Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Five Big Yearnings

The Siren doesn’t usually post about the truly random movie thoughts constantly flitting around her brain, but she’s been pondering this all weekend and wanted to hear what her patient readers had to say. It’s prompted by looking at the schedule for Fritz Lang in Hollywood, an incredible series scheduled for the Film Forum in January/February 2011. Now the Siren has Lang on the brain anyway, what with For the Love of Film (Noir) working to preserve a remake of a great Lang movie, and writing about the terrific House by the River at Fandor--available here, and no firewall anymore. The Siren has a hell-or-high-water must-see series list that includes (but is not limited to) The Secret Beyond the Door, You and Me, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (Joan!) and An American Guerrilla in the Philippines, none of which she’s seen yet. But there’s also Moonfleet, which she saw again recently on a very good DVD, but yearns to see on a big screen.

So the Siren got to thinking. Of all the movies she’s already seen on DVD, TCM or VHS, which ones would she most like to see on a big screen in a great print?

Here are five. This list is just for starters, of course, but these are very serious yens. The fact that they’re all black and white is...interesting. And unplanned.

1. The Crowd. The Siren’s twins were about seven months old and still waking up in the middle of the night from time to time. The feed/change/settle routine for a total of two (2) babies usually equaled about 90 minutes of activity, and ended that morning at about 5 am. The Siren was in the habit of putting on TCM during this process. So she gets the last baby to sleep and is about to collapse back in bed, and goes back to the living room to turn off the TV. And noticed The Crowd was about to start. And thought, “Let’s take five minutes to see how this looks.” A little over 100 minutes later, it was time to get ready for work. And when the Siren, so sleepy she was swaying slightly on her feet, ran into an equally movie-mad colleague (we used to share custody of a VHS of Letter from an Unknown Woman), she chattered at him about The Crowd to the point where he put up both hands and said, “I have never seen you like this about a movie.”

Perhaps it isn’t the sort of quote people pick for an ad in Variety, but “So good mothers of infant twins choose it instead of sleep” is one hell of a recommendation.

The Crowd isn’t on DVD. Now the Siren is very, very cognizant of the special issues involved in preparing a good DVD release of a movie as old as The Crowd. She knows she whines a lot. But this isn’t merely the best silent movie the Siren has ever seen. Without hesitation she will name it as one of the greatest movies ever made in this country or anywhere else. So hearing that there is no Crowd on DVD is like planning a trip to MOMA, only to have them tell you that Starry Night has been stashed in the broom closet. Well, let’s hope Warner Brothers is on the case.

If, however, the Siren could see this one on screen, hand on heart, she promises to shut up already about the DVD.

2. The Long Voyage Home. You know who else wants to see this on a big screen? John Nolte of Big Hollywood. The Siren can’t remember his exact words, but the phrase “crawl over broken glass” may have occurred in there somewhere. Mr. Nolte’s love for John Ford, and appreciation for this lesser-known film, is one of those heartwarming instances of cross-aisle harmony that sustain us all in these partisan times. This is another that the Siren watched by chance on TCM, and the brilliance of Thomas Mitchell, the incredible tenderness and sympathy afforded these men doing a spirit-sucking and lonely job, and above all the deep-focus cinematography of Gregg Toland put her in traction. If John should be in town when this one comes on screen, in a gesture of Ford-loving solidarity the Siren will not only crawl with him to see it, she’ll buy his popcorn, as long as neither one of us brings up Obama. Or Jafar Panahi.

(The screen grab above is from a series posted at Six Martinis and the Seventh Art, always and forever one of the Siren's favorite stops on the Web.)

3. Love Affair. Because Christmas is coming, and the Siren yearns to see Charles Boyer give Irene Dunne her present.

4. The Fallen Idol. The Siren regards The Third Man with the same awestruck reverence as everyone else--more, even. There are, she suspects, not that many fans of the movie who went so far as to name their only daughter Alida. And yet, given a choice between Harry Lime and Baines larger than life, at the moment she’d pick Baines. “We ought to be very careful, Phil. 'Cause we make one another.” “I thought God made us." “Trouble is, we take a hand in the game.” This screened last year at Film Forum--while the Siren was in Paris.

