Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gone to Earth: A Conversation With Tony Dayoub


From Nomad Widescreen, an excerpt of my conversation with the very fine writer and critic Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder, about the sublime Powell/Pressburger movie Gone to Earth, with Jennifer Jones. (This demonstrates also that the Siren was still indulging her classics habit in the midst of the New York Film Festival.) You can read more of the Siren and Tony and Gone to Earth at his place, in a post that covers some additional excerpts. More about Nomad at the end of the post.


Farran Smith Nehme (FSN): In September, after a long day of screenings at the New York Film Festival, Tony Dayoub and I decided to trek downtown to catch a one-shot showing of a 1950 film neither one of us had ever seen. It was Gone to Earth, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s ill-fated adaptation of a Mary Webb novel. Film critic and programmer Miriam Bale was screening a rare 35-millimeter print at the 92nd Street Y Tribeca, and Tony and I were flabbergasted to discover a film we both consider a masterpiece.

The likely reason for Gone to Earth’s rarity, compared with the many well-known and frequently revived Powell-Pressburger classics, is that it has a troubled history. Powell preferred developing his own stories over adapting those of others, and he also found the romantic 1917 Webb novel faintly ridiculous, remarking that it was a town-dweller’s overheated view of country folk. But producer Alexander Korda believed the book was a sounder commercial bet than an original screenplay, and Powell’s objections were brushed aside. The movie stars Jennifer Jones as Hazel Woodus, a half-wild, half-gypsy girl who roams the Shropshire countryside with her pet fox, and is loved chastely by a Baptist minister (Cyril Cusack), and carnally by a ruthless squire (David Farrar). She marries the reverend, and he refrains from consummating the union, in the belief that Hazel’s innocence shouldn’t be profaned. But the squire has no such scruples, and he continues to pursue Hazel, even as it remains clear throughout that she belongs not to men but to the earth of the title.

Jones had married the producer, David O. Selznick, just before shooting started. Powell wrote about the making of Gone to Earth in volume two of his autobiography, Million Dollar Movie; he was assaulted with a barrage of the trademark Selznick memos, which the director cheerfully ignored and left to “accumulate in some pigeonhole.” (Pressburger read the memos, “then went back to reading Time and Life.”) Selznick had been reasonably cooperative during filming, just showing up from time to time to check on Jones and take her on weekend jaunts. But when Powell and Pressburger screened the film for him, Selznick popped a Benzedrine and said, “I’m not satisfied with your cut, boys. I’m going to take this picture over.” Powell explained that the Archers, his production company, owned the rights. Selznick listened politely and the parties wound up in court, where Selznick lost that round.

But Gone to Earth didn’t do well upon release, and Selznick had obtained the North American rights. He reshot a third of the footage with Rouben Mamoulian at the helm, slashed away another half-hour, and re-released it in 1952 with the groanworthy title of The Wild Heart. That version, hopelessly marred by all accounts except possibly Selznick’s, flopped, too. There is a Region 2 UK DVD available of the original Gone to Earth, but it has never been available on Region 1 in the US. You may consider this discussion as a plea from Tony and me for someone to give Gone to Earth the full US restoration and DVD release that it deserves.

One thing that goes to show how much of Selznick’s savvy had disappeared by 1952 is that Gone to Earth contains one of Jones’ best performances, possibly her very best. She was coached in the regional accent; it’s probably impossible for an American to judge how accurate the results are, although Powell thought she sounded fine. You can hear inconsistencies and note the fact that Jones’ accent isn’t much like that of Esmond Knight as her father. But Hazel isn’t an ordinary girl; when she first appears she’s dressed half in rags, searching for her fox, and the camera finds her among the hills as though she just emerged from a tree like a figure of mythology. Her strange voice is completely in keeping with her strange nature, and her half-pagan belief in demons, spells and ghostly voices.




Tony Dayoub (TD): It’s ironic that Selznick commits the same crime as the film’s male protagonists. Like them, Selznick, who saw enough spirit in Jones to make her his wife and muse, tries to stifle her rough luminescence, reworking Gone to Earth into his subpar version. Much of the charm of Jones’s performance in the Powell version is reportedly (because I’ve never seen it) lost in Selznick’s The Wild Heart. Why Selznick was unhappy with her portrayal of Hazel is a mystery. Her performance is far superior in Gone to Earth than are her grating histrionics as the similarly wild Pearl in Selznick’s much better known Duel in the Sun (1946). I chalk up his Svengali-like interference to the fact that Selznick’s affair with Jones was in full swing by 1945, with the two marrying a year prior to the UK release of Gone to Earth.


