The 100 Essential Directors Part 6

Ernst Lubitsch to Vincente Minnelli

by PopMatters Staff

18 August 2011


Vincente Minnelli

Vincente Minnelli
(1903 - 1986)

Three Key Films: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Band Wagon (1953), Some Came Running (1958)

Underrated: Though sometimes characterized as pure fluff, The Pirate (1948), remains an underrated addition to Minnelli’s musical canon. Over budget and originally overlooked by audiences, this pirate musical featuring Gene Kelly and Judy Garland is surprisingly humorous even by today’s standards and has had a growing appreciation over the years. The Pirate also features one of the most visually splendid ballet sequences of any classic Hollywood musical, to be outdone mostly by only some of Minnelli’s own films.
Unforgettable: The magical 16-minute ballet sequence of An American in Paris (1951). The ballet sequence, usually a major stop in the plot of the film to showcase outlandish musical numbers, was a staple of the musical genre of the time. However, no ballet is no spectacular or beautiful than Minnelli’s in An American in Paris. In a perfect blend of music, light, choreography, and classic Gene Kelly charm, Minnelli creates one of the most visually dynamic musical sequences in film history.
The Legend: Vincente Minnelli can be credited with being one of the most influential figures of the American musical film. With Meet Me in St. Louis, his second film, Minnelli helped move the genre out of the Busby Berkeley style spectacle and into a place of emotional depth and a more narrative-driven spirit. Not surprisingly, the director started off in the theatre, working in the Chicago and New York scenes. His first film was the Faust-inspired musical, Cabin in the Sky, made with an all African American cast in 194Minnelli didn’t look back, immediately releasing I Dood It the same year, and one of his most popular films, Meet Me In St. Louis, a year later. From there on, Minnelli made a film almost every year, sometimes two per year.
Although Minnelli is most best known for his musicals—Gigi (1958), An American in Paris, and The Band Wagon being among his most acclaimed—he also directed several critically acclaimed melodramas: the Van Gogh biopic Lust for Life (1956), the post-World War II coming home film Some Came Running, and the excellent Texan family epic Home from the Hill (1960). These melodramas are equals, if not superior, to his musicals.

While most of Minnelli’s musicals don’t have the emotional resonance or psychosexual underpinnings of his best melodramas, they are among the most visually stunning of all time. A master of mise en scène, each and every of Minnelli’s frames are as carefully constructed as a painting, a visual artist as much Gauguin or Picasso. The charge of being substance over style is something that likely wouldn’t have offended him; his films are as much about light, color, and movement as anything else. For all the charges of being infatuated by only the visual nature of his films, it is often ignored that Minnelli directed seven actors to acting nominations and two to Oscar wins: Spencer Tracy (Father of the Bride [1950]), Gloria Grahame (The Bad and the Beautiful [1952]), Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn (Lust for Life), and Arthur Kennedy, Shirley MacLaine and Martha Hyer (Some Came Running), with Grahame and Quinn nabbing the statues in their respective years and Margaret O’Brien winning a special juvenile Oscar for Meet Me in St. Louis. Minnelli himself would go on to win Best Director for the eye-popping kaleidoscope of Gigi.

Minnelli continued this breakneck filmmaking pace until 1965, though he would release On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) and his last film, A Matter of Time, in 1976. Minnelli, though by many accounts gay or bisexual, was married four times to different women. The first time, most infamously, was to queer icon Judy Garland, who gave birth to their daughter Liza Minnelli, a beloved LGBT ally and activist in her own right . Vincente would work with Garland on seven films and with Liza once: 1976’s A Matter of Time.Minnelli died in 1986, only weeks after being named a Commander Nationale of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian honor. Joshua Jezioro


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