It is the rare film that comes out fully formed. One vision, manipulated by one person, is so unusual that many of the most famous movies are considered collaborations before anything else. Actors want to add and/or modify their roles. Suits who provided the necessary greenlight (and funds) want their notes and suggestions. Members of the various crafts—art design, costumers, F/X artists—all hope for a chance to offer up their creative choices, and then the entire package is collected, collated, edited, and focus grouped, allowing even those without a single clue about the art form to determine what stays and what goes. Someone like David Lynch may have “final cut” over his efforts, but more times than not, a movie is not a finished product until it opens at your local Cineplex.
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With all its cinematic action, expressionistic designs, and thematic muddle, Metropolis is one of the easiest silent films to sell to contemporary audiences.
Steve Leftridge: Into the depths we go, brother. Oh, that Freder, with his lush hair and winged pantaloons and excruciatingly slow reaction times. Metropolis is rife with a few laughs it never intended to get, but when you compare it to the films of the same period—Chaplin’s The Kid, for instance, which we recently looked at for Double Take—it’s clear that Fritz Lang was working on a whole ‘nother level. Metropolis is remarkably ambitious in scope and design, and it covers timeless and sometimes scarily prescient themes and social concerns.
“The producers of the picture you are about to see feel a moral obligation to warn you that it will shock you as no other film ever has. Because it could be very harmful to young and impressionable minds, it is restricted to only those over 14 years of age.”
This come-on, after we’ve already paid for the ticket, opens American International Picture’s U.S. print of Mario Bava’s classic Italian horror film. Kino Lorber has previouly released the uncut edition on Blu-ray, and now they’ve exhumed the American International version for those nostalgics who grew up with it. You’d have to be a nostalgic or completist to find appeal in the film, and you certainly shouldn’t prefer this version to the original (with its sharper image), but it’s still spooky, clammy, and stylish. Those are all thanks to the gliding camera, Gothic sets, Bava’s expressionism, and Barbara Steele’s evil grins and flashing eyes as the dead, grotesquely deformed witch who tries to resurrect by stealing the youth of her descendant-double.
It remains one of the well worn clichés in the film business: ask a writer or actor what they want to do, and if they don’t answer “be a rock star”, they invariably say “direct”. Yep, the seat behind the camera, the voice of implied reason during what is often the cinematic equivalent of herding cats, seems to be what every non-director in Hollywood (and elsewhere) wants.
In some ways, it makes sense. There’s no better way to get your vision of a script or a character across to the audience then handling the interpretation yourself. There’s also the concept of power for the often powerless. For many first timers, the rewards can be astonishing. Such familiar names as Ron Howard, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, and Robert Redford have turned their time behind the scenes into pure Oscar gold.
It’s becoming a bit of a joke. The man hasn’t made a legitimate mainstream movie since 2001 (2006 if you count the digital experiment INLAND EMPIRE) and yet he remains one of the most highly regarded and beloved auteurs in all of film. His past efforts include masterworks such as Mulholland Dr., Lost Highway, Wild at Heart, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, and Eraserhead, and even his lesser efforts (Dune, The Straight Story, to some extent) radiate an artistic immediacy that is hard to shake.