(Gorgeous screen grab is from Coffee, Coffee, And More Coffee, where Peter Nelhaus is in the habit of posting coffee-drinking images from all kinds of movies. Patient readers should stop by and thank Peter for this dose of Michele Morgan.)

5. David Copperfield. David Ehrenstein, where are you? Are you still banging the drum for early George Cukor? Because the Siren is right there with you, and she’s never seen an adaptation of Charles Dickens (her favorite novelist) to surpass this one. Nor will there ever be a Micawber to equal W.C. Fields. And Karen shares the Siren’s love for Freddie Bartholomew.

In conclusion, speaking of movies that deserve restoration, big-screen unspooling, DVD cases with luxurious little booklets and just one whole hell of a lot more respect than they have received in the past, let’s talk about Julien Duvivier’s La Fin du Jour. The Siren mentioned that Dennis Cozzalio posted about it, but she didn’t do his splendid essay justice. It’s an elegant, deeply sympathetic and altogether marvelous piece of film criticism that will make you want to bite your arm off at the elbow in frustration if you haven’t seen this tantalizingly hard-to-find masterpiece. Really, please, go read it.


Greg said...

I was lucky enough to see The Crowd in October of 2008 at the AFI with live organ accompaniment and it was magnificent! I hope you get the chance yourself one day.

Arthur S. said...

YOU AND ME is a terrific Lang film. It has music by Kurt Weill and is patterned after Brecht's teaching-plays, here its about Sylvia Sidney trying to make her gangster boyfriend George Raft appreciate the value of money and it features a gang of crooks patterned after seven dwarfs, one of Lang's oddest and least monomaniacal films and a look at 30s America like nothing else. Hopefully the Forum program would get this film back in circulation because its incredibly rare. My favourites among American Lang are YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, THE BIG HEAT, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, THE BLUE GARDENIA and HANGMEN ALSO DIE.

King Vidor, needless to say, is the most underrated of all the great pioneers of American cinema. Italian neorealism sprung out of THE CROWD(the scene at the bridge between the father and son inspired the whole of BICYCLE THIEVES as DeSica himself admitted) and HALLELUJAH. And THE BIG PARADE(a silent movie I would crawl over broken stuff to see on the big screen) was the single greatest influence on Andrew Wyeth. In Japan, Ozu named Vidor and Lubitsch as his favourite film-makers.

As for my dream of big screen...

All of Carl Th. Dreyer,
All of Jacques Tati,
Lubitsch's MERRY WIDOW.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Thanks for the mention! For whatever it's worth, I did see The Long Voyage Home in 16mm, again courtesy of Wm. K. Everson.

I did see Moonfleet at MoMA as part of their MGM retrospective a few decades ago. My favorite American Lang is Man Hunt, starring a couple of actors you might have mentioned previously.

The Siren said...

Chimes at Midnight, OMG yes yes. I have seen Contempt in a cinema (Film Forum, actually) and it was...exactly as good as you're probably expecting it to be. We are muy simpatico on the Vidor issue, and Big Parade is another I would love to see projected. Wonder if anyone's planning a Vidor retrospective? Talk about ripe for rediscovery. A couple of years ago I also saw Our Daily Bread, and reading about it had made me expect pure agitprop. Ha. Ha, I say. Film's marvelous.

Greg, I think you posted about The Crowd when you saw it? Or at least mentioned it. If I did not respond it was because I was off somewhere working off a jealous snit.

The Siren said...

Peter, I also love Man Hunt. I have yet to encounter the Lang I didn't get something out of; it's usually a matter of like vs. worship. Moonfleet I'd seen as a child and watched again on DVD via the kindness of Glenn Kenny. Oh it's a thing of beauty. Another very sexy Lang.