In any case, Hazel’s central dilemma, the subjugation of her wild, feminine spirit by two men — the roguish squire Reddin and Marston, the well intentioned minister — is very reminiscent of ballerina Vicky Page’s inner conflict in Powell and Pressburger’s more famous The Red Shoes. In that film, the talented Page is forced into a triangle where she must choose between sacrificing her career for her composer husband or leaving him behind to continue her rise to stardom under the direction of the dictatorial director of her dance company. Powell and Pressburger also explore similar themes in Black Narcissus, where a group of nuns living in a convent in the Himalayas start succumbing to the lusty temptations offered by their natural surroundings. As it was with the female protagonists of both of these previous films, Hazel’s state of mind is often reflected in the increasingly expressionistic lighting by Christopher Challis (whose camera operator in this film, Freddie Francis, would become a renowned cinematographer in his own right). As Hazel falls prey to the seductive advances of Reddin, who whisks her away to his cluttered, castle-like retreat, the night sky turns a lurid shade of orange, aflame with erotic intentions. This until the milquetoast Reverend Marston summons enough gall to come rescue her from the arrogant Reddin. (At which point Reddin’s servant — played by the reliably comic supporting player Hugh Griffith — enters his master’s drawing room to needle him, “Will there be three for dinner or one?”)




Two more brief excerpts, because Tony and the Siren really did flip for this film, big time:


TD: Powell and Pressburger’s films almost feel like musical compositions with certain audio cues indicating the start of a new movement. This one launches the dreamlike chapter I discussed earlier. But there are other such cues that indicate a supernatural undercurrent. Two immediately come to mind that bookend the film. We discussed the first one soon after watching Gone to Earth – a “phantom” hunting call I think you called it – in which we hear a group of unseen hunters utter the film’s title, an expression which alerts others that their quarry (in this case, Hazel’s Foxy) has hidden itself in a foxhole.

A dreadful symmetry occurs when we hear the call again in the film’s finale, this time referring to a fatal accident that befalls one of the characters. Though there are hunters present, this is definitely not a call coming from them. If not from them, then who is it from?...I’d like to think it’s the pagan spirits that Hazel and her mother believed in. Though I don’t think it’s as clear onscreen, Webb’s novel depicts a bewildered Hazel fleeing from Squire Reddin and his hunting partners, believing they are mystical huntsmen of Welsh lore. Though Hazel’s pet, Foxy, manages to evade Reddin in Gone to Earth’s opening scenes, it would appear that Hazel and Foxy’s fate are inextricably linked by a primal atavism. Observe earlier in the film how Reddin chases Hazel through a county fair while on horseback, the way he would one of the animals he hunts. Even the minister’s intentions in marrying her are apparently more a matter of taming her free-spiritedness than having any romantic or sexual motivation. The final utterance of “Gone to Earth,” can then be attributed to those same pagan huntsmen, finally laying claim to Hazel after she quite literally has “gone to earth.”



FSN: When Selznick was battling the Archers in court, Powell asked Pressburger where they’d gone wrong with the man — what did he want? “Sex,” Pressburger told him. “You’re not serious,” responded Powell. “Why, the film reeks of sex.” And so it does, just not Selznick’s kind of sex, as Pressburger pointed out.

The movie also evokes the border of Wales, the land of Powell’s ancestors, with wonderful beauty and clarity. Powell was pleased with Gone to Earth and thought Jones was “splendid.” He formed a close friendship with the troubled actress and later told her, “you were the most beautiful woman I ever worked with”—one hell of a tribute from a man who immortalized many stunning women. Thelma Schoonmaker, the film editor who has worked with Martin Scorsese ever since her Oscar-winning efforts on Raging Bull in 1980, was married to Powell from 1984 until his death. She screened Gone to Earth in Seattle in 2007. Schoonmaker told a reporter that her husband “loved the eventual movie, but he was afraid you could hear the crackle of the page whenever they did a movie based on a novel.” I’m convinced that if this movie were more widely known, most viewers would respectfully disagree.



The Siren notes here that Nomad Widescreen, where she could be read alongside Tony, Glenn Kenny, Simon Abrams, Kurt Loder, Karl Rozemeyer and Vadim Rizov, is no more. The editors and writers at Nomad were uniformly excellent, and the Siren was always proud to be associated with them.

(Updated 11/17/11, with correction and the fourth photograph above, courtesy of the ever-courteous Yojimboen. Also a link to Tony's excerpts at Cinema Viewfinder.)

60 comments:

Karen said...

I have GOT TO SEE this film. You are KILLING me.

More than in almost any other director's oeuvre, color is literally an additional character in P&P films. No one else seemed to come close.

Phillip Oliver said...

Thank you for this article. How I wish Criterion would release their dvd here in the U.S.! I bought a copy on E-bay with Korean sub-titles (which can be turned off) and the quality is not bad at all. It is certainly one of Jone's best performances. I love the scene where she goes up on the mountain in the middle of the night to ask for a "sign".

