The 1952 Oscar Best Picture Winner, An American in Paris, marks another example of how my quest of watching all the Oscar Best Picture winners has broaded my knowledge of cinema. Prior to watching this film, I had never seen Gene Kelly in action before. Actor, singer and extremely accomplished dancer, Gene Kelly is a cinematic icon, gracing films with all three talents at once. I found the film to be entertaining and fun to watch but I don’t think it should have been an Oscar Best Picture Winner.
Set in Paris, the film focuses on three friends who are trying to make it there using their specific talents.
• The Painter: The main character of the film, Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is a World War II veteran trying to make a living with his art in Paris, selling his paintings as a vendor on the street. Eventually attracting the attention of the wealthy heiress Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) who soon proves that her attention is directed more at Mulligan himself than his art. Jerry however falls in love with Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). After the two fall for each other, Lise reveals that she is dating and to be married to Henri Baurei.
• The Singer: Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary) is a well known French singer and the most successfully of the three artists. Throughout the film it becomes clear that Henri is moving to America to further pursue his career and he plans to marry Lise and bring her with him. While Lise is in love with Jerry, she feels as if she owes Henri for protecting her during the war. For most of the film Henri and Jerry do not know they are fighting for the same girl. In fact, the only reason they know each other at all is because of Adam Cook.
• The Pianist: Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) really only has one real purpose in the film, to be a middle man between Henri and Jerry. Cook is the spark that ignites the fire of the plot and adds a slapstick humor to a number of scenes in the film. Adam also shows off his piano skills during the many musical numbers the three men have together during the course of the film.
While the film involved a love triangle, I would call it more comedy then drama. Drama seems to be too intense of the world for the lighthearted film. Inspired by George Gershwin’s 1928 composition of the same name, the film is steeped in music, including many musical numbers. They ranged from the three main characters singing and dancing to songs played by Adam to Jerry and Lise romantically dancing in the street. The musicals scene were very well done, as was the entire film, I just didn’t feel as if it was an Oscar Winning Film.
The film focused on the musical numbers more than it did the plot. The plot was fairly basic, a love triangle with almost no conflict. For over half the film Jerry and Henri don’t even realize they are fighting over the same girl. It takes even longer for Jerry to realize that he may lose Luse. The plot does not develop much and neither do the characters. The only relationship that is really developed is between Jerry and Luse and even then all they do is fall in love. There is nothing complex to their relationship save for the one speed bump that is Henri.
Overall the film won six Oscars, some of which I though it did deserve. Easily earning Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction and Best Music, I thought that it could also be argued that the film deserved its Best Cinematography Oscar Win. As far as it winning Best Picture and Best Writing, I do not think I agree with that. Beating out Decision Before Dawn, A Place in the Sun, “Quo Vadis?” and A Streetcar Named Desire for Best Picture, I would have cast my vote for both A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire before I would vote for An American in Paris. There was not enough depth to the story or acting. Gene Kelly and the other two main characters were charming but charm can only get a film so far. I give this film a 5 out of 10. It is fun to watch but not worthy of a Best Picture statue.
As of right now I have watched seventeen Oscar Best Picture Winners and I am happy to report that I have enjoyed almost everyone I’ve had the opportunity to watch. I have been surprised at how good some of these films have been, especially when they came from a genre I don’t tend to watch that often. Prior to embarking on this quest, I prepared myself to watch films that I didn’t enjoy because inevitably, I was going to encounter a Best Picture that I did not enjoy. The 1936 Best Picture Winner, the Great Ziegfeld was a film that I did not enjoy.
The film opens on the Chicago Fair, showing two men trying to talk up their shows. One is the film’s main character, Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld (William Powell), who is attempting to pedal a strongman act, featuring the world’s strongest man Eugen Sandow (Nat Pendleton). The other, and at first superior promoter, is Ziefeld’s rival for the entire film, Jack Billings (Frank Morgan). When a new idea gives Ziegfeld his big break, Ziegfeld leaves the side-show game and starts producing shows on stage. The rest of the film follows Ziegfeld as he becomes a famous producer. Ziegfeld begins his illustrious career with almost no money, landing the French star Anna Held (Luise Rainer) with just his charm, making Anna a star and himself rich at the same time. Ziegfeld and Anna end up marrying and stay together for a number of years. Ziegfeld continues working on shows, spending any money necessary to make the shows as grand as possible. Always striving for more, a theme punctuated by Ziegfeld’s obsession with building the largest staircase possible on stage. Ziegfeld’s obsession with grandeur yields him a large problem: the ever increasing threat of bankruptcy. Ziegfeld spends more and more on his shows to make them as grand as possible. He is constantly spending lavishly and constantly on the verge of running out of money.
