The more I think about Singin’ in the Rain, the more I realize that such a garishly exuberant--sometimes even jarring--development in the look and sound of the movie musical is less a response to audience appetite than a reflection of cinema's strongest inclination: toward "that which is unconscious," the dream-state of the expressionists and the surrealists/Dadaists. Technicolor is the Pleasure Principle’s revenge on the crime movie’s insistence that life is but a dream--about falling. The dancing bananas and toothy grins of Busby Berkeley have given way to the aggressive athleticism of Gene Kelly--which seems to capture the giddy assertions of the ego, just as something like Force of Evil charts the fear-frozen withdrawal of the superego. (Good old Freud; as an analyst, he can get on your nerves, so to speak--but as a movie critic he’s a pip.)
So how do we go from the mad lunge-and-lurch of the 1920s avant-garde to Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor insisting that they gotta dance and be a clown? Simple: Watch Kelly's nonlinear approach to a dance number, as he shifts unexpectedly from tap to ballet to flat-footed clowning. And even more so, the frenzy of O'Connor's entire persona, literally from tip to toe an unchecked pastiche of every involuntary tic and reflexive jerk, tumbled together like Goofy on a basketball court. When Dali and Bunuel assembled Un Chien Andalou, they agreed that no individual scene should have a logical connection to its predecessor, nor serve as a transition to the next. And although Singin' in the Rain’s storyline sticks to boy meets/loses/gets girl, its insistence that it be a movie about making movies—they end up starring in a movie called Singin' in the Rain--makes the picture turn inward, until it finds the dream-state, fulfilling wishes with chaos, to be sure, but of a flamboyant variety, pop-eyed and self-conscious, aspiring to glory.
Kelly, O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds--and the silent, stupendous gams of Cyd Charisse--throwing the furniture around and bathed in Techni-reds, greens, blues fueled by the hardest-working feet in show business--serve as reminders of Technicolor's doorway to a frisky primal world, one whose atemporal shrugs shift its pastel sensibilities any which time it pleases—I’m thinking of The Adventures of Robin Hood back in 1938--talk about your time-defying hues, staves twirling like high-stepping batons, medieval Tarzan-swings--in a propelling arc toward the suspension of disbelief--the graceful but impossible flow of Cyd Charisse's scarf--and oh, I suddenly remember those tinted frames, so long ago, of Annabelle's Serpentine Dances--big-budget sunny-smile versions of Ezra Pound’s “accelerated grimace.”