Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Spoiled Souls, Frank Capra's Lost Horizon, and a Black & White Victory

Everyone I know who was going away for the holidays has gone. Those staying behind are whining about missing out.  These are the same people who went on ski vacations last winter to Vermont and Switzerland.  The same ones who went on a cruise to no-where this summer.  You know, those poor, unfortunate souls. 

(Bring up the tiny Violins, and more cowbell over here, please!)

Watched Frank Capra's Lost Horizon yesterday, not having seen it in a few years, and marveled at his filmmaking genius. Great cast, shot on a shoestring budget and he had a winner for the ages all round. The fascinating stories surrounding the film are legion and the film holds up today, even without a new digitally mastered DVD. (Anyone hear that?  Hint, Hint!)

The one good thing about viewing films alone is that one can watch scenes or bits of scenes over and over to get more out of them.  I do this a lot. Even before film school with only 16mm prints available (no video tape or DVD back then) I would check them out of the visual arts lending library at MOMA on the weekends and enjoy a feast for 2 days. 

With the invention of VHS then DVD this hobby was made ridiculously easy.  I did it yesterday…with Lost Horizon.

People say as we get older we get nostalgic for the good old days.  Well, I am one who doesn't think the "good old days" of my youth are anything to celebrate (A topic for another post, if I'm still around to write it) but the films of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood (30s thru 50s) - the harsh realities of the studio system notwithstanding - gave us the best art and entertainment at a very low price. 

I am told there is a DVD box set containing many of Capra's films (couldn't be all of them, puleeze, who could afford it?) and if there is one of his films I'd love to see again, right now, it's probably one of the most difficult to find. "You Can't take it with You." 

Again, a great cast, brilliant writing and a story for the ages. Capra pretty much had his own stock company at the studio.  You're likely to see the same players in many of his films with the  majority of additions being leading players.

About 30 years ago as old Hollywood heaved it's last breath and Ted Turner was the master of all the vaults and archives, he decided to take all the BEST black & white films in "his" vast acquired library and colorize them for marketing to new audiences who (he thought) would never sit through a B&W film again.  Of course, he ignored the popularity of films like Paper Moon and others of the 70s - all first run and award nominees. Turner was not a film person. 

It's hard to explain really; one didn't need to see colour to experience it in our imagination - cinematically. We knew Jezebel's gown was red, we were told it was and we saw it so.  Turner clearly had no knowledge for the way lighting design, costumes and set decorations were integrated into the making of a visually exciting B&W experience.  He would listen to no one. It was a huge mistake.

The results were disastrous and he lost tons of money in the process. No one wanted to see a sickly pink younger version of Jimmy Stewart, Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, or Gary Cooper on their home screens.  Turner finally admitted defeat and dropped the rest of the project.  And we are the beneficiaries of the backlash from film buffs all over the world.  Myself, included. I was a member of the New York Film Society and American Film Institute at the time.  You can be sure I put my 2-cents in. 

I don't know what happened to all the VHS copies of  the colorized classics, but I am sure someone somewhere is still hoarding them waiting for a comeback. They will make a killing.  (Ahem.) Remember 8-track tapes???

Jeez, where did all that come from?  Dunno. 

Anyway, We can go into "fullscreen" vs "letterbox" at a later date, too.  Aren't you excited?  Oh, just say, YES! and let move's on. 

One of my all-time favorite holiday films is "It's a Wonderful Life" (yes, Frank Capra) and I just may watch that one tonight.  Capra always had a political viewpoint, and the film's story line is more appropriate today than ever.  Besides, I still love my angel, Clarence, after all these years.

And so it goes.


  1. letterbox is good. colorized is bad. b&w movies are cool.

  2. Never saw "It's a Wonderful Life" but have seen the original 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol"…..in black and white. I can't imagine seeing Dickens "A Christmas Carol" in color. Did you know I was named after Ronald Coleman? Do you care? Well, I was. So there.

  3. Ron, I think Dickens in B&W fits our perception of the times about which he writes. I totally agree.
I cannot believe you've never seen It's a wonderful life. How did you miss this one?

    Named after movie star, Ronald Coleman, huh? My siblings and me were so named, too. One after Hope Lange, one after a Sonya Henie character's name (Trudy) in a movie, and one after Wayne Morris. We were, I am sure, all named as a legacy. All those movies everyone watched during the depression and WW2 had an impact.

  4. for comfort i pull out favorite movies and watch choice scenes.


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If they are simply a tirade or opinionated bullshit, they will be removed, so don't waste your time, or mine.

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