Arthur S. said...

Among the great Vidor films, AN AMERICAN ROMANCE is also ripe for rediscovery, along with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS its one of the greatest travesties in American films of the 40s, it was taken away from Vidor and recut against his wishes and that led to him leaving MGM(a company built on the box-office success of his THE BIG PARADE) for good.

Then the 30s also has major films that I have never seen such as THE STRANGER RETURNS or THE CITADEL. A Vidor retrospective is long overdue. And also his avant-garde films in his later career, TRUTH AND ILLUSION and METAPHOR(a documentary where he and Wyeth talk about THE BIG PARADE).

DavidEhrenstein said...


Mr. Cukor said Of Fields: "He really was born to play it, even though he'd never played a real character role before -- that rare combination of the personality and the part. . .He was charming to work with, his suggestions and ad libs were alwaus in character. There was a scene in which he had to sit at a desk writing, and he asked me if he could have a cup of tea on the desk. When he got agitated he dipped his pen into the teacup instead of the inkwell. Another time he was sitting on a high stool and asked for a wastepaper basket so he could get his feet stuck in it. Physically he wasn't quite right, wasn't bald as Dickens describes Micaber -- but his spirit was perfect."

Now HERE is the essence of Cukor -- getting to that spirit. Rather than wanting to control every detail he trusted his actors enough to "give them their head." And it was obvious to him not only how perfect Fields was for the world of Dickens but that he would respond to it in a contributive manner. The relationship between Micawber and young Copperfield is the beating heart of the film. And Cukor knew enough to sit back and simply let Fields and Freddie Batholomew (another actor right out of Dickens) be.

DavidEhrenstein said...

As for The Crowd, it's a truly overwhelming emotional experience, and a startlingly incisive piece of social commentary that's as timely as ever.

Patricia Perry said...

It would be wonderful to see "The Crowd" on a big screen - or just to see it, period. I've seen excerpts in a documentary on King Vidor, but have yet to see the entire film. A shame it is not available on DVD - I have a tendency to tune into TCM just when these kinds of films are going in their last half-hour. In fact, that happened to me recently, when I managed to catch just the last 30 minutes of the restored "Metropolis" on TCM. That's the film I'd most like to see on a big screen - well, that and "Lawrence of Arabia" which, I blush to admit, I have never had the opportunity to experience in a theatre.

Kenji Fujishima said...

Honestly, this year, it's come to the point that I don't even have specific big-screen yearnings anymore; I just yearn to bask in big-screen experiences all the time!

Most of this undoubtedly has to do with how little time I've had for Netflix during the past few months. But earlier this year, I finally saw of my favorite films of all time—Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders—on a big screen, and the experience was revelatory, with the larger screen resolution not only adding to the iconic power of Godard's many close-ups of his working-class trio, but also bringing an extra agonized intensity to the heist-gone-wrong developments of its last 20 minutes. I'd seen the film many times on DVD, but it felt like an even greater film projected theatrically.

Since then, I haven't looked back; I even decided to invest in a Film Forum membership because I found myself constantly going to the theater to especially check out their revivals. The discoveries and revelations have been plentiful: a sharpened love for Murnau's Sunrise (which brought me close to tears this time around), gleeful first exposures to some of Anthony Mann's Westerns (The Naked Spur being a personal favorite of the ones I caught), the effervescence of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and so on.

All of this is perhaps my way of saying that, while I do have certain films in mind that I'd love to see on a big screen—Antonioni's L'Avventura; Wong Kar-Wai's Fallen Angels; and sure, I'll second the Siren's desire to see The Crowd theatrically, 'cause I love that movie as well—these days, I find myself pretty much seeing anything that interests me in a theater...even if it's currently available on DVD.

Laura said...

Just an FYI, AN AMERICAN GUERRILLA IN THE PHILIPPINES is airing on Fox Movie Channel on December 7th. I've never seen it and have it programmed in my DVR. :)

Best wishes,

DavidEhrenstein said...

