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Minnelli May - The Band Wagon (1953)

Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant, James Mitchell 

Astaire is a faded Hollywood star who returns to New York to reignite his broadway career.

America has always suffered from an inferiority complex when it comes to "art", but in my mind the creative output of the country mid twentieth century ranks with anything Europe achieved in it's long history. Not many realised it at the time but in creating this unapologetic defense of American entertainment, Minnelli just may have. The irony is that across the Atlantic European critics were raving about film-makers like Minnelli, a technicolor respite from the stark tone of fifties European cinema. His use of color was particularly influential in Italy, a country whose neo-realistic cinema at the time  was resolutely monochrome. Directors like Bava and Argento would adapt Minnelli's primary colors and elegant camera movement to fit the horror and thriller genres. The movie's finale was homaged by those other masters of musical comedy "The Muppets" in their comeback film of 2012. Even this year's Oscar winner "The Artist" owes much to this in it's tale of a fading star forced to auction his memorabilia.
We begin with this auction where even the famous top hat and cane associated with Astaire fails to sell. Giving up on Hollywood he takes a train to New York and is humiliated by disinterested passengers and paparazzi. It's here we get the wonderfully melancholy song "By Myself", one of the quieter numbers but possibly the most memorable. Upon hitting 42nd Street he finds much has changed and we get the first rollicking dance number "A Shine On Your Shoes", a delirious mix of color, rhythm, song and Astaire's nimbleness, outrageous given he was 54 years old at the time. Astaire's co-star in the scene is Leroy Daniels, a real life shoe shine man who Minnelli found in Penn Station while researching the scene. It might not be as respected as the movie's famous closing number but as an example of choreography between man and camera this is unsurpassed. 
Of course Minnelli was a master of choreography but not just in the musical sense. A scene set at a party involving conversations in three separate (and color coded) rooms is dazzling, characters opening doors just at the right time to hear a snippet of conversation.  
Broadway has changed too, with Buchanan's director insisting on twisting every show concept into something "meaningful". Astaire is skeptical  but goes along for the ride, encouraged by the long legs of his young co-star Charisse, a rising ballet dancer. It's in the relationship between Astaire and Charisse that Minnelli demonstrates his point, that high art and entertainment can coexist. The movie's final number "The Girl Hunt Ballet" is one of the greatest ever expressions of this ideal. The American genre of the day was Film Noir and Minnelli gives us the most colorful Noir homage ever seen. He may resemble your elderly uncle but in this sequence Astaire achieves a level of cool that Dean and Brando could only dream of. It's a sequence famously homaged by Michael Jackson in his "Smooth Criminal" video.
For fans of classic Hollywood the real punch the air number is "That's Entertainment" and as it's lyrics suggest, this is the art that appeals to the heart.
10/10
The Band Wagon (1953) on IMDb 7.5/10