VINCENTE MINNELLI: THE ART OF ENTERTAINMENT, edited by Joe McElhaney, Detroit: Wayne State University Place, 2009, 458 pp.
In spite of my disappointment that Mademoiselle — Minnelli’s extraordinary centerpiece in The Story of Three Loves and surely one of his greatest films — gets virtually ignored here, this is a terrific critical collection, so I’m very grateful to Girish Shambu’s blog for calling my attention to it. Among the many treasures to be found here are what appears to be the very best French criticism about Minnelli, expertly translated by Bill Krohn, Jean-Pierre Coursodon, and Brian O’Keefe, including Raymond Bellour (on Brigadoon), Serge Daney (separate pieces on The Pirate and The Cobweb as they each appear on French TV), Jean Douchet (separate pieces on The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Two Weeks in Another Town), Emmanuel Burdeau (who also has two pieces), and Jean-Loup Bourget. There are also sturdy contributions by, among others, Krohn himself, Scott Bukatman, Thomas Elsaesser, Adrian Martin, James Naremore, Dana Polan, Robin Wood, and two essays apiece by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, David A. Gerstner, and the editor, Joe McElhaney.
Back in the mid-1980s, I published a survey about Minnelli’s work on video, titled (I believe) “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” which I seem to have misplaced — something I’m mentioning now only because I’ve often thought that this particular phrase from William Butler Yeats perfectly describes Minnelli’s auteurist thematics.
Since I happen to believe that not only Mademoiselle (clearly a masterpiece) but all of The Story of Three Loves is one of the great neglected pleasures of 1950s MGM (as demonstrated by the fact that I can only access one measly still from Mademoiselle, and a black and white one at that, on the Internet: see below), let me conclude with my Reader capsule review of that feature. (I showed this feature in my course on world cinema of the 50s in Chicago a year or so back, incidentally, and my students loved it.) August 20 postscript: One of this site’s most loyal and generous readers, Ehsan Khoshbakht, has just furnished me with a few color photos from the film courtesy of TCM, including two from Mademoiselle, both also reproduced below. Many thanks, Ehsan!
Released in 1953, this glitzy, entertaining MGM art movie is fascinating partly because it testifies to the influence of patriarchal French existentialism on American pop culture. Gottfried Reinhardt (son of Berlin stage director Max Reinhardt) directed the first of its three episodes, about a ballet dancer with a heart condition (Moira Shearer) who’s driven to the breaking point by an enthusiastic choreographer (James Mason), and the third, a suspenseful tale about Parisian trapeze artists (Kirk Douglas and Pier Angeli) who learn to commit to one another in a post-Holocaust context by taking inordinate risks. But the best episode is Vincente Minnelli’s fantasy about a disgruntled boy in Venice (Ricky Nelson) who, with the help of an American witch (Ethel Barrymore), becomes a grown man (Farley Granger) long enough to date his French nanny (Leslie Caron). 122 min. [8/19/09]