The Siren said...

Karen & Phillip, I never tried to check with my few inside sources about the problem with getting GtE on DVD here, but based on the fact that it's available in the Uk but not here, and there was that re-cut tangle with Selznick, I'm sure it's a rights issue. At least we know there must be good elements out there because the DVDs reportedly all look good and heaven knows our print did too.

Vanwall said...

I saw "The Wild Heart" a few times on TV in the early 1970s, and it's a very disjointed film, which of course, is from Selznick's hatchet job, which I didn't know at the time, so I was unimpressed. I too saw "Gone to Earth" on a friend's foreign language version, and I hadn't connected the two immediately, so I very confused as to recollections. It's certainly beautiful, and more certainly, heartbreaking. It is a great film, no two ways about it.

Jones is wonderful here, with a kind of off-centered personal reality, like a heather-running Cluny Brown, but then you realize how centered she is in that reality. Farrar is one of the unsung greats in my book, he was always wonderful in his P&P work, and mercurially able to play anything.

It's up there with "The Duellists" for amazingly beautiful work, IMNHO.

Yeah, we need a DVD here, dammit.

Sorry about Nomad.

The Siren said...

Vanwall, Tony and I left the screening feeling very evangelical about this movie. A big push from someone like Criterion could really vault it into people's minds, because P/P are very much a presold quantity with cinephiles anyway. It's definitely a strange movie; all that location photography, and it still seems to have left realism as far behind as did The Red Shoes. Some of the reviews I read were dismissing it as overheated tosh, which is...well, I almost never agree with those sorts of viewpoints, now do I, so in this article I just didn't bother. But they're far outnumbered by the people I spoke to who said "Oh yes, that one's marvelous."

X. Trapnel said...

Gone to Earth converted me from Archers agnostic to true believer, a ravishing film whose look and atmosphere suggests the heightened realism of the better Pre-Raphs, far transcending Mary Webb's doughy prose (I tried). I have some problems with Jennifer J's performance, finding it insufficiently feral, more Rima the Bird Girl than Cathy Earnshaw. Cyril Cusack is wonderfully affecting (see esp. the moment when he first sees Hazel as the sun passes over his face; who says you can't film an epiphany?); David Farrar is magnificent and his non-stardom remains inexplicable (has anyone here seen Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill?).

The Siren said...

XT, you're in good company; Powell really didn't much like Webb either and adds in his memoirs that he thought Cold Comfort Farm nailed the genre. (I have a lovely old copy of Precious Bane that has defied two attempts to start reading it.) I thought Jones was well-nigh perfect but she is a divisive sort of actress. She makes a lot of strange physical choices but I almost always wind up loving them. Since you mention it though, I can see her as Cathy...

X. Trapnel said...

Siren,

I always want to like Jones (no arging about her beauty) but something about her chirpy, fluty voice (charming on its own terms) seems to undercut drama and comedy alike. I know Margery Sharp insisted on her for Cluny Brown, and she does her best (as in G to E) but seems lost in the English milieu and substitutes girlish enthusiasm for genuine quirkiness. Somehow, though, one always roots for her.

Mary Webb was Stanley Baldwin's favorite writer.

Vanwall said...

Siren and Tony, I envy you seeing it on the big screen - it's truly a work of visual art; I well remember seeing "The Duellists", which I previously mentioned, on the big screen, and I was dumbstruck - I was speechless as the location shots reeled by, (I was reeling a bit myself) and I am convinced that nothing beats a well done exterior shot, even as made hyper-real as in "Gone to Earth".

Jones had something in the way she moved naturally, in almost all the films she made, that seemed a little foxy, like she would bolt at a loud noise, or she would rather be looking out from under a briar. When she really combined that with her acting in the right films, she was something unworldly.

Farrar is a conundrum - a hugely talented actor, with fantastic screen presence, who was terribly misused; a real what if. M. X, I will endeavor to see Mr. P and Mr. T, indeed.

Yojimboen said...

For the longesht time her shibilant ‘ssh’s made me shushpect she was Sean Connery’sh shishter.

Here she is, JJ in all her JJones-ness Barefoot in the Dark

And looking, if you’ll forgive me, (I know you will) ultra-foxy. Now that’s a neckline.

[X, where the f**k you been?]

X. Trapnel said...

Ah, Y; just the fellow I was looking for. Is Cusack in G to E actually an Anglican (Low Church) or some sort of non-con bible thumper. I can't believe Farrar's character would treat the local parson with such contempt.

Oh, my bretheren! I hereby renounce my J. Jones agnosticism. I have seen the light and the way.

gmoke said...

"When Selznick was battling the Archers in court, Powell asked Pressburger where they’d gone wrong with the man — what did he want? 'Sex,' Pressburger told him. 'You’re not serious,' responded Powell. 'Why, the film reeks of sex.' And so it does, just not Selznick’s kind of sex, as Pressburger pointed out."

