Friday, August 24, 2012

Gene Kelly Blogathon: 'Invitation to the Dance'



“Invitation to the Dance” is a curious piece from Gene Kelly

The 1956 film is clearly a labor of love, as he choreographs, directs and stars. The film consists of three unrelated segments, each told through dance and music – no dialogue, no singing. I’ve always admired that Kelly and counterpart Fred Astaire never relied on their expected personas as they tried to push what could be accomplished within the movie musical genre. 

“Invitation to the Dance” follows up on ideas introduced in other Kelly films, such as “Anchors Aweigh” and “An American in Paris,” and throws in a dash of “Fantasia,” which is taking classical pieces and providing a narrative for each. But the results are uneven, an idea that is more admired than enjoyed. 

The first segment is “Circus,” and the story is simple: Pierrot the clown (Kelly) is in love with a fellow performer (Claire Sombert) who is partnered with a different performer (Igor Youskevitch). Nothing is unexpected, so the presentation needs to be exceptional. Unfortunately, the lovely Sombert is given nothing to do but look pretty and dance. It’s a role that requires an expressive and enchanting presence for an emotional payoff. She then has the misfortune of having her dancing overshadowed by Youskevitch, one of the greatest male ballet stars of his era, and Kelly. The two are such powerful dancers that the accomplished Sombert pales in comparison. 

Kelly’s best dance is with his fellow circus performers, but as director he must have been influenced by the ballet sequence in “The Red Shoes.” Sadly, “Circus” isn’t nearly as cinematic, and the piece has an almost dreary feel. 

Thankfully, the tempo picks up for the film’s second segment, “Ring Around the Rosey.” In fact, the segment begins at a party in which the film speed is increased to convey to the event’s mayhem.  The general theme revolves around a bracelet that travels from husband to wife to artist to model to boyfriend and on and on until it returns to the husband. 


Don’t worry about the details of who’s giving it to whom or for what reasons. Just go with it and enjoy the energy of the segment. The sets are more abstract that the first piece, which adds a dream-like quality to what could be called a romantic fable. Each exchange of the bracelet has its own personality and dance – especially fun is one involving a crooner, and remember there are no words in this movie. The segment nicely culminates with a terrific number between Kelly and Tamara Toumanova (above), a steamy street dance between a Marine and a streetwalker. 

The final segment is “Sinbad the Sailor,” with Kelly as a sailor who ends up with a lantern. As expected, he rubs the lantern and out comes a boy genie, played by David Kasday. The two become fast friends, and once the genie adopts his own sailor suit, the two perform perhaps the most endearing dance of the entire movie, with Kasday perfectly in synch with Kelly.






Sadly, the genie leads Kelly into an animated segment and leaves. Then, like Kelly dancing with Jerry the mouse in “Anchors Aweigh,” Kelly finds himself opposite two animated Arabs chasing him and finally Scheherazade (modeled after Carol Haney), with whom he frolics through an animated landscape. Unfortunately, the cartoon Scheherazade has even less personality than Sombert from the first segment, and the piece feels amateurish and flat. It makes you wish young Kasday had remained and the segment built around him. 

“Invitation to the Dance” should have been better, but the film never reaches the same level as the “American in Paris” ballet or even the Jerry the mouse segment. The lasting effect is one of familiarity. 

But it does have some fine moments throughout. And Kelly should be commended for trying something different at a point in his career when he could have but did not want to do the same old thing.
 

24 comments:

  1. Have not seen this but it sounds intriguing. Considering he worked in commercial Hollywood cinema it is always a wonder how Kelly managed to pushed to the limits in innovative dance. WOnderful review which I have link to my Twenty Four Frames FB page.

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  2. Agreed that this is kind of a troubling film. We know how much of his heart and soul Kelly poured into it, but there clearly is some magic missing. Still, it is beautiful and a lasting testament to Kelly's great talent.

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    1. I agree ... it is an admirable effort, and I applaud him for taking the chance.

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  3. So sad when things go so wrong for artists like Kelly. So many interesting ideas that he had really worked in other films, but I think that had a lot to do with the talent and personalities with whom he was working. Good review.

