Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Magnificent Ambersons - More 31 Days of Oscar

The Magnificent Ambersons

So Whitney over at Pop Candy recommended this one from TCM's 31DoO lineup, because it's never been made available on DVD in North America, so it's our only opportunity to catch it. And as one of Orson Welles' early films, I can see why people would be interested to see it.

I saw Citizen Kane a few years back, and I could see why film people made a big deal out of it. It used some different storytelling techniques and had a lot going on. I didn't care for the story, though. Maybe if I knew more about Hearst, I would've loved the biting satire or whatever, but I admired the film the way you'd admire a painstakingly hand-crafted wooden carving of a soda can. You admire the work, the technique, the effort put into it, but you wish it had been put towards something interesting.

While Kane employed a few nifty techniques, The Magnificent Ambersons was downright unusual. I can think of quite a few older movies that employed third person narration for an introduction (like Casablanca), but almost none that bring the narration back all through the movie (The Royal Tenenbaums being the only example that comes to mind). But to continue to narrate the closing credits was a first to me. Instead of printed credits, they'd show a shot of an editing machine, and Welles (who had been narrating the whole time) would say "Edited by..." and say the guy's name. It was truly weird.

There was also a montage near the beginning of things that had happened long before the bulk of the story, and, I guess to give the effect of vague memories, the shots all had a fuzziness around the edges, like a sitcom dream sequence or a Barbara Walters interview.

Like Kane, I didn't care much for the story. It's about a family of great prominence being eclipsed by nouveau riche industrialist types. And courtship and marriage and bratty kids and high society. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a story that would thrill any guy in his 20s.

Anyway I guess this one's most well known for being cut to death. Welles' original cut ran almost an hour longer than the one I saw. Test screenings, shortly after Pearl Harbor, showed that audiences wanted happy endings, and Welles was in Brazil filming, so he didn't have a chance to argue for his vision, and they hacked it to pieces. The cut footage was later destroyed. I'm a little curious as to what the original would've been like, but not so curious as to actually google it or anything.

So I wasn't especially impressed. Mostly what I took away from this one was that Joseph Cotton really looks like Tim Robbins. And then I googled it to see if anyone else had made the connection, and it turns out Tim Robbins had played Cotton in a 1985 TV movie. So even a movie that bores me can be educational.

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