Singin' in the Rain:
Framing terms

Singin' in the Rain is a film that produces an argument that legitimates itself as popular cinema through high art strategies, and characterises the nature of the muse involved to suggest not only something about the élan of art, but also renders literal the abstract musicality of cinema.

Schematically it produces a character structure which describes a gradation from the wild and uncontrolled Cosmo (Donald O'Conner) to the stiff and unyielding Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). Within the film this progressive scale becomes defined by the character's relation to song and dance, and so a simple moral cosmology is produced that, at its most fundamental, proposes that those that can sing and dance are good, and those that can't are bad.

The general movement, from opening to closing premieres, that the film uses to bracket its work also represents the development of cinema from the silent to the sound era of Hollywood studio production. In this development it is clear that Singin' in the Rain advocates the necessity of the rise of sound (how could a musical argue otherwise?), but the specific terms used by the film are much more substantive than this syllogistic claim. They require a folding (or reversing) of the 'ordinary' understanding of the film so that rather than consider it as a romance which uses music to tell its tale, it is a musical that uses romance to think what a 'musical cinema' might be.

The "You Were Meant for Me" sequence reflects and performs this argument.

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