Elements of the Avant-Garde in Singing’ in the Rain

This piece is my first post about the films we are screening at Film Church and rather than write yet another complete review of a film, I thought it would be interesting to talk about my favorite scene from the movies we watch. Hopefully, Sunday’s will provide the time to do so!

Well into Singin’ in the Rain, Gene Kelly’s character, Don, starts describing a movie scene or “number” he wants to add to the reshoot.

He explains to RF played by Millard Mitchell that the number is modern and called the “Broadway Melody.” The film cuts away to the scene itself and takes us to a dreamy world with song and dance about Broadway. The scene starts in a close-up with Kelly singing in the spotlight. The camera pulls away to reveal more of the expanse of darkness with the small round spot focusing on our singer. As the song peaks, a hodge-podge of all sorts of performance venue sign lights flick on and fill the screen, crisscrossing and covering each other.

Kelly suddenly rushes by a mass of people in brightly colored garb running in all directions. He is also now dressed very brightly and wearing a nerdy outfit complete with thick-rimmed glasses and carrying a suitcase. Moving sidewalks whisk all sorts of mannequin-like city dwellers representing police, musicians, firefighters, sports fans, and general folk frozen in medias res as Kelly journies through the city in full on dance fashion.

Now, I want to point out that these elements of the avant-garde are simply elements. You can argue that this scene does not fit the definition of being avant-garde since it is very mainstream in its telling of a story. But, I feel that using this term still applies in describing the stylistic choices made by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

The scene continues in a very mainstream, easy to understand song and dance story about getting an agent and a job. I want to skip over to a moment in this scene that stood out for me (and Meg too). Gene gets a gig on a big stage production and during the hub-bub, he sees a woman who he had fallen in love with at first sight. But this woman had brushed him off previously when her gangster boyfriend wooed her away with some diamonds. Anyway, he sees her again just after the show. She’s wearing this white dress with a flowing white train and the entire scene of actors freeze in time.

We fade into a new setting that looks like the start of a Dali painting with soft sunset tones of pinks and blues with rocks casting long shadows across the field which has wandering step hills that Gene Kelly and a dancer in white who represents the woman who was at the show start ballet dancing up and down.

The woman dancer wears an even longer white train attached to her outfit that gets blown high into the air. She uses the train to wrap Kelly in her dance of love. It’s a beautifully odd moment of film history.

This flash of a thought moment ends with a return to the show venue party where Kelly gets brushed off by the girl of his dreams. Nice.

About the Author


Facebook Twitter

I love films! My fav of all time? Brazil.

Please Login to Comment.