The Band Wagon

“Bazin’s approach goes a long way to unpacking Singin’ in the Rain. But it does not take us far enough with The Band Wagon. Repeat viewings of Singin’ in the Rain merely confirm its initial pleasures. Repeat viewings of The Band Wagon bring forth a work of an increasingly apparent formal, thematic and emotional richness which the Kelly/Donen film never approaches. While there are several ways of accounting for this difference in the two films, arguably the central one is the sensibility of The Band Wagon’s director, Vincente Minnelli. Minnelli speaks through and within the great collective voice and industrial apparatus which sets this film (and all of his films) into motion, an authorial voice that paradoxically articulates its own distinction through a collaborative atmosphere. Minnelli is often condescendingly regarded as the ultimate example of the decorative metteur en scène. Certainly in his handling of color, camera movement, costuming, decor, and staging of action, he has few rivals in the Hollywood of this period. A recommended experiment: Try watching the ‘Shine on Your Shoes’ number in The Band Wagon and force yourself not to watch Fred Astaire and LeRoy Daniels. Instead, only take note of the direction of the extras; watch it again, and only note the function of the decor and the camera movements; then watch it one final time putting all of these elements together. It is a very densely layered sequence, not only a brilliant Astaire number but a brilliant example of mise en scène.”

Joe McElhaney1