Sunday, September 26, 2004


Kerry: An American in Paris

Where The Idea Started

I have to admit I'm a big fan of (well crafted) movie musicals, and the American Stage Musical tradition in general.

It's Sunday, the troops are all off today, and I'm in slow mode trying to grow some motivation. I was up late with updating my rosters while keeping an eye on the Red Sox blowing out the Yankees. I gave myself a treat today, going to the Chow Hall on New Post, having the full Omelet, Bacon, and French Toast Army breakfast. (Really, breakfast is the best thing an Army Mess will achieve. So I'm stuffed.

Back at the Company, there's no formation or problems queued up for Top's attention. (Okay, one, but that was easily dispatched.) So I decide to sweep the office and throw away all the accumulated paper desktop that is the chaos answer to getting by without the desktop PC and files and generally the entire office all packed up ready for rail load. Feeling generous with my time today, I decide to take on my boots that are all jacked up from days of CONEX loads and running around this dirt hole.

I popped a CD in the laptop while I polished my boots. I don't have any selection of music yet, but I did pick up a Royal Philharmonic disc in the cutout pile at Christmas Tree. Rhapsody in Blue most importantly, but also Ravel's Bolero and Gershwin's American in Paris. I never took time for music civilian side. I enjoy it enough, but like with reading can't find the time with work, home with Nance and Jake and all the family stuff that goes with a respectful division of labor and a very engaging 8 year old boy.

American in Paris brings back lots of memories. That's the kind of movie that, when I was a kid, my usually strict parents would let us stay up late to watch when it was on T.V. I played piano a bit as a kid, and anyone with even a basic familiarity with pianos can't help but admire what Gershwin squeezed out of one.

But the movie, too, I remember quite well, despite not seeing it that often. My wife and daughters and son have no patience for extended dance sequences, and for movies like AiP and Oklahoma and West Side Story and the like they always want me to fast forward through the dance sequences. I danced (barely and badly) in several musicals during my theater days, and can appreciate the beauty of the choreography and the precision of the dancer. But if you don't like dance sequences, they're quite tedious in otherwise entertaining movies, so I don't burden my family as often as I might.

Man that rambles. I promise I'll get better as I go along with this, check back.

The Movie and the Hook

Gene Kelly does this great dance number that's a dream sequence, with the struggling American Artist dropped in a Paris that is both Alien and beautiful. The city swirls violently around him, but he is determined to make order (or sense) out of what he finds, capturing on his canvases some essence of the city. And of course, he sees this girl.

In the course of the dance sequence, which of course centers entirely around him, the American in Paris manages to tame the savage city, order its movement, and win the girl. Paris, she loves the American because he appreciates all that is truly Parisian, and besides he looks so French in his loafers and slacks and that silly red striped shirt. He triumphs, the city and the girl are his, there is a final swirl of music and dance and exultation of the conquering American.

But in the end, he's left with George on the piano, too much cigarette smoke and all the problems he had going into the dream didn't go away. That, and he's really tempted to play the Gigolo with the rich American widow, who will get his paintings sold, make him into the great artist, and but of course, make him rich.

John Kerry, American in Paris

John Kerry is Gene Kelly. He's more confortable in France, with the French, he is attracted to the culture, the lifestyle, so much more cultured than the Brooklyn (okay, Boston) of his American roots. Jean Kerry is nuanced, he blends in, he speaks French. He has cynical friends who smoke many cigarettes, he must paint in Paris because after all that is the only place truly great artists must paint. Not in America, those rubes, they do not appreciate all things artful and esthetic.

Jean Kerry believes, just as he dreams, that all of Paris swirls around him, that they adore him, that he wins them over with the sheer beauty and grace with which he tap dances his way through their city.

In the movie, Gene Kelly has to confront the realities outside the dream, and turns away from the easy sell out and pays a price to gain the greater good. He will return to America, but on his own terms and with his pride intact. (And he will have found true love.)

Jean Kerry tries to have it both ways. In his fantasy land, he manages to stay in the dream, all Paris adores him, but he also with one eye cocked open takes up with the Rich Widow. This is really the antithesis of aesthetic intent, his benefactor is more business manager or money agent than muse. But in his mind's eye, everyone is still dancing around him, he is the vibrant focus of all things beautiful. And of course, it isn't his art or even his effort that is paying the bills, but his admirers.

Think about what George on the piano would think. "That's one way to make a living. Me, I'm living off tips."

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