Self Reflexive Aspects of Singing in the Rain

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Singin’ in the Rain (MGM, 1952) is an American musical comedy directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. The film comically emulates the transition from the production of silent movies to ‘talkies’ in Hollywood during the 1920s. The narrative follows a successful silent film star named Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his glamorous blonde on screen partner Lina Lamont as they attempt to adapt The Duelling Cavalier a silent film, into a talking film. However, the shrill sound of Lamont’s voice cast serious doubt of the potential success of the film. Lockwood’s musically talented sidekick Cosmo Brown (Donald O’conner) suggests that the film be turned into a musical, and recommends Lockwood’s love interest Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) perform the musical numbers to be dubbed in place of Lamont’s ungodly voice. Ultimately, their plan unites Lockwood and Seldon and leaves the audience with a text book happy ending. The text provides an autobiographical look at Hollywood itself and the introduction of recorded sounds during the 1920s. The text ultimately becomes the subject and calls attention to its own fictional condition. This essay will analyse the texts self-reflexivity with specific reference to genre and adaptation. Self-reflexivity is a term used to describe a text which refers to its own making and composition. A self-reflexive text emulates its own generic make up and makes talking about or referring to itself the key focus of the unfolding narrative. Self-reflexivity has been used as a framework to analyse film genre and narrative, highlighting the conventions that make up textual and stylistic constructs (Altman 1999, p.102). Self-reflexive texts remind the audience that they are not watching ‘reality’ it is purely a reconstructed representation of reality. Arguably, Singin’ in the Rain is one of the most notable examples of self-reflexivity at work. The narrative of this text is based on the making of a Hollywood film and the trials and tribulations that go hand in hand with staging a production. The audience’s attention is drawn towards the link that exists between the show musical and Hollywood and through self reference legitimises it as entertainment (Ames 1997, p.57). The text refers to its own artistic composition by permitting the audience to go back stage and have access to set construction, rehearsals and preparations and also alludes to Hollywood representations and façades. The relationship between Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont alludes to the false characters that some Hollywood actors are pressured to adopt in order to maintain their public persona. During the opening scene of the text, the press speak of Lockwood and Lamont as though they are in a real relationship, however through Lockwood’s flashback it revealed that the couple’s relationship which is reinforced by the media, is a merely fabricated to ensure the success of their careers and public image. The example demonstrates how the text unmasks the Hollywood film star persona, and refers to its own industry as somewhat phony and shallow. The narrative structure of Singin’ in the Rain centres on the making of a Hollywood musical film The Dancing Cavalier, positioning the text as a film within a film. The narrative structure mirrors that of the making of a Hollywood film therefore adding another layer to the films deep self reflection. According to Ames (1997, p.55) “The backstage musical is reflexive by nature and doubly so in a film about making musicals”. The film being made within the text refers through artistic and narrative conventions to the real film being made Singin’ in the Rain, this hall of mirrors effect technique is referred to as mise en abyme (Chumo 1996, p.41). The means of production and process are brought to the foreground as the audience is exposed to set construction, backstage crew and film equipment. A prime example of this is the musical number Make ‘Em Laugh performed by Donald O’Conner’s character, Cosmo Brown. Throughout...
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