I’ve been thinking about this film lately so I watched a few clips on Youtube, I have a Japanese import dvd somewhere but I haven’t run across it in a while. The shots in the party scene are so amazing, so fluid, so space delicious , I don’t think their baroque splendor was reached until Fellini’s 8 1/2 and this was Welles 2nd film! The interesting sequence of Joseph Cotten trying on different types of clothing, shoes, hats illustrating the evolution of sartorial styles is unique in Cinema. The wonderful opening shot of the house and the horse drawn carriage that comes by and the orchestrated movement in the frame is unequalled in timing, simplicity, complexity. It’s not boring one shot that doesn’t move with a kind of Victorian vignetting, incredible. I read some where that Welles, enfant terrible of radio, recorded the dialog for the big dance scene as a radio play, worked with the actors till the timing was perfect, then played back the dialog on the set as they filmed and the actors had to say their lines in sync with the recording! It seems impossible but the scenes are obviously(to me) dubbed. And these are some intricately choreographed moving shots! With overlapping dialog no less. It really is unbelievable.
The way characters move from light into darkness, become silhouettes, then are illuminated again, so beautiful, tenebrae is the term for this dramatic lighting effect. The wonderful performances, all great.
The movie does have a kind of a downer tone that was out of sync with it’s time, WWII and all, probably why it tested poorly, but it was ahead of it’s time, it plays better now. Watch Joseph Cotten’s speech about the impact of the automobile on civilization, brilliant .
The idiotic regime that replaced Schaffer at RKO hated Welles, so did a lot of people in Hollywood, they resented this upstart and they didn’t understand him so they tried to destroy him. And they did a pretty good job, even though it was at a high price to themselves! If they had not reclaimed the silver from the original negative of Amersons by melting it down, they would have been able to release the Directors cut in theaters all over the world, on VHS, dvd, Blu Ray. They would have made a fortune from it. As a fortune was made from Citizen Kane over the years. I can think of no other lost film I would rather see than Welles cut of Ambersons. It’s like a dream, the idea of going into a theater and seeing the whole thing. Welles went to Rio to shoot “IT’s All True” before Ambersons was completed. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had persuaded his friend to take on this project to foster good feelings between South America and the USA, keep them from joining the Fascists. I read that Robert Wise sent a work picture and track down to Rio for Welles to watch and comment on. No one seems to know what happened to that print. Could it still be down there in rusty cans, in storage somewhere, in an old warehouse. The heat and humidity might have turned the nitrate film stock into highly explosive goo but maybe there’s a chance it was put in a cellar somewhere, a vault, and it exists. Lying there in the darkness ,the plastic realization of a young man’s genius, like frozen thoughts, Donovan’s Brain in it’s fish tank, waiting.
Welles on the Ambersons set, Robert Wise the editor 2nd from left. Welles blamed him for the hatchet job
Ambersons was one of the favorite films of Jean Pierre Melville. He speaks of it in a book of interviews I once read. He comments on a scene between Joseph Cotten and Anne Baxter (playing his daughter). How Mellville remembers seeing the “cottony trees” they were walking through even though the scene is in a close 2shot and you don’t get a good view of the surroundings, Welles created this unseen world in the viewers minds by the actors voices, a direct link to Radio.
Holt never really wanted to be an actor but he was born into it, Hollywood Royalty, a member of the Beverly Hills polo club. This was a big year for Tim, he appeared in Ambersons and The Treasure Of the Sierra Madre, not bad!
Welles did not appear in Ambersons but he did the voice over, and narrated the credits at the end, one of the first times a film appeared with no letters on the screen (other than the RKO logo and the main title). Once again Radio rears it’s antennaed head.
Future filmmakers beware! Never walk away from your film before it’s finished! Even if FDR and Rockefeller are beseeching you to do so! This action on Welles part not only “ruined his best film” but put a huge dent in his fledgling yet stratospheric career. A pattern that repeated itself throughout his films, he left Touch Of Evil to go down to Mexico to set up a new project, but that film fared much better than Ambersons, they even recut it following a 100 plus page memo Welles left behind. Oh well if only somebody stumbling out of a World Cup match wanders by mistake into an old film vault and kicks over a box and cans marked RKO spill out otherwise we’re left with the image from the end of Citizen Kane but it’s not Rosebud that’s consigned to the flames, it’s the missing negative of The Magnificent Ambersons.
