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Singin' in the Rain (1952)


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I couldn't find a dedicated thread for Singin' in the Rain, but it has been nominated for our top 100. In another thread, Evan promoted it for the list "because it's arguably the most perfect film ever made, it's a delight from start to finish, it's a celebration of the good, true, and beautiful, and it's the perfect example of the type of joy the world needs right now (please, please, please let this get on the list)."

 

 

Whenever I'm asked what my favorite movie is, I usually give a different answer than the last time I was asked. The title that most often comes out my lips in response to that question is Singin' in the Rain. Nevertheless, I struggle with how to consider it spiritually significant enough to vote for it. I will use each part of Evan's statement to ask a question of spiritual significance in the hopes that someone will convince me not to give a "1" to my favorite movie.

I agree that it's a perfect film in its story-telling of the transition from silent film to talkies. Its songs, choreography and all other technical aspects have never been matched. They're perfection. But does perfection in and of itself transcend anything or create a sense of wonder beyond merely marveling at what the filmmakers achieved?

I agree that "it's a delight from start to finish." But so is a bowl of ice cream. How does delight have a long-lasting effect on who we are people and not be as quickly forgotten as that bowl of ice cream?

If Singin' in the Rain is "a celebration of the good, true and beautiful," then I'm sold. Right now, I don't see how it is the celebration that Evan claims.

And finally, joy. I assume Evan refers to a deep, spiritual type of joy rather than the fleeting feeling of happiness. Assuming that to be the case, how does Singin' in the Rain provide an example of that kind of joy? For me, it certainly provides happiness and a short escape from troubles. But if I nominated movies that made me happy, I would have nominated Bringing up Baby. If someone can make a case for the latter being spiritually significant, you must be a great lawyer! Hopefully, Singin' in the Rain won't be quite that difficult.

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First of all, we need to start with John Paul II's letter to artists:
 

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1. None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.

...

Through his “artistic creativity” man appears more than ever “in the image of God”, and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous “material” of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him. With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom, calling him to share in his creative power.

 

The letter's worth reading in full, and it's one of my favorite things he ever wrote.

The delight I was referring to in regards to Singin' in the Rain is different from the fleeting delight of a bowl of ice cream. This is first and foremost a story about artists being threatened with losing their livelihoods and means of inspiring audiences not just momentarily but for years after and how they have to transition and grow from what they originally dreamed of. From the opening flashbacks, we see how Don and Cosmo were inspired by such artists themselves and felt called to share similar talents with the world. What's so fitting is that Gene Kelly's performance of the title number, Don O'Connor's rendition of "Make 'Em Laugh," both of them doing "Moses Supposes," Debbie Reynolds joining them for "Good Morning" are all examples of those long lasting, inspiring works of art that people remember and take a deeper joy from than something that provides a temporary happiness. In that way, the songs and dances (and the film itself) are more akin to a Da Vinci painting than a bowl of ice cream.

As I do think this is one of the few films that can be objectively called perfect, and I also agree with John Paul II in regards to artistic creativity is a way human beings share in the image of God, therefore, Singin' in the Rain's examples of that artistry is one of the best examples of artists "shaping the wondrous material of [their] own humanity."

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Thank you Evan. I apologize if my ice cream analogy was trite. I certainly didn't mean any offense to you or to the movie. Every reason you give speaks to the greatness of the movie and to the inherent spirituality of art. I agree with it all. But when we're making a list of the most spiritually significant movies, if we emphasize greatness and the inherent spirituality in all art as you have here, without more overt spiritual content in the given artwork (even in the broadest sense of the phrase as outlined in the plans to start the list), then don't we risk doing the same thing that Sight & Sound does every 10 years? Sight & Sound is great, but I don't think we want to be exactly like them.

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Ed, I'm having the same struggle with this film. If I could only save one movie from the fire, I wouldn't hesitate to grab Singin' in the Rain, but I can't figure out how to make it fit with my concept of this list. At the same time, I'm very conscious of comments others have made in recent threads about how "spiritual" doesn't equal "serious." Does the pleasure of watching Gene Kelly dance count as a kind of devotional act? I'm open to the argument.

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I also nominated Singin' in the Rain. I have so many thoughts about this, but as I'm about to head to bed, I'll keep these brief and preliminary: I think there is a link between holiness and humor, in that the postures of joy and hope in the midst of a broken and ostensibly cruel world are nothing short of miraculous. There is something deeply spiritual about genuine, deep, good laughter. It's cathartic, it's communal, it's contagious, and it's healing. And Singin' in the Rain is not only a perfectly-crafted musical comedy which also has a complex and layered perspective on the medium of cinema itself—it's a film about film, after all—but it's also consistently fun, and (as Darren mentioned) quite pleasurable. It is cinematic goodness. And that consistency in its goodness is incredible to me, how it brings a smile every single time and I never seem to tire of it. The musical genre is one that I typically find too over-the-top and obvious (I know, that's part of the style!), but Singin' in the Rain is as if the goodness of the created world were turned up to 11. It's not escapist; it's...emphasist; it's intensely and vibrantly reminding us of what is important and what we are capable of as human beings. Even in its more shallow or cynical moments, there's an underlying lightheartedness to it all, a hidden knowing wink that everything will turn out all right. It's empowering; renewed in spirit, we can face the most dreaded rainstorm with a smile and a song.

On a personal level, it's one of the only movies my film-hating children have ever watched all the way through and enjoyed, then requested to watch again or quoted from it later (the only other such films they've liked: My Neighbor Totoro, Sherlock Jr., Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music). So that's very significant to me, in that I will always have the memory of them laughing uncontrollably at "Make 'Em Laugh" and "Moses Supposes" and "Singin' in the Rain."

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3 hours ago, Darren H said:

Ed, I'm having the same struggle with this film. If I could only save one movie from the fire, I wouldn't hesitate to grab Singin' in the Rain, but I can't figure out how to make it fit with my concept of this list. At the same time, I'm very conscious of comments others have made in recent threads about how "spiritual" doesn't equal "serious." Does the pleasure of watching Gene Kelly dance count as a kind of devotional act? I'm open to the argument.

My concept of the list doesn't equate "spiritual" with "serious." I just watched a grunge-rock musical about the childhood of Joan of Arc with a headbanging Joan. I don't know who nominated Jeanette, but I'm going to write about that film shortly in another thread. I bring it up here to say that its utter goofiness and giddy fetish for anachronisms help to display the deep spirituality that a child is capable of in ways no "serious" film could. Beyond the film's overt religious content, it communicates truth about childhood and about anger. I would summarize my concept of the list by saying I want the movies on the top 100 to communicate some sort of truth in a way no other art could. To do that, it must transcend great storytelling, great singing, great dancing and big laughs . All four of those things are artistic and thus inextricably linked to spirituality. But I think that to name a film one of the most spiritually significant ever produced, it has to be bigger than artistic greatness. For me, that doesn't mean it has to be serious, but it has to tell truth.

So, that brings me to your comments, Joel. I love everything you have to say about the spirituality of laughter. I agree completely. But I still had trouble with the "truth" aspect I'm looking for. That started to changed when I read your sentence, "We can face the most dreaded rainstorm with a smile and a song." That absolutely is a spiritually significant statement that the movie makes wonderfully (and throughout the whole movie, not just in the scene when Gene Kelly is literally "singing in the rain"), a truth that it nails in a way no other work of art could. Thank you Joel. You pulled me out of the dread I felt about the prospect of giving my favorite movie a "1." That said, compared to many of the other movies nominated, I'm still not sure I want to be in the top 100. So, if I were to vote right now, I would give it a "2" or a "3."

Evan, I have a feeling that you might be the only one able to convince me to become certain about wanting Singin' in the Rain on the top 100. Your initial statement advocating for it lead me to that suspicion. But I still have questions about that statement that I can't resolve yet. How, specifically in its content, does it celebrate what is "good, true and beautiful"? And can you define "the type of joy that the world needs right now?" Then, how does Singin' in the Rain provide such a great example of that joy?

