Gigi ★★★★

Rule A of my movie watching: If a film presents its premises in the first ten minutes and you draw objections, you probably aren't giving the film a fair shake. In Gigi, you might miss how Maurice Chevalier notes that this is 1900—pre-war, pre-Depression—in a time of romance and love where a song about enjoying the passage of little girls into blossoming women can take on a bit of innocence. The misogyny and patronizing is somewhat out there and not exactly the most progressive thing for today's audiences, but to focus on those elements is to miss a cornucopia of surprisingly complex formal tactics; this is easily among my favorite Minnelli's.

Unlike a number of Freed musicals (even my favorite Minnelli, The Band Wagon), all the songs for the film seem to have been produced for the film itself, which makes everything flow much more collectively than some of the song-dance break of other MGM 50s films. The songs by Lerner and Loewe have a proto-Sondheim repartee ("It's a Bore!") while "The Gossips" is a brilliant bit of rhythmic staccato as a stand in for the commotion and whispering. The songs actually matter here instead of are shoehorned for the plot.

Minnelli uses Cinema-Scope to his extreme advantage, though not to stretch the spaces between his character. His staging is actually often quite simple. However, the widescreen allows him to shoot everyone in long shots and deep focus, emphasizing the physical movement of his characters, their faces already closer to the heavy gestures found in stage musicals, while also delighting his over-blown mise-en-scene (including that bizarre little cat). When he does cut in, he makes it matter, like that strange little tracking shot on Gigi and Alarez's feet during "Champagne" as their feet seem to come alive into the music. As broad as the narrative can sometimes be and obvious the emotional beats, there is something decidedly complex about Minnelli's approach to conveying these emotions. "She Is Not Thinking Of Me" is a particularly uniquely staged sequence: all shot in deep focus, using the fact Minnelli trusts us to follow multiple composition focal points to follow the comic and emotional beats. SImply put, he makes what could be quite simple into something quite difficult to pull off.

Minnelli has an angel and demon on his shoulders, always fighting between his more poetic sides (Meet Me in St Louis, The Clock) and his more vulgar antics (Band Wagon, certain sequences in The Bad and the Beautiful). I feel Gigi is the meshing of that: the city of romance reduced to a series of gossip hounds, where suicide is a joke, but it's still a city where the potential for romance and for real human delight remains a possibility. A romantic getaway is soon turned into a game, nostalgic memory comes crashing into reality in "I Remember It Well," a girl full of youth and energy is thrown into a corset and forced to falsely gaggle at emeralds, and a general compromise is to life's ambivalence is made.

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