I'm following the steps of Gene Kelly, transcending the gender being represented. — BY PLUTO ROSNER
When most people hear the name Gene Kelly, the musicals Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and An American in Paris (1951) first come to mind. And rightly so.
Upon their release, these two films garnered several awards; in fact, An American in Paris won ten. They also continue to appeal to fans across the globe and rank highly on lists like AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals and AFI's Greatest Films. Finally, Singin' in the Rain in particular has inspired modern dance numbers on Britain's Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars as well as advertisements for Volkswagen and Citibank.
But these aren't the only reasons Kelly and his work have stood the test of time.
Both onscreen and off, Gene Kelly represents the textbook American male: muscular build, broad shoulders, deep voice, and traditional attire (e.g., khakis, vests, loafers). Moreover, his characters showcase a conventional masculinity in both profession and dialogue; and they virtually always get the girl.
But Kelly's dance style does not always symbolize stereotypical 1950s masculinity. Rather, it evokes a vulnerability that some viewers might label as traditionally feminine. For instance, when I watch An American in Paris, I am in awe of the way Gene Kelly moves his body so in sync with the fabricated world around him. He understands the vulnerability of each movement in dance. He floats like a feather and gracefully tells the story.
For me, this pairing—of the conventionally masculine and conventionally feminine—suggests a sort of androgyny. You can also see this quality in Audrey Hepburn, for instance, with her boyish hair and girlish clothes. Or think of Katharine Hepburn, with her feminine look and "mannish trousers."
As a person in the queer community, I find myself following the steps of Gene Kelly: in our actions and in our art, we transcend the gender being represented. The main difference is that, today, we are keenly aware of what we are doing, which creates an effort. Kelly was seemingly unaware of his ability to fuse the masculine and feminine in this way, hence his effortless beauty.
Gene Kelly is an art form, a beautiful poem that flows from one’s lips to the ear of their love; he is the look in a child’s eyes when they receive a gift of gratitude. In short, Gene Kelly is an icon.
But Gene Kelly didn’t become an icon only because of his dance talents; it’s also his charm, his films' long-lasting appeal, and his influence on gender—and its fluidity. Never forget the way the past, even unexpectedly, can influence the future.
Image: "Influence" by Elijah Macleod, Unsplash.
PLUTO is a 19-year-old transgender writer from Australia. In his high school dance class, he was taken aback by Gene Kelly’s immaculacy in An American in Paris, which strengthened his ongoing love for classic films.