Saturday, February 6, 2010
Singin' in the Rain -- adapt with dignity
Director: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1952.
Half a century old, this classic musical resonates with lyrics and thoughts apropos for our times. Even the way the film came into being is politically correct, underscoring the green concept of recycling: most of the songs had been used in earlier films, and the script was written to work with the pre-chosen songs.
The film opens in 1927 with a cheering crowd of fans waiting outside Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood at a silent film's premier. They want a glimpse of the stars: Don Lockwood (Glen Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen, nominated for an Oscar). On-screen lovers but off-screen enemies, the charcters' backstory context is given right up front as Don recounts for the fans his journey to stardom. He closes by stating his life motto: "Dignity. Always dignity." This is one of the film's themes, along with its opposite, indignity.
Despite the enthusiasm of this screening and its subsequent opening night party, there is an undercurrent of change. 1927 was the year that The Jazz Singer, the first "talking picture," came out. At the party, the guests are shown a demonstration of this new-fangled concept, and one producer says, "It'll never amount to a thing." That is the common belief until a few weeks later The Jazz Singer is a hit and other studios are playing catch up. When Lockwood and Lamont's new picture is put on hold, the demise of silent movies hangs ominously in the air.
The underlying context for Singin' in the Rain is the transformation of industry through technology. This happened then; it happens now. Silent films gave way to talkies; black and white film was replaced by color. Writing by hand was replaced by typing and now word processing. Just four years before this film was made, Thomas Watson, IBM Chairman, said about the newly invented electric computer: “I think there’s a world market for about 5 computers.” Imagine a world with only 5 computers total (just about one for each continent?). Today, many American homes have 5 computers in them. And computers are getting smaller and more powerful each year.
We have grown accustomed to the now rapid pace of change. But change, like that shown in this movie, brings with it job loss. The silent movie stars relied on overly dramatic movement without need to learn or speak lines. Those whose voices were ugly or who could not become true actors became unemployed and left the industry, some to die poor and destitute. To survive, we must adapt. Each new invention forces us to change. Our degree of embracing and adapting to the change is our degree of survival. We see this today in the recent recession and loss of jobs. Those who can easily adjust to the current conditions, the "new norm," prosper; those who don't are laid off.
In the film, Lockwood and Lamont face this prospect of adapt or die. Lamont, whose shrill voice is well suited for the silent film era, remains in the dreamy world of self-delusion, while Lockwood dissolves in the despair of self-reality: he is no actor. Enter friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) and new love, chorus girl Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). These two come up with the brilliant idea to turn the new soon-to-be silent flop into a stunning musical.
Singin' in the Rain uses its script well to carry some marvellous songs and dance routines. O'Connor sings "Make 'Em Laugh" in a comic fashion. O'Connor and Kelly form a duet for "Moses Supposes." Interestingly, these were the only two original songs written specifically for this film. The three heroes combine for "Good Mornin' ". The Broadway Melody "Gotta Dance!" gives an extended opportunity for Kelly to sing and tap. It is during this song that Cyd Charisse vamps it up with him on a nightclub floor, earning her the opportunity for future stardom of her own. However, the best and most well-known song is the title tune.
Kelly's solo rendition of "Singin' in the Rain" is a classic. Who can forget the image of him standing on the lamp-post, holding an umbrella with a huge grin on his face, soaked to the skin. What is less known is that Kelly had a 103-degree fever when he was doing this, and filmed it all in one take. Moreover, he ad-libbed the dance sequence as it had not been choreographed in any detail. What a wonder that it has remained a favorite scene for 50 years.
Dignity and indignity, though, do take center stage. Faced with job loss and career death, Lockwood holds his head up with dignity. Lamont, a foil, stands haughtily on her stardom and fame, expecting that it is her right to be successful. But as the proverbs say, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov. 16:18). And Lamont's pride eventually puts her in a position of serious indignity. Unlike the others, she has brought this upon herself.
Dignity is the character quality denoting worthiness of respect. When we carry ourselves with dignity we are showing the world we are not beaten by the circumstances of life. By contrast, indignity is an insult or a humiliating affront to one's character. God has given us inherent dignity and worth by making us in his image (Gen. 1:26). As human beings, this is an innate quality. But how we choose to live our lives can amplify or attenuate this dignity. When we ignore reality and choose to vilify or victimize others, we bring indignity upon ourselves, as Lamont did.
Cosmo and Lockwood give us the pointers for living. Lockwood's motto is a valid one: live with dignity. But it is Cosmo who gives us the means, the how to. When life gets too tough, laugh. If someone else is down, "Make 'Em Laugh;" if it is ourselves catch a classic comedy. King Solomon put it this way, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" (Prov. 17:22). Likewise, the psalmist wrote the lyric, "Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy." (Psa. 126:2). Laughter is good medicine.
When the storms of life rain down hard on you and your parade, retain your dignity, adapt as necessary, and start laughing and singing in the rain!
Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM