Singin’ in the Rain: An Homage to the Past, A Look into the Future

What makes a film a classic? Some may say great characters, others say a great story, and the rest may say stunning visuals. What makes Singin’ in the Rain (1954; Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen) so important to film is its ability to portray the art of filmmaking in a relatively neutral and realistic manner while creating a legacy of its own that still stands today. The mise-en-scene, largely the props related to film studios, and the dialogue both add a level of authenticity to its portrayal of film. Where it could have easily glossed over the technical aspects of filmmaking, including sound, camera, and lighting equipment, it included all the glory and pitfalls attached to such processes.
The scene in which the actors use microphones for the first time is a great example of how the subtle use of production design and props add a layer of authenticity.

Roscoe Dexter (Douglas Fowley) directs stars Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) to talk into the microphone.

While the actors act in a comedic fashion, the setting is concrete in its reality; it draws on the filmmakers’ memory of a time where the talkies were a novel idea. The script reads as a labor of love, taking swipes at the Hollywood culture where deserved and giving praise where earned.

The film itself is technically impressive on its own, largely due in part to its visual techniques. Elaborate sets, special effects, and extravagant color palettes make this film stand apart from those in the era. The following are all images from the same scene:

The dynamic range of the shots and versatility of the color simultaneously captivate the audience, elicit an appropriate emotion, and tell a story without much dialogue at all. This scene is a microcosm of the impressive visual techniques that are littered throughout the film; other include lengthily shot dance numbers and seemingly giant set pieces. The willingness to be colorful in film certainly carries on from here

A major point to notice about the film is its willingness to reveal the movie magic secrets of old while retaining a few up its own sleeve. It is simultaneously a tribute to what was and a marker of what is to come. It served as a transition of sorts, and for that, will always be important.


One thought on “Singin’ in the Rain: An Homage to the Past, A Look into the Future

  1. Chris,

    This is a solid, well-written post on Donen and Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. You focus primarily on the meta aspects of the film, including the scenes in which the the “tricks” of cinema are revealed or in which the film gently pokes fun at itself and other genre films. I agree that this is a major reason why the film has staying power and has remained a classic. Long before scholars developed the term “postmodernism,” Singin’ in the Rain was playing with this concept through the self-reflexive techniques you describe here. I also like your point about various choices made to achieve realism, choices that are in tension with the multiple fantasy sequences in the film. This is a common practice in musicals–the films lure you into a realistic environment only to disrupt that realism through elaborate song-and-dance routines.

    At times your post verges on a review–i.e., an evaluation of the film’s merits rather than an analysis–but, overall, very nice job here!



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