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4 Surprising Facts About Gene Kelly

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Eighteen years ago last week, the world lost one of Hollywood's greatest entertainers: Gene Kelly. Arguably, most of the public today knows Kelly best because of his iconic performance in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), but here are a few other facts about the legendary song-and-dance man you may not know.

1. He Perfected Cine-Dance

Gene Kelly refused to choreograph his musical numbers like his predecessor Busby Berkeley, who generally filled his films’ frames with visual spectacles and geometric patterns requiring little movement from actors. Rather, Kelly wanted to make the camera movements serve the choreography, to create something one could not on a theatrical stage.

As a result, Gene Kelly adopted the term cine-dance (cinema + dance), which he defined as “any dancing choreographed specifically and particularly to be filmed or televised.” This meant, then, that for every number involving dance, Kelly (and his assistants) had to devise not only the dance choreography, the staging of dances and the dancers’ physical movements, but also the film choreography, the coordination of camera movements in relation to the musical number.

Kelly’s cine-dance is evident in Singin’ in the Rain. For example, when Kelly’s character closes his umbrella, not caring if he gets wet, the camera closes in on him. The same thing happens when he sings, “Come on with the rain / I’ve a smile on my face.” Here, he opens his arms wide, inviting both the rain and the camera to move in toward him. But most noticeably, when the music climaxes and Kelly steps out into the street twirling with faster and wider movements, the camera also cranes wider and upward, fusing camera and dance. If this doesn’t do it for you, turn on any season of Dancing with the Stars or Strictly Come Dancing to see the influence of Kelly’s cine-dance.

2. He Tamed Technology

Gene Kelly also broke new ground with his use of special effects. For example, in Cover Girl (1944), Kelly's character picks a fight with himself after worrying that his fiancée is falling out of love with him. This internal struggle leads to a tricky solo dance called the "alter-ego number," in which two Gene Kellys simultaneously dance alongside and against each other onscreen. Created with Kelly’s co-choreographer Stanley Donen—and no CGI—the alter ego number made Kelly a star and secured him a contract at MGM.

Kelly also made cinema history when he danced alongside Jerry the Mouse in Anchors Aweigh (1945). In the film musical, Kelly’s character sits before a roomful of school children and reads them a story. But the viewer experiences the tale through a mixture of live action and animation. This memorable segment of Anchors Aweigh only lasts four minutes but took months to complete. There were 10,000 painted frames to synchronize with Kelly's movements. Kelly was filmed first, and then Jerry was animated frame by frame before the two figures were joined onscreen. The technique was repeated years later in Kelly's experimental dance film, Invitation to the Dance (1956).

Finally, Kelly invented "the Ubangi" (now called a “camera offset”), a mechanism to get low-angle shots that were virtually impossible because of the large size of Technicolor cameras. According to Kelly’s biographer, the mechanism was “a long lip that projected from the camera, heavily reinforced with iron grids underneath, and with a mirror on it, only a couple of inches off the floor, so that the camera could shoot down into the mirror which, in turn, could be adjusted to reflect the exact angle [Kelly] wanted.” Kelly invented the device for his satirical fantasy film The Pirate (1948).

Each of these technical innovations derives from Kelly's desire to do something onscreen that could not be done onstage and that had never been done before.

3. He took the Musical On Location

In keeping with Kelly’s need to advance cinema and the musical specifically, the star wanted to shoot one of his films, On the Town (1949), outside the studio—and outside Hollywood, in fact. This was generally unheard of in the 1940s, especially for a big-budget MGM musical, all of which were filmed on soundstages, backlots, or nearby. Consequently, to get his wish to travel to and shoot in Manhattan, Kelly had to put up a fight with MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, who could not visualize the effect that Kelly (and his co-director Stanley Donen) were after. He thought the idea was indulgent and a waste of money. "Why not just do it on the backlot—like everyone else?" Mayer asked.

Ultimately, Mayer gave Kelly, Donen, and the rest of the unit five days in NYC, two of which were apparently spoiled by bad weather. The crew shot where and when they could. "We had to 'steal' and 'cheat' every shot, and somehow keep our cameras hidden from the passers-by who would only delay us further and crowd around if they knew a picture was being made," Kelly once said.

Numerous scholars and critics consider On the Town the first film musical shot on location. While this is not completely true, it is the first big-budget color musical from MGM’s Freed Unit (the production unit of which Kelly was a part) to be shot on location, and it prompted other directors to do the same. It was highly successful, earning over three times its budget on first release.

4. He's Making a Comeback Today

Even though Kelly has been dead 18 years now and his most admired films are over six decades old, his presence in the 21st century is alive and well.

In the past eight years, the deceased Hollywood song-and-dance man has made appearances in Family Guy, a Funny or Die sketch, and at least four television commercials, two for Volkswagen alone. In addition, The Simpsons, Glee, Saturday Night Live, Britain's Got Talent, Usher, Jaime Cullum, and Mint Royale have recently paid homage to Gene Kelly and Singin' in the Rain.

Furthermore, over the past decade, several Kelly-related fansites, tumblelogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts, video mash-ups, and message boards have appeared online, all of which continue to be extremely active. And this makes sense, considering the legacy that Kelly left behind.

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Art
Get Crazy With the Official Bob Ross Coloring Book
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If you watched Bob Ross's classic series The Joy of Painting for hours on end but didn’t come away a terribly capable artist, you can still enjoy replicating the amazing public television personality’s work. You can now pretend you’re painting along with the late, great PBS star using a brand-new adult coloring book based on his art.

