L13FC: Vincente Minnelli

Image result for gene kelly and vincente minnelli
Welcome back to Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club where we share comments with one another about a topic in the film industry. This is my lucky day because you are joining me on my birthday! Three cheers to Vincente Minnelli.

He was a costume and set designer in Chicago theater before he moved to New York City and was eventually hired in 1940 by producer Arthur Freed at MGM. Considered an auteur because of his style and creative control of his films, his background in theater and experience with stage sets and the use of color are trademarks of his musicals and dramatic films. According to The Gross: The Hits, The Flops by Peter Bart in 1999, Minnelli’s impact is profound in cinematic history. Vincente Minnelli directed An American in Paris (1951), Brigadoon(1954), Kismet (1955), and Gigi (1958). Other than musicals, he directed comedies and dramas including Madame Bovary (1949), Father of the Bride (1950), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Lust for Life (1956), Designing Woman (1957), and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963). He passed away at the age of 83 in 1986. Nominated several times, he finally won the Best Director Oscar for Gigi in 1958. As a director, he is credited for coaxing several actors (Shirley MacLaine, Spencer Tray, Gloria Grahame, Anthony Quinn, Kirk Douglas, among others) in Oscar-nominated performances. Would anyone disagree that Gene Kelley‘s magical dancing in the fantasy-rich sets of a Minnelli film is the best offering from MGM? I think not.

What’s the allure? It’s his use of color. Vincente used Technicolor better than most directors to shape the visual information much as a theater director does for the stage. Used as a device, he created motifs and incorporated visual imagery and symbols that added a layer of complexity for all to appreciate. Contrast his colorful worlds to the real world pallet of grays, browns, and Army green from the depression and WWII. In the fifties, the battered world needed the whimsical sweetness of a Minnelli film. His films were a tonic, the relief after the hangover of war.

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One example is his decision to use the bold color of fuchsia to signify the loose morals of Shirley MacLaine‘s “easy” character, Ginnie Moorehead in Some Came Running (1958). Walter Plunkett was the Costume Designer and combined with Minnelli’s vision to illustrate the theme of acceptance and the fracture of morality in small-town America in part by use of color, it was a memorable film.

Which sequences in his films have you noticed this theatrical trick to use color to help tell the story?

Since Gene Kelly was in several Minnelli films, take a look at this tribute by Christopher Walken.

49 thoughts on “L13FC: Vincente Minnelli

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  1. First off HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! Hope you have a wonderful one!

    Minnelli…sooo good. I know it has its detractors but I love An American in Paris. Also a big fan of Lust for Life. I recently DVR’d it and can’t watch to watch it again. It has been a few years.

    1. Welcome, Keith. Yes, I love your choices, too. Is there a particular colorful scene that you liked?
      BTW, I saw The Favourite yesterday and thought of you. It must have been the “C” word that turned you off. I will review it soon.
      Back to Minnelli–Kirk Douglas was great, wasn’t he? I’m thinking of how color plays an active role in his films. Can you help me out there?

      1. Speaking of the colors particular in An American in Paris, so often his bright palette brings thoughts of life and vibrancy. It’s true both for the characters and the city itself. It’s interesting to think about.

        And yep, that’s the word. It felt so pointlessly crass to me. I get those characters are vile, etc. etc. etc. But its use mostly felt forced to me.

        1. I had a discussion with my son earlier. I may develop it into a post, but it ties in to the “N” word. Taking ownership of the word by the group it insults. I find the “C” word to be repugnant, but in the film, it seemed like it was okay to use the word if shared between women.
          Anyway, with regards to Lust for Life and An American in Paris, the music is as powerful as the colors. I have loved Gene Kelly twice as much as Fred Astaire. His passionate full body expressions really make me love him.

