Sunday, July 5, 2009

An American in New York

Today is the day after Independence Day, a warm and sunny Sunday in New York City. Whenever the weather is good, it seems that New Yorkers can't get enough of the outdoors. But because there has been so much rain here, it seemed that people were almost desperate to bask in the sunshine. Central Park was teeming with people, standing, walking, strolling, skating, running, biking, dancing, skipping, sitting or just staring. And it's no wonder, as Central Park is, as so many others have noted, a kind of miracle, a beautiful and satisfying oasis of nature in the middle of a great city. It never fails to impress and even inspire awe. Like the city itself, it is inexhaustible in its variety, in its ability to reveal something new even to the most steadfast denizen.

I absorbed this scene while crossing the Park en route to the Film Society of Lincoln Center to view a special showing of the film "An American in Paris." Originally released in 1951, it won that year's Academy Award for Best Film. Many of the musical numbers are still wonderful and all of Gene Kelly's dances are marvelous, but it suffers from an unconvincing love story between Kelly and Leslie Caron and the decision to film the story almost entirely on Hollywood soundstages instead of actual Paris locations. A film that is supposed to celebrate life in bohemian Paris just doesn't work very well without the real Paris as a backdrop. Ironically, when Kelly made "On the Town" (only two years earlier), which takes place in New York City, he had to fight MGM just to let him film the opening scenes in actual New York locations. Of course, as it turns out, those scenes, which are part of the opening "New York, New York" number, are the best ones in the movie. In fact, for those of us who love New York, it is thrilling to see these scenes, however fleetingly, circa 1951 all included in that opening sequence accompanied by that incomparable Leonard Bernstein music: Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, China Town, the Statue of Liberty, Washington Square, Grant's Tomb, Central Park, Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building, and Rockefeller Center. Incredibly, any film trying to catch the spirit of New York today would almost certainly include footage of most, if not all, of these same places.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I love that "New York, New York" number. It's funny that they felt they had to change "it's a helluva town" to "it's a wonderful town" for the film version.