The work of Gene Kelly, who would have been 100 this year, is still beloved and discussed worldwide. Much of the thanks for that goes to Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene’s widow, who has been celebrating his centenary all year long via a corporation she set up in his honor. Today, Warner Home Video debuts the classic “Singing’ in the Rain” on Blu-Ray in a deluxe box set in honor of its 60th anniversary. Go HERE for more on the extras-packed release.
Patricia spoke with Indiewire about the release, her plans for the centenary, and what it’s like to expose a new generation to Gene’s films.
Let’s talk about the new Warner box set. Were you involved in the creation at all?
I wasn’t, but I’ll tell you about the things on it that I really love. Warner did a tremendous job. I’d urge you to take a look at “Singin’ In The Rain: Raining On A New Generation.” It’s Gene’s centenary this year, and my whole pitch has been, “Let’s not look at Gene Kelly at 100; let’s look at Gene Kelly as current and relevant and still inspiring to young people in all fields.”
On that special feature, they have interviews with the choreographers from “Glee” and “High School Musical” and they’re really articulate. It was fun for me to watch, because they get Gene. They get his contribution. If you watch that, it answers many of the questions of why this movie continues to resonate with audiences, and continues to inspire choreographers and dancers and performers.
Tell me about your work to preserve Gene’s legacy.
Gene Kelly: The Legacy is a corporation I set up to promote Gene’s centenary and beyond. Gene was very specific about how he wanted to be remembered. He didn’t care so much about performing. He wanted to be remembered for changing the look of dance on film. The iconic images of Gene are wonderful, but I thought it was important for people to understand his creative role in choreographing those numbers, directing them and working with the camera operators — really studying the camera in order to photograph dance in a specific way. You’re taking a three-dimensional art form and bringing it into a two-dimensional medium. That was his big challenge, and it was what he wanted to be known for.
We started rolling some of the centenary plans out already. We had two great shows in Los Angeles at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and I’m doing two shows at Lincoln Center on July 20th and 21st. They’re very intimate looks at Gene Kelly as a creative artist and as a man, through stories he shared with me over a decade.
The thing I hear over and over is, “Oh, I never knew that about him.” This is often from people who knew him here in Hollywood. They didn’t know the guy and they didn’t know what inspired him. I’m interested in putting together a global interactive piece online for fans all over the world. We’re also working on an exhibition which will open at the Museum of the Moving Image in 2013, and it’s an immersion experience. I don’t want it to be static, with people looking at things in cases. It’s going to be a look into Gene’s creative process, and essentially a peek inside his brain. We’re going to want to include a lot of people who were influenced by him — people like Hugh Jackman and Justin Timberlake. And then there are everyday guys and girls who were touched by him. I want to make it alive and relevant, and Gene Kelly cool.
When you go to schools to talk to kids who aren’t exposed to classical Hollywood or the history of dance, what do you do to give them their introduction? Do you show them any particular scenes?
I always show a montage of clips. When Gene did his one-man show, he would always open that way, with an array of footage that showed the full extent of his work. They’ve always at least heard of “Singin’ In The Rain,” but they’ve never seen “The Pirate,” for example. It’s so fun to watch their faces, because he’s still so cool. He looks like he just stepped out of a J. Crew ad. He’s hot. And if you look at the newspaper dance, for example, it’s timeless. It doesn’t look dated at all. There’s an immediate contact.
If you watch some of these dance numbers, they’re always shot head-on, in full body, and it’s not all chopped up the way many things are. They’ll say, “Wow, there are no cuts in this.” They really are glued to it, and so I think this notion that they don’t have any patience or attention span is wrong. They’re just not getting exposed to the right work. But what they come away from these movies with is the dedication to craft and the pursuit of excellence.
So many of them are interested in pursuing careers in the arts, but they’re constantly being dissuaded by parents and grandparents and people who feel that there’s no future in that. They come to me and say, “Mrs. Kelly, what do you think we should do?” I just say, “Oh, well. You’ve got to pursue your passion.” And Gene certainly did. I wish I could go out to every school, because it’s just so important to expose them to this stuff. They’re desperately looking for something quality.
You talk about these kids seeing Gene Kelly for the first time. You’ve probably seen these movies a hundred times, but do you still get that same joy that, for example, I get whenever I watch “Anchors Aweigh” or something?
I do. It’s funny. In fact, I’m going to Washington D.C., because they’re screening the new print of “Singin’ In The Rain,” and they asked me if I want to stay and watch the movie. I’ve seen it a million times, but there’s nothing like the collective experience with the audience, and seeing the range of age. There are three-year-olds who have memorized the whole thing, and there are grandparents. I like to stick around and I love to hear the reaction. I’m not jaded about it at all. I see different things each time.