Do I recall a similar story about Selznick and a certain composer over music for - ahem - intercourse?

Shamus said...

Haven't seen a lot by the Archers but I Know Where I'm Going is a favorite. Not sure if it is based on a novel also but since it consists mostly of a lot of trekking in Hebrides alternating with scenes of warm conversations by the fire, there is a sense of literariness to it, you might say. (Sort of LP Hartley without the terror.)

Speaking of which, although I love Miss Jones very much - her voice undercutting the comedy, XT? Oh I disagree - Mr. M Powell seems to have forgotten that there was an actress by the name of Pamela Brown who starred in his movies. And who was also equally lovely.

X. Trapnel said...

I'm listening to right now to Brian Easdale very fine romantic score to Gone to Earth. Thank god a "certain composer" got nowhere near this film. Not that his talents wouldn't be equal to a love scene between, say, Wendell Corey and Mrs. Danvers.

Yojimboen said...

Mr. Edward Marston (Cyril Cusak’s character) appears to be a Baptist Minister (they’re addressed as ‘Mr.’ and permitted to marry) vaguely within the C of E.
(He does fully immerse fiancée Hazel before marrying her, and I think that’s Baptist creed.)

As to the accent Ms Jones elected to use; I’ve watched my copy twice now and must admit defeat, I have no earthly clue what she was aiming for. I hear Shropshire, Dorset, Lowland Scots, Yorkshire, Cornish, London English and, here and there, a trace of Phylis Lee Isley of Tulsa OK.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that; when her third husband Norton Simon pre-deceased her, Ms Phylis Lee Isley wound up owning more Impressionist artwork than anyone on the planet.

The Siren said...

Oh both-er-a-tion. I had a note to myself to correct the minister's affiliation to Baptist because I made the error in the first draft. As a philosophical matter I do. not. care. but as X. suspects and Y. confirms (what's Agatha Christie doing in my comments?), it makes a huge difference to the plot and character. And I never did fix it. And now it's up at Nomad! where....

um, not many people will see it, I guess. All righty, so I will correct it here. Thanks for jogging my memory guys.

The Siren said...

BTW, the immersion scene was one of the few Selznick liked. Gmoke, the last bit does sound like the Tiomkin story, doesn't it? The man was consistent. The picture Powell gives of Selznick's relationship with Jones is *incredibly* sad.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I like this film, it's such a good outing for Jennifer Jones. I wish I could have seen this beautifully photographed movie on the big screen. I think her accent, for an American, was impressive. How accurate it is, I can't say, but she looked and sounded confident in what she was doing, which in itself is a pleasure to see. She had a quirky, fey presence, on screen and apparently in real life. One senses she achieved a sense of professional and emotional fullfilment in this role. For me, that is the chief difference between this and "Duel in the Sun", where she just looks like she's jumping through hoops.

Karen said...

A quick comment on the "pagan spirits" elements that are mentioned in the post--this immediately made me think of that bizarre moment in A Matter of Life and Death when Niven's character is first wandering across the sands and stumbles upon a naked pipe-playing goatherd.

If you'll forgive a momentary lapse into name-dropping, I remember lending my copy to Simon Schama back when I was working with him on "The History of Britain" miniseries. He was a huge movie buff, but didn't know this film. And when he gave it back to me, his first question was "What on earth was that naked boy doing there?"

I always figured that, given the fantastical (or not) nature of the story, it was a nod to the fantastical in the everyday.

My other favorite Schama film story is a drive up to his home in which I brought up The Women and he didn't know it. I couldn't comprehend this very movie knowledgeable movie fan not knowing it, and was convinced that he just couldn't remember it, so I tried every conceivable way of describing it, without success.

At dinner that evening, Simon turned to his wife and asked her if she'd ever heard of The Women; she didn't know it either. Simon exclaimed, "Well, I didn't know it either, and you should have seen the look she gave me."

The coda to this story is when I related the anecdote to a friend of mine who sighed, "I know that look."

And now back to our regularly scheduled commenting.

Phillip Oliver said...

I'm not sure how accurate her accent is either but I do know that she had a vocal coach from that area.

I've always wanted to know about the song she sings - something about "deep in the earth lies mother dear" - love to find the title and lyrics which I'm sure is a folk song.

I've shared a link to your article on my Jennifer Jones message board (not that it gets much activity these days).

Untouched Takeaway said...

As I would have paid good coin to listen to David Farrar read the Dubuque Yellow Pages, I am adding this to my (long) list.

God - he was gorgeous.

UT

The Siren said...

