SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is regarded as one of the all-time great musicals. Worldwide, Michael Wiese Productions (MWP) is the number one publisher of books on filmmaking for indie filmmakers. MWP books are used in over 900 film schools throughout the world and have been translated into over 26 languages. I met with Ken Lee, Vice President of Michael Wiese Productions, to discuss Singin' and the resurrection of musicals. You can contact Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org and find more information at mwp.com.
Dave Watson: Singin’ in the Rain. What makes this movie memorable?
Ken Lee: Singin' in the Rain is often regarded as the best musical film of all time. I think what makes it so memorable is that it works on so many different levels.
First, it’s a smart movie because it takes a snapshot in history when sound was first being introduced to films.
With wit and charm, Singin’ in the Rain shows both the serious and hilarious mishaps that occurred when films were making the transition from silent to talkies.
But this film works on so many others levels as well. Singin’ is funny, uplifting, joyous, and features fantastic dance numbers that can be viewed over and over again. It’s a bit of a cliché to say that a movie has it all, but in the case of Singin' in the Rain, it has all the elements that make a classic family film.
There are great comedic bits. There are memorable dance numbers and songs. There’s a charming romance with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. This wasn’t Reynolds’s film debut, but it certainly was the first film that showcased her star quality.
In many ways, this film is more important than ever.
DW: Why do you think this film, now sixty-eight years old, is more important than ever?
KL: A great musical makes one feel buoyant - lighter than air.
It makes you FEEL like you can do anything and that there is still MAGIC in this world - if you just look for it.
Certainly during these stressful times, a movie that lifts up one’s spirits and gives people a positive vision of possibilities is a good thing. As a father, I’m very aware of what food my family consumes, but to me, its equally important to think about the type of media my family consumes.
I want my family to laugh, be inspired, and entertained all at the same time.
DW: This movie has laughs while we get wrapped up in the story. Is humor essential to musicals?
KL: Not all musicals require humor, but this film is filled with great comedic bits featuring amazing performances by Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Gene Kelly.
And the ultimate scene-stealer could be Jean Hagen, who plays Lina Lamont. Her hilarious line is a classic: “If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothin’.”
DW: Gene Kelly co-directed with Stanley Donen, and both of course were dancers, yet they handle all the dramatic scenes with equal skill. They also made their story personal. Was this one of the reasons why this movie is so successful?
KL: People often forget that this film was not a box office hit when first released. But over the decades, it has become a fan favorite.
I think Kelly and Donen’s friendship made a big difference in this film starting with the notion that they knew musicals were a powerful form of storytelling. Also, they cleverly used self-deprecating humor throughout the film. It just doesn’t take itself too seriously and I think audiences respond to that light touch.
I believe if you did a quick poll of today’s top dancers and singers, many of them would probably acknowledge that Singin’ in the Rain, was inspirational to them. I know Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame, is a big fan.
I recently read an article where he introduced Singin’ in the Rain to his children. Check it out here.
I think that it speaks volumes that Lin-Manuel Miranda, clearly one of the great musical geniuses of our era, loves this film so much. I don’t think it’s a big surprise that he took this still to promote his 2016 Saturday Night Live show.
And, let’s remember, Lin-Manuel Miranda was born in 1980.
DW: How would you encourage families with young children to watch this film?
KL: I think parents could try the following three ideas to engage their kids.
One, you could tell them the star of Hamilton shares this film with his kids!
Two, parents can show them the Donald O’Connor scene, “Make ‘em laugh,” as kind of a teaser. If your family laughs, and they certainly will, you might have them hooked.
And finally, if all else fails, you could tell them that Debbie Reynolds was Princess Leia’s mother!
Sometimes you have to take your shots where you can!
DW: Musicals had a golden era and were brought back briefly with La-La-Land. Are there other musicals that come to mind that kids would enjoy today?
KL: The Wizard of Oz is also a great musical that is appropriate for the whole family.
DW: Do you think that kids could relate to The Wizard of Oz today?
KL: Like Singin’, The Wizard of Oz has an evergreen quality. This is a film that can be appreciated as a child, young adult, parent and eventually as a grandparent.
DW: Both are timeless.
KL: Watching and then re-watching a film with your family is one of the great gifts you can enjoy as a family.
There is so much to discuss. And, most importantly, so much to share as a treasured family memory.
DW: What's your favorite cinematic moment in the film?
KL: Without a doubt, it has to be the signature number of Singin’ in the Rain with Kelly singing and dancing joyously by himself in the city.
Clip: Gene Kelly in a Joyous Downpour
DW: Kathie Fong Yoneda added a story so worthy of sharing. Over to Kathie.
Kathie Fong Yoneda: Aloha Dave! I love the interview you did with Ken -- I'm a huge SINGIN' IN THE RAIN fan too. Probably have seen it at least ten times, maybe more! It's the kind of film we need to watch during times like this. This all reminds me of one of my most memorable moments:
My boss at the time, Richard Shepherd (producer, studio exec. for Breakfast at Tiffany's, 12 Angry Men & many more) was my mentor. When he headed up MGM Studios as its President & I was his assistant, he had to go out of town but had bought tickets for a big fundraiser at Universal Studios that benefited Cedars Sinai Hospital. Since he couldn't go, he gave my husband & me his tickets ($10,000 per couple). One of the stars was Gene Kelly. He recreated his famous dance to Singin' In The Rain on stage, complete with "rain" (actual water spraying down). He got a standing ovation that lasted longer than five minutes!
DW: And those are memories worth savoring indeed.