For Reel

The Band Wagon (1953)
February 22, 2016, 2:14 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Vincente Minnelli
4 Stars
The Band WagonSome critics have lauded The Band Wagon as the true highpoint of the American musical, a finer success than the previous year’s Singin’ in the Rain. No doubt this appraisal has much to do with its self conscious play with performance–in the film, it is made evident that the great power of the theater involves making “real life” theatrical, but director Vincente Minnelli is just as keen at showing the reverse. In The Band Wagon, the line between the stage and the world is not just a blurred one, but Minnelli argues that they are inextricably linked. Minnelli’s championing of the musical is also distinguished further by his love of entertainment and spectacle–this is a film of pop culture pastiche, weaving together set pieces in the vein of a typical revue show. In scoffing at more “elitist” forms of stage plays, the film becomes Minnelli’s Sullivan’s Travels. Like Preston Sturges in that film, Minnelli uses The Band Wagon as an artistic statement of purpose, remarking on his love for entertainment and suggesting the transcendent potential of the musical genre (as Sturges did with comedy). Ultimately, the picture’s set pieces are the real show, and the linking material doesn’t ascend far above the usual backstage comedy. But the “Shine on Your Shoes” piece, in particular, is one of the most visually thrilling sequences of its era, an even greater accomplishment than the famous “Girl Hunt” ballet.

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