It's very important to see L'Avventura on a big screen in that while it devolves into a very intimate romance-gone-wrong story it's stage on the largest scale imaginable. It's very important to see the island where Lea Massari disappears in all its savage splendor. Likewise the abandoned town that Monica Vitti and Gabrielle Ferzetti explore in their search.

Just got my DVD of I Am Love and after all these year Ferzetti still has it

Kenji Fujishima said...

David: Yeah, I could tell, watching L'Avventura on my 42" LCD TV at home, that I would one day have to see this on a big screen. Antonioni's numerous deep-focus wide shots of landscapes were impressive enough on my television set, but I could only imagine how awesome and maybe even profound they would be projected large. I look forward to seeing it theatrically one day.

Oh, and also: Playtime. I am still kicking myself for skipping, for some reason unknown even to me (I had no other plans for the evening, but for some reason I elected to go back home), a one-day-only 70mm screening of the film at Walter Reade two years ago. If that ever comes back around in the future, I will do whatever I have to to not skip it this time around!

Karen said...

I'm happy to say I've seen all five of these, but only ever on the small screen (of course, those small screens keep getting bigger and bigger...but it's not the same).

Speaking of Lang, I saw Spies for the first time a couple of weeks back and it just blew my mind. It led me to state on Facebook that, as much as I love Lang's US output, there is just nothing to match his German films and, while I got a fair amount of blowback for that view, I hold to the statement.

I love me some King Vidor, too, and The Crowd is, without question or need for debate, an American masterpiece. (Both Lang and Vidor show up in my column on the graphic novel Pushwagners Soft City).

And dear sweet Freddie. I maintain that it is absolutely worth putting up with Spencer Tracy's abysmal Portuguese accent to watch young Freddie in Captains Courageous.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Playtime barely exists on home video save as a reference point. It MUST be seen on a big screen in a big theater properly equipped with sterephonic sound. The film was shot silent over a period of about two years and then Tati spent a full year creating the sound from scratch. There are sounds eminating from different places in the shot at different levels. Consequently this can only be properly experienced under the conditions I've mentioned above.

Trish said...

I'm going for the big show. I'll have to make separate lists for British and foreign films. These are strictly American.

Gold Diggers of 1935
Million Dollar Mermaid
He Walked By Night
The Killing
North By Northwest

The Siren said...

Pat, I have the same tendency, and it's a bear. I don't know how I lucked out enough to actually see The Crowd from the beginning.

David, what a fabulous quote and observation. I also think that because he was such an unsurpassed director of actors, other aspects of Cukor, like his supremely elegant, unobtrusive way of framing and his control of pace and rhythm, don't always get the credit they deserve. David Copperfield runs two hours 10 minutes, which puts it almost an hour over a lot of 1935 features, and it never drags. It was originally 2 1/2 hours and he and Selznick cut and recut to get it right. Someone after a preview told Cukor the second half wasn't as good, and he responded in his polite way that in all fairness, the second half of the book wasn't as good. Selznick went to Joe Schenck and asked him how long the movie should be, and Schenck's reply was on the lines of "as long as it needs to be." Clearly all this was building to that other movie that Cukor got fired from! But DC deserves love as well.

The Siren said...

Kenji, I was there for the last few years of the heyday of the NYC revival house and I used to do the same. Now I have to snatch my time when I can. See everything you can on the screen in your 20s, it will only get harder to do.

Laura, further to what I told Kenji, I'm tempted to DVR American Guerrilla since who knows what catastrophes may await in January, the heart of flu season. Right now I am not going to Grapes of Wrath at Film Forum, a film that could easily have made this list, due to my son's sudden ear infection. I try to stay Zen; the movies I need are the movies that will wend their way to me. I guess that's Zen. I'll call it Zen anyway.

The Siren said...

Karen, I agree on Captains Courageous, and the funny thing is, for years most critics thought our Freddie was worth enduring for the sake of Tracy. The injustice!