I don't tend to get hung up too much on accents unless they are part and parcel of a bad performance or a bad movie. In this case, Jones' character has spent almost all of her time talking to her father, who's a coffin-maker (there's a wonderful shot early on her talking to him, framed by one of the coffins he's working on) and also a deeply strange dude, and confiding in her pet fox. So if she sounds like nothing on this earth, it makes sense in terms of the movie. Jones is unbelievably lovely in the film; Yojimboen's still is GORGEOUS and I admit to chagrin that I didn't locate it myself. What did you do Y., Google image "Jennifer Jones decollete" or "Jennifer Jones as naked as humanly possible"? I really want to know. And what's more important, it was a definite meeting of actress and part, since Jones at her best always had a strange, otherworldly quality, as in Portrait of Jennie and in Cluny Brown.

Thanks Phillip for linking this, it's appreciated.

estienne64 said...

Years ago I read an interview with Michael Caine where he cited David Farrar as one of his main influences when he was starting out as an actor. (He then went on to say that Farrar was completely forgotten, of course.)

Farrar's line in Black Narcissus, 'I don't love anyone!', delivered with his stentorian RP, remains one of my favourites.

Not a huge fan of Gone to Earth, I'm afraid. My Powell-Pressburger preferences have always been for the wartime films, particularly that amazing run of four films at the end - The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I'm Going and A Matter of Life and Death - over the saturated melodramas that followed, magnificent as Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes are. The elements of absurdity that are held in check in those two films seem to break out of Gone to Earth over and over again.

That said, it's sounding as if Gone to Earth may be worth another look. (Not so long ago I found myself watching, and enjoying, the old Stewart Granger-Valerie Hobson melodrama Blanche Fury, and GTE has got to be better than that, hasn't it?)

The Siren said...

Estienne, HA! You have to realize who you're talking to--I love those old Gainsborough melodramas; Blanche Fury wasn't one but it was definitely aping the style. Don't suppose you ever caught Sarabande for Dead Lovers, did you? Or The Man in Grey? They're like potato chips for me. Anyway, I love Blanche Fury as indeed I love Stewart Granger. (Aside: Granger was good friends with Powell late in life.) SO, anyway, someone says "saturated melodrama" and what-not and my possibly perverse response is "sign me up, baby." I certainly love the earlier P/Ps you cite too, though, love them very much indeed. I think of them as all of a piece. The no-holds-barred visual lushness is on display earlier in The Thief of Baghdad, so I see it all as a continuum.

Probably the great Powell film that I feel the least personal affection for is the one that so many people declare is his best: Peeping Tom.

estienne64 said...

My apologies, Siren: I'm a fairly recent convert to melodrama, and I suppose I consider the US and UK varieties very different beasts.

Re Saraband for Dead Lovers: not only have I seen it, I've seen it in the cinema. This was twenty years ago, maybe more. (Those were the days. This summer a UK film professional told me that it's almost impossible for regional cinemas to programme any off-the-beaten-track films, because no one seems to have a clue who owns the exhibition rights any more.) I fear I remained resistant to the film's more gaudy attractions, though of course the cast alone made the trip worthwhile.

It sounds as if we're agreed both on Stewart Granger (Scaramouche is a particular favourite) and Peeping Tom, which I've tried and failed to get into. Of course the Powell-Pressburger partnership was long gone by then, and I think part of my preference for their early films is down to Pressburger's contribution: it would be an exaggeration to say that Pressburger's presence diminishes with every new film, but it does feel as if that's the overall pattern.

The Siren said...

Estienne, NO apology necessary and I loved your comment anyway. Just me cracking jokes at the expense of my own melodramatic affection for melodrama. Granger always cited Saraband as one of his favorites, if not his very favorite, and he's got a real part in it. He's also very good in Moonfleet, another one he liked. And best of all (for my money) in Scaramouche which I love with complete abandon.

There's a chilling part of Million-Dollar Movie where Schoonmaker (who completed the memoir after Powell died) just prints a long series of critics' quotes about Peeping Tom, and it's so vitriolic I found myself gasping at several points. (How things have changed; I read almost nothing as vehement about Irreversible, for example.) Peeping Tom is an excellent piece of filmmaking, but all the same, I found it awfully wintry and intellectual.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Wintry and intellectual"? Not by my lights. But that makes horse races, Siren.

Nice work on Gone to Earth. It's a P&P I find more interesting than enthralling. The late and much-missed (by me at least) Raymond Durgnat wrote of it admiringly -- noting its obvious relationship to Duel in the Sun. That it has, but to my mind it also strieks a chord with Schlesinger's criminally ignored Far From the Madding Crowd

Pamela Brown is indeed lovely, Shamus. However Mr. Powell liked to show off her loveliness in drag, as in Tales of Hoffman (much enjoyed by lesbians everywhere.)
She's alos teriffic in that great late Losey Secret Ceremony

DavidEhrenstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Siren said...

