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THE BAND WAGON
1953 - Vincente Minnelli
United States
71
Opening Shot

The Band Wagon begins at the site of an auction sale featuring "personal effects" used in his starring roles by singing dancing star Tony Hunter (played by Fred Astaire). The first item up for bid is a top hat and dancing stick used in his most famous pictures. The auctioneer starts the bidding at $5 only nobody bids even toi the point when he asks for 50 cents. Of course this quickly establishes one of the films underlying themes which is a reflection of the real life of those involved in making The Band Wagon- in this case Fred Astaire and his "washed up" career at the time.

The Film

The Band Wagon rates alongside Singin' In The Rain as my favorite American musical. Vincente Minnelli was a master of the genre and he is responsible for some of the greatest musicals in film history, but this is his greatest achievement and rates among the very best films ever made. It's cinematic joy and art. With The Band Wagon, Minnelli is contrasting or combining real-life and film (as many of the characters and situations were almost biographical reflections of real-life, including Fred Astaire's "washed-up" movie career), as well as film and ballet with theater. The Band Wagon also examines art (ie Faust) vs entertainment (ie musical comedy). Among other gifts, Minnelli excels with vivid image details and use of color within the composition. Here through his glorious vision and outstanding direction this film does not contain one frame that doesn't work in capturing humor, beauty, intelligence, and excitement. Not go without mentioning is the performances of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse… WOW. Probably the two greatest dancers in film history (and two of my favorite actors), and together they light up the screen. Charisse is particularly radiant with her stunning beauty, grace, and of course legs! There is some remarkable dialogue, moments and musical numbers (most notably the grand "A Shine on Your Shoes", the charmingly funny "Triplets", and especially the breathtakingly sexy and dazzling closing noir-esque jazz sequence "Girl Hunt Ballet").The Band Wagon just works in all aspects of filmmaking. Through a collaboration of talents (Minnelli's direction, Astaire and Charisse's performances, Betty Comden and Adolph Green's screenplay, Michael Kidd's choreography, and Arthur Schwartz music) The Band Wagon becomes a collective masterpiece. It's a musical comedy that is a joy to watch, but perhaps the greatest asset is the richness and depth within the images, sounds and emotions of the film. Repeat viewings are even more enjoyable and give the film a timelessness. The Band Wagon is simply an amazing film. Pure magic and absolutely unforgettable!! Not only one of the greatest comedies or musicals, but one of the very greatest films ever made. "That's Entertainment!"

The Filmmaker

Vincente Minnelli may not be among the most important American filmmakers of all-time, but he remains a personal favorite to me. He stands as one of the truly great filmmakers that was able to capture a personal and artistic expression within the Hollywood Studio system. Certainly restrictions of Hollywood studios did not go well with Minnelli's perfectionist vision, yet he still managed to have a long career and the true vision of his art has grown stronger with age. Minnelli began working in theater as a costume designer before moving onto theatrical production design. This background is very evident in his work, as Minnelli's a master of color detail within the visual composition. His theater background became a magical connection into his transition to film and as his career grew, Minnelli mastered the art of filmmaking and the use of visual depth and space. This visual mastery results in some of the most beautiful films ever made (Meet Me in St Louis, Gigi, Band Wagon, An American in Paris, Brigadoon). Of course, sophisticated Technicolor musicals are what Minnelli is most remembered for, as he is responsible for some of the very greatest musicals in American film (notably his collaboration with producer Arthur Freed). While I agree Minnelli is arguably the greatest filmmaker of Hollywood musicals, it should not be forgotten that he made great films outside the genre as well (including comedy- Father of the Bride; personal melodrama- Bad and the Beautiful; or romance- The Clock). Minnelli is responsible for a seemingly endless list of classic films in all genres, but his musicals do remain his most beloved and beautiful. While Gigi and especially the lovely Meet Me in St Louis are great examples of his quintessential skill of the genre, and Brigadoon a representation of his mix with theater and cinema, Minnelli's greatest achievement is the 1953 masterpiece The Band Wagon. To me the film is one of the very greatest ever made (musical or otherwise). Minnelli and his cast and crew each collaborated on a personal and expressive film that is equally artistic and entertaining. Minnelli's visual detail and expression give his films a transcendent and dreamlike quality that has made them timeless and endearing. Even within the confines of the studio system, Minnelli is an auteur and his greatest strength as an auteur is his ability to take the viewer into his magical world through visual depth and his mastery with visual space. Minnelli never really got the recognition he deserved in Hollywood (with a possible exception being his Best Director Oscar for Gigi in 1958), and sometimes he is most known for his 5-year marriage to Judy Garland. But all it takes is to rewatch some of his many classics. Time has revealed the depth and richness of Minnelli's vision and artistry to discover one of the greatest auteurs of the studio era.

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Resources
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