Ziegfeld throws himself into his work, always searching for the next big star. Eventually divorcing Anna, though they stay in touch and she remains infatuated with him, it appears that his next relationship will be with his next star Audrey Dane (Virginia Bruce). Succumbing to an alcohol problem, Audrey blows her chance with Ziegfeld both professionally and romantically. Ziegfeld goes on to discover both Fanny Brice on Vaudeville and Ray Bolger who play themselves in the film. Ziegfeld eventually does remarry another one of his rising stars Billy Burke (Myrna Loy). Ziegfeld spends the rest of his life creating the most extravagant show he can afford.
My biggest problem with this film was that half of it shows scenes from Ziegfeld’s shows. There are a number of long, drawn out song and dance scenes that have nothing to do with the story line. They do serve to show us how extravagant Ziegfeld’s shows become and how his stars perform in them. I did not like this aspect of the film but I loved all the other scenes. Ziegfeld was an extremely charming and persuasive man, working his way up the ladder of success with his suave attitude rather than money. Once he earned the money, Ziegfeld used it but until he had gained wealth, he didn’t let a lack of money stop him. Throughout the film, Ziegfeld had an odd relationship with Billings. They were certainly rivals and battled against each other. Ziefeld steals stars from Billings and gets in his way while Billings thrives in Ziegfeld’s failures. Though they are rivals, the two are also friendly to one another. They sometimes work together or lend money to one another. Ziegfeld and Billings friendly rivalry was my favorite aspect of the film.
The Great Ziegfeld was nominated against Anthony Adverse, Dodsworth, Libeled Lady, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, the Story of Louis Pasteur, A Tale of Two Cities and Three Smart Girls. Beyond winning best picture it won Best Dance Direction and Luise Rainer earned Best Supporting Actress. I thought that this film had a lot of wasted time that could have been devoted to other characters. I really liked both Billings and Ziegfeld but I thought some of the female characters deserved more attention. Overall I give this film a 5 out of 10, it had some really good aspects to it but overall I thought the plot and the story could have been used much more effectively.
I don’t know if I’ve explained my method for choosing my this week on Netflix flick but it can be summed up in one word: random. I scroll through the films on Instant Queue and pick one that catches my interest. This week it was Mark Duplass, Pete from the League, that caught my attention. The movie this week starred Mark Duplass and was called the Puffy Chair.
The plot of this film is fairly simple. For his father’s birthday, main character Josh (Mark Duplass) is going on a road trip to visit his father. On the way he’s going to pick up a puffy chair (the real gift), a replica of a chair his father had when he was growing up. Originally planning to travel alone, Josh feels obligated to bring his high maintenance girlfriend Emily (Katie Aselton) along after they fight the night he was supposed to leave. The first stop on their trip takes them to Josh’s brother, Rhett (Rhett Wilkins). After hearing Josh’s plan, Rhett decides to join on the trip. The rest of the film chronicles the events of the trip including Josh trying to trick a hotel owner, their arrival at Josh’s parents house and finding out that the chair they thought they were getting was almost completely destroyed. Josh tries to get the chair fixed on the road, all while trying to make it home for his father’s birthday.
Shot entirely with a handheld camera, the Puffy Chair is an odd and quite frankly, a depressing film. The film ultimately looks at relationships and life. Throughout the film, Josh and Emily are on thin ice, their relationship taking on a bipolar personality. One moment they have a nice, loving relationship and the next they are in a huge fight. Stuck in the same car together, the two are forced to take a close look at their relationship. Making matters worse, Rhett meets a girl Ambur (Julie Fischer) and falls in love with her. This seems to fuel Emily’s need for a closer relationship which in turn puts strain on her actual relationship.
This film takes a close look at the idea of real life, stripping away theatrics and complicated plot. The film is often depressing but has a way of forcing the audience to realize what is really important about life. This wasn’t my favorite film and I didn’t like the way it was shot but ultimately, I thought the script was good. It got a point across without being preachy or overbearing. I give this film a 5 out of 10. While the script was well written, I thought the filming style didn’t work and that the film got very dry at times.