Here’s some interesting documentaries on that super genius Orson Welles that I discovered on Youtube. They are really worth watching, the one about Citizen Kane demonstrates how little Orson knew about film grammar when he arrived in Hollywood. But he surrounded himself with talented people and absorbed everything like a sponge.
Here’s a piece about the restoration of Touch Of Evil.
Jacques Demy came to L.A. in 1968 and made a film, Model Shop. I knew nothing about this film when I watched it and I suggest you watch it in the same state of innocence, you will be rewarded with a delicious surprise. Like other European directors who came to Hollywood to make a film, Demy finds the extraordinary in our ordinary, beauty in plain sight, yet invisible to most Americans who take it for granted or in the case of L.A. (where Model Shop is filmed) downright hate it. The comparison that comes to mind is Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, a much maligned film that I like. Both of these films were flops at the Box Office but so what, they capture a Los Angeles at a point in time like a fly trapped in amber.
With the sucess of Easy Rider and other counter culture films, producers were desperate to cash in on the youth craze and gave young directors like Demy a shot. Anouk Aimee is wonderful, so beautiful, so feminine, so mysterious.
Do yourself a favor , do not watch the trailer or read anything about Model Shop, just watch it. It’s photographed by an ex-pat Frenchman who moved to Hollywood, Michel Hugo and he does a wonderful job, the Technicolor portrait of L.A. is stunning, and the locations are great. It looks like they filmed in the real places in the story. I met Michel many years ago when he was teaching a cinematography class. He also shot the 1st Kolcack, The Night Stalker, one of the best TV movies of all time. Gary Lockwood is good, enigmatic, handsome. All American. He was fresh off his big role in Kubrick’s 2001,
Demy wanted an unknown actor he found, Harrison Ford but the studio said no, here is some footage from a screen test Ford did for Demy.
I guess Anouk was reprising her character from Demy’s first film Lola, but I haven’t seen it yet so I’ll report back after checking it out. Anyway take a trip down Memory Lane, the 60’s , psychedelia, Vietnam, the music of Spirit and check out Model Shop.
In these paranoid times of U.S./Soviet conflict take a monment to reflect on this remnant of Cold War fantasy. See what can be done with manipulated stock footage and way out storytelling. I remember a friend of mine telling me he saw this on late nite TV many years ago. I was flabbergasted I had never heard of this insane film and I prided myself on being up on the weirdest, outcasts of Cinema. Well now thatnks to the marvels of YouTube and some intrepid film poster you can see the rare, much sought after INVASION U.S.A.
The Mann Himself directs Mia Farrow
UCLA is screening a retrospective of the films of Anthony Mann. Mann, a broadway actor turned film director was highly regarded by European filmmakers like Godard and Wim Wenders. His films are visually stunning and well paced, being an actor he got some great performances from his casts. He started making noirs at Republic ,PRC, Eagle -Lion and RKO, doing a lot with a small budget. His noirs are noteworthy for his collaboration with the great cinematographer John Alton. Then he graduated to Westerns, teaming with Jimmy Stewart for several stand out films, like Winchester ‘73 and The Naked Spur. Here is a link to the films and showtimes, see you there!
Here is a fascinating segment showing the great Tomas Milian dubbing a film for his frequent collaborator maestro . I love that Corbucci and the engineer are laughing at Tomas’ funny performance and that Corbucci is wearing shades in the recording studio. Also check out the Italian foley artists at the end, so cool. I think that films where the entire soundtrack is created in post have a fascinating atmosphere, especially the Italian ones from the 60’s but also films like the dubbed Mexican Horror films, the Braniac, Curse Of the Crying Woman, The Witches Mirror, and parts of Plan Nine From Outer Space. The film they are working on here is Sonny and Jed.Thanks to my friend Eric Zalvidar for turning me on to this clip.
Here’s a trailer for the film they’re working om.
Here for your viewing pleasure is a delicious documentary about the great Luis Bunuel. I really like how it’s made, very funny edits, a question is asked or a statement is made and the next shot refutes it or answers it, very creative. You can listen to one of the Giants of Cinema discuss his Art, there is a wonderful discourse on Nazarin, a beautiful film, that is worth the price of admission all by itself. This film was part of a French Television series called A Filmmaker of Our Time. Who would they profile today?