Friday, July 9, 2010
SLAM's Vincente Minnelli series explores art of film
By VICKI BENNINGTON
For The Telegraph
ST. LOUIS — Grab a blanket or lawn chair, pack a dinner and head for the hill.
The Saint Louis Art Museum has handpicked four Vincente Minnelli films to be featured in a four-film series beginning July 9 on Art Hill in Forest Park in St. Louis, bringing art to the outdoors.
In a career spanning 33 years, Minnelli directed nearly 40 films. Known for his musicals, his arsenal of movies also includes melodramas and comedies, all with a certain visual style stemming from his training in art and design.
Bill Appleton, assistant director for public programs and education at the museum, said the institution has a long history of showing films in its auditorium, last year introducing the first outdoor viewing on Art Hill, which was met with positive response.
"This year, we wanted to present a clear, curated outdoor program, showcasing the art of film for all ages," he said.
The four particular movies, to be screened on four consecutive Fridays in July, were chosen for their visual appeal, their status as masterpieces of American film, and their ability to entertain audiences of multiple generations.
"Minnelli had a great artist’s knowledge. He studied at the Art Institute, and his films are as much about art as anything else," Appleton said.
Minnelli’s work was often admired and sometimes criticized, but many of the films have become engrained in American culture and have been viewed by millions, appealing to a wide range of backgrounds and ages. He made his first film, "Cabin in the Sky," in 1943, and made his last, "A Matter of Time," in 1976 (starring his daughter, Liza). He made 37 in all, saying that he wanted them all to have "a little magic."
The first to hit the big screen this summer will be tonight’s presentation of "An American In Paris," released in 1951, starring Gene Kelly as a struggling American painter in Paris who is "discovered" by an influential heiress with an interest in more than art. The musical comedy also stars Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant and features an 18-minute ballet based on the art of six French artists and danced to the music of George Gershwin. It features a number of dance numbers choreographed by Gene Kelly.
July 16 brings "The Band Wagon," starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse and Jack Buchanan. Set as a "backstage" musical, aging star Tony Hunter aims for a Broadway comeback. But he just can’t seem to get along with his ballerina co-star until they find themselves "dancing in the dark."
On July 23, the biography "Lust For Life" will be presented with Kirk Douglas as troubled Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. Released in 1956, the film is considered quite artistic, including intense use of color, and focuses on individual isolation. It examines Van Gogh’s unhappy life and his obsession with painting combined with apparent mental illness.
"Meet Me in St. Louis," released in 1944, is a well-watched classic — and not only by St. Louisans. It will run July 30, starring Judy Garland, Lucille Bremer and Margaret O’Brien. The romantic film blends musical numbers with the lives of the Smith family in the midst of the excitement of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. It was Minnelli’s first color film. "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" made their debuts in the film and became hits. Minnelli and Garland began dating during the making of "Meet Me in St. Louis," eventually married and had one child together, Liza Minnelli.
Appleton said that in recent years, people have said the musical movie is dead, but he personally doesn’t believe that. The positive response to recent musical programs such as "Glee" proves there’s still an appeal. And people still love musicals of the past. There’s just something about the advancement of the plot through song.
The films begin at 9 p.m. at Art Hill in Forest Park, across from the Saint Louis Art Museum. Free public parking is available in the north lots flanking the statue of St. Louis in front of the main entrance to the museum. The outdoor film series is sponsored by Macy’s. For more information, call (314) 721-0072 or visit www.slam.org.