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Seen with ms_siobhan and planet_andy at the National Media Museum in Bradford, where they are having a bit of a Gene Kelly season at the moment (complete with an evening course!).

It's a feelgood movie with a witty script about three sailors on 24 hours shore-leave in New York, who inevitably find and hook up with three pretty girls, and sing and dance with them a great deal in glorious technicolor. The music isn't the kind I would normally seek out to listen to, but in the context of the film it worked pretty well, and some of the dance numbers were fantastic - as were the amazing dresses which the girls (and especially Ann Miller) wore to dance them. The big, swinging circle-skirts which most of us associate with the 1950s (and are now enjoying a renaissance on the rockabilly and burlesque scenes) were obviously just coming in, and get a full work-out here.

The gender dynamics of the film reflect the period when it was made, and the romantic comedy genre, in the ways that you would largely expect. But perhaps because the setting is New York, and it is obviously standing in the film as an icon of modernity and sophistication, there are also some quite progressive notes in the portrayal of its three female lead characters which I didn't really expect. Most striking was the female cab-driver, Hildy Esterhazy (played by Betty Garrett), who declares that she didn't see why she should give up a job she liked just because the war was over, and is also very clear about her own sexual desires without ever being condemned for this. Considerably more shaky is Claire Huddesen (played by Ann Miller), who is doing a degree in anthropology - but turns out to be doing it (on the orders of a man) as an intended cure for nymphomania, and quickly discovers that all she really wanted all along was a nice primitive man all of her own. Okay... Meanwhile, Ivy Smith (played by Vera-Ellen), who is leading man Gene Kelly's love interest, is the perfect all-American girl of the era - an accomplished dancer who aspires to a career in the Big Apple, but secretly just wants to hook up with a fine fellow and retreat to small-town domestic bliss. But hey - at least the film treats her career aspirations seriously, presents her as hard-working and dedicated to her goals, and actually leaves the question of whether she ever really will return to her home town and settle down with the sailor she has met open at the end.

Some other interesting features included the use of quite extensive montage sequences, for example to portray the sailors' first few hours of sight-seeing in the city, or Ivy Smith's life in New York. But then I already spotted Great Expectations doing that in 1946 a couple of months ago, so it's not as surprising as it might have been. Gene Kelly also slips into a reverie for a few minutes, prompted by a poster for a Broadway show, in which he imagines the story of the film as it has been shown so far in the form of a stylised and condensed ballet. Obviously, this is an explicit meta-reference to the film's origins as a Broadway musical, but as ms_siobhan pointed out, it must be quite an unusual example of a meta-drama which actually tells the story of the very drama which it sits within, rather than a different story which feeds into it in some way. The only other example of that which I can think of is the show put on by the players in the middle of Wyrd Sisters, though even that doesn't tell the full story of the book - only the story of King Verence's murder. Do feel free to suggest others if you know of any!

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 21st, 2012 09:17 pm (UTC)
Would the Play within Hamlet be an example?</p>

Also, in a different way the whole of A Midsummer's Night's Dream.

May. 21st, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC)
Hamlet - more or less, I guess. It's certainly the source for the same element in Wyrd Sisters. But I cited Wyrd Sisters above rather than Hamlet, because in Hamlet the play is at least nominally about different people, whereas in Wyrd Sisters the characters in the play are the same people as the characters in the main story. As for Midsummer Night's Dream, the story of the play within that is a pretty long way from the story of the play itself.
May. 22nd, 2012 08:31 am (UTC)
Yeah – I see the distinction between the internal Plays within Hamlet and Wyrd Sisters. I think it’s pretty clear to the people watching the Play in Hamlet, that the two sets of characters in it are equivalent and that in itself is a plot point but it’s not billed as the story so far.

The reason I mention A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is more thematic than narrative. The Thisbe and Pyramis story is watched by the humans, the humans’ love lives are watched the Fairies and the Fairies’ own love lives by the Nobles and Gentles watching AMSND (who in turn are being watched by the Mob and the Playwright). It’s all meta – but not meta-plot.

Are you thinking of re-telling of the story so far, pretty much straight or re-tellings of the story which are given some sort of spin by the teller, deliberate or unknowing, which acts to further the plot?
May. 22nd, 2012 08:49 am (UTC)
It's the fact that the ballet within On The Town was a pretty much straight (though stylised and condensed) re-telling of the story of the film so far that struck us. I don't think that happens very often at all.
May. 22nd, 2012 09:02 am (UTC)
I confess to be struggling to think of any others.

There are examples of the story-so-far being retold with a spin.

I wonder why they put it in? Do you think it was just for the love of dance?
May. 22nd, 2012 09:09 am (UTC)
I wonder why they put it in?

I honestly don't know! As it unfolded, I thought that perhaps the dance-sequence might continue beyond the point in the plot which the film itself had reached, giving Gene Kelly's character some hope about the future which would kick him into action so that he could make it happen 'in real life'. But it didn't - it just went right up to the point the film itself had reached, and then finished. I think your suggestion - for the love of dance - is the only one that makes any sense.
May. 23rd, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
I could watch the scene in the museum over and over again - it never fails to perk me up :-)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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