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Archive for March 26th, 2010

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screen cap from Czech New Wave masterpiece ‘Valley of the Bees’ by Frantisek Vlacil

by Sam Juliano

     In 1998, Czechoslovakian film critics were polled on what they considered to be the greatest film ever made in their country, and the response at the time was somewhat surprising.  Forgoing the best films by Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel, the scribes annointed a relatively obscure medieval epic by Franticek Vlacil, Marketa Lazarova, a film about the desperate struggle for survival amongst the bloody savagery of the 13th century. In this dark and spectacular canvas, Vlacil, who originally studied art history and aesthetics, revealed an intense interest in the power of the poetic image that has often been compared with Tarkovsky.  His taste for composition–horses against landscape, castles against the sea–often attained a Wellsian grandeur.  The titles that break the film up give it the epic quality of the picturesque novel it was based on, and the violence of the film’s rapid forward tracking movements, flashbacks and flashforwards disturb both the narrative and visual convention.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1924/1998 141m) not on DVD

A dentist’s tale

p  Erich Von Stroheim, Irving Thalberg  d  Erich Von Stroheim  w  Erich Von Stroheim, June Mathis  novel  “McTeague” by Frank Norris  ph  Ben Reynolds, William H.Daniels  ed  Erich Von Stroheim, Rex Ingram, Grant Whytock, June Mathis, Jos W.Farnham  Carl Davis  art  Richard Day, Cedric Gibbons   

Gibson Gowland (John ‘Doc’ McTeague), Zasu Pitts (Trina Sieppe), Jean Hersholt (Marcus Schouler), Chester Conklin (Popper Sieppe), Dale Fuller (Maria), Tempe Pigott (Mother McTeague), Silvin Ashton (Mommer Sieppe), Joan Standing (Selina),

No other film in the history of cinema fills us with such a sense of both awe and loss.  Loss because of what the characters go through during the film’s duration, but even more for the loss of the director’s original intention.  Greed was butchered like no other film was butchered, and unlike many such films of the modern era, there is no chance of a director’s cut ever emerging.  Von Stroheim’s masterpiece was edited down from well over a hundred hours of stock footage to an original length of 8½ hours, from which it was cut to exactly seven for its premiere.  When Irving Thalberg insisted he cut it down to a commercial length, Von Stroheim sent it to another artist on the MGM roster, his friend Rex Ingram, whose editor Grant Whytock helped him cut it down to 3¼ hours.  Refusing to cut any more, Ingram handed it back, but it was then further cut by June Mathis to 2¼, as it survives to this day.  It’s amazing it still stands as a masterpiece.

            The story is made into a tragedy of human despair and greed worthy of Hugo and Zola, as we follow McTeague from his beginnings in a gold mine in 1908 to his being sent away by his mother to learn dentistry from a charlatan.  Setting up in San Francisco, he comes to know Marcus, who introduces him to Trina, a delicate young girl whose teeth he fixes.  Marrying her, their life is thrown into turmoil when Trina wins an illegal lottery and she hoards the money from husband and friend alike, while McTeague is slowly driven to madness and violent retribution. (more…)

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