David, with Peeping Tom, I genuinely thought it was an excellent film and I just didn't much care for it, or about it. That doesn't happen too much. Usually if I don't connect I figure it's a flawed movie.

I share your Far From the Madding Crowd love, btw. Did you ever write it up? Christie's a wonderful Bathsheba. Need to see that one projected sometime.

Oh, and one more thing I've been meaning to mention to you for ages: when comments here come into one of my emails, they have the correct names inside, but at the header, they are all labeled "MSG FROM DAVID EHRENSTEIN." I don't know what's making that happen but it amuses me so much I never tried to fix it.

Trish said...

Siren and Tony - Fascinating, and so exciting! Like finding buried treasure. The fact that it's Powell and Pressburger, who were such unique storytellers and whose films are so beautiful and soulful and different, whether in colour or b/w... I cannot wait to get my hands on this one. It sounds like a P&P film made by Gainsborough Studios...

For years I wrote off Jennifer Jones' success as being largely due to her husband's puppet strings. At the very least she struck me as wooden, and at her worst, heavily medicated. But in the last little while I've learned to appreciate her. She really DID carve her own niche -- especially as that bat-shit diva in Madame Bovary and as the blind-sided wife of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. She was even interesting in Ruby Gentry, so I look forward to seeing her in Gone to Earth.

And count me in as another big fan of Far from the Madding Crowd...

Rozsaphile said...

MADDING CROWD would indeed be wonderful to see projected. It was originally given the Ultra-Panavision treatment, projected onto a curved screen, like 2001. The use of landscape, particularly the opening, was indeed remarkable.

I think the original GTE was shown at MOMA a few years back. Loving P&P as much as anyone, I didn't quite get it. Certainly time for another look.

Yojimboen said...

For me, this is the image which has always made it difficult– sometimes impossible – to feel any warmth toward Jennifer Jones.

A publicity still, taken just prior to the start of production of Since You Went Away, it speaks volumes: Selznick, almost salivating, openly puts moves on his contract star JJ (their affair was already two years old and an open Hollywood secret); Jones, with arms protectively folded, wears guilt writ large across her beautiful face, while her husband Robert Walker clenches his fingers (to keep them from Selznick’s throat?) in agony.

But Walker was only an actor and Selznick was one of the half-dozen most powerful men in town and that, my friends, is how the game was, and is, played.

We struggle to keep reminding ourselves to separate the Artist from the Art, but where does one set the limits? For myself, I won’t watch Chaplin or Von Trier or Franju because I can’t bear to see animals mistreated, which is already two strikes against Gone to Earth and its sub-plot theme of foxhunting [“The unspeakable in hot pursuit of the uneatable.” – Oscar Wilde].

We try desperately not to be too judgmentally moralistic – we are, we hope, liberal in thought, wish and deed – but Jones’ and Selznick’s cruel treatment of Walker was about as shabby as it comes.

The Siren said...

Ah, Yojimboen, did you read Million Dollar Movie? I have a passage I was thinking about posting, with regard to Jones and Selznick.

DOS was ruthless, for sure. But as for Jones, if she was cruel to Walker, she was repaid over the years, three times filled and running over.

Yojimboen said...

This is a little left field, even for me, but maybe appropriate to the subject. I submit tendrils of the following piece reach forward seven years to delineate some misty revelations about Gone to Earth.

James Agee on I Know Where I’m Going!” September 13th 1947:
“…I kept realizing as I watched and enjoyed it, how shallow and shabby it [the story] would probably seem in print. But there are engaging performances by Miss [Wendy] Hiller and Roger Livesey; the sensitive photography and the intelligent if not very imaginative use of sound do more than enough to make eloquent the influence of place on people; and the whole thing is undertaken with a kind of taste and modesty whose absence did much to harm Messrs. Powell and Pressburger’s Stairway to Heaven [UK title: A Matter of Life and Death] and Black Narcissus. Theirs is a gentle sort of talent at last, but at times they know very well how to use it, without much concession to their liabilities – inordinate ambition, bumptiousness, and a general unevenness of judgement

Trish said...

Theirs is a gentle sort of talent at last, but at times they know very well how to use it, without much concession to their liabilities – inordinate ambition, bumptiousness, and a general unevenness of judgement.

With regard to Powell and Pressburger's "liabilities", I would submit to Mr. Agee that like all great filmmakers, they just went for it every time. And here are their films being discussed 60 years onwards. What a shame so many elitists once approached films as though they had somehow broken the rules of etiquette.

The Siren said...

