DANCING ON THE CEILING by Stephen M. Silverman


Stanley Donen and His Movies
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 Well-paced, deftly wrought show-biz biography of the director whom Jean-Luc Godard called ``the master of the musical.'' While Donen's name may not be a familiar one, he was responsible, either as director or codirector, for a substantial number of notable films, from Singin' in the Rain to Funny Face and Charade (the book's introduction is by Audrey Hepburn). Like Orson Welles, Donen was an exasperatingly precocious boy wonder. He was dancing in the chorus of Pal Joey on Broadway at age 16. At 20, he was a renowned Hollywood choreographer, pepping up musical numbers in dozens of films with his innovative dances and imaginative camera technique. By 28, he had already directed his fourth film, Singin' in the Rain. Along with his frequent collaborator Gene Kelly, he is credited by many critics with having made movie musicals more realistic and integrated. In films like On the Town, he essentially invented the idea of the location musical, doing away as much as possible with stagy sets and painted backdrops and then literally taking the action into the streets. Sadly, Donen's later career included a number of flops, which ensured that the intervals between movies grew longer and longer until, again like Orson Welles, he'd become an unemployable legend. Silverman (Public Spectacles, 1981, etc.) is an inspired chronicler who speeds along with a well-choreographed mixture of fact, anecdote, and analysis. However, he does tend to scant critical evaluation, particularly from outside sources. And the end is strangely weak, not really tying together the various threads and themes, just fading blandly away. Still, this is an extremely readable book about an important, underappreciated director; like all the best musicals, it is styled with an airy mix of gravity and joy. (39 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-41412-6
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1995