Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Minnelli Loves...

In Mr. Richard Dyer’s introduction to the season of Minnelli which took place at National Film Theatre, someone asked about the influences on Minnelli’s cinema. It was near the end of the Q&A session, and memories couldn’t sever us well to point out that most of the directors who made an impact on Minnelli, were, as a matter of fact, European ones. If we want to bring up just one name, whose style and ideas can predict a great part of Minnelli’s career, that would be the painter, poet, designer, filmmaker Jean Cocteau. It’s tempting to see most of Minnelli’s film as variations of Blood of a Poet, made by Cocteau in 1930.

To find a more precise answer to that question, I returned to Minnelli's words. The filmmaker himself, usually, after ranting about the lack of taste and style in most of American films, "with the exception of a the too few classics," mentions European films more to his liking: "I’d seen great treasures in the many of art houses studded around New York’s Upper East Side. Bunuel, Gabin, Eisenstein, Dreyer, Cocteau. They, to me, had grasped the full potential of film. Few Americans could match their body of work."

"If there was one picture that embodies my fascination in art and my attitude toward style it was Jacques Feyder’s Carnival in Flanders. He’d taken the story of a Spanish general bringing his troops north and told it with the artful detail and luminosity of the Flemish masters. It was illuminating in more ways than one. Perhaps I could bring a similar perspective to American films."


Such tasteful selection of names is really rare among the Hollywood filmmakers of the 1940s. But a deeper look confirms how connected these names are to Minnelli's universe: Bunuel, Surrealism and making films as if mechanism of dreaming defines the narrative; Eisenstein and the art of juxtaposition of objects and characters in sequences of shots which alters the meaning of every single shot by such arrangement; the melancholy and tragic beauty of Gabin, and the way he gets molded with the sets of Lazare Meerson or Alexandre Trauner; and finally Dreyer in Vampyr who shows how characters can enter a living experience with their shadows and how the architecture determines their existence within the cinematic world.

I'd say, as for those "too few classics," American Lubitsch, Mamoulian, George Stevens, Lewis Milestone, and bits of Josef von Sternberg could complete our list of directors who shaped Minnelli's cinematic vision.

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