Frank Borzage

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gelich
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Borzage silent films on DVD

#26 Post by gelich » Tue May 27, 2008 10:18 pm

This comment of interest appeared in the recent DVD Times review of 'The River':

"The BFI have his three silent masterpieces - 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Lucky Star - penned in for future release."

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HerrSchreck
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#27 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue May 27, 2008 11:08 pm

They're all just ports of Fox's masters-- a la Sunrise-- and a huge Borzage/Murnau set has been announced by Fox for R1. Never you mind the BFI on this one!

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#28 Post by MadJack » Wed May 28, 2008 11:15 am

a huge Borzage/Murnau set has been announced by Fox for R1. Never you mind the BFI on this one!
Especially as those BFI Borzage's were announced at least a couple of years ago, and have yet to see the light of day, whereas the Fox set is definitely coming this year.

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Derek Estes
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#29 Post by Derek Estes » Fri May 30, 2008 12:16 am

Besides being an obvious hint at Borzage's Seventh Heaven, do you think this also suggests Blu-Ray?

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Rufus T. Firefly
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#30 Post by Rufus T. Firefly » Fri May 30, 2008 4:04 am

Per DVD Savant:
Sometime around Christmas, Fox Home Video will be giving us a special F.W. Murnau / Frank Borzage box, on a 3 to 8 split. Murnau's titles are Sunrise, Four Devils and City Girl while Borzage's brood includes Lazybones, Seventh Heaven, Street Angel, The River (fragments), Lucky Star, They Had to See Paris, Song O' My Heart and Liliom. That's quite a list and I fear the box is going to be as expensive as last year's John Ford collectables.

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Michael Kerpan
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#31 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri May 30, 2008 9:06 am

Four Devils?

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#32 Post by mattkc » Fri May 30, 2008 11:32 am

My mouth is in full watering mode for the Borzage.

ptmd
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#33 Post by ptmd » Fri May 30, 2008 12:29 pm

Four Devils?
This must be the reconstruction/documentary that Janet Bergstrom put together several years ago (and which was included on the Sunrise DVD). Even if new materials had been discovered, they wouldn't have been able to put a restoration together this quickly and, if they had, they would be making a big deal out of it, with screenings at major repertory venues, rather than just dumping it in a DVD box.

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Cold Bishop
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#34 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri May 30, 2008 1:15 pm

125100 will be avenged!

Or, the more likely, its just a repackaging of the Sunrise disc with the restoration doc.

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The Fanciful Norwegian
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#35 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Sat May 31, 2008 3:23 am

Yeah, Dave Kehr says it's just the Bergstrom reconstruction.

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Tommaso
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#36 Post by Tommaso » Sat May 31, 2008 5:46 am

Derek Estes wrote:Besides being an obvious hint at Borzage's Seventh Heaven, do you think this also suggests Blu-Ray?
Well, I just read this post by David Hare in the Multi-Region Blu-Ray thread:
davidhare wrote:Given Fox is totally Phobic about DRM and Region/RCE codes EVERYTHING the forthcoming Murnau/Borzage Bergstrom Box will almost certainly come out in Blu forcing all non Statesiders (Region B in other words) to ponder how in the hell we deal with this. HTPC and AnyDVD/Slysoft or the ultra expensive modded players from Switzerland are so far the only solutions.
Now I'M getting indeed phobic. I couldn't care less if Fox released this on BluRay as well (region coded ir not), but would be going nuts if there wasn't a normal DVD version of this set as well. Anyone think Fox will release this ONLY on BluRay? That would be one of the greatest crimes ever committed to film-lovers worldwide....

ptmd
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#37 Post by ptmd » Sat May 31, 2008 1:25 pm

Anyone think Fox will release this ONLY on BluRay? That would be one of the greatest crimes ever committed to film-lovers worldwide....
I will be completely shocked if they do. The Blu-ray market is still just a tiny fraction of the regular DVD one and they would really be shooting themselves in the foot if they don't release a standard DVD version of this.

