“What Netflix movie did we get this week?”
“An American in Paris.”
“Oh the Woody Allen movie. Cool.”
“No, not the Woody Allen movie. That’s Midnight in Paris. This is the musical with Gene Kelly.”
“The Singing in the rain guy?”
…And so began our journey into this nearly forgotten movie musical.
My mom did a good job of ensuring I accrued a respectable number of musical titles as a child, for whatever that’s worth. Weekly trips to the public library always returned the best of Rogers and Hammerstein scores and MGM films. Oklahoma, West Side Story, Sound of Music, The King and I, Singing in the Rain all had regular dates with my VCR. Like most egocentric children, I took great delight in bellowing “Shall We Dance” and “Do-Re-Mi” through the house as loud as humanly possible and fantasizing about the day I would be cast to play the female lead in a grand stage version of each. And before you go around feeling sorry for my poor family who had to endure these homemade song and dance numbers, let it be known that ole Gretchen didn’t do much to discourage this behavior. There’s even a recording of me somewhere screaming “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” into a microphone at the tender age of 4, which is hilarious now for reasons I didn’t understand at the time.
But I digress.
I had vague, vague memories of the 1951 musical An American in Paris being on the musical circuit that passed through our home, but hardly could recall what it was about or recite any of the lyrics from the film’s musical numbers, which is a shame considering its Gershwin score and the fact that it won some six Oscars (if you care about that sort of thing), including one for Best Picture. One thing I did remember is for a wide-release film, it was uncharacteristically loaded with ballet numbers—a quality I gave extra weight too as a once aspiring ballerina—but not much else. So, 20 years later, as I scrolled through endless selection of Netflix titles, I thought I should give An American in Paris another try. Only this time, I would be viewing it not so much as a young amateur ballerina, but as a young adult with a developing interest in art, design, and history.
An American in Paris follows the story of Jerry Mulligan, a World War II veteran, who falls in love with a French shop girl. But as is to be expected, no couple can fall in love in Paris with out an obstacle or two to get in the way of their journey to happily ever after. The object of Kelly’s affection is of course engaged to another man, while the lead character himself is being pursued by a wealthy American heiress who vies for his attention under the guise that she is a great patron of the arts with an interest in sponsoring a grand exhibition by the American solder turned Parisian painter.
Unsurprisingly, the dancing in American in Paris is top notch. Gene Kelley makes producing 24802934234 sounds at once via his tap shoes appear all too easy and 19-year-old Leslie Caron (in her film debut) performs challenging fouettés like she was born doing them. But, you come to expect dancing of the highest caliber when you’re dealing with Hollywood’s heavy hitters. The Gershwin score too is one to be admired. Most of the numbers begin as soft and pleasant ditties that slowly build into epic mind-melting compositions. But again, it’s Gershwin. You know you’re in for a sing-songy treat before it even begins.
Re-watching this as an oh-so-wise-and-worldly 26-year-old, it was not only the song and dance that tickled my fancy. The art direction played so powerful a role in this film, the scenery and background seem to be their own character (not so divergent from the way, say, Wes Anderson or Baz Luhrmanm strategically employ art, color and light as visual communicators in films today). Throughout the movie the viewer is treated to surreal and dreamy vignettes that feature Caron, Kelly and composer-actor Oscar Levant in scenes that provide an escape from the somewhat predictable, plot. In one scene, for example, as Levant and French actor Georges Guetary describe the characteristics they seek out in the perfect woman, the audience gets to see Caron provide visual interpretations of what it means to be “modern,” “classic,” intelligent,” etc. And Kelly, portraying an artist, appropriately dances in and out of famous French artworks like Chocolate Dancing by Toulouse-Lautrec. And the film culminates in a 16-minute (and allegedly $500,000) ballet, which takes place on a set that draws inspiration from famous works by Renoir, Van Gogh and other iconic artists. (Check out this great frame-by-frame comparison of the film to its artistic inspiration here.) The visual elements were stimulating, engaging, surreal…exactly what a musical should be.
I haphazardly clicked the “add to queue” button on the Netflix account to bring An American in Paris into my living room, but was pleased to rediscover a piece of Hollywood cinema that left a lasting impression and awoke in me a new appreciation for the way proper art direction helps shape a story. It has me itching to rewatch other forgotten movies of my childhood to see what else I may have missed, and to explore newer releases for the surprises that may unfold as a result of the latest and greatest technologies in visual storytelling.
Some of us aren’t fans of revisiting films—unless of course, it’s one of those mega classics like Star Wars, for instance, or The Big Lebowski. With the incalculable number of films out there, it doesn’t seem practical to some to rehash the old while forgoing the new. But taking a second look has done me a world of good, and I’m motivated now more than ever to take another peak at yesterday’s movies to discover something remarkable and rejuvinating.
I smile and allow myself to be enveloped by a medley of warm and fuzzy feelings when I imagine covering the walls of our home with one-of-a-kind art pieces that conjure up memories of times well spent and people greatly loved. But because I’m a girl on a budget, I’m not quite as fond of the price tag that comes with many unique paintings and prints, and I don’t have the skill set to put pen to paper and create epic masterpieces on my own either. To solve the conundrum of having champagne taste on a beer budget, I’ve been known to use three methods: repurpose projects my friends have created (like Eric’s concert posters), use canvaspop to print my favorite photographs, or get nifty with design software to make colorful mini-posters we can change with the seasons with minimal effort and cost.
