March 10, 11 (3.00)
Re-released in a new print, Singin’ in the Rain confirms its status not only as one of Hollywood’s greatest musicals but also as a film about film in all its aspects. The setting is of course
a Hollywood studio during the transition from silent to sound movies, and the action centres on the exploits of dashing Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his co-star, blonde bombshell Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). When The Jazz Singer changes the cinematic rules, making a pleasant voice a necessity, Don has no problems adjusting. But Lina’s shrill voice makes a mockery of the music of their most recent film.
The quality Singin’ in the Rain shares with other films about Hollywood (and distinguishes it from most other musicals) is its generic allusiveness. Its stylistic shifts are not only within the expressive ranges of the musical itself, from vaudeville though Busby Berkeley pastiche to Broadway ballet. There are references also to the gangster film (an evocation of Scarface), costume drama, silent Westerns, screwball comedy. It is not simply a genre film: it is a film about genres.
Singin’ in the Rain is the quintessence of the Utopian musical, where song and dance are an outward expression of the joy and spontaneity within: the song Good Morning is a fine example of that. But, above all, Singin’ in the Rain both incorporates and embodies an aggressive affirmation of American culture and popular entertainment. The songs are in the imperative tense. So is the film. Behind it is the energy of America. It becomes art through the sheer intensity of the pleasure it gives, as if to say: that’s entertainment.