Gigi (1958, Vincente Minnelli)
!!!!! AVOID !!!!!
The most intellectual conversation I can really dive into about this isn’t substantitive at all — it’s all me attempting to decide whether this or Going My Way is the worst Best Picture winner up to this point. That was how I exercised my brain as I watched this excruciating movie for the second time in my life, the first having been drama class in twelfth grade. Back then I thought the movie was horrible. No, no, no. This movie is offensive to all decent human beings but I concluded that Going My Way is worse because this film contains some pleasant and artful photography, and because Leslie Caron earns some goodwill since the awfulness of her performance and by extension the film isn’t her fault; she wasn’t permitted to sing the songs herself, giving us the bleating overdubbed pap being peddled before you. Still, Gigi deserves your scorn for all sorts of reasons: its position of fame probably keeps legions of people from investigating the actual magic that exists in the rest of the work of MGM’s Arthur Freed unit; it won the Best Picture Academy Award in the year Vertigo was released, Vertigo having not even managed a nomination; and it’s unconscionably, inexcusably dull. It is one of the dullest of all major Hollywood pictures, in fact. And it gets worse as it goes along.
Which is saying something, because it begins with Maurice Chevalier singing an atonal song about assaulting little girls. All downhill from there; we’re in Paris, Chevalier announces, and sets to work immediately on fetishizing a schoolgirl aesthetic based in outmoded societal constructs about femininity, constrained and “proper” femininity at that — so in other words, this is a Lerner & Loewe musical. Self-plagiarism is style, they say, so we must conclude that this shameless rehash of the already deplorable My Fair Lady is an exercise in style. As is typical for L&L, there’s plenty of casual creepy sexism and a general air of misery and conformity hanging over everything. Vincente Minnelli was premitted this time, in contrast to An American in Paris to shoot his film in the real live Paris, yet he doesn’t seem to have any more of a feel for the city than he did seven years earlier.
And as loathsome as that earlier film often could be, I pined for it for the duration. For something redeeming to be here, anything at all! To look upon Gene Kelly and his dogged self-aggrandizement through dance; something, anything alive! Gigi is wholly free of serious engagement with the audience, with itself, with anything. Even the musical numbers, which as in My Fair Lady are dedicated to songs rather rote and charmless, are static and uninvolving, as though Minnelli had no memory of his own education.
More troubling yet is the film’s arid stiffness, driven by a very American and very fake sense of “classiness.” That’s when it’s not too busy leering at Caron’s conjuring up of youth, setting to work on making her a “lady,” and participating in much sweetness and light with cold heartlessness at its core. For much of the rest of the running time, this Paris we’re given seems dead and full of movie posturing. This is the sort of moment in which “lighter than air” is a bad thing. But then, out of nowhere, a character commits suicide. For a man. And the male characters congratulate one another. On this achievement. And that’s supposed to be funny, or romantic, or something. This won Oscars. People went to see this. When I think of Gigi, I think of evil and dread and misery. I’m stunned that it’s still remembered as a romantic, charming film; it’s like a Todd Solondz movie set to music but without the humor and self-awareness. And somehow Lolita, which doesn’t actually approve of its protagonist’s behavior, was the controversial film.
So there you have it — the hardest time I’ve had so far filling out five paragraphs of a movie review for this blog. An entirely irrelevant, (mostly) awful-looking pastiche of nothing, rewarded for no reason, and worthy of little but scorn. Irritating as Gigi is, she really should have murdered the entire supporting cast and gotten the fuck out of Paris. By the way, Touch of Evil also came out in 1958. No, no, sorry, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, no time for you. Let’s give awards to this lovely film about misogyny and child slavery and bending forward for the patriarchy; that will look like a much wiser decision in half a century, we’re sure. You have fun, Orson, not even being able to finance and release a film the way you want to; we’ll just sit over and listen to a very dubbed “Leslie Caron” sing about how all of the joy in her life is being drained out of her by her evil family members. It’s appalling that this movie exists. Fuck the whole Lerner & Loewe speak-singing shit too, by the way. And yeah, My Fair Lady is even worse.