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    1. Sometimes things don't go as planned, but at least he gave it a go.

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  4. I have only seen about 1 hour of this film. I thought it was very entertaining and I appreciated, all of Kelly's many styles of dance. I hope to one day see the whole movie.

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    1. Yes, I hope you see it in its entirety one day as well. Let me know if you do.

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  5. A fine review of this unusual film, and a very good point that Kelly at least tried to stretch the boundaries and not rest on doing the same thing. That in itself is admirable, even if the film wasn't all it could have been.

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  6. Filmboy, I have to admire you for choosing what must be the most difficult film in the entire Kelly canon to write on, and also for the even-handed treatment you gave it. I'm not a big fan of pure ballet myself, but you sure make the second segment in particular sound most interesting. Its "story" had me thinking of "The Earrings of Madame..."

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    1. Thank you, R.D. I had not seen the movie which is one reason I selected it. Funny you mention "The Earrings of Madame ..." Once you did so, it was like a "of course" moment. That film is far better than the second segment, but the second segment was the highlight of "Invitation to the Dance" for me.

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  7. CFB, I haven't seen this film and missed recording it on Wednesday. Though it doesn't seem as if it's nearly as fine as Kelly's best work, it still sounds interesting.

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    1. You should check it out some day when you have an opportunity. I'd like to hear your take on it.

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  8. CFB, I'm sorry I missed your post on Friday, but it certainly was worth the wait. I caught "Invitation to the Dance", but tuned in at the beginning of Ring Around the Rosey and left the house without seeing the rest of the film. I was intrigued by the obvious circular nature of the story, a bit like "La Ronde" and "The Earrings of Madame De..." choreographed and set to music. I admired what (I can only assume) Kelly was attempting with his visionary approach to modern musicals, but I also found it a bit uneven in spots. I'm still curious enough to give the entire film a second try.

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    1. It is definitely uneven, and I'd be curious to hear what you think the second time around. Thank you for the compliment!

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  9. Hi Brian! Sorry it took so long to get to the reviews.

    Hopefully my computer troubles are behind me. But on to your wonderful review.
    It's funny. This film has the two things that I hate most. Musicals and Cartoons. Grrrr But I have to say you've written about the film in a way that I think I would give it a go.
    I've never heard of Tamara Tourmanova. Hmm. Where did she come from? And she plays a hooker. It's like Tuscadero in Grease.(I think that's her name in the film and I should know since it's one of the few musicals I adore) Anyway. I loved her although she just shows up and takes the scenes away with her awesomeness. Plus she was edgy and easy. I'm picturing Tamara like that.

    It appears that The Red Shoes was the inspiration for several of Kelly's 'ballet' numbers. It would be intimidating to dance beside Kelly in any style of dance but his ballet was so beautiful. We certainly don't see actors today with his talent. professionalism or dedication to his craft. He must have been a joy to direct.

    You've given us a really nice article here. Brian. Very informative.
    See ya soon!
    Page

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    1. Hi Page, Tamara and Tuscadero ... interesting comparison and I like it!

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  10. When my daughter was quite young this film was her introduction to Gene Kelly and she was smitten. He didn't need words to make an impression.

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    1. All of the great dancers did that -- they seduced us with their abilities. I love Gene ... I just wish this film were stronger.

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  11. Sorry, I am so late in getting here. I still have plenty of Gene Kelly films to catch up on, and this is one of them. Just the other day I watched COVER GIRL for the first time. A decent enough film with the highlight being the sequence where Kelly dances with an image of himself. Like you say at the end, Kelly always tried something different and he should be praised for that alone. I always preferred kelly to Astaire, not to take anything away from Fred, it's just personal preference.

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    1. Hi John, glad you stopped by. When it comes to Kelly and Astaire, it is a personal preference, because they are both so incredible. When I was younger I was more of a Kelly fan, but now I'm more of an Astaire fan. Frankly, I love both of them.

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  12. Gene Kelly Blogathon invitation to dance is shared in the post her. Have a look at it

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  13. They look pretty cool. Thanks for sharing. Please put more pics

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