Everyone talks about Orson Welles making his dazzling movie directing debut at 25 years old; but really we should also be talking about Stanley Donen doing the same thing: co-directing the musical On the Town in 1949 at the same age with Gene Kelly. And when they together made Singin’ in the Rain – and film history – Donen was still only 28.
There is a real link between directing and choreography, controlling camera positioning and movement, and those of the actors themselves. Donen was a director, Broadway dancer and choreographer, and also a radical innovator who brought new life and form to the movie musical, embedding its musical and dance conventions into the imagined action and making it work as cinema. And it is no accident that this masterpiece is specifically about cinema re-inventing itself: emerging from the silent era to a new world of sound – that innovation which allowed the musical to exist. He was at the very centre of that magical period of the MGM musical, a part of cinema history which rests so materially on his special creative relationship with Kelly.
Relationship - Childhood - Idol - Fred - Astaire
He also had a special relationship with his childhood idol Fred Astaire, and with the great bluebloods of the Hollywood aristocracy of which Donen himself is one of the very last survivors, including Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Quite aside from his gargantuan achievement in musicals, Donen would prove himself a master of the elegant Hitchcockian caper, and also an experimentalist in storytelling with his underrated portrait-of-a-marriage film, scripted by Frederic Raphael from Donen’s own idea: Two for the Road in 1967, with Hepburn and Albert Finney.
But it’s Singin’ in the Rain that we always return to: it bursts at every seam with light and colour and joy, and Donen and Kelly shape and guide its...
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