Picture it: you're at the local multiplex, waiting to see a movie. The previews start, and one of them introduces a new musical starring Leonardo DiCaprio based entirely on the songs of *NSYNC. You'd be pretty stoked, right? Us, too. Leo singing and dancing his way through the Timberlake-Chasez songbook? What's not to love?
Don't even try to deny your excitement here.
Okay, so swap in megastar Gene Kelly for Leo, and the songs of George and Ira Gershwin for those *NSYNC jams, and that's pretty much how things went down with An American in Paris. Before An American in Paris was a 1951 movie, it was a 1928 jazz suite by George Gershwin. Gershwin always imagined the suite as a score for ballet, and there were some attempts to choreograph a ballet for the piece (source). MGM bought the rights to Gershwin's hit, locked down an album's worth of other pop hits by the Gershwin brothers, and then built their film around it. Music by George, lyrics by Ira. Sounds like a recipe for musical-movie success to us.
In essence, An American in Paris is a tribute to composing genius George Gershwin, who died at age 38, 14 years before the movie hit theaters. The Gershwins composed a good deal of what's known as the Great American Songbook—all those jazz and pop standards that were recorded over the years by a zillion artists. (We'd list them for you, but it takes up 6 pages on the Songwriter's Hall of Fame website.) George also composed classic and concert works for orchestra, like "Rhapsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris," as well as a passel of Broadway musicals like Porgy and Bess and Lady, Be Good.
The 1951 film weaves together a tapestry of the brothers' hits from the '20s and '30s (many of them from their Broadway musicals) to tell the story George wanted to convey with his "An American in Paris" suite: namely, that of an outsider's impressions of Paris (source). It's incredibly evocative of the many moods of the city.
Director Vincente Minnelli—aided by Ira, producer Arthur Freed, and the film's star and choreographer Kelly—combed through Gershwin's body of work and handpicked the perfect tunes for Kelly to choreograph. They also chose songs that held special meaning beyond their melodies and time signatures. "Our Love is Here to Stay," for example, was Gershwin's final composition (source). In the film, it's the moonlit song that Jerry sings to Lise as they fall in love along the Seine River. Dang, Gershwins. You really knew how to give us all the feels.