To this day I can still remember the first time I watched Singin’ in the Rain. Sat around one Christmas day when I was seven or eight, surrounded by my family, playing with the gifts I’d received.
My dad and granddad were watching this film, discussing how amazing and talented the gentleman was on screen; saying things like “nobody will ever be as good” and, “we don’t get performers like this anymore.” I remember tuning in at the point of Donald O’Conner making a fool of himself in Make ‘em Laugh. But this wasn’t the person I would later idolise; the man who who really caught my attention was the one who made being caught in a downpour seem quite fun.
Gene Kelly is the person I will always look up to. Nobody, in my eyes, was as talented. Fred Astaire comes a close second, but I see him representing the more gentlemanly grace of the era – whereas Kelly is the masculine, energetic character I could happily watch for hours. The reason I regard Kelly so highly is that he took what Astaire had and expanded upon it. I know that the Hollywood musical – unfortunately for my taste – petered out after Kelly, but nobody susequently improved upon what he did. Nobody seems to have been capable enough to go one step (or tap!) further – Kelly was already the legend he is now.
I have since broadened my knowledge – his performances in the likes of Cover Girl, Summer Stock or An American in Paris are astounding. I’m only scratching the surface of the sheer volume of content he’s starred in that leaves me on the edge of my seat. It’s not just musicals; he shines in films such as the 1948 The Three Musketeers or as an incorrigible wastrel in Christmas Holiday. The triple threat he possessed was what granted him the great success he clearly deserved.
Gene Kelly remains an inspiring figure and a heavy influence on my own foray into the musical genre. As a film student, I aim to write my undergraduate dissertation on Kelly – one which is as passionate as his own performances. I also wish to one day produce a musical that is as beautiful as his directorial piece.
For me, Kelly is the epitome of a role model; he was passionate, full of energy and a perfectionist. We may never see a man of his qualities grace the movie screen again. Now, and every Christmas, I either sit and watch Singin’ in the Rain on TV (or grab one of my many copies on DVD) and watch in awe.
Nowadays, it’s my father and I who have the same discussion that occurred those many years ago. Kelly was one of the last of a dying Classic Hollywood breed – an all singing, all dancing, all acting persona and, to me, the best of an amazing bunch.