Vincente Minnelli - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Chicago, 28 February 1910. Education: The Art Institute of Chicago, mid-1920s. Family: Married 1) Judy Garland, 1945 (divorced 1951), daughter Liza; 2) Georgette Magnani, 1954 (divorced 1958), one daughter; 3) Denise Giganti, 1961 (divorced 1971); 4) Lee M. Anderson, 1982. Career: Child actor, Minnelli Brothers Dramatic Tent Show, 1913–18; billboard painter, then window dresser, Marshall Field's department store, Chicago, 1929; assistant stage manager and costume designer, Balaban and Katz theatre chain, Chicago, then set and costume designer, Paramount Theater, New York, 1931–33; art director, Radio City Music Hall, New York, 1934; director of ballets and musicals for the stage, then signed as producer/director, Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, 1936; bought out contract after eight months and returned to New York as theatre director; joined MGM under auspices of Arthur Freed, 1940; directed sequences in Babes on Broadway , 1941, and Panama Hattie, 1942; directed first feature, Cabin in the Sky , 1942; returned to stage directing with Mata Hari , 1967, closed after two-week run. Awards: Academy Award for Best Director for Gigi , 1958; Order of Arts and Letters, France, for contribution to French culture. Died: In Beverly Hills, California, 25 July 1986.

Vincente Minnelli with Cyd Charisse
Vincente Minnelli with Cyd Charisse

Films as Director:


Cabin in the Sky


I Dood It ( By Hook or by Crook )


Meet Me in St. Louis


The Clock ( Under the Clock ); Yolanda and the Thief


Ziegfeld Follies (co-d); Undercurrent


Till the Clouds Roll By (Whorf) (Judy Garland sequences only)


The Pirate


Madame Bovary


Father of the Bride


An American in Paris ; Father's Little Dividend


Lovely to Look At (LeRoy) (fashion show sequence only)


"Mademoiselle" episode of The Story of Three Loves ; The Bad and the Beautiful ; The Band Wagon


The Long, Long Trailer ; Brigadoon


The Cobweb ; Kismet


Lust for Life ; Tea and Sympathy


Designing Woman ; The Seventh Sin (Neame; replaced Neame as director, refused credit)


Gigi ; The Reluctant Debutante


Some Came Running


Home from the Hill ; Bells Are Ringing


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ; Two Weeks in Another Town


The Courtship of Eddie's Father


Goodbye Charlie


The Sandpiper


On a Clear Day You Can See Forever


A Matter of Time


By MINNELLI: book—

I Remember It Well , with Hector Arce, New York, 1974.

By MINNELLI: articles—

Interview with Charles Bitsch and Jean Domarchi, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August/September 1957.

"So We Changed It," in Films and Filming (London), November 1958.

"The Rise and Fall of the Musical," in Films and Filming (London), January 1962.

"Rencontre avec Vincente Minnelli," with Jean Domarchi and Jean Douchet, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1962.

"On the Relationship of Style to Content in The Sandpiper ," in Cinema (Los Angeles), July/August 1965.

Interview, in The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak , edited by Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg, London, 1969.

"Vincente Minnelli and Gigi," interview with Digby Diehl, in Action (Los Angeles), September/October 1972.

"The Nostalgia Express," interview with Gideon Bachmann, in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1976.

"Two Weeks in Another Town," interview with P. Lehman and others, in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), no. 1, 1979.

On MINNELLI: books—

Truchaud, Francois, Vincente Minnelli , Paris, 1966.

Knox, Donald, The Magic Factory: How M-G-M Made "An American in Paris, " New York, 1973.

Delameter, J., Dance in the Hollywood Musical , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.

Guerif, François, Vincente Minnelli , Paris, 1984.

Brion, Patrick, and others, Vincente Minnelli , Paris, 1985.

Harvey, Stephen, Directed by Vincente Minnelli , New York, 1989.

Lang, Robert, American Film Melodrama: Griffith, Vidor, Minnelli , Princeton, New Jersey, 1989.

Naremore, James, The Films of Vincente Minnelli , Cambridge, 1993.

On MINNELLI: articles—

Harcourt-Smith, Simon, "Vincente Minnelli," in Sight and Sound (London), January/March 1952.

