Academy to fete Gene Kelly with centennial tribute

Posted by · 9:43 pm · May 7th, 2012

The AMPAS is set to honor Gene Kelly, the icon of the golden age of the elaborate Hollywood musical, in a two-night celebration hosted by his widow, Patricia Ward Kelly. The event will feature film clips, personal remembrances and a look at the radical impact Kelly had on the way dance was filmed.

Kelly’s on-screen presence as a singer/dancer and behind-the-scenes work as a director and choreographer altered how musical numbers were conceived and executed both in his day and beyond. He is remembered for his indelible self-directed performances in films such as “An American in Paris” and “Singin” in the Rain,” and his innovative use of settings such as rain-soaked sidewalks and props ranging from umbrellas to mops to sheets of newspaper and roller skates invigorated the expansive musicals of the day.

Kelly was buoyant, muscular and full of vibrant charm. He was the quintessential 1950s archetype of what the United States wanted people outside and inside its boundaries to believe Americans were: attractive, confident and good-natured, with a witty sense of play.

That dream was our most essential export at the time, a powerful and effective tool utilized to sell the rest of the world on the grandiosity and promise of democracy and a method to project the idea that the U.S. was the answer to what it is to be human. “Look at how much fun we have,” these films cajoled. “We bring our ingenuity and our talent to every situation,” they boasted exuberantly. Kelly wanted to bring his dancing to the streets and in so doing he extolled the idea that even the most average, most modest of American lives is ultimately filled with wonder.

That was the quality of Kelly”s character in “Singin’ in the Rain,” but it was also his persona as Gene Kelly the celebrated performer. The 1960s came along and that archetype went out of fashion and was usurped by James Dean figures of rebellion.

Now, of course, we export Kim Kardashian and Kanye West…which explains a great deal about the response I typically receive when I inform people that I am from the United States when I”m traveling abroad (I kid). I am aware that the nation”s place in the geopolitical scheme of things is far more complex than reality TV, ultra-pimped rides and men”s fashion Twitter rants. Still, it doesn”t help.

Kelly was presented with an honorary Oscar in 1951 for “his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.”

“A Centennial Tribute to Gene Kelly” will take place on Thursday, May 17, at 7:30pm at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills with a focus on the dancer”s creative process. “Gene Kelly: Choreography and the Camera” will follow on Friday, May 18, at 7:30pm at the Linwood Dunn Theater with an exploration of the obstacles Kelly faced as a director and choreographer and how he overcame them to change the nature and scope of the cinematic musical.

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