The Bob Ross Coloring Book (Universe) is the first authorized coloring book based on Ross’s artistic archive. Ross, who would have turned 75 later this year, was all about giving his fans the confidence to pursue art even without extensive training. “There’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us,” the gentle genius said. So what better way to honor his memory than to relax with his coloring book?

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the Ross landscapes you can recreate, all while flipping through some of his best quotes and timeless tidbits of wisdom.

An black-and-white outline of a Bob ross painting of a mountain valley

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a house nestled among trees.

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a farm scene.

And remember, even if you color outside the lines, it’s still a work of art. As Ross said, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

You can find The Bob Ross Coloring Book for about $14 on Amazon. Oh, and if you need even more Ross in your life, there’s now a Bob Ross wall calendar, too.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli.

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8 Movies That Almost Starred Keanu Reeves
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He may not have the natural ease of Al Pacino, the classical training of Anthony Hopkins, the timeless cool of Jack Nicholson, or the raw versatility of Gary Oldman, but Keanu Reeves has been around long enough to have worked alongside each of those actors. Yet instead of Oscar nods, the actor whose first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian has a handful of Razzie nominations.

While critical acclaim has mostly eluded Reeves during his 30-plus years in Hollywood, his movies have made nearly $2 billion at the box office. Whether because of his own choosiness or the decisions of studio powers-that-be, that tally could be much, much higher. To celebrate The Chosen One’s 53rd birthday, here are eight movies that almost starred Keanu Reeves.

1. X-MEN (2000)

In Hollywood’s version of the X-Men universe, Hugh Jackman is the definitive Wolverine. But Jackman himself was a last-minute replacement (for Dougray Scott) and other, bigger (in 2000) names were considered for the hirsute superhero—including Reeves. Ultimately, it was the studio that decided to go in a different direction, much to Reeves’ disappointment. “I always wanted to play Wolverine,” the actor told Moviefone in 2014. “But I didn't get that. And they have a great Wolverine now. I always wanted to play The Dark Knight. But I didn't get that one. They've had some great Batmans. So now I'm just enjoying them as an audience.”

2. PLATOON (1986)

For an action star, Reeves isn’t a huge fan of violence, which is why he passed on playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam classic. “Keanu turned it down because of the violence,” Stone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. “He didn’t want to do violence.”

3. THE FLY II (1989)

Few people would likely mistake Reeves for the son of Jeff Goldblum, but producers were anxious to see him play the next generation of Goldblum’s insectile role in the sequel to The Fly. But Reeves wasn’t having any of it. Why? Simple: “I didn't like the script,” he told Movieline in 1990.

4. SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL (1997)

Speaking of sequels (and bad scripts): Reeves was ready to reprise his role as Jack Traven in Jan de Bont’s second go at the series … then he read it. “When I was offered Speed 2, Jan came to Chicago and so did Sandra, and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Reeves recalled to The Telegraph. “And I said, 'I read the script and I can’t. It’s called Speed, and it’s on a cruise ship.” (He's got a point.)

Even when the studio dangled a $12 million paycheck in front of him, Reeves said no. “I told [William Mechanic, then-head of Fox], ‘If I do this film, I will not come back up. You guys will send me to the bottom of the ocean and I will not make it back up again.’ I really felt like I was fighting for my life.”

5. HEAT (1995)

Reeves’ refusal to cave on Speed 2 didn’t sit well in Hollywood circles. And it didn't help that he also passed on playing Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer’s role) in Michael Mann’s Heat in order to spend a month playing Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre. From that point on, Reeves told The Telegraph that it’s been a struggle for him to book any studio movies. “That’s a good old Hollywood story! That was a whole, 'Hey, kid, this is what happens in Hollywood: I said no to the number two and I never worked with the studio again!’”

6. BOWFINGER (1999)

By the time Frank Oz’s Bowfinger rolled around, Eddie Murphy was pretty much the go-to guy for any dual role part, but the movie wasn’t always intended to play that way. Steve Martin, who both starred in and wrote the movie, had actually penned the part of Kit Ramsey for Reeves (whom he had worked with a decade earlier in Parenthood).

“When Steve gave me the script for Bowfinger, it wasn't written for Eddie Murphy,” producer Brian Grazer explained. “It was written for a white action star. It was written for Keanu Reeves, literally. I said, 'Why does it have to be an action star?' He said, 'That's the joke.' I said: 'What if it were Eddie Murphy, and Eddie Murphy played two characters? That could be really funny.' He said: 'You know, that'd be great—that'd be brilliant. Let's do that.' He processed it in about a minute, and he made a creative sea change.”

7. WATCHMEN (2009)

A year before Zack Snyder’s Watchmen hit theaters, Reeves confirmed to MTV what many had speculated: that he had turned down the chance to play Dr. Manhattan in the highly anticipated adaptation. But it wasn’t because of lack of interest on Reeves’ part; it just “didn't work out.” Still, he made it as far as a set visit: “They were shooting in Vancouver while we were filming so I went over to the set to say, 'hi.' They showed me some stuff and it looks amazing! I can’t wait. It’s going to be so killer, man!”

8. TROPIC THUNDER (2008)

By the time Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder made its way into theaters in the summer of 2008, the meta-comedy had been more than a decade in the making. So it’s understandable that the final product veered from Stiller’s original plan for the film, which included Reeves playing the role of Tugg Speedman (Stiller’s eventual part). Initially, Stiller had planned to cast himself as smarmy agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey picked up the slack).

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