Singin' in the Rain:
prelude

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As Don leads Kathy into the soundstage he now leaves her while he 'builds' his 'proper setting'. This reiterates her role as the focus of the spectacle that is to be made around and about her, and also produces one of the film's most substantive self reflexive sequences as it foregrounds its very processes of manufacture. However, it is also the moment at which the film performs one of its most elaborate seductions, in the process producing a cascading series of meta discourses on spectatorial knowledge and textual authority that eventually always manages to elude.

As the 'extra' who will become the star, and as the woman who will become Don's lover (and vice versa), Kathy here becomes the object of attention of Don and cinematic practice. (Of course, as the film folds the romance into its more specific consideration about the 'singing' cinema it is appropriate that as a figure of Don's desire she is also produced as an object of the film's desire. Kathy is seen to be literally constructed as a profilmic figure during this 'prelude'.

As Don turns on the various pieces of studio equipment we see their effect as the formerly mute space becomes a "rose trellised bower", "flooded by moonlight", with "a soft summer breeze". Throughout this part of the sequence Kathy generally remains in the foreground of the image, and while she is usually between the camera and Don it would be more accurate to describe her location as between the camera and the cinematic technology that Don is using.

While some effort is being made by the film to maintain the couple in the same diegetic space (a wide two shot) the sequence resolves itself into a brief series of mid shots, signalling the beginning of Don's song, but also once again separating the characters visually so that the work of the sequence (and now more particularly the work of the musical) will be to allow the two parts to produce a common space through their performance (literally and figuratively) of the terms peculiar to it. This has two immediate effects or implications.

The first is that Kathy becomes the privileged object or figure of the sequence, around whom the narrative, the camera, and Don will revolve. This 'objectness' though is the embodying of Kathy's role as the neophyte to be transformed by cinematic performance, and in this the second effect becomes masked by the visibility of the first - the seduction of the film audience by these very same processes of cinematic practice (what I have been characterising as cinematic performance).

The central terms of our seduction by the film occurs through several registers, and involves the non-naming of the apparatus, concealment of its central terms, and the materiality of the image.

As Don illuminates and creates the cinematic space that we witness each object is shown but not named. Hence the wind machine becomes "a soft summer breeze", the fog machine is "mist from the distant mountains", and a gelled spotlight becomes "moonlight". This produces a playful disparity between what the film ostensibly shows and what Don is doing which allows us to participate in this game - primarily by immediately recognising the self reflexive and probably modernist aesthetic that the film utilises and endorses here. This produces a readerly position 'above' or 'superior' to what the text seems to acknowledge, we know that it isn't really moonlight, a garden, or a summer breeze, but we also know that the film wants us to know this.

Created in 1998 by Adrian Miles, details, republished 2006.