Movies – Stanley Donen, Still Dancing

I recently had the enormous pleasure of seeing Stanley Donen in person. Who, you ask?

He directed “Singin’ In the Rain”, ya stupe. Also “Anchors Aweigh”, “On The Town”, “It’s Always Fair Weather”, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, “The Movie Movie”, “Charade”, “Arabesque”…in short, he’s a master filmmaker.

The screening I saw him at was at the Harvard Film Archive, which is, as ever, an odd mix of obscure arty filmmakers and films people actually want to watch (I’m still annoyed I missed the Shaw Brothers series). It was “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers”, which mixed stunning choreography with mind-bogglingly backward gender politics. I still enjoyed the hell out of it.

Donen was, if I’m being honest, asked a lot of pretentious questions, and you could tell it was annoying him. But he was refreshingly honest, and often cuttingly funny. He also related a lot about how he worked, and the challenges of dealing with Cinemascope (there are some…curious framings in “Seven Brides” he explained). He mentioned that the full-frame version of “Seven Brides” has never been screened (which isn’t quite true; it’s available on home video from Warner Brothers). Probably the best line of the entire night was when Donen went to the producer and told him he wanted dancers, and the producer’s reply was “You can’t have a bunch of fags prancing around in a Western!” Donen pointed out that was part of the reason they hired Michael Kidd, whose choreography was much more athletic than…well…prancy for lack of a better term.

He also discussed casting. Donen apparently had a policy of just bringing the actors into the rehearsal hall and asking them for him to show them what they could do. This is why Russ Tamblyn is tumbling in the movie; Tamblyn was an acrobat, not a dancing, and Donen integrates it beautifully into the film.

I wish I’d gotten a chance to say hello in person, but just seeing him was enough. It’s rare you get to see living film history in person, and Mr. Donen didn’t disappoint.

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