Confusion in Paris

Confusion in Paris

Confusion in Paris

When my friend responded to “Let’s watch An American in Paris!” with “I think I’ve seen that before…I didn’t understand the ending…” I should have been forewarned.

But alas! I have committed to watching all the Best Picture Winners this summer (if possible), and 1951 has undone me.  How in the world did it beat A Streetcar Named Desire?!  I will concede that simply reading the list of winners makes me depressed—thanks to all the intense and “refined” and serious subject matter—and I, for one, appreciate a lively Minnelli musical, but, really?  My only conclusion must be that Freed and his unit hit the nail on the head: an American in Paris is confusing.

The opening voice-overs were promising enough, with witty and cynical characterizations of stereotypical Americans living in Paris.  Gene Kelly was wickedly interesting in his straightforward two-timing role, and Leslie Caron was, well, a French gamine.  (Although I would argue that no one deserves that title more than Audrey Hepburn herself, haha).  The parallels between the patronizing wealthy artist–I mean art collector and the romancing French night club singer were intriguing to about the degree that any conventional juxtaposition is.  Then the ending fell flat on its face.  Too tired of trying to be smart, it drowned itself in champagne bubbles and LSD whirlygigs until it actually believed its own schmaltz.

The one arresting development of the film–besides the hideous headpieces in “Stairway to Paradise”–was the homoerotic subtext.  Almost every love song was actually between two men about some far-distance female figure, whose role as the recipient of the romancing was hilariously adopted by whichever male the blocking conveniently provided for the pose.  The most salient of these moments is Gene Kelly cheek-to-cheek with Georges Geutary, waltzing and dipping through a cafe with a red-checkered tablecloth for a kerchief and a sappy grin as his token of feminine charm.  The film is about men in love, really, and they sort through their confusion all by themselves.  The women come and go as archetypal figures in the male story of navigating the most romantic city in the world.  The American in Paris could almost represent the male in America: expected to perform the rites of affection and affectation in an uncanny dance with the opposite sex, he literally leaps through hoops and fountains and promenades to win our hearts.

Gender performance, anyone?

Gender performance, anyone?

But really, don’t we all simply want simplicity?  Not an American in Paris–a tantalizing and confusing swirl of emotion and cross-cultural (dare I say cross-gender?) performance–but an American in America and a Parisian in Paris: at home with himself, his affections, and his relationships.

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