Oh, the many joys of Singin’ in the Rain (1952)! All the self-deprecating meta-comedy, the forays into gargantuan spectacle, the violent kineticism of numbers like “Moses Supposes” and “Good Morning”—it’s goofy, it’s bold, and as an actress says of the talkies, “It’s vulgar!” It’s also this week’s pick for “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” over at The Film Experience, forcing me to single out one of its luminous Technicolor images as “the best.” I mulled this over for a while, flitting from the guy who shouts “Zelda!” to the trippy Busby Berkeley-ish choreography that lead into “Beautiful Girl” to pictures of Gene Kelly’s perfect ass. (In fact, let’s go ahead and call that last one runner-up.)
Eventually I settled on the one above. Yes, it’s just Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) making a bizarre face in the middle of “Make ‘Em Laugh.” But it gets at everything I love about Singin’ in the Rain. It’s a guy demonstrating his physical prowess for the audience, reveling in his own showmanship while wearing an oversized hat and floppy gray coat. Nothing remotely sophisticated about it, which is exactly the film’s point: consider Don’s “Dignity, always dignity” monologue, the disconnect between Lina’s personality and public image, Kathy’s performance of “All I Do Is Dream of You,” and especially “Make ‘Em Laugh.”
Show biz is not sophisticated. In fact, it’s crude. It’s stupid. But per Singin’ in the Rain, it’s a glorious, outrageous, beautiful kind of stupidity. Donald O’Connor scrunches up his face, jumps off of walls, and has weird mock-sex with a dummy because 1) he can, which is impressive enough, and 2) it’s hilarious. The film industry, as practiced by Monumental Pictures, works more or less the same way. It’s a collection of professionals being paid to evoke pleasure through performance because they have the looks and the talent to pull it off. Cosmo’s wonderful, ridiculous face is Hollywood in microcosm.