Two decades after his death, Gene Kelly continues to teach and inspire. — BY GEORGIA BLOO NICOLAOU
I discovered Gene Kelly at just the right time. As I was beginning a new chapter in my life (on both a personal and professional level), Kelly and his films gave me a second wind. As a writer-director myself, I found inspiration and mentorship in his life and work.
As an artist, Gene Kelly taught me to be bold and brave, and that you don’t always need extravagant effects to dazzle an audience. When words fail or become redundant, you can make magic out of a newspaper and a creaky floorboard on an empty stage, or a simple mop.
As a person, Gene Kelly taught me to stand up straight, with my shoulders out, and my feet steady (but lightly situated) on the ground. He taught me to fall and rise gracefully, because when you do, the fall becomes part of the dance.
Based on my understanding, if Kelly wasn’t the best at an activity, he would work tirelessly to improve or excel at it. He was a polymath who devoured books and wanted to know everything about the world. If people around him spoke a different language, he would learn it. Or better yet, he would dance it.
"So we give up, huh?" says a timid Clarence (Frank Sinatra) in Anchors Aweigh (1945), when he faces a setback.
"So we don't give up!" reassures Gene Kelly's Joe Brady. In those words, you hear Kelly himself. Instead of giving up or kowtowing to the conventional, he would "dig, dig, dig," virtually always attempting something fresh or groundbreaking—no matter how the landscape would change unfavorably for musical stars.
When it came to shortcomings he could do nothing about, Gene Kelly often masked them with creativity and choreography. For instance, you’d never realize Cyd Charisse and Kelly are the same height (5' 7") or that Kay Kendall is two inches taller than he. Sure, we can talk here about insecurities and ego, but we might also applaud his ingenuity.
We call certain people legends because they are singular and because their influence on others and our culture exceeds their lifespan. One can even say they have earned their immortality.
If Gene Kelly was ever worried about his legacy, he can rest easy that it safely lives on, through his art and through the work of countless performers and creators he has inspired. Great art bleeds into other art and lives on endlessly. That’s a classic!
Image: "The Levee Studios, Albany, United States," by Jordan Whitfield, Unsplash.
GEORGIA BLOO NICOLAOU
GEORGIA is a writer/director and artist from Cyprus. She studied Film Production in the U.K. and writes and directs her own films. Gene Kelly has been a huge inspiration in her life and work, the latter of which you can visit at georgiabloos.com.