Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Brigadoon - The Movie

Brigadoon is a musical from 1954, directed by Vincente Minelli, starring Gene Kelly, Van Johnson and Cyd Charisse. I was led to it by a line from another Waterboys' song (more about that later) and intrigued to find out the story.

Basically, Brigadoon is a small village in the Scottish highlands. To prevent the village from changing due to outside influences, the village preacher makes an arrangement with God to have the village appear only once every hundred years for one day. To the inhabitants of Brigadoon, the century will seem to be only one night: they go to sleep, a hundred years pass, and they wake up the next morning. The only thing they cannot do is leave the village. If they do, the compact is broken and the town will fade.

An odd story, but an interesting idea and worth seeing how it plays out. The film is staged in an interesting manner. On large soundstages, elaborate Scottish highland sets were built and elaborately painted backdrops were used. When something is clearly not real, I believe we are more easily drawn into believing it on the level of the fantastic (an aside: for me, this is why Ray Harryhausen's clay creatures work so well - they do not look real, so can be believed as real, being mythical creatures anyway). Strict reality is discarded, yet all other film conventions are used. We easily slip into the landscape of Brigadoon.

This is never more clear than toward the end, when the characters played by Kelly and Johnson decide they must leave Brigadoon. Minelli brilliantly cuts from the village fading into the mists to a panoramic shot of New York City, showing Manhattan's urban lights and skyscrapers in all their glory. The cut is so effective because up till then, we have been in Scotland, on a soundstage. NYC is majestic too, but we are soon in a nightclub with swarming urbanites talking over each other and demonstrating the kinetic energy that one either thrives on or despises. With maybe ten minutes left in the film, the change in place and scale is epic. This being a Hollywood musical, we know our characters will want to go back to Brigadoon, but as the audience, we get the opportunity to consider the differences and how we would want to choose.

The only movie I had seen by Minelli previously was "Meet Me in Saint Louis", whose scale was much smaller. I was not prepared for the wide shots and open landscapes of "Brigadoon" based on that film. Perhaps the songbook is not so memorable, but the Scottish touches are charming and Minelli gets good performances from the actors. Even more, "Brigadoon" is well worth seeing for the cinematography, production design and lighting. And really, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse are pretty classy stars from Hollywood's past. That glittering Hollywood world is a pretty fantastic place all on its own, but in this case, is just a lot of fun.

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