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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Special Extravaganza Programme Issue [1953]

A Year's Filmgoing — From Renoir to Gene Kelly

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A Year's Filmgoing

From Renoir to Gene Kelly

Films by Ian Rich

Films by Ian Rich

The year in films has been a good one apart from the acute shortage of original stories There have been too many adaptions from successful plays on always risky process, 1952, therefore, was the year of the Director who has given us fewer obvious vehicles for stars, and a more purposeful aim at unity of conception. The directors of full maturity. Ford, Renoir. Chaplin have concentrated on truth and simplicity of presentation. The lesser directors such as Stevens, Wyler, Kanin have often sacrificed truth in favour of polished brilliance of technique. Of the British directors. Powell and Pressburger, Asquith and Carol Reed have produced their second-best; work of craftsmen rather than artists. Only David Lean, in spite of a poor script, made a film that was up to his usual standard.

Acting, under the direction of Ford and Renoir, has become naturalistic but somehow, mainly with Renoir, less dynamic. Otherwise, the standard and type of acting has remained much the same, with some excellent performances from not only people like Marlon Brando, Clair Bloom, Chaplin, Bogart, Wayne and Kirk Douglas, but also from supporting players like Anthony Quinn and Gloria Grahame. There has been more care taken with the supporting cast, a fact that backs up my belief that there has been on aim at greater unity.

What do I think are the best films of the year? And how have I Judged them? I said in an article at the beginning of the year, that I have three main considerations when assessing the value of a film:—

1.Have the script-writers and director shown the subject sympathy? is their film truthful and sincere?
(2)Has the director used appropriate technical resources with taste and restraint?
3.Apart from technical considerations, have the actors keyed their performances to fit into the director's conceptions?

With these headings in mind I shall discuss the five best films and the best of the rest.

"Limelight" by a fair margin heads the list. From the pathos and the comedy to the simple tolling of this story of the ageing musical hall comedian very anxious to make a comeback, "Limelight" is the full-flowering of Chaplin as an artist and technician. We have not Chaplin, the fighter against Fascism and the defender of the underdog: but Chaplin, the sympathetic and tolerant observer of human beings. This is reflected in the great acting in the part of Calvero. He gives the drink-sodden comic something of Charlie the Tramp, his goodness, compassion and chivalry, but also some of the elements of the real Chaplin. I have already reviewed thin film, but I cannot do so again. "Limelight" has countless subjeties and beauties; I would take a whole page. Nothing else could possibly do it Justice.

"La Ronde" is next because of its cynical, mocking, romantic revelation of the deceptions of love. Max Ophuis is the supreme figure of the film. He, with Anton Walbrook as assistant guide, shows us around the merry-go-round of love with a commentary that is witty and wise, penetrating and polished. His actors, apart from Gerald Philips as the Count and Isa Miranda as the actress, support him with delicate and apprehensive performances. Some may have been disgusted with what they portrayed, but for me such feelings were dispelled by the gaiety and tenderness of the observation. And after all, is not the main element of the film be much a part of our everyday lives?

"The River" is Renoir's lyrical, lovely film of India, with the people's colourful ceremonies emphasising the markings of the River of Time, which brings all and takes all. We are shown how time and experience affects the child of an English family in Bengal, which has the Indian ceremonies and rituals he much interwoven into its life. Renoir [unclear: tes] the life of this family without bitterness or satire, without haste [unclear: a] over-fussy camerawork, if there is any criticism of the film, it is that it was a mistake to illustrate the Time theme within the narrow confinements of one family, or that the acting was naturalistic when there should have been more fire. Nevertheless, "The River" remains a sympathetic, sometimes moving, poem of the cinema.

In "The Quiet Man" John Ford leaves the Wild West to go to Idle Inesfree. He is at home there and knows the characters like brothers and sister. As with "The River," Ford's story of a woman striving for independence is told with warmth and sympathy, but, unlike "The River" there is a touch of satire. Again, like "The River" and "Limelight." the presentation is simple but poetic, with moments of symbolism and suggestion. The public of Wellington have recognised '"The Quiet Man" as grand entertainment, but the film also bears witness that Ford, over and above the sincere sentimentality, has Joined Chaplin and Renoir in their, search for truth rather than technical Ingenuity.

The choice for fifth place is difficult "Los Enfants du Paradis" is disqualified because it is a return, while "A Place in the Sun" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" are too technique conscious. "Miss Julie," I think, has the best qualifications, mainly because of its almost perfect combination of technical brilliance, insight into psychology of motives and social comment, it is pictorially beautiful, well acted and directed, and because it sticks faithfully to the original story has enough "guts" to carry it to the top five best films. But "Miss Julie" cannot go any higher, because there are too many times when it lapses into mere melodrama.

Now to the best of the rest.

"Detective Story." "A Streetcar Named Desire." "Born Yesterday" and "Cyrano de Bergerac" are all adapted plays and remain essentially works of the stage. Pure cinema, being primarily a visual art, cannot come from "words, words, words," which are the narrative means of a play. Although well directed and acted, "Detective Story" is too static and retains the emptiness of the original; "Born Yesterday" drags because of too much talk of books, learning and democratic government. "Cyrano do Bergerac" apart from shabby and unimaginative direction has too much wit of the verbal type. The best of these "A Streetcar Named Desire" seldom moves from the Kowaiski's flat, being content to remain there to project Tennessee Williams's characterisation and social comment through his dialogue alone.

Adapting books is a far easier process, as can be seen from Steven's

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"A Place in the Sun." Much of the story is told in pictures, with the use of long dissolves and "objective" camera work to add to the dramatic effect. From the acting to the use made of music, "A Place in the Sun" is a brilliant piece of pure cinema. But it falls because of the lamentable "watering down" of Theodore Dreiser's original book. What could have been a film of great significance becomes merely a good love story. "The African Queen" also adapted from a book, is directed with skill by John Huston but does not know whether to enter the realms of fantasy or realism. Conrad's "An Outcast of the Islands" is directed by Carol Reed who makes it into a powerful movie, but as a story it is altogether too cruel and it misses the whole significance of Willem's degradation.

"Singin' in the Ruin" was the best musical of the second half of 1952. Gene Kelly once again proves himself to be the supreme artist in this field. He has a sunny personality, and his "Singin' in the Rain" sequence is probably the happiest of my film going experience. Ealing Studios produced two of their best comedies, "The Lavender Hill Mob" and "The Man in the White Suit," in which Alec Guinness once again demonstrates his amazing talents. "The Lavender Hill Mob" overstrained the comedy near the end and "The Man in the White Suit's" last sequence was far from funny, but they both provided the brightest fare for this year.

The year has not brought many disappointments. Powell and Press-burger's 'Tales of Hoffman" was to speak frankly, a vulgar mess; Asquith's "The Importance of Being Earnest" was unimaginative and too diverse in acting style. Terence Rattigan's script for "The Sound Barrier" blemished an otherwise very good film. As I saw in a previous review, "the spirit of exploration and adventure has enthused Lean, the director, to produce an adventurous and exciting film—that la when he is well away from Rattigan's script."

I have given briefly my Impressions of the more important films of the past year. Technique has become highly polished, but has there been a corresponding desire on the part of film-makers for truth, for moving? I hope so, for I feel that in future sincere films will be the only films that will drag the public away from their T.V. sets. Will these lesser directors that I have mentioned follow the examples of Ford, Renoir and Chaplin? if they are artists they will not be able to stop themselves, but if they are not they will not succeed in stopping the film industry from being pushed very much into the background. 1952, perhaps has made something of a start along the right road. Now watch for the progress this year.