Trish, I have seen The Killing and North by Northwest on the big screen. North by Northwest in particular gained a great deal; that endlessly shown and reshown crop duster regains all its menace in a theater, no matter how many times you've seen it.

Laura said...

I like your Zen attitude, Siren. :) Along the lines of children, ear infections, and the like, I've found that the old saying for everything there's a season is true...when my children were younger I saw relatively few movies (and fewer still in a movie theater). Now they are all older and more self-sufficient (even if ill, grin), all of a sudden I'm zipping up to L.A. for an old movie every few weeks, just as I did when I was younger. :) If only there were still as many revival theaters as there once were, though! (DVDs and cable both give and take away...all considered, though, it's worth the tradeoff!) I remember seeing GRAPES OF WRATH at the Vagabond in L.A. circa 1980...hope it comes your way on a big screen again when the timing is right! And hope your son is much better soon. :)

Best wishes,

Vanwall said...

In the early to late 70s, I was lucky enough to see a number of noirs, some Langs amongst them, including "The Big Heat", and a few silents, mostly on the "big screen" - 'shotgun' movie theaters with screens about as wide as king-sized sheet, it seemed like, but still, it was up there and large. Ish. Some silents with live organ accompaniment, a revelation when compared to to the boob tube versions in sound and visuals. Saw some exquisite Soviet films, and the sweep and movement required a big screen, period. I'd like to see on the big screen "Il Grido", "White Heat", "Somewhere in the Night", "Nightmare Alley", Hathaway's little known "From Hell to Texas", and at least one more time, my huge favorite "Letyat Zhuravli". Must keep looking.

Greg said...

Greg, I think you posted about The Crowd when you saw it? Or at least mentioned it. If I did not respond it was because I was off somewhere working off a jealous snit.

Yes, I did a full write-up on it and finished with the line, "If you haven't seen The Crowd on the big screen, you haven't seen it."

Probably a little too heavy-handed but, damn, it was an experience.

I'd love to see both L'Avventura and Playtime on the big screen! I saw Mon Oncle last year at the AFI and while it isn't quite as visually extravagant as Playtime it comes close. Since Tati uses no close-ups, the big screen is the perfect fit for Mon Oncle. As with The Crowd, it was a film I thought was excellent before seeing it on the big screen, but after, it became a cherished favorite. The AFI Theatre here in Silver Spring has made me a big screen activist for the classics. Even if I've seen something 10 times, like Scarlet Street, I'll see it again if it's playing at the AFI (which I did, last month and, again, it was phenomenal).

Lou Lumenick said...

I was blessed to see THE CROWD in Herman Weinberg's film appreciation class at CCNY circa 1970, along with THE BIG PARADE, HALLELUJAH, MONTE CARLO, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, THE HURRICANE, THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN, SHANGHAI EXPRESS and THE THIRD MAN. Somewhere around that time, I unsuccessfully tried to stay awake to catch Henry King's THE COUNTRY DOCTOR on the Late Late Show -- 40 years later, I'm still waiting for this one to pop up again.

gmoke said...

I think it may have been my ninth birthday or my sister's twelfth for which my parents took a group of kids into NYC to see "Mon Oncle." Loved that barren little modern house that looked like a face with its gravel gardens and the plastic factory noises that beg for a mash-up with "The Man in the White Suit" lab flask bloobs and bleeps.

My parents were great and took us to concerts, plays, movies, museums all the time. I was a culture vulture before I was ten and am still insufferable.

Karen said...

gmoke, we must be related! I was in Jackson MI until the age of 10 but my parents took us to Chicago and Detroit for museums and theatre. Then we moved to Fort Lee NJ and had family subscriptions to the opera, the NYCB, and the Philharmonic, as well as regular trips to every museum and decent restaurant in the city.

The greatest thing they ever did for us, really.