  2. Happy Birthday, lovely Cindy. I hope you have a special day. 🙂
    I don’t want to spoil the mood, but I am not a huge fan of this director.
    There are some I admire of course, especially ‘Lust For Life’, and ‘Ziegfeld Follies’. The use of colour was notable in the biopic of Van Gogh, and in the almost surreal feel of ‘Brigadoon. But I think there are better directors of both drama and musicals, to be honest.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Hi Pete, it bothers me not that you don’t care much for him. ‘Lust for Life’ is a fine film. I’m surprised you don’t care for ‘Some Came Running’ as it’s more dramatic and meaty than the musical. Regardless, let’s talk about Lust for Life. Any scene in particular that you liked with Minnelli’s use of colour? I like this excerpt. The picnic scene- I want to jump right into it.

      1. I agree about Douglas, Eric. I always liked him, especially in ‘Ace In The Hole’. I have seen the other films you mention. They are all very well done of course, but I just don’t enjoy them as much as so many other people do.
        Best wishes, Pete.

      1. I haven’t seen too many of them and the ones I did were when I was a young kid so didn’t feel I could say too much on this one. That’s certainly a fine roll call of talent though.

    1. High dynamic range imaging, indeed. I know that Brigadoon was a flop, but I loved the green sets and the jumping around by Kelly. They seem corny to many,. but I find I can escape in them. I did a lot of daydreaming as a girl watching them for the first time.

      1. Me too, plus my Mum was a soprano in an operatic society, which were big things back then, especially up north, and she played Fiona in her society’s run of Brigadoon. As a kid I got to go to rehearsals, and then on the first night stayed backstage and saw the costuming and make up being done, it was all magical!

  3. He was involved with so many hits, but once I saw ‘Brigadoon’, I never forgot it. I wish some of those classics would play again! Cyd and Gene dancing together is art in motion, I don’t really have a word spectacular enough for those two!!

  4. Happy Birthday, Cindy. Couldn’t agree more about Minnelli’s use of color. Would also recommend you watch Christopher Walken’s (yes, that Christopher Walken) movie essay over on TCM about Gene Kelly. If you’re a Kelly fan, you’ll get a kick out of it from the character actor who started out as a dancer who got encouragement from his idol.

  5. i esteem minnelli as one of hollywoods top ten studio directors, but never considered him
    an exceptional colorist. mgm was the first major studio to use technicolor on prestige films. but minnelli couldnt hold a candle to a true colorist such as michael powell. his musicals were above average, but that was not where his greatest gifts were to be found,,,,home from the hill is perhaps the most devestating examination of american
    masculinity myths to be put on the screen.. the bad and the beautiful and two weeks in another town stand with godards contempt and truffauts day for night as a masterful dissection of the movie industry. like bob fosse, minnelli uses the skills

    developed from directing dance to exquisitive movement in his mise en scene. this is what makes some came running dizzying experience, not the swirl of color in a dress. character, action, emotion….those are, for me,the distinctive qualities of a minellli
    picture. fine choice for a lucky 13, happy birthday.

  6. Happy Birthday! Hope you had a great day!

    Anyhow, I’ve seen all his films with one exception: I Dood It (1943). Favorites (in no particular order):

    The Bad and the Beautiful
    The Pirate
    Some Came Running
    Gigi
    Father of the Bride
    On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
    Lust for Life
    An American in Paris
    Meet Me in St. Louis
    The Band Wagon

    I don’t see anything that ties all his movies together, except, maybe, that they are all good-looking productions. Cinematography and art-direction (b/w or color) are always top-notch. And he is good with actors.

      1. The Pirate is fantastic! Anyhow, I’m one of those people who think directors are responsible for everything. There are some exceptions, but as a general rule, directors are responsible for the good/bad.

  7. Hi Cindy,
    I was thinking about an idea for our collaboration on your L13FC, one within the film noir wheelhouse. How do you feel about Neo Noir Black Comedies? A few off the top of my head: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Long Goodbye, Blood Simple and Manhattan Murder Mystery.

  8. Great post Cindy 🙂 Great to be back on here 🙂 First off, happy belated birthday to you 🙂 I especially loved your emphasis on Some Came Running and the color palette he used. Also, who could forget that devastating climax. That carnival sequence ranks as one of the many greatest uses of Technicolor ever. Two Weeks in Another Town’s climactic sequence ranks up there as well. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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