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An American In Paris August 25, 2007

Posted by Jeff in 1946 through 1960, Art, Dance, George Gershwin, Movies.
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T-L Chocolat

Left: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

For the sequence in my screenplay Tabula Rasa in which Lucy escapes from her father to a movie theater, I originally intended for her to see Lust For Life, the Van Gogh biography starring Kirk Douglas and directed by Vincente Minnelli. But when I went to the video rental store, they didn’t have Lust For Life, and they did have this by the same director. A better choice for Lucy’s palette, as it turned out …

An American In Paris (1951) was the first (and almost inarguably the best) of a string of 1950s musicals featuring “ballets”, defined for these purposes as long dance sequences with no singing. Back in the 1930s, even before Oklahoma, Rodgers and Hart had come up with the idea of ballet sequences, putting the music, choreography and art direction at center stage. In the ’50s MGM musicals, they had the added bonus of stretching thin plots out to full movie length.

Due credit to producers Arthur Freed and Roger Edens, cinematographer John Alton, Preston Ames for the art direction and Irene Sharaff for the ballet costumes. In the style of the times, Ames and Sharaff had to share screen credit — and their Oscars — with the heads of their departments.

Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is in love with Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron), unaware she is engaged to Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary). As the love of his life leaves him, he fantasizes about her in the styles of the artists that drew him to Paris:

Part 1 of 2 videos; see below

  • The sequence begins as Jerry appears in front of his own charcoal sketch of the Place de l’Etoile, magically reconstructed after he tore it in half (1:17).

Dufy Regatta

  • (1:34) The drawing is filled with light and color in the style of Raoul Dufy (above) (1877-1953).

  • The Place de la Concorde fountain first appears (3:05) as does Lise (4:15).


  • A flower market inspired by Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919) appears (5:00), and Jerry and Lise dance.


  • Lise fades (6:47), and Jerry finds himself alone on a street that brings to mind Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955), above. Four uniformed “buddies” appear to cheer him up;

  • They duck into a clothes shop and reappear in straw hats and canes, Strutting gendarmes lead us into …

Rousseau Jungle

  • A scene with young children watching a puppet show a la Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), (above) (7:48). The gendarmes dance with Lise and the pretty girls …

Part 2 of 2 videos; see above

  • … as Jerry and the straw-hat quartet appear, in the only tap section of the entire ballet …

  • transitioning into another Dufy sequence at the Place de la Concorde (2:15), brilliantly lit and shot by John Alton.

  • The next short sequence (4:35) is at the Place De L’Opera. Conventional wisdom ascribes the style of this to Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), but I agree with Michael E. Grost that Van Gogh:

  1. didn’t do urban scenes,

  2. he isn’t French and

  3. … well, whatever it is it ain’t Van Gogh.

  • This leads into the bouncy sequence inspired by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) (5:35) … with Jerry as Chocolat (waving to Henri at 6:19) and Lise as Jane Avril …

  • At 7:27, Jerry and Lise return through all the other sequences, back once again to the Place de la Concorde, until at 8:08 …

  • The others disappear, and at 8:30 Jerry returns to his drawing, and the single red flower. Of course, there’s a happy ending …

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1. scarpe - April 12, 2007

Ich besichtige deinen Aufstellungsort wieder bald fur sicheres!

2. Jeff - April 12, 2007

Ich verstehe nicht, was Sie sagen. Sprechen Sie Englisch?

3. Ann O'Dyne - November 29, 2007


We’ll always have Paris.

4. Louis - July 30, 2010

It’s one of the best MGM ballet dream sequences of that era. Gene Kelly’s choreography was amazing winning 6 Oscars…….

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