Bright Like a Diamond, Lush Like a Jungle
Gigi's CinemaScope color is so bright and varied that its frames are often dead-ringers for a box of crayons. When Gigi was made, color film was so still so new that there were still two Oscars for Best Cinematography, one for color and the other for black and white. (Gigi won the color category, while a B/W called The Defiant Ones won the other.)
Photographer and costume designer Cecil Beaton had worked on so many 1900-ish films that he was worried he'd repeat himself with Gigi. He re-read Colette's novella seven times to see the era through her eyes and arrive at a fresh palette for the lavish costumes the director demanded. Minnelli kept ordering more and more extras, and Beaton had to hustle to round up enough dressmakers to meet the demand, especially since these artisans tended to go on vacay during August and had to finish by then. Ultimately, Beaton's elegant and colorful designs fit in perfectly with the director's vision. (Source)
Like in a Museum
Appropriately, Minnelli's directorial style can best be described as a moving painting, images made according to the lines of building exteriors, sculptures contrasting against the sky, velvet drapes laying beside shiny bronze frames, using lamps and natural light to focus our eyes on the story.
Gigi's cinematographer, Joseph Ruttenberg, who worked on hundreds of classic movies including Mrs. Miniver and Philadelphia Story, often matched this "moving painting" vibe, by sticking to formal, straight-on angles in his wide- and medium-shot framings. (Source)
Of course, things got interesting when the big musical numbers started, when Minnelli used a boom-mounted camera from up high or down low. He used it to follow his singing actors through a sequence of exterior spaces (parks, squares, streets, etc.) (Source)
Minnelli was very happy to use Paris as the backdrop for his story. But it wasn't without its challenges. Those lovely scenes of people passing leisurely by in the park? They took endless takes. There was heat, wind knocking over the fake trees, dust, horse manure, actresses in tight corsets fainting, large public spaces that had to be cleared for the shoot, hundreds of extras, horses, and carriages, and the problem of creating a skating rink in August. (Source.) Minnelli made it all look effortless.
Head over to our "Setting" section to learn more about the locations of the shoot.
Charles Walters, Pinch-Hitter Director
When the crew got back from their shoot across the pond, Lerner was less than pleased with two of the song pieces: "She Is Not Thinking of Me" and "I Remember It Well." Minnelli was already busy on his next project, so MGM and Freed tapped Charles Walters, (who had directed Caron in MGM's 1953 Lili) to direct the re-shoot. If you watch these scenes, they're obviously both shot indoors, with painted backgrounds and the appropriate set dressing as needed (source).
Even though audience loved the film at previews, Lerner and Loewe thought it dragged. They convinced MGM to spend almost half a million dollars for eleven days of reshooting, and finally gave the film their blessing (source).