Wandering an old forest or heath, the sense of timelessness in the environment may inspire fantasies of travelling back in time. I’d sure like to wander into a happy, 18th century Scottish village like the two modern hunters in 1954's Brigadoon. A musical starring Gene Kelly and directed by Vincente Minnelli, it lacks the fast paced wit that distinguishes most of the best musicals, instead aiming for a sleepier, dreamier vibe. The few jokes in the simplistic dialogue land like lead and the lyrics to the songs are often anaemic, fundamentally unsatisfying in their attempts at wit. But how gorgeous this movie is. Filmed entirely on sound stages, Minnelli, his art directer, and his cinematographer create a wonder in lighting, backdrops, and flora arrangements.
I love the precise use of patches of false sunlight contrasted with muted tones of heather behind mist. Sometimes the footage looks like Caspar David Friedrich paintings.
Although the stage musical comes from the late 1940s, I suspect the influence of The Quiet Man was behind the motivation to make this film. But while the slightly kitschy idealism of rural Ireland in The Quiet Man exists alongside genuinely well drawn characters and layers of motive, the quaint and garishly garbed inhabitants of Brigadoon seem to pose and make faces without genuine human feeling. Like when an old man affects anger when he leaves a family bible outside the window for his daughter’s fiance to sign with a frozen, stupid smile.
There’s no sense of authentic feeling behind the scene at all.
Kelly’s chemistry with Cyd Charisse isn’t much better. The former’s natural warmth is always engaging and Charisse is a terrific dancer but the dialogue continually fails them both. Nevertheless, a scene featuring the two in dreamily choreographed, balletic dance on a hill is astounding, the gorgeous backdrops filling up sweeping Cinemascope shots and blending seamlessly with the artfully arranged prop plants.
This movie is worth watching just for these incredible images. Brigadoon is available on The Criterion Channel.