I love Agee, as I have said ad nauseum, but he had a major blind spot about Powell/Pressburger and I cringe away when he writes about them. His review of Black Narcissus hurt my heart. If he thought that one was vulgar I can't imagine how he'd have reacted to Peeping Tom -- although you never know. Its unvarnished harshness might have appealed.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Far From the Madding Crowd is the apotheosis of Terry and Julie

For me, watching it is like being Lucky Pierre in a three-way.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Never had the chance to write it up. But if I should find myself writing about romance in the movies someday soon its' right up there for me along wioth Pierrot le Fou and Weekend

DavidEhrenstein said...

I should clarify. Not Godard's Weekend -- THIS ONE.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

"Why the film reeks of sex."
~ Powell to DOS

I've only seen the WILD HEART version, and that on television ... which doesn't put me in a good position to comment. Still, though, the chief memory I have is of its shots of eroticized landscapes. The clouds shift, and it's the stuff of eros and pantheism. At least, In My Mind's Eye.

Certainly filled me, as does this piece, with a desire to see the Powell-sanctioned version

DavidEhrenstein said...

a fortiori Mrs. Henry Windle Vale.

Yojimboen said...

Re Gone to Earth and P&P in general, I’ll cheerfully second estienne64’s nicely-summarized thoughts above.

For reasons given, I can only watch GtE ‘through closed fingers’, but will reluctantly admit its quality shines through in an admittedly indifferent production. (That’s praise from me.)

David memO Selznick’s looming presence, coupled with the imposition of Webb’s text may simply have rendered P&P less than 100% committed to the job. Re casting, in my mind’s eye, I replace JJ with Kathleen Byron as Hazel, and it works just fine.

Peeping Tom is another matter entirely; I think it’s a disaster of a film - on an epic scale. I was there. Living in London at that time, in that culture, smack in the middle of the sois-disants fleshpots of Soho, and saw the film with the crowd at the local Bijou; and I’m here to tell you, folks, we laughed ourselves sick. What’s wrong with Peeping Tom? Something fairly basic:
It doesn’t work!

Mr. Powell, bless his cotton socks, was being forgotten, he needed to make a movie, to remind the world of Michael Powell, but also to pay the rent.
He opted for proto-S&M soft-core porn.
Well, outraged critics and citizenry aside, also notwithstanding the latter-day sainted lovers of the movie (who IMHO exist only in reaction to the initial fuss)… It’s silly.

It doesn’t work.

Basic Lenny Bruce: If you don’t buy the premise, you don’t buy the bit.
The “bit” was the serial killer advancing with a sharp object towards a screaming girl and filming it at the same time.
Try pitching that today.
“What’s the matter with you, girl? Your legs broken?
Get up and run, you silly cow!”

I’m sorry, guys, I love P&P as much as anyone breathing, but Peeping Tom simply doesn’t pass the giggle test.

It’s foolish nonsense.

It's silly.

DavidEhrenstein said...

About as silly as Psycho

What did your Soho pals think of Expresso Bongo?

How about Absolute Beginners?

The Siren said...

I don't know, I don't find Peeping Tom silly; but it certainly wasn't frightening to me, or even all that disturbing. I thought it was a technically bravura piece about voyeurism and the nature of being a director, wonderful to look at but lifeless compared to something like I Know Where I'm Going!. If you put me in a room containing the complete Powell filmography on Blu-Ray and a good player, Peeping Tom is just about the last one I'd watch.

I'd still be ecstatically happy though...love the man. Meeting him briefly was a highlight of my cinephile life.

I definitely prefer it to all but the first 20 minutes of Psycho, I will say that. It's interesting that the movies came out the same year and Hitchcock's movie made a mint. I've read some suggestions that this was because Hitchcock avoided screening it for the press after seeing what happened to Powell. But I also think people expected Hitchcock to be twisted. Michael Powell, not so much. There's twisted stuff in earlier Powells, but it isn't right in your lap like Hitchcock.

The Siren said...

Mrs HWV, I'd rather like to see the Selznick-altered version. I've never seen the pre-Selznick-ed Terminal Station.

And David, I kinda love Absolute Beginners, but not nearly as much as the book.

Yojimboen said...

A thousand years ago I had command of a review column in a film school student newsletter. Continually encouraged by the editor to keep our reviews short; mine for Far From the Madding Crowd was: “Thomas Hardly”.

X. Trapnel said...

“Thomas Hardly”

Justice done, and the President of the Immortals is sportively chuckling.

Jeff Gee said...

Absolutely agree with Yojimboen about Peeping Tom and his absurd modus operandi. Maybe one victim freezes in panic when he approaches with the (extremely unwieldy looking) murder weapon, but we see, what? Three? It’s like a trope in some poverty row thriller featuring Bela Lugosi, George Zucco and Ray “Crash” Corrigan in a gorilla suit.