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Tommaso
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#38 Post by Tommaso » Sat May 31, 2008 4:31 pm

ptmd wrote:I will be completely shocked if they do. The Blu-ray market is still just a tiny fraction of the regular DVD one and they would really be shooting themselves in the foot if they don't release a standard DVD version of this.
I think you're right (at least I sincerely hope you are). But with all this enforced marketing of Blu Ray recently some crazy-minded guy at Fox might argue: 'hey, it's a niche product anyway, and it wouldn't be feasible to release this in two formats'. And they might well believe that Blu Ray will be standard in two or three years and rightly or wrongly believe they make larger sales with BR in the long run. But my guess is that probably they will release the set on normal DVD plus "Sunrise" on Blu Ray. Still, I'm getting increasingly paranoid about Blu Ray exclusives as long as the region problem isn't solved on a broad basis.

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HerrSchreck
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#39 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat May 31, 2008 5:14 pm

Does anybody have any concrete evidence from Fox that they plan to release this in Blu? It's not an unreasonable expectation, but before a panic ensues, can we confirm this either way?

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Finch
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#40 Post by Finch » Sun Aug 17, 2008 7:55 am

Desire to be released by Universal UK in R2 on the 13th of October. No artwork and specs as yet.

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foggy eyes
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#41 Post by foggy eyes » Sun Aug 17, 2008 6:54 pm

Mr Finch wrote:Desire to be released by Universal UK in R2 on the 13th of October. No artwork and specs as yet.
This won't have any extras, and the artwork will probably be the same as the other recent Universal Classics re-releases. Good to see all these Dietrichs becoming available as affordable individual discs - the transfers on this (first cap) and Lubitsch's Angel (second cap) are perfectly decent:

Image
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Via_Chicago
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#42 Post by Via_Chicago » Mon Sep 08, 2008 2:45 pm

I managed to catch TCM's recent airing of Man's Castle, giving me a chance to reevaluate the film, having first seen it nearly two years ago now. My warm feelings for the film remain unchanged, but I have a new respect for the film's intense formal qualities. Borzage always had the unique ability to immerse his audience in the isolated world of his lovers; this is present in nearly every Borzage that I've seen with the possible exception of Three Comrades. Amongst this group of films though (admittedly a much smaller sample of his cinema than that seen by davidhare or by lubitsch), Man's Castle has emerged (at least for me) as the strongest and clearest evocation of this aesthetic. And it is this thematic and aesthetic clarity that, for me, defines Borzage's films and gives them their poetic richness.

Man's Castle, like the films of Josef von Sternberg, exhibits a level of psychological depth through its mise-en-scene, revealed throughout the film in its dramatic use of light and texture. There is a powerful demonstration of this shortly after Bill first takes Trina with him to the shanty town. Borzage cuts to a close-up of Trina's face, presumably from Bill's POV, and its lit with such a completely unnatural, radiant light, that it imbues the moment with tremendous pathos, as well as with psychological import. It is as if we, the audience, are for one brief moment viewing Trina through Bill's eyes. This idea is completely at odds with Bill's character up to that point, but this dual aspect of Bill's personality, with a surface layer and a cinematic sub-text, is revealed at multiple points throughout the film. Thus, Bill's personal dilemma, manifested in part by Tracy's performance, is also made manifest through Borzage's mise-en-scene. Thus, when he finally breaks down in tears near the end of the film, this apparent "transformation" of Bill's character should come as no surprise because Borzage has been hinting at this dual aspect throughout the film via his mise-en-scene.

Likewise, Borzage reveals the intimacy of Bill and Trina's relationship through framing. Close-ups, medium shots, and two shots bring us physically closer to the couple, and when Trina reveals her pregnancy to Bill, we almost feel as if we're intruding on something intensely private and personal. In contrast, Bill's forays outside of this intimate world are illustrated largely through long shots. These feel distant and cold, almost (to use a word lacking in the right precision) unsafe. It's as if this contrast creates a mental prison for Trina, despite her lack of presence in these scenes. It's not surprising then that we hardly ever see Trina outside of her home - indeed, Bill himself is shocked (and, perhaps with some jest, angry) when he finds "Hoozit" in front of the store window. But the contrast in framing suggests that Bill's home is not "home," but Trina herself - a powerful metaphor for the comforts of true love.