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It was in my 2004 (wow, we're old) review of Bride & Prejudice that I first quoted Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline for a film criticism take:

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 In fact, in a year in which all five films nominated for the Academy Awards’ best picture feature depressed and depressing characters who act as poster children for Thomas Hobbes’s claim that life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, it is more than a bit refreshing to see a movie with a palette that uses more colors than black, white, and gray, and whose lyrics, as hammy as they are, can include a wedding party singing, “Life’s great / let’s celebrate!” It has been almost thirty years since Richard Foster wrote in his classic devotional Celebration of Discipline that “the carefree spirit of joyous festivity is absent in contemporary society.” In his chapter on “The Discipline of Celebration” Foster reminds readers: “Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) [….] Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong.”

Given that part of the discussion of the voting process and qualifications had to do with films that have been personally significant, there will be an affective component of some of the films. For me, that quality is part of the essential nature of The Man Who Planted Trees, Rounders, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, and 12 Years a Slave. Similarly, there is something visceral and not just formal in my dislike of (no huge surprise here) Magnolia, or Wise Blood, or Yentl. 

So my issues is not how to deal with those films so much as how to deal with the films that have a strong visceral or affective component on others that I don't share. My high school drama teacher made one of the first critical distinctions that was foundational for me as an art critic -- there is a difference between works of art that you appreciate artistically and those that reach you personally. Sometimes they overlap. Sometimes things reach you personally that you recognize are not necessarily great artistically (The Way, Ordinary People). More often you recognize the artistry but it doesn't necessarily reach you personally (A Hidden Life, Stalker.) 

I'm in the camp for Singing in The Rain that says, "I like the film, I enjoy it, but there are other films that have a more pronounced effect on me that I would rate higher if I'm using the personal argument, even if I recognize they artistically a cut below. (I'm talking The Muppet Movie, Charlie Brown Christmas, and Stop Making Sense; not on the list, but also Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or The Greatest Showman). Ditto for Raiders of the Lost Ark, by the way. I mean, that movie is always *fun* but for this list there is a subjective and real difference between pleasure and joy, between a pleasurable diversion and an essential nourishment to my spirit. I'm not disputing that Singing in the Rain can be that thing for some; I'm just trying to figure out where in the formula I factor in the "I don't care about this film but I care about the people who do" (looking at you Frisco Jenny, Wall-e, Ladybird, and Love is Strange).

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No worries at all, Ed; the ice cream analogy certainly wasn't trite. I just think Singin' in the Rain provides a different type of joy.

You made a really good point about us not wanting to be like Sight & Sound, and there's enough of a risk of that happening if we use the inherent spirituality of any art as a guide that I briefly reconsidered my own nominee.

However, this is why I think Singin' in the Rain belongs on the list. The film itself acknowledges the importance of art and laughter in our lives, "You can study Shakespeare and be quite elite/Or you could charm the critics but have nothing to eat/But slip on banana and the world's at your feet..." I think that makes it different from something such as Bringing Up Baby, which for the record is probably my favorite comedy, but not one I could justify for the list.

The entirety of the plot is about the creation of art and learning new ways to make said art, which has a sense of vocation for Don, Kathy, and Cosmo. That the art they create is some of the best ever captured on film is an added plus. I don't remember when I first noticed this, but when I realized the finale is more concerned with justice and proper recognition for Kathy than it is about punishing Lena, who's allowed to call the shots until she gets herself in a corner is when I realized all the ways the film celebrates the good, true, and beautiful.

As to the type of joy we need right now, we're in the midst of a pandemic, and an election is coming up which I'm guessing will not go the way most of us desperately want it to. I in no way want to belittle the importance of suffering as a part of life and faith, but as I said in the thread for Frisco Jenny, we'll have plenty examples of great films in that vein. And as a reminder of why art and laughter are an essential part of life and faith, along with perfect examples of both those things, I think Singin' in the Rain needs to be on the list.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Thanks Evan. Your quote from "Make 'em Laugh" is a perfect example of how Singin' in the Rain communicates truth about the human spiritual need for laughter. Since the rest of movie shows the human capability to overcome adversity through laughter and art (though Joel said it much more eloquently, and his words deserve repeating here, "We can face the most dreaded rainstorm through a smile and a song"), you and Joel have completely convinced me.

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