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Tony Grist

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The Moon And Sixpence (1942) [May. 5th, 2012|11:29 am]
Tony Grist
Charles Strickland, a London stockbroker, remarkable only for being outstandingly boring, leaves his wife and kids and goes off to Paris to learn to paint. There he turns into a heartless Nietzschean superman. A soft-hearted Dutch painter saves his life and he repays him by walking off with his wife, then dumping her. He is not exactly a seducer. He follows his destiny and if moths flutter into his hard gem-like flame so much the worse for them. He moves to Tahiti- which is full of Conradian soaks and hula-hula girls- marries a dusky maiden, makes a speech about women having no souls to mask the fact that he's falling in love, contracts leprosy, paints a final masterpiece (Gauguin meets Art Deco) and dies having left instructions that it should be burned. Cue raging inferno.

An end title flops up, telling us that Strickland may have been a great artist, but nothing can excuse the "ugliness" of his life. Phew, thank you Hays Code, you just saved me from jumping on the first tramp steamer to Polynesia.

Albert Lewin made a number of odd, infuriating, cack-handed but impassioned movies. The best of the ones I've seen is The Picture of Dorian Gray. This was the first. It aspires to be Citizen Kane but obviously isn't.  At times its reliance on voice-over narration reduces it to an illustrated lecture. George Sanders is magnetic as Strickland. 

File:The-Moon-and-Sixpence-1942.jpg
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: raakone
2012-05-05 11:59 am (UTC)
Part of the description seems like it's based on the life of Gauguin....who up and left his wife and children and moved to Tahiti!

If you have too much voice-over, it sounds more like a documentary, you know?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-05 01:04 pm (UTC)
Yes it's essentially a life of Gauguin, with the nationality changed and the details simplified and cleaned up a bit.

The voice-over derives from the original novel, in which the story is pieced together by a narrator who is a version of the actual author, Somerset Maugham. I think it's a device that works better on the page than in film- which is essentially a visual medium.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-05-05 05:27 pm (UTC)
I think it's a device that works better on the page than in film- which is essentially a visual medium.

He has the same problem in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), actually—I don't know if there was a source novel in that case, but he has an entirely superfluous amateur archaeologist played by Harold Warrender whose sole purpose in the script, so far as I could tell, is to narrate everything about the film that was already obvious to the viewer or comment on the conclusions we'd just reached. He didn't break the film for me, but I just kept wanting to reach through the screen and shut him up.

Incidentally:

Phew, thank you Hays Code, you just saved me from jumping on the first tramp steamer to Polynesia.

*snerk*
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-05 07:48 pm (UTC)
I saw that on TV ages ago. I'd forgotten about Warrender but I remember it being very brightly coloured.

They shot some it in Tossa de Mar in Catalonia and the local people have commemorated this significant event in their history by erecting a statue of Ava Gardner on a hill above the town. It doesn't look the least bit like her.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-05 04:31 pm (UTC)
It's not that awful. Sanders is terrific. And Lewin obviously believes in his material. Have you see his Dorian Gray? That's almost a great movie. It's certainly an unforgettable one.
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From: algabal
2012-05-06 02:17 am (UTC)
I love that moment, too. People forget that the whole point of movies is to show us things!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-06 09:11 am (UTC)
That's the one. Lewin uses the same trick in The Moon and Sixpence- switching to Technicolour when Strickland's underwhelming masterpiece is finally revealed.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-05-07 03:50 am (UTC)
It's beyond just a simple Boo! tactic, there's something dreadfully revelatory in that moment.

Yes; I love it. It should be a cheap trick and instead it's as shocking in a black-and-white film as a portrait that changes in a living world.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-05-05 05:21 pm (UTC)
Albert Lewin made a number of odd, infuriating, cack-handed but impassioned movies. The best of the ones I've seen is The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I really like The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I think is simply a good version of the novel despite its third-act love interest and probably the most faithful adaptation going; I agree that Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) is frustrating, but I'm still fond of it. It feels only a half-step off from the world in which it was a film by the Archers—the bit parts include Marius Goring and Sheila Sim and Jack Cardiff even did the cinematography. There are astonishing little touches of strangeness: James Mason as the mysterious Hendrik van der Zee paints his long-lost wife as Pandora in the style of de Chirico's faceless muses; when he recounts the story of the Dutchman's damnation, it's composed like a series of Rembrandt tableaux. Charged with his wife's murder, he swears before the judges that God is chaos, faith a lie, and a man could sail all the oceans of the world till doomsday and never find a woman capable of keeping her word . . . He walks out of his cell as if in a dream to find a ship waiting for him, silently at anchor. Unseen ghosts hold the wheel; demons of the air unfurl the sails. A gull with bloodstained wings circles above him, crying like his wife. He finds to his horror that the ship will answer to every one of his thoughts but his desire to go home. Some of the dialogue is over-weighted: we don't need Ava Gardner's Pandora to challenge one man's proposal of marriage by asking, "What perfectly incredible thing would you do for me?" when it's clear from the outset we're operating in the realm of impossible, unreasonable proofs of love. But some of it is somber and evocative, especially when delivered by Mason: he says absently, early on, "It's a poem about the sea. I know a great deal about the sea," and there is great bitterness and too much time in his voice and nothing too much explained.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-05 07:56 pm (UTC)
Lewin was almost a great director, but there's something missing- perhaps a sense of humour.

You make me want to watch Pandora again- soon. I'm very fond of James Mason. He came from round here- specifically from Huddersfield- on the Yorkshire side of the Pennines- about 15 miles away.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-05-07 06:24 am (UTC)
Lewin was almost a great director, but there's something missing- perhaps a sense of humour.

There is humor in The Picture of Dorian Gray. There is not quite enough trust in the numinous in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, which may be its problem. The archaeologist-narrator is unnecessary and so are most of the supporting cast. All you really need is the vortex of Garner and Mason, dragging the film in and down with them, all the way to hell and redemption.

You make me want to watch Pandora again- soon. I'm very fond of James Mason. He came from round here- specifically from Huddersfield- on the Yorkshire side of the Pennines- about 15 miles away.

He was a sort of stealth character actor, sneaking it into leading roles. He's one of my favorites. I didn't know he was local to you!
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-05-07 03:53 am (UTC)
Also just stumbled on this

Oh, yes. If you haven't yet seen Jarman's The Tempest (1979), you should. It has my favorite Ariel, and my favorite Miranda, and a Prospero who isn't like any other take on the character I've seen. It's an astonishing thing.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2012-05-05 09:55 pm (UTC)
George Sanders would be magnetic reading the phone book. Or singing. Have you heard this? (which, by the way, he also wrote)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zzjj5u1M-14

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