All of this is to say nothing of the film's almost masterful use of sound. Borzage constantly uses train whistles to suggest sounds both exterior and interior, threatening and immediate. This sound does more, by itself, to threaten the lovers, than any other external threat in the film (the showgirl, the botched robbery, the neighbor, etc.). And as the film progresses, so too does Borzage's use of this sound-effect. It not only becomes louder, but it also becomes more insistent. It suddenly takes on its own dimensions, and it begins to affect the other characters as well - most notably Trina.

Yes, Man's Castle is without a doubt a masterpiece. The film's meaning and power seem to dwell entirely in its mise-en-scene. Certainly, the performances are good - but what Borzage does with this material is simply astonishing. This is a beautiful, timeless work of film art.

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tojoed
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#43 Post by tojoed » Tue Sep 09, 2008 7:20 am

DVD Beaver on The River.

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whaleallright
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#44 Post by whaleallright » Wed Sep 10, 2008 7:07 pm

Re. MAN'S CASTLE, does anyone else sense that the plot line with the blonde torch singer was truncated? The film is unusually short for an "A" feature, so it stands to reason that something was cut out.

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tryavna
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#45 Post by tryavna » Thu Sep 11, 2008 4:13 pm

jonah.77 wrote:Re. MAN'S CASTLE, does anyone else sense that the plot line with the blonde torch singer was truncated? The film is unusually short for an "A" feature, so it stands to reason that something was cut out.
I agree that the subplot of A Man's Castle does feel a little truncated, but I don't think that the film's length is sure-fire evidence. Dozens and dozens of pre-Code A pictures run under 80 minutes. (Just take a look at William Wellman's filmography.)

By the way, I also caught Borzage's Living on Velvet the other day, which would make for an interesting companion-piece to Man's Castle. It's also about a newly-married couple undergoing their first major crisis. Though now that I think about it, it reminds me much more of Vigo's L'Atlante. In fact, there's a dream sequence in which Kay Francis relives her tenderest moments with George Brent, though we get no cross-cutting from Brent's POV. The main problem with Living on Velvet is that the ending is a total cop-out. I suspect that the studio heavily pressured Borzage into making an unambiguously happy ending, whereas a more bittersweet one would have been in order. But the quick-pans during the sequence where Francis and Brent meet and lock eyes is absolutely fantastic.

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Via_Chicago
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#46 Post by Via_Chicago » Fri Sep 12, 2008 2:44 pm

I generally agree with your assessment of Living On Velvet, tryavna. It's an unusual picture in that it begins one way, seems to head in a totally different direction, and then takes another decisive tonal shift. In other words, it begins like Moonrise (man cured of his psychological wounds through the redemptive power of love), transforms into Three Comrades (understanding friends in love with the same woman), and then ends as some kind of alternative version of Gremillon's Le ciel est a vous (husband sacrificing everything for his wife's aviation ambitions). Living On Velvet certainly suffers from this lack of a clear thematic direction; however, it also suffers from a lack of formal investment in the material.

Borzage's formal treatment of this material is only intermittently excellent. You mention the wonderful scene above in which Amy and Terry first see each other. Borzage handles this whole sequence with extreme delicacy - and even when the lovers talk, it's utterly inconsequential - we know they're already in love. Likewise, the scene in which Amy returns home to find that her husband has spent his thousands on a plane, is emotionally devastating. Still, the film's script and its abbreviated length never allow Borzage to really hit on one specific theme and develop it.

The abruptness of the ending feels so dreadfully "off" for just this reason. It's as if the writers didn't know how to satisfactorally conclude the story they've developed so they thought: "What the hell? Let's just tie Terry's transformation back to that opening traumatic accident." In a different film, that might actually work. However, in this film, the tone is so all over the place, that it's almost impossible (if not just outright impossible) to take the ending seriously as a result.

I'll leave it to others more knowledgeable on the topic, like dave hare or lubitsch, to discuss the impact the move to Warners had on Borzage in this period, but the evidence from the film itself - its style and story (particularly its overall glossiness) - can't hide its thematic creakiness, nor Borzage's only half-hearted interest in the material.
Last edited by Via_Chicago on Sat Sep 13, 2008 3:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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tryavna
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#47 Post by tryavna » Fri Sep 12, 2008 7:57 pm

I think Via_Chicago has articulated the major problem with Living on Velvet very nicely. I hadn't even recognized -- consciously or unconsciously -- that the car crash at the end is meant to parallel the plane crash at the beginning. But of course, that's because it's not really spelled out; we don't even see the car crash from Brent's POV, as we do the opening plane crash (which is well-handled, in my opinion). But even more importantly, the payoff simply isn't there. As Via says, nobody's invested in the material (or its presentation) enough.

