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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

An American in Paris

So you’ve just bought a Blu-ray player and you’ve never seen An American in Paris before? Well, aren’t you in for a treat. Warner Home Video has released the 1951 Oscar winner on Blu-ray, and the colors are so rapturous that even the fabulous DVD, which has essentially the same transfer, is nowhere near as satisfying. The precision of the image in shot after shot allows the movie’s visuals to move in perfect harmony with its George Gershwin musical score, so that when Gene Kelly dances, his artistic expression is a binding force that brings a human representation to the abstract aesthetics of form, light and music. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, it is no longer just the perfume store or the flowers that make the film look colorful. Even the black-and-white ball is colorful, in its own stunning way (and watch the backgrounds carefully, there is a lot of naughtiness going on). Fleshtones are so intense that they would seem absurd if the decorations and costumes were not equally vivid (one error, probably from the conflict between location and studio shooting-the two-toned limousine that Nina Foch’s character rides around in is partially bright green, but that green is made more pastel in the one long shot of the car pulling up to her hotel; the thing is, in any other format beside Blu-ray, you’d never notice it). In previous incarnations, the narrative, in which Kelly’s character rejects the sponsorship of Foch’s character when he meets a perfume counter clerk played by Leslie Caron, is a bland concoction that goes overboard with song and dance numbers, particularly in its final, artsy ‘ballet’ sequence, to compensate for its mediocrity. But on Blu-ray, each scene is so visually mesmerizing that the story and its complications and its musical asides are enchanting foreplay, and when the 114-minute feature reaches its climax with the ballet, the viewer is ready to cast away all inhibitions and let the Gershwin music and the sets and the dancing, and their reflections upon the emotions the characters have felt, transport consciousness to its highest state of sensory stimulation, and then, when at the height of the ballet, at the conclusion of the ‘Toulouse-Lautrec’ sequence, the mirrors start to spin, taking in the film crew and the entire world as they whip around, the Blu-ray’s colors and precision of detail, and the ideas they impregnate, achieve a little death, which make the dialog-free ending of the film both inevitable and sublime.

The monophonic sound can be pushed to a reasonable level without distortion and has more inherent body than its DVD counterpart. The BD has five foreign language tracks and eleven subtitle tracks, including English. Otherwise, the special features are replicated from the DVD, although they are fit onto the single BD platter. A commentary/audio essay has been put together with archival interviews from Minnelli, Kelly, Caron, Foch, producer Arthur Freed and others. It is a savvy collection of insights and explanations of how various aspects of the film came into being and what it was like working with the different personalities who contributed to the film. There is an outstanding 2002 PBS American Masters profile of Kelly, running 85 minutes. It is loaded with rare archival footage, terrific clips and no-nonsense discussions about the course his career took and the choices he made (he once ridiculed Busby Berkeleyfor doing a certain crane shot in Take Me Out to the Ballgame, but there he is, on Hello Dolly, doing the same shot). What is neat about the program beyond its basic career and biographical info is that some of Kelly’s best numbers are allowed to play out almost in full, so that the documentary becomes, in essence, a musical itself. Also featured is a good 42-minute retrospective documentary about An American in Paris. There is some redundancy between the program and the material in the commentary, but there are also some nice surprises, such as the recollections of two performers who were among the kids Kelly staged his I Got Rhythm number with. Along with a 3-minute deleted song number featuring Georges Guetary, there are 14 minutes of audio-only outtakes, including Kelly singing I’ve Got a Crush on You in a number that was dropped from the film. In the documentary, it is said that the song was dropped because it reiterated thematic points that were made elsewhere, but in reality, Kelly’s rendition of the song is just not up to the vocal quality of his other numbers. 14 minutes of audio-only promotional radio interviews are included, too, along with a nice-looking 9-minute color Traveltalks short from 1938 entitled Paris on Parade (photographed by Jack Cardiff) about the 1937 Paris Exposition, and a 7-minute color Tex Avery cartoon from 1951 entitled Symphony of Slang, which presents literal visual interpretations of slang expressions.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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