Jean Douchet talks about Vincente Minnelli
“I discovered Minnelli quite late, because he was considered a specialist in the musical, rather than as a maker of melodrama. “Les Cahiers du cinéma” liked his work alright, but no more than that. His films looked good, but he wasn’t considered an auteur. From 1958 on, with Some Came Running and the major melodramas, “Les Cahiers” began taking more of an interest in Minnelli, thanks to Jean Domarchi and myself. Minnelli’s intelligence is purely one that is sensitive, sensorial, emotional, but at the same time he had a political and social worldview.
Minnelli’s great theme is that reality is scary and dangerous for the individual. His protagonists flee reality, but the more one shuts oneself up in a constructed reality, the more destructive it becomes. Minnelli invented a constant impulse to escape, which is liberating only in his musicals.
Musicals were immediately embraced. They are obvious. His genius was to take fixed sets and turn them into a kind of living organism, through a play of colour and constant variations in texture. Minnelli’s characters are always searching for their own coloration, and it is magnificent. Individuals have no protection at all, all the characters are fragile and somewhat morbid, and always deeply unstable.
Minnelli’s world is a violent world, all the more violent since he has the gall to show us things that are nice and sweet. He is like a microbe infiltrating itself into MGM to screw everything up while giving the impression of respecting the contract. That’s also why Minnelli was destroyed when MGM stopped producing. If ever a filmmaker embodied the truth of the politique des auteurs and mise en scène, it was Minnelli.
Minnelli made musicals, comedies and melodramas: he never ventured into other genres. The Clock appealed because it was a serious film, with an intelligent script. Undercurrent is also quite remarkable, the only problem is that the script is not perfect. But Katharine Hepburn, Robert Taylor (nearly as perfect as he was in Party Girl) and Robert Mitchum are magnificent in the film.
In Minnelli’s films, family is very important as the basis of society. In Undercurrent, for example, there is the figure of a wonderful father. The father-daughter or father-son relationship recurs in several films, there is a psychoanalytical dimension that is not broached directly but clearly informs the filmmaking. In Father of the Bride of course, but also in The Reluctant Debutante, a film I love. But it is not always about the family in an obvious, straightforward way; it may also take the form of a dream-fantasy family (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Pirate).
I am delighted that the Festival del film Locarno is organising a complete Vincente Minnelli retrospective, since I feel he has still not been given the status he deserves.”
Jean Douchet, interviewed by Olivier PèreOlivier Père