One final minor point in the film's favor: Kay Francis gets the opportunity to poke fun at her own infamous trouble with the letter "r." She starts to say the whole "Thiwy days hath Septembehw, Apwil, May, and Novembehw" and Brent calls attention to it, whereupon they both have a good laugh. As protective as studios could be of their biggest stars, it says a lot about the faith Warner Bros. and Francis must have had in Borzage's ability to handle the scene without making Francis look foolish.

(By the way, just following TCM's star of the month theme this month has made me realize that Francis had a respectable career in terms of working with major directors: Borzage, Lubitsch, Cukor, King Vidor, Curtiz, Dieterle, etc. Not too shabby....)

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Via_Chicago
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#48 Post by Via_Chicago » Fri Sep 19, 2008 11:26 am

tryavna wrote:I think Via_Chicago has articulated the major problem with Living on Velvet very nicely. I hadn't even recognized -- consciously or unconsciously -- that the car crash at the end is meant to parallel the plane crash at the beginning. But of course, that's because it's not really spelled out; we don't even see the car crash from Brent's POV, as we do the opening plane crash (which is well-handled, in my opinion). But even more importantly, the payoff simply isn't there. As Via says, nobody's invested in the material (or its presentation) enough.
Well, I don't know if it is meant to parallel the opening plane crash, but it's the only motivation I can find for its inclusion in the film. There certainly isn't any character motivation or psychological motivation that I can find that would explain Terry's actions (which we're never sure are deliberate or not). Terry has such an endearingly child-like naivety as it is, that it's extremely hard to believe that he was capable of that kind of dramatic character turnaround. But you're right, the shifting tonalities make this even more difficult to understand - ditto Terry's personal revelations after having survived the crash.

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Frank Borzage's Secrets ought to come with a disclaimer: for Mary Pickford fans only. Indeed, Secrets not only lacks the thematic intensity of Borzage's best films, but it also seems to exist primarily as a vehicle for star and producer Mary Pickford. Unfortunately for all involved (and most especially for us, the viewers), not only is Pickford hardly up to the task of carrying this film, but the film itself is little more than a static, uninteresting trifle.

One big reason for this though is the film's story and script. Secrets possesses four acts that each seem like they're from totally different films. The first act, in which Howard takes Pickford away from her domineering father (a sadly insignificant C. Aubrey Smith) and the possibility of a loveless arranged marriage, while mostly boring, at least promises the possibility of a Borzagian spin, perhaps not unlike that of his vastly superior Little Man, What Now? (lovers brought together by poverty and struggle). Instead though, the film transitions to an even stranger (but at least slightly more entertaining) second act, in which Howard and Pickford "tough it" in lawless California. Finally, after a twenty minute Western shootout (at least it felt that long), the film changes track again. This time, we discover that Howard is on the verge of being elected Governor of California (!), but his burgeoning political career and his marriage are both threatened by a blackmailing mistress (!!). Strangely, there are no consequences to this, and the film changes gears yet again - now Howard and Pickford are old folks (!!!) ready for retirement and a peaceful life back in California.

All of these narrative threads might have made sense if there were some consistent character pschology or narrative drive stringing them together. However, Secrets offers us no such thing. Instead, what we are given are rough-hewn caricatures: Howard's strong/silent pioneer (and philanderer?!), Pickford's strong/loyal wife and mother (and perpetual doormat?!), etc. So insulting are these characterizations, that even a more generous running time wouldn't really allow the audience any more insight into their motivations or their story. The narrative itself doesn't make sense much as narratives go, unless one considers the theme of Pickford's love for Howard the dominant "plot" of the film. And because of an almost complete lack of chemistry between the two, even that feels cheap and forced.

