Edit like Gene Kelly dances

One of the most spectacular dances in the history of film,  Gene Kelly’s choreography was of such a standard that a special Oscar was created that year in recognition of his achievement.

But what has this dance got to with editing words?

Simply this: What you see on the screen was not the original dance they filmed.

It’s been some years back that I saw Gene Kelly talk about it. I have been unsuccessful in finding the footage for that interview as I believe it was part of another compilation of interviews on film making.

Kelly was one of the foremost choreographers for film and stage. Technically brilliant and athletically fast, with seeming effortlessness he wove appropriate emotion throughout letting it shine from his face punctuating it with clear body language.

It was only natural Kelly was asked to choreograph this love dance. He did. They practiced until perfect. It was filmed. They sat and watched it. Everybody loved it…except Kelly.

You see, Kelly knew something the others did not. Kelly knew the dance had too much “salt.” [Read this article to find out about the “salt.”]

The dance was technically beautiful. It showcased the strength of the male and female. But there was no heart and soul, and it left Kelly cold.

For a pivotal scene such as this one was supposed to be, he couldn’t cheat moviegoers like that. And he insisted on redoing it. How did he choose what to leave in and what to leave out?

He watched the routine over and over until he identified where a problem was. Then he and Leslie Caron would practice the dance without that piece. They kept hacking away until all that was left was the essence of the emotion. All that was left in every move, every touch, every glance drew viewers in.

So Gene’s dance went from the arm’s-length “see us perform for you” to the intimate hug of “you understand this because you’ve been in the thrall of love, too.”

That remade — edited — dance took the movie from a slap-happy genre standard to a much-beloved genre maker.

And that, ladies and gentlemen of the word world, is how you edit like Gene Kelly dances.