. We'll see if this poor old bugger makes out better than Umberto D.

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.