X. Trapnel said...

Some time around our rather shrunken and tepid fin de siecle I saw the real thing at Lincoln Ctr: a double bill of Letter From an Unknown Woman and Madame de...
More recently, I first saw l' Atalante flu ridden on a freezing night, in an unheated theater. No subtitles. It was like the first spring morning of the world.

Mary said...

David O. Selznick played a big part in making DAVID COPPERFIELD such a big success. It was his favorite book, he picked the actors, he took Cukor and Walpole on a tour of England beforehand, he had ultimate say so on the movie. His A TALE OF TWO CITIES is also a wonderful adaptation of Dickens, who else but Ronald Colman could play Carton?

Kevin Deany said...

I think the first celebrity I ever met was King Vidor. I was about 12 years old at the time and already a budding film buff.

Vidor was the guest of honor at a festival called, I believe, the Midwest Film Conference, which was being held in Evanston, IL. My dad knew the organizer of the event and the two of us spent the weekend at the Conference. I have vague memories of having the TV on in that hotel room and hearing that Larry Fine had died, which would have placed the weekend in January, 1975.

That Friday night, Vidor reminisced about his career, along with lots of film clips, to a large appreciative audience. Afterwards, my dad’s friend invited us to a private reception for Vidor at the penthouse suite of the hotel. We introduced ourselves and had a very pleasant conversation with him. He signed a promotional booklet I had on the “Men Who Made the Movies” TV series for which he was interviewed (he liked the program very much) and seemed amused at the interest from an inquisitive 12-year-old.

I remember asking him what Gary Cooper was like and he said, “Oh, he was always on the move. He always had a fast car nearby and once he was done with the day’s filming, he would jump in his car and speed away.”

Earlier in the evening, Vidor had talked about one of his favorite films, “An American Romance.”
He rued that M-G-M had cut many of the best scenes. My dad remembered a lot of the film and recounted some of the shots which made a huge impression on him, shots he still remembered. Vidor had a huge smile on his face when my dad told him this and said, “Ah, you must have seen it in the military.” My dad said yes, he was in the U.S. Navy and the film was shown on their ship quite frequently. Vidor said the military received prints of the entire film as he envisioned, but stateside saw an abbreviated version with the M-G-M-mandated cuts. He seemed humbled and flattered that the film left such a lasting impression on my dad.

X. Trapnel said...

Although he's far from a favorite of mine, I've always been interested in Cukor's affinity (shared with his doppelganger Selznick)for the many permutations and combinations of the Victorian, the Edwardian, and the Gothic. My problem with Cukor has always been his excursions into the modern world where I find him too reliant on the cozy conventions of the well-made play, itself an Edwardian survival in the hands of Philip Barry.

Arthur S. said...

To Kevin Deany,
That's really interesting. Because there has been talks about whether Vidor's cut is available or not. Maybe some of the prints shipped to the armed forces still survive(hopefully).

Vidor initially wanted Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman for the film and MGM promised him as such but finally told him they didn't do it. He ended up with Brian Donlevy instead of Tracy and didn't get Bergman either. He later said that he expected MGM to cut out the documentary portions(one of the most avant-garde sections in any American film) but they instead sidelined the dramatic bits.

Still, as in the case of AMBERSONS, the film is still beautiful especially the use of colour which is stunning and unforgettable.

DAVID COPPERFIELD was apparently the novel which Selznick's immigrant grandfather used to learn English, so it had a special significance for him. But since I'll never forgive Selznick for firing Cukor off GWTW, we'll chalk it up with another of the Selznick canon that's terrific in spite of him.

Cukor's excursions into the modern world in such films as SYLVIA SCARLETT, A STAR IS BORN, IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU and A DOUBLE LIFE(an influence on RAGING BULL) speak for themselves but its not Edwardian society he feels passionate about but early twentieth century America as THE ACTRESS makes clear.

Joel Bocko said...

