Sunday, 26 September 2010

Missing parts

In my on-going Raoul Walsh-retrospective I yesterday saw The Big Trail, his epic western from 1930. But what exactly did I see? Well, certainly not all of it. The version I saw was a measly 105 minutes, whereas the 70mm version that was released in 1930 was at least 150 minute long. Why was the version I saw just a condensed version? And is it really accurate to say that "I've seen The Big Trail"? No. The best I can say is that "I've seen part of The Big Trail."

During the summer I once again saw Ingeborg Holm (1913), and after I learned that it, too, was shorter than it should be, with some scenes missing. So all these years I've been under the impression that I've seen the whole of it, when in fact I have seen only part of it, albeit most parts.

This might seem like a semantic discussion, but it is important, or at least should be, for film historians. New films, we might generally assume at least, are shown in their original length, if by "original" we mean the length the makers of it intended for it to have. But old films, perhaps especially "silent" films, might just as well be shorter than they once were, due to wear and tear, or the scissors of censors, or other things that have interfered with the print. And this is of course relevant because the impact that a given film has on the viewer, the interpretations that are done, the emotional response the film arouse, might be very much different were those missing scenes there. The viewer might get a completely false impression of the film. This is perhaps not the case with Ingeborg Holm, but it most certainly is the case with The Big Trail. The restored version, in its widescreen glory (or Fox Grandeur as it was called), which was released on DVD in the US two years ago, is still only 122 min. When and where will I be able to see the real thing?

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When talking about new films, I'm not forgetting the common occurrence of films to appear, soon after their cinema release, on DVD in "the director's version" or something like that. But that's another story.

Monday, 20 September 2010

The More the Merrier

I'm back, and eager to get back in the film blogging game. I'll start of easy though.

One of the best love scenes I know, and one that is surprisingly erotic, is to be found in The More the Merrier (1943). It's between Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea, two of my favourite actors from the 1930s and 1940s, and they play room-mates who are drawn to each other, but she's engaged to another man. The film is rather brilliant, and besides being a romantic comedy, it has unusual depth, for one thing it's about life in war-time. The reason they're living together is because of the lack of accommodation, despite the fact that most men are away, being killed at the front. With all the men away, McCrea's character gets a fair amount of attention from the women. In fact, some scenes are remarkable example of the "female gaze". In this particular scene, notice the way McCrea puts on and takes of her jacket, and the sprinkling of lovers along the street the walk on. It's very stagey, almost like a tableau from a musical.

The film was written by Robert Russell and Frank Ross, who hasn't written much else. In fact, Frank Ross's involvement might be due to the fact that he was married to Jean Arthur. But Garson Kanin is listed as uncredited writer, and that might have something to do with the quality of it.

The cinematographer is Ted Tetzlaff, who photographed a lot of suave comedies in the 30s, but perhaps made his best work on Notorious (1946). That was his last film as a cinematographer, he became a director after that, specialising in film noir and crime dramas.

And the director is George Stevens, and although I never was a fan of his, I've always admired his shooting style, which is invariably complex and unorthodox. Long takes, elaborate compositions with a lot of blocking, and plenty of dissolves are among his trademarks. In this scene there are no dissolves, but the rest is there. And it's absolutely amazing, in short, this is Stevens's best film, and one of the best American films of the 40s. It should also be said that the great Charles Coburn is in it, although not in this scene.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Ponderabilia

I'm going travelling and taking a break from the film blog. But not to worry, I'll be back in two weeks and I've got plenty of things to say.

Until then, two things to ponder:

Most of written film history is just a mythical abstraction.

No film is predictable until after you've seen it.

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I googled the word Ponderabilia to see if it existed. Apparently it's big in Poland.