TBT: Gene Kelly On Creating An American in Paris

August 25, 2021

The cover of the August 1951 issue of Dance Magazine featured Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in an image from the feature film An American in Paris, which premiered in London that month.

In an essay penned for the issue, Kelly described their approach to making the film’s 18-minute central ballet with the cinema in mind: “If the camera is to make any contribution at all to dance, this must be the focal point of its contribution; the fluid background, giving each spectator an undistorted and altogether similar view of dancer and background. To accomplish this end, the camera is made fluid, moving with the dancer, so that the lens becomes the eye of the spectator, your eye. For American in Paris we wanted to do a ballet without an actual story line or plot, a ballet that suggested, rather than narrated, a ballet which said more with things unsaid, than with things said.”

After opening in the UK and U.S. that November, the movie musical about a struggling American painter (Kelly) who falls for a young French woman (Caron) would go on to win six Academy Awards, including Best Picture; Kelly received an honorary Oscar “for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” Ziegfeld Follies and On the Town were already under his belt, but his iconic performance in Singin’ in the Rain was still to come, as were directorial efforts on films like Invitation to the Dance and Hello, Dolly! Kelly received a Dance Magazine Award in 1958 and a National Medal of Arts in 1994.

As Robert C. Roman summarized in the April 1996 issue of Dance Magazine in a tribute after the star died at age 83, Kelly “redefined the Hollywood musical with his vigorous athleticism, casual grace, rakish Irish charm, and daring ingenuity…. He revolutionized film choreography, as well as the film musical.”