Another thing that has always bothered me about Peeping Tom: Carl Boehm’s accent. And you know what bothers me? It could have been easily accounted for by, oh, making the character German, or at least having been educated abroad after his father’s death, but it never comes up. The character’s name is Mark Lewis and nobody in the movie ever notices that he speaks with a noticeable European accent.

Of course we go along with it, as in other movies we go along with the 35-year-old teenage ingénue or the desert island castaway with a spare tire, but in this case the fix seems so simple that his failure to deal with it seems willfully perverse.

gmoke said...

Then there's "Age of Consent," Helen Mirren's first film, if memory serves. That's perverse in a way that "Peeping Tom" is not but I've never seen it discussed at all.

PS: I love the sequence in "I Know Where I'm Going" where the conductor's top hat dissolves into the smokestack of the train. Livesey and Hiller are glorious in that film, which is built around another bit of the fantastic, an ancient curse.

estienne64 said...

Ah yes, Age of Consent. Caught me at a tender age, that one, so I cannot help but like it. I often think of it in relation to the version of The Tempest that Powell and James Mason planned for so long, but then Dame Helen disrobes again, and my concentration wanders.

(Incidentally, it's interesting to note the various ways that cinema's keenest eroticists/pervs - Powell, Hitchcock, Buñuel and the rest - incorporated post-1968 permissiveness into their last films, after decades of having to smuggle sex in.)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Helen Mirren enter naked.

This became something of a signature for her. In Savage Messiah she enters tossign amob and then is immediately seen nude descending a stairway

Oh That Ken!

DavidEhrenstein said...

That should read -- tossing a bomb.

(More coffee!)

Karen said...

Incidentally, for those of you in the NYC area: Film Forum is showing a remastered Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and tomorrow night's performance (Saturday, 11/19) it will be introduced by Thelma Schoonmaker Powell her own self. I, tragically, can't make it, but if you can I hope you'll let me live vicariously through you.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Any opportunity to see and hear Thelma is an event. She's a wonderful woman, a great srtist, and a font of information.

Yojimboen said...

Lest I create the impression of condemning Powell’s oeuvre in any way – perish the concept! IMO Peeping Tom was a one-off clinker; difficulties with finance aside, Powell went on to do lovely work in Australia with They’re a Weird Mob and again (teamed with Pressburger, pseudonymed as Richard Imrie) with Age of Consent. In which film, the performances he got from Mason and young Miss Mirren were nothing short of superb. There was never a shortage of talent with either P.

The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972) written by Pressburger and made for the Children’s Film Foundation (P&P together for the last time) is a delightful children’s fantasy.

That the Archers had any difficulty finding production funds – only four years after making Battle of the River Plate, their most commercially successful film - is a disgrace which should forever shame the British Film Industry.

(I once heard Alan Parker describe the British Film Industry as, “You know, those three guys who couldn’t get green cards.”)

Trish said...

I loved Age of Consent, but am less enthusiastic for Tales of Hoffman, and Peeping Tom. Did they think the killer would be effectively weird with a European accent? I didn't.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Another vote for The Boy Who Turned Yellow!

Back in the 80's it turned up periodically on cable channel specializing in children's programming.

I have no doubt it was on Marty's mind when he made Hugo, as it's also a children's film.

rcocean said...

Regarding "Peeping Tom". This movie forced Michael Powell into Semi-retirement and its easy to see why. The subject is unpleasant and neither the script nor the direction supply the thrills or excitement needed. The acting is no more than adequate. Other flaws include: Our anti-hero "Mark" is boring, the plot is standard, the supporting players are forgettable and the pace slow. Some have absurdly compared this to "Psycho." First, Norman (Anthony Perkins) is much are more interesting than "Mark". Second, "Psycho" is full of twists and turns while "Peeping Tom" simply plods from A to B. Thirdly, the killer in Psycho is a minor character whose viewed from the outside. In "Peeping Tom", the movie creepily makes the killer the main character and often adapts his viewpoint.

Yeah, I didn't like it.

Mary said...

Well, if you'd like to learn more about Selznick's version of GONE TO EARTH, read David Thomson's excellent SHOWMAN: THE LIFE OF DAVID O. SELZNICK. I found plenty of material in the memos, and Thomson was able to interview many of the people who'd worked on the film. And DOS was not ruthless. Ambitious and driven yes, but also incredibly generous and supportive. He raised money one Christmas at MGM so that von Stroheim and his family could enjoy the season. He gave parts to Owen Moore and Alla Nazimova when no one else would. He gave money to people in need when it seemed everyone else in Hollywood had forgotten about them.

Kevyn Knox said...

The howling wind. The disembodied voices. The rushing through the gorgeous countryside. Those piercing eyes of Jennifer Jones. The moody music. The succulent, almost edible swaths of indelible colour. The heartpounding finale. What a wonderful wonderful Powell/Pressburger indeed. This is a film that needs the Criterion touch on disc.