Bold words on Copperfield. I just saw it for the first time last week (about a year after reading the book, also for the first time) and it took a while to draw me in - I loved the second half, but the first half seemed stiff and forced to me: like the actors were nervously reciting their lines (except for Bartholomew, who was fantastic throughout) and Cukor hadn't warmed up to the material yet (though I've no reason to suspect it was shot in sequence). As might be expected, he knocks the Dora episodes out of the park.

But I'd put both Leans over the Cukor.

The one quality which holds Great Expectations back from being superlative in all regards is that Estella is woefully miscast. Just think what Joan Greenwood could have done with that part; Hobson's just wrong. In any other case, this would be a fatal blow (after all, Estella's the keystone to the book) but Leans' GE is so otherwise superlative that I think it's still a great movie.

X. Trapnel said...

Arthur S.,

I was including Sylvia S. (novel by Compton Mackenzie after all) as a piece of late Edwardiana and Double Life (easily transposable to [G]aslit London) as Gothic. Glossy productions like The Ph. Story, Adam's Rib, and dank items like Keeper of the Flame, Edward My Son may speak for themselves and other people just not to me, that's all. As for A Star is Born...

Chris Edwards said...

The Crowd is a high point for silent cinema... and not a film that could be defended for 'feeling modern.' It feels like a silent film of its time, or even a bit earlier, but with endless depth and emotional complexity.

Criterion recently asked its Twitter followers for their all-time favorite tracking shots. I picked one from The Crowd, and not the more famous, early shot in the office building, but the final one, when the man is laughing in the theatre with his wife. He's content, and we're supposed to be happy for him, but then Vidor sweeps out, and up, and we realize the man's nightmare has come true. It's such a terrifying conclusion.

Unknown said...

Two films by Vidor that must be seen on a big screen: DUEL IN THE SUN and WAR AND PEACE.

Kent Jones said...

Arthur S., the studio cuts in AN AMERICAN ROMANCE were made in the crudest way imaginable: the film had already gone through post-production and they made the cuts to preserve the music cues. I would hesitate to place it in the company of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, but it's a very special movie.

THE STRANGER'S RETURN is a beautiful film. I'm guessing that you're familiar with Ray Durgnat and Scott Simmon's invaluable book on Vidor, so you must know how much they both love that movie. Justifiably - it's a kind of studio twin to OUR DAILY BREAD. THE CITADEL is very good, with startling contrasts between the MGM-lit interiors and the mining scenes. And those final 16mm films are remarkable. METAPHOR is singular - one great artist finding that one of his works had had a lasting effect on another great artist, and going to discuss it. By the way, Brakhage was a fan of TRUTH AND ILLUSION.

And, have you ever seen HM PULHAM, ESQ?

Lou, THE COUNTRY DOCTOR turned up on FMC a couple of years ago. I was really taken with it. Beautiful location work. Then there's the end - 15 minutes of cute antics from the Dionne quintuplets grabbed by a cameraman accompanied by Jean Hersholt's voice saying things like, "Oh no, Cécile - better put that spoon down...why Yvonne, aren't you a little flirt," and so on. But it's a nice film.

Unknown said...

The Crowd would be wonderful to see on a big screen. There's nothing like seeing a silent movie with a good score in a theatre. I still count as my most amazing movie theatre experience the night in March 1987 where I saw "The Crowd" in Radio City Music Hall, with a symphony orchestra conducted by Carl Davis. It did not hurt that the film was introduced by Lilian Gish herself. The only disappointment was that the theatre was 2/3rds empty...aside from the Napoleon show there (another great experience) they never repeated the experience.

Arthur S. said...

Yes I am familiar with Durgnat's championing of THE STRANGER RETURNS, (although my Vidor scribe of choice is Tag Gallagher) but again haven't seen it. Haven't seem H. M. Pulham Esq. though I believe its based on a very good novel. I still haven't seen such important Vidor films as RUBY GENTRY, BEYOND THE FOREST, MAN WITHOUT A STAR. Hence why a Vidor retrospective is long overdue. And also SHOW PEOPLE and THE PATSY with Marion Davies.