Johnson, Albert, "The Films of Vincente Minnelli," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1958 and Spring 1959.

McVay, Douglas, "The Magic of Minnelli," in Films and Filming (London), June 1959.

Shivas, Mark, "Minnelli's Method," in Movie (London), June 1962.

Mayersberg, Paul, "The Testament of V. Minnelli," in Movie (London), October 1962.

Torok, Jean-Paul, and Jacques Quincey, "V.M. ou Le Peintre de la vie rêvée," in Positif (Paris), March 1963.

"Minnelli Issue" of Movie (London), June 1963.

Galling, Dennis, "V.M. Is One of the Few Hollywood Directors Who Has an Art Sense," in Films in Review (New York), March 1964.

Nowell-Smith, G., "Minnelli and Melodrama," in Australian Journal of Screen Theory (Kensington, New South Wales), no. 3, 1977.

Campari, Roberto, "Vincente Minnelli," Castoro Cinema (Milan), special issue, no. 43–44, 1977.

McVay, D., "Minnelli and The Pirate ," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison), Spring 1978.

Simsolo, Noël, "Sur quelques films de Minnelli," in Image et Son (Paris), October 1981.

Telotte, J. P., "Self and Society: Vincente Minnelli and Musical Formula," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), Winter 1982.

McCarthy, T., obituary in Variety (New York), 30 July 1986.

Harvey, S., obituary in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1986.

Taylor, John Russell, "Tribute to Minnelli," in Films and Filming (London), October 1986.

Obituary, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 420, October 1986.

Gourget, J. L., "L'oeuvre de Vincente Minnelli," in Positif (Paris), December 1986.

Thomas, Nick, "Vincente Minnelli," in Annual Obituary 1986 ,

London and Chicago, 1989.

"Vincente Minnelli," in Film Dope (Nottingham), no. 43, January 1990.

Dalle-Vacche, A. "A Painter in Hollywood: Vincente Minelli's An American in Paris ," in Cinema Journal (Austin), vol. 32, no. 1, Fall 1992.

Goldmann, A., "'Madame Bovary' vue par Flaubert, Minnelli et Chabrol," Cinemaction , vol. 65, no. 4, 1992.

Siegel, D., and S. McGehee, "Hysteria," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 4, no. 10, October 1994.

Tinkcom, Matthew, "Working like a Homosexual: Camp Visual Codes and the Labor of Gay Subjects in the MGM Freed Unit," in Cinema Journal (Austin), vol. 35, no. 2, Winter 1996.

* * *

Between 1942 and 1962, Vincente Minnelli directed twenty-nine films (and parts of several others) at Metro-Goldywn-Mayer, eventually becoming the studio's longest-tenured director. Brought to Hollywood following a tremendously successful career as a Broadway set designer and director of musicals, he was immediately placed at the helm of MGM's biggest musical productions, beginning with the all-black Cabin in the Sky. Over the next decade-and-a-half, he gained a reputation as the premiere director at work in the genre. This reputation was based on a remarkable series of productions, including Meet Me in St. Louis, The Pirate, An American in Paris , and The Band Wagon , and culminating with a Best Director's Academy Award for Gigi. Yet Minnelli's career was by no means restricted to musicals. During the same period he also directed a series of successful comedies and melodramas with flair and stylistic elegance.

If anything, Minnelli's accomplishments as a stylist, which were recognized from the beginning of his Hollywood career, worked against his being taken seriously as a director-auteur. By the late 1950s he had been dubbed (by critic Albert Johnson) "the master of the decorative image," which seemed, at the time, the highest compliment which might be paid a director of musicals. Indeed, Minnelli's films are impeccably crafted—filled with lushly stylized sets, clever and graceful performances, and a partiality for long tales. Minnelli also utilized a fluid mobile camera suited to the filming of dance, mounting and preserving performance spatially, even as the camera involves the audience in the choreographed movement. Yet it also informs the non-musical sequences of Minnelli's films with the same kind of liberal sensibility associated with contemporaries like Otto Preminger and Nicholas Ray, one that allows both the characters and the eyes of the audience a certain freedom of movement within a nearly seamless time and space. An accompanying theatricality (resulting from a tendency to shoot scenes from a fourth-wall position) blends with Minnelli's specifically cinematic flourishes in a clever realization of the themes of art and artificiality, themes which run throughout his films.

