Stanley Donen dies, the renovator of comedy and music | Culture



He was the last survivor of the glorious generation of directors who worked in the Golden Age of Hollywood. The filmmaker Stanley Donen died yesterday at 94, as confirmed by one of his children to the newspaper Chicago Tribune, putting an end to a trajectory in which he managed to reinvent the musical genre by taking it out of the cardboard decorations of the Californian studios took him for a walk through the streets of the big cities. He showed it in a succession of films that are part of the canon of the seventh art, as A day in New York Y Singing under the rain, that he co-directed with Gene Kelly, in addition to Seven brides for seven brothers, One face with an angel, Charade or Two on the road.

Donen was born in 1924 in Columbia (South Carolina) in a family of Jewish merchants, a clear minority within that southern state in which children sung anti-Semitic songs in the schoolyard. His shelter was the movie theater, where he discovered his first musicals. The one that most impressed him was Flying to Rio, first cinematographic mating of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. "It was a fantasy world in which everything seemed happy, comfortable and easy," Donen explained to his biographer Joseph Casper in the eighties. Consequently, he was oriented towards that genre. As a dancer, he moved to New York in 1940 to emulate Astaire, whom he would end up directing years later in Real weddings, where gravity defied dancing on roof and walls.

On Broadway he will be hired as part of the cast of Pal Joey, musical starring an as yet unknown Gene Kelly, with whom he will once again coincide casting in Hollywood. Kelly decides to hire him as an assistant and entrusts him with the choreography of several sequences of The models, a musical with Rita Hayworth that will turn him into a star. They will collaborate again Lifting anchors, where the mythical sequence appears in which the protagonist dances with the mouse Jerry (Hanna and Barbera, creators of the rodent, agreed to shoot it when Walt Disney refused to collaborate).

Arthur Freed, powerful producer of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer, will then propose to Donen a seven-year contract. With One day in New York, Donen and Kelly will bury the call backstagand musical, succor subgenre starred by Broadway companies, and decide to leave the studio to film in the streets of New York, a decade before the Nouvelle Vague did. It will not be the only innovation in a film full of mounting jumps, sweeping shots, hidden cameras and non-professional actors. Years later, Jean-Luc Godard will call Donen a "teacher" and will rate one of his films, Pajamas game, as "first left operetta", in reference to a magnificent sequence of slow-motion strike in the factory.

The inheritance of a renovator

The director will have influenced several generations of directors intent on reinventing the musical. In France, the cinema of Jacques Demy is inconceivable without his legacy. Bob Fosse, with whom Donen worked in his early days in Hollywood, is another of his heirs, as have directors who have tried to resurrect the genre more recently, such as Michel Hazanavicius with The Artist -A film that Donen did not like, he confessed during a visit to Paris in 2012- or Damien Chazelle with The La Land.

Donen got married five times, but never got to do it with his last partner, the actress and screenwriter Elaine May, with whom he lived since 1999. In recent years, the director wore a chain with a recorded inscription: "If this man is lost , lead him to Elaine May. "

It will happen Singing under the rain, considered by many the best musical of all time, in which Hollywood looks at the navel with sardonic humor and satirizes about the traumatic passage of the world to the talkies at the end of the twenties. Filled with choreographies that made history and shot with pathological attention to detail, it was described by actress Debbie Reynolds as the most difficult experience of her life, "along with giving birth." "I could not agree more," confirmed Donen in 2012. After a fight during the filming of Always good weather, Donen broke relations with Kelly and ended his contract with MGM. Before I had had time to revolutionize this genre. Donen then left for Paris to shoot A face with an angel, Fable about the relationship between a photographer and his model inspired by the life of Richard Avedon, with original songs by George and Ira Gershwin, in addition to the stellar signing of Audrey Hepburn.

Throughout the sixties, when the musical begins to decline, Donen will be oriented towards sentimental and intimate films, in which he continues to display his unparalleled formal inventiveness. For example, the adulterous comedy Indiscreet, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, in which she avoids the rigid restrictions of censorship with brilliant camera and script cunning, or Two on the road, inspired by the cinema of Rossellini and the prodigy of the montage that followed a relationship of 12 years through numerous temporary jumps. Again with Grant and Hepburn, Donen directed Charade, his greatest success at the box office, which he conceived as a pastiche of Hitchcock's cinema, but ended up taking on a life of its own, to the point of generating a long stream of imitators. In 1969, Donen also shot an unusual homosexual-themed film: Stairs, where Richard Burton and Rex Harrison played a couple of hairdressers.

The final stretch of his career is the least interesting. From the seventies, Donen tries luck in other clubs, such as science fiction (Saturn 3), the muddy parody (Movie, Movie) or the sexual comedy (Mess in Rio, his last movie). Afterwards, he just went back behind the camera to direct a telefilm, Love letters. Donen received the honorary Oscar in 1968, when he delivered one of the most memorable speeches in the history of those awards when he sang Cheek to cheek, one of those old songs that he saw Fred Astaire singing when he was young. Good managers always know how to close the circle.

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