Monday, May 17, 2004

The First and Best Minnelli

I've been meaning to write a long piece about Vincente Minnelli, but I haven't had a chance yet; I've been watching some of his movies lately, and his work is a crash course in the use of design, camera movement, long takes, and screen composition. He doesn't always have much sense of pacing -- a movie like Designing Woman really ought to be at least half again as fast to make the flimsy plot work, but with Minnelli, it just sort of floats along -- but no other director made movies that were so good to look at. And of course Minnelli, in collaboration with Arthur Freed, re-invented the look of the movie musical. Not enough Minnelli films are available on DVD, but The Band Wagon and Bells are Ringing will be released next year, and some other films will make it sooner or later (Warner Brothers, which owns the MGM films, is doing a fine job with their classic-film library, thanks to VP of classics George Feltenstein).

Meanwhile, here's a long and detailed interview with Minnelli from about 1977.

Minnelli's remarkable visual sense made him very popular with the auteurist critics -- who often seemed to feel that how a movie looks is more important than what it's about -- but since he rarely picked his own projects and never produced or wrote his own movies, it's hard to argue that he's the "author" of his films as Hawks or Hitchcock clearly were. Someone once called Minnelli the Michael Curtiz of MGM, and I think the comparison makes sense; like Curtiz, he worked with the scripts and producers he had, worked in many different genres, used his camera brilliantly, and got the best work out of the studio's actors and technicians. Curtiz didn't do much of interest after he left Warner Brothers, and Minnelli was equally dependent on having the resources of a great studio available to him. He was a casualty of the collapse of the studio system and the scattering to the winds of the great studio technicians:

Q. Is it easier or more difficult to make a picture today?
A. Much more difficult. Because you don’t have the people to chose from. They don’t get together automatically.

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