Helen continues her discussion of the Gene Kelly course at the National Media Museum… [Entire series here.]
The class’s next screening was the much-maligned Brigadoon. This musical is not one of my Kelly favourites although there are some delightful moments such as the “Heather on the Hill” number withKelly and Cyd Charisse (right) and the wonderfully fast-paced, noisy, neurotic New York scenes with Kelly and his “buddy” Van Johnson as his cynical, alcoholic, misogynistic sidekick. [For more on this “buddy” theme, see my initial post in the series.]
For many in the class, particularly those for whom it was their first viewing, they struggled to get past the artificial Hollywood representation of Scotland and frankly appalling Scottish accents. It was also felt that the film showed up Kelly and Charisse’s weaknesses as actors, and there was debate about the conviction of the central romance and chemistry between Kelly and Charisse.
The film Brigadoon was changed significantly from the successful Broadway stage production from which it was adapted, but many argued that it still felt like a stage production. On the other hand, others claimed as it was a fairy story and therefore fantasy, and so the Scottish representation in a studio setting was irrelevant. Finally, some would like to have seen a more abstract representation to articulate the mythical utopia of Brigadoon.
For those who had seen Brigadoon before (and I’d only ever seen it on TV and VHS), we enjoyed the opportunity to view the film in Cinemascope at a ratio of 2.35.1 in Anscocolor format, though one classmate commented that Technicolour should have produced the print for a better colour. It certainly makes a difference watching the marching drummers enter the “Wedding Scene” from all sides.
Many thought the film more pessimistic and darker than they’d remembered and that the verve, energy and enthusiasm of earlier Kelly and Minnelli films were lacking. The New York scene was popular with the majority of the class, particularly the articulation of the lost American dream, even echoes of what was to come in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Others enjoyed the scene’s brilliant sound design, and the importance of the scene in recognition of the need for the audience to understand and accept the return and ultimate absorption of Kelly’s character into Brigadoon. There was a feeling that the challenges of pre-production — changing tastes amongst the viewing public, the slow demise of the big Hollywood musical, changes within the management at MGM studios, and the inability to use real locations as was initially hoped — all had a negative impact on the final version.
But there was one area that provoked a lot of interest: Van Johnson’s character (above, right). Was his character a repressed homosexual (allegedly Johnson was gay in real life), and does he subvert Kelly’s usual persona? Johnson’s character is more of an “extreme version of the familiar Kelly character.” Is his condition a reflection of the ‘empty, cynical and commercialised world of the large, modern city?”
For another take on Brigadoon, see Marc’s posts “Masculinity, Credibility, and Gene Kelly: A Scotsman’s Quandary” and “Brigadoon (and Gene Kelly Ceilidh) at the Glasgow Film Festival.”