Stylization and artifice are necessarily addressed by musical films in general, and Minnelli's films do so with great verve—most thoroughly in the baroque otherworldliness of Yolanda and the Thief , and most brilliantly in the interplay of character and actor, stage and screen in The Band Wagon. But an equal concern with levels of unreality informs most of his films. This is perhaps most evident in the Pirandellian meditation on Hollywood, The Bad and the Beautiful , and its bizarre, Cinecitta-made quasi-sequel, Two Weeks in Another Town. This exploration surely reaches a kind of limit in Minnelli's last film, A Matter of Time. This story of an aspiring actress, played by Liza Minnelli, becomes an examination of his own daughter's talents and persona (haunted by the ghost of Judy Garland), making the film into the director's own Vertigo , a fitting conclusion to a career devoted to the interplay of various levels of fantasy.

Filmic fantasy is almost always present in Minnelli's films, even when they address the most mundane human problems in basically realistic settings. Virtually every Minnelli film contains a fantasy sequence, a moment in which the narrative recedes in order to allow a free play of symbols on an almost exclusively formal level. In Minnelli's musicals, this is invariably an extended "ballet." The most memorable of these ballets may be the twenty-minute number which concludes An American in Paris , but the most powerful example might be Judy Garland's erotic fantasy of Gene Kelly as "Mack the Black" in The Pirate. In Meet Me in St. Louis , the burst of pure style occurs in the non-musical, and surprisingly horrific, Halloween sequence. In the comedy Father of the Bride , it is a tour-de-force dream sequence in which all of Spencer Tracy's fatherly anxieties are unleashed. The position is filled by a hallucinatory chase through a carnival in Some Came Running , by fantastic visions of the title figures in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse , and by mad car rides in both The Bad and the Beautiful and Two Weeks in Another Town. Such extra-narrative sequences serve to condense and resolve plot elements on a visual/emotional plane, providing the only escape routes from the exigencies of a world which Minnelli otherwise depicts as emotionally frustrating, overly complex, and terribly delicate.

Indeed, Andrew Sarris quite rightly noted that "Minnelli had an unusual, sombre outlook for musical comedy," a fact which seems responsible for the unexpected depth of most of his films. Certainly one of the factors responsible for the continued interest in Meet Me in St. Louis is the overt morbidity of its nostalgic tone. Yet Minnelli's troubled perspective is probably most evident in the existential isolation of his characters, and in the humanistic, yet stoic, attitude he adopts in treating equally their petty jealousies and their moral fears. A genuinely pained sense of the virtual impossibility of meaningful human contact informs the machinations of such stylized melodramas as Some Came Running, Home from the Hill , and The Four Horsemen. And the tenuousness of love and power is nowhere more artfully rendered than in his generic masterpiece, The Cobweb , where an argument over drapes for the rec room of a mental hospital reveals a network of neuroses amongst the staff and their families that is as deep-seated as the disorders of the patients.

At worst, Minnelli has been cited as the epitome of Hollywood's "middlebrow" aspirations toward making art accessible to the mass audience. At best, he was championed by the British critics at Movie during the early 1960s as one of Hollywood's consummate auteurs. For one such critic, V. F. Perkins, Minnelli's films provided some of the best examples of classical narrative style, which naturalized meaning through understated flourishes of mise-en-scène. It is certainly this capacity which enabled Minnelli to employ a forty-foot trailer as an effortless metaphor for the marriage of newlyweds Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz ( The Long, Long Trailer ), to critique the manipulations of parental love by consumer culture through depiction of an increasingly overblown wedding ( Father of the Bride ), and to displace a child's incapacity to deal with his mother's death onto his horror at the discovery of his dead goldfish ( The Courtship of Eddie's Father ).

We must certainly categorize Minnelli as something more than a decorative artist, for the stylistic devices of his films are informed with a remarkably resilient intelligence. Even if we are finally to conclude that, throughout his work, there is a dominance of style over theme, it ultimately serves only to confirm his contribution to the refinement of those techniques by which Hollywood translates meanings into style and presents both as entertainment.

—Ed Lowry

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