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Gigi (50th Anniversary Two-Disc) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
ImagePartly because it’s a period piece, partly because it deals with subjects that are ever timely and partly because it was so brilliantly made to begin with, ‘Gigi’ hasn’t dated at all. The 1958 musical, which won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Musical Score and six others besides, looks just as charming, sophisticated and humane today as ever. Thanks to its rich-hued DVD transfer, it’s as colorfully beautiful as ever, too.

Adapted from a story by Colette by screenwriter/lyricist Alan J. Lerner, with music by Frederick Loewe and directed by Vincente Minnelli, ‘Gigi’ tells the story of the title character (Leslie Caron), a young Parisian girl on the verge of adulthood at the same time that the century is turning from the 19th to the 20th. Gigi, born of a long line of unmarried ladies, is being trained to be an upscale courtesan by her grandmother (Hermione Gingold) and great-aunt (Isabel Jeans), who made their own way in the world in similar fashion. Gigi’s great friend is wealthy playboy Gaston (Louis Jourdan), who looks upon Gigi as a little sister … until at last he notices that she’s not so little any more. The tale is narrated for us by Gaston’s uncle Honore (Maurice Chevalier), a senior bachelor who long ago had his own relationship with Gigi’s grandmother.

The pace of ‘Gigi’ is wonderful, with witty spoken dialogue that segues with apparent effortlessness into splendid songs with intricate (and sometimes hilarious) rhymes. There’s probably no one in the Western world who hasn’t encountered Chevalier’s oh-so-French-and-philosophical rendition of "Thank Heaven For Little Girls," found here on Chapter 2. In what is surely an odd coincidence, there is a frame flash that coincides almost exactly with the word "flash" in the lyric " … her eyes will flash/and send you crashing through the ceiling." Cecil Beaton’s sumptuous production design makes the film a bright treat for the eyes throughout and the cast is delicious. Caron, allowed to display infinitely more personality here than in ‘An American in Paris’ (although it’s odd that she’s playing a younger character here, seven years later), gets to be innocent and wise, vulnerable and resilient altogether. No wonder Gaston is tied up in knots over Gigi. Jourdan keeps Gaston likable and funny even when his actions are thoughtless, Gingold is formidable and Chevalier is, well, Chevalier, French savoir-faire made flesh. The combination is unbeatable. However, what really stands out about ‘Gigi’ when seeing it anew is the complexity and universality of its themes. True, most relationships aren’t literally about prostitution vs. marriage, but it’s common to see a trade-off where one person must sacrifice dignity to the other’s freedom or vice-versa. Without ever stating (or singing) the dilemma in on-the-nose terms, ‘Gigi’ depicts this constant struggle with a level of insight and subtlety that’s rare in dramas, let alone musical comedies, weaving perfectly serious motifs into a glittery fairy tale that has a helium-light touch.

The video transfer of "Gigi," 50 years later, is astonishing.  Yes, currently it is only in a standard definition format, but the quality is amazing, and it is presented in the original 2.40:1 cinemascope ratio.  The colors a rich, set apart nicely by the strong black levels.  The colors almost look too saturated for my tastes.  There is only a minimal amount of film grain, dust, etc. present in the film.  I would expect that more blemishes would be viewable in a Blu-ray release.  For standard DVD the details are quite good.  Buildings and city scenery can be easily examined.

The audio is presented in a re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.  Unfortunately, the remix is not up to par.  The voices are not anchored to the center channel, as there was no separate center channel back in 1958.  The front channels do have a wide stereo field, and the surround channels fill the room nicely with musical ambience.  Sadly, the audio track is thin and harsh and presented in a significantly low volume level.  My guess this is to keep the signal to noise ratio at a decent level.  Still, this audio track is an improvement over the MGM release back in 1999.

The DVD release comes with two discs.  The first disc contains the film and a fair amount of extra features.  There is an audio commentary by historian Jeanine Basinger and Leslie Caron.  There is vintage short called "The Million Dollar Nickel" and a classic cartoon, "The Vanishing Duck" (presented in cinemascope) as well on the first disc.  Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for the film.

The second DVD disc contains two more features.  The first is "Thank Heaven! The Making of 'Gigi.'"  This is a new documentary about the rough goings during the production of the film.  The other feature is the 1949, nonmusical version of 'Gigi.'"  This is the French version of the film that is far more provocative than the Hollywood-made version.  It is a fairly interesting reference version of the film.

"Gigi" is no doubt a musical film classic.  And it deserves to be.  The quality of this 50th anniversary release is terrific and should not be missed.  It is even more special if you haven't seen the movie in quite some time.

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