Each method has proved an acceptable solution to my dilemma, so most recently, I’ve tried to bring extra pizazz to the house by once again employing the third of those tactics—creating art on the old lap top. Recently I’ve been carried away by the enthralling shapes of some of the succulents in our neighborhood, and I thought perhaps that recent obsession could make for some nice hallway flair. I conjured up this little number one recent afternoon based on two of my favorite neighborhood cacti.
Like me, the print is a little cheesy, but I enjoyed coming up with a way to incorporate my favorite colors and our love of gardening, neighborhood walks and each other in one fun and simple piece. I printed the finished design on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock and bought a frame on clearance at Target to spruce it up. Not bad for hallway art.
It’s no secret that:
1) I love original art,
2) I can’t afford to buy it, and
3) I am not talented enough to make it myself.
I am, however, moderately skilled at navigating InDesign software and making copies at Kinkos. So. inspired by a few images and philosophies that have recently crossed my path, I decided to make some pieces myself.
I was tickled by this quote from Charles Eames, arguably one of the most influential designers of modern furniture and architecture. I came across it when watching a documentary on the Eames’ and thought this approach to living was right up my alley. Therefore, a poster was born.
Our names, the dogs names, colors of the rainbow. It’s simple, it’s happy, what’s not to love?
When it’s all said and done, I spent 20 cents on color copies and $10 on each frame thanks to a 50% off sale at Hobby Lobby. Voila. Personal art that speaks to me and doesn’t break the bank.
I opted to add them to what I am calling our graphic design wall–a collection of vivid graphic prints that have some kind of tie to our personal lives.
Behold: our fun and frisky wall of personal graphic design! Each piece has a story of it’s own, yet they coexist beautifully. I wonder what other dollar designs I can come up with to add to the collection.
So let’s have it, where do you find art that feels personal and unique but doesn’t cost an arm and a leg?
This Sunday, Heath and I will celebrate 5 years of couple-dom. Not 5 years of marriage, but 5 years of deciding that we kinda like each other. It deserves a nod, for sure. I’ve spent more time with Heath than I have spent living in any house, attending any school or working at any job. So dang it, I want to celebrate!
To tell Heath, “Thanks for putting up with me for this long” I wanted to surprise him with something special. On a recent visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, I got a little carried away pretending to be a photographer, but Heath fell in love with three of the photos I took. He tolerated me obnoxiously snapping photos of every tiny thing over the past few years, so I wanted to do something special with these nature photos he said he was particularly drawn to.
I headed over to Canvas Pop to have the images blown up and printed on heavy-duty canvas. The graphic designers there did a terrific job cropping and creating the prints, and Heath was Über excited when he opened them. I selfishly have had the final word on what art we get and where we place it in the house, so I gave Heath free range when it came to deciding where to display his new goodies. He decided the dining room was the ideal spot to showcase his favorite photos, and I agreed. It definitely gives the dining room some oomph.
I’m so thrilled Heath liked the prints. The photos remind us of the natural beauty of Austin—our city, a place we’ve explored together from our first days as a couple, and of a wonderful spring day spent walking through the Wildflower Center just appreciating nature. Heath’s even started picking out other photos he wants to have printed to add to the display, so it looks like this gamble paid off. I’m lucky to have such a sweet and supportive mate who loves me and my silly little hobbies.
Happy 5 years, Heath. I love you tremendously!
Well, duh. Doesn’t everyone? It’s kind of an obvious statement, “I enjoy pretty things.”
But I also like for art to be personal and unique. (Again, duh. Who wants their decor to be blasé and random and artificial? Just call me Captain Obvious.) Maybe that is because growing up, my mother made a point to stock the house solely with original artwork (a task that’s pretty easy when you’re an art student and so are all of your friends). I was fortunate to wake up in the morning and fall asleep at night staring at custom artwork on my bedroom wall that few others had the opportunity to know as I did. It was, as Miley Cirus might say, pretty cool. Mom has sense recanted on her “originals only” mentality, but the idea still resonates with me. But it’s not easy to obtain something with sentimental value, that’s easy on the eye AND is an original piece. Unique and original artwork, even by local artists, are pricier than what I can afford when I’ve got vacations and renovations to save for. But buying mass produced prints for $10 at Hobby Lobby sort of cheapens the whole idea of adorning your home with personal pieces that speak to you. “Keep Calm and Carry On” is a great motto, but I swear if I see one more of those posters, I’m likely to bang my head into a wall. Can’t I just have my cake and eat it too?
Enter concert posters, especially concert posters created by one of your closest friends.
Eric, the design guru behind the world’s coolest wedding invitations that I blogged about here, recently started creating concert posters for local showcases hosted by CoolinAustin…a website dedicated to spreading the word on all happenings that are free or under $5 in Austin. (It’s a great site in it’s own merit; check it out if you’re a local.) The shows have been drawing respectable crowds for featuring some of Austin’s favorite bands in some of the city’s more popular venues, and the popularity of the CoolinAustin gigs has been largely spurred on by the quirky and colorful animal-themed posters created by our dear friend Eric. Could it be possible that I have finally found a collection of art that is:
1.) Personal (created by a buddy and often relating to events I have attended)
2.) Unique (think along the lines of a squid holding a pipe or a spooky llama)
3.) Original (not mass-produced, in fact only a handful of copies were printed)
I may have found a way for those of us at the doodle house to enjoy art that is fun to look at AND fun to think about. I’ve already hung the first piece in the guest bedroom, and with gems like the images featured below, I don’t think it will be long before the entire wall is covered. Check and mate!