The Vidor film which made me realize how powerful he really is is THE FOUNTAINHEAD which is a really striking film despite the story. And then THE CROWD, which is poetry and HALLELUJAH, STREET SCENE. DUEL IN THE SUN took me longer to appreciate partly because of the Selznick influence but its great. The colour Vidors I love most is WAR AND PEACE, AN AMERICAN ROMANCE and NORTHWEST PASSAGE.

J said...

Movie Man,

While sharing every bit of your enthusiasm for Great Expectations, I want to say that the young Jean Simmons is pretty damn wonderful. I could see wasting my life pining for her ever since I saw the film as a child. Joan Greenwood is a wonderful actress, but in 1946 I think she would have been twenty-five!

I had the unusual experience of seeing Chimes at Midnight on a semi-big screen. It was shown to my high school English class in 1974 or thereabouts. That was years before my accelerating cinephilia had set in. If I knew who Orson Welles was, it was primarily because he was forever on TV flogging Paul Masson wines. All the same, the film totally captivated me, and scenes from it have stuck with me ever since though I've never seen it again. So I'd love to see it on the big screen again.

Trish said...

I agree that Valerie Hobson wasn't right for her role in Great Expectations, especially after the precedent set by the young Jean Simmons. However, I'm not sure Joan Greenwood would have been a better choice. Although an incredibly appealing actress on screen, she generally comes across as brittle on screen. There must be room for warmth Estella, and I don't think Greenwood has that.

Joel Bocko said...

I probably should have clarified - Simmons is excellent, it is indeed Hobson who I found disappointing. As for Greenwood, an interesting observation but I confess I find her electric in Kind Hearts and Coronets (among other roles) so I think she would not be too alienating as Estella (also, I always thought Estella was kind of cold, and that any spark of warmth is more a projection of Pip's romanticism than a reflection of her character). On the risk of going out on a limb, I thought Gwyneth Parltrow was pretty well-cast in the Alfonso Cuaron update, which I generally liked...at least until it destroyed the whole third act of the book by squeezing it all into about ten minutes of screentime!

Trish said...

Agreed. It was late when I posted that message. What I should have said was that there should be room for vulnerability in Estella. Come to think of it though, I'm not sure John Mills was the best choice for Pip, but that may be because I I knew the novel so well, having written papers on it.

Joel Bocko said...

I think Mills pulls it off but was miscast (seriously, Pip ages about 25 years in the space of 3). The rest of the cast's so damn good though it's hard to complain. Trivia: Francis L. Sullivan played Jagger in two versions of GE - though if I remember correctly he was fatter in the first (which is saying something)...

Marc J. Hampton said...

I saved my laserdisc player for one reason: THE CROWD. Still have MGM/UA double feature disc (THE WIND is the other movie in the set).

When I bought a 60" flatscreen TV I pulled out the laserdisc player from storage and let this movie just wash over me...I was thrilled to finally see it on a "big" screen. I sat on the floor, about three feet from the TV to get maximum impact.

The movie always makes me cry...possibly because I know the fate of the star James Murray (look it up).

My husband works for TCM. Maybe we can start petitioning for a screening at next year's film festival?!

Casey said...

I'm glad to see people mention Chimes at Midnight. I've seen it on the the big screen, but I don't know when I'll have the chance again. Another film I'd love to see in a theatre again is Welles' The Immortal Story. It's a beautiful film, but I get the feeling that it's faded into obscurity these days. I've heard the existing prints are in bad shape. Who knows when they'll get around to restoring that one.

justjoan123 said...

Coming in late to note that I saw Man Hunt last week in less than optimal circs -- on a Netflix disc on its last legs -- but I was thrilled to see that it was as good as I remembered it. Lang, Pidgeon, Sanders and the wonderful Miss Bennett. Years before I had recommended it to a friend who had also taken my advice and read the excellent George Household book on which it was based. "But," I cautioned him, "you should be aware that in the film, the role of the cat has been replaced by Miss Joan Bennett."