Ultimately, there is little to recommend about this utterly drab, completely uninteresting picture. There aren't even many moments worthy of Borzage's immense visual talent. There is one shot that stands out in this film and it is a marvel - Borzage frames Pickford and her young infant child against a burning, smoking door frame, and for a brief moment, the film transcends all of its shortcomings. This kind of pictorial beauty though is all too brief. Similarly, there are little of the deep, intense close-ups that mark some of Borzage's other films from this period, like 1933's Man's Castle (see my comments above for more on this). I can only imagine that Pickford wanted to hide her obvious unsuitability for the role of a young ingenue (she was 41 at the time), but the resulting picture is even more distracting in its complete lack of character development, thematic clarity, or narrative comprehension.

Editorial comment: Why were those posts merged? Bored?

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HerrSchreck
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#49 Post by HerrSchreck » Sun Oct 05, 2008 4:43 am

Saw the UCLA Film & TV resto of Borzage's 1920 Humoresque today over at MoMa, a quite nice tinted print. The same print of the dvd-r I have, which I never managed to get through due to its haziness.

The film, despite it's passability as melodrama, is riddled with problems. My overriding interest, aside from the director and the obscurity of the title, was in the NYC pedigree of the films production and subject matter (it's based on a Fannie Hurst novel).

Vaguely Jazz Singeresque (haw haw haw) the film is about a hardscrabble kid growing up in the jewish ghetto of NYC's lower east side, discovers a love-- and innate talent-- for the violin, and hits the big time.. goes to war, is wounded, thinks he'll never play again.. yadda.

The film is part of the Hollywood on the Hudson program, where NYC in the years 1920-late 30's was competing with LA as a filmmaking center. And as such this title fits right in, with amazing location shooting down on the lower east side.. they place the family in a tenement apartment right by the old elevated subway that used to run over and down the Bowery. You see the subway rolling by right outside their window, camera setups out on the fire escape looking down onto the street, across the other fire escapes and washlines. You really get a sense of the squalid, dingy, cramped, squawking life in the tenements of flaking paint, rusty pipes, smells, noises, parents with flashing tempers etc.

But compositionally, in narrative terms, the film is all off. At 70 minutes, the film takes a good half hour or so to introduce all of the characters and plot themes, using the standard title cards describing each new element as it is inserted. It's a long slow ramp up to the actual narrative crux, which is the kid's discovery of the violin on his birthday. Along the way we are introduced to his tightfisted, trinket-shop/pawnbroker father, his siblings, street urchin friends, little grilfriend (the love interest who will of course bloom into a fabulous woman as the narrative pops), etc. Suddenly, after getting his violin (which requires a hockshop compromise as his father doesn't want to pay the $4 price for a beginners violin), the narrative blinks and the boy is a man and the man is a success. The girl appears and the two are in love with a wonderful future assured.

SPOILERS BELOW**Then in five minutes the narrative blinks and WW1 is looming-- then the narrative blinks again and the parents are sitting at home months or years later, and theres a ring at the door-- a soldier, not their son Leon. No he's not dead, but he's in the hospital, badly wounded. This is followed by a hospital visit, with all the relevant swooning.

Blink. The guy's back home. He's crippled, doesn't think he'll ever walk or play the violin again. The doctor says it's an issue of will. He cant help Leon if he wont help himself.

The guy's wife/old sweetheart goes in to see him as usual, and listen at his bedside as he moans how he'll never walk or play again. She swoons with grief, steps away from the bed and walks from the bedroom, and collapses.. Leon sees the sillouhette of her collapse and hears her crumple to the floor. He LEAPS TO HIS FEET AND PICKS HER UP AND CARRIES HER TO THE BED.. and looks at himself standing there are says "Oh shit thats right-- I just got up and walked!"

Whereby he cradles his smiling wife, happily ever after, the end.

What I havent mentioned is the subtext of this film, which is the near incestuous love between Leon Kantor and his mommy, a hot tumescent chubby ball of busty, throbbing mommy-love. She is always cradling little Leon to her, worshipping him, adoring him, kissing him, fighting his dad for him, protecting him, encouraging him. In the single scene we see of him as a big star violinist on command performance, she compains how little she's seen of him-- she makes this full grown man sit on her lap, and cradles him like he was a toddler. She gives him long yecky fucking kisses on the lips when he's a full grown man, literally like they're making out. Some of it verges on the truly bizarre.. though of course she's just an overly worshipful jewish mama of the old days. But even in those terms I think it's overdone, with Borzage's trademark romanticism touching a bit on some very unpolished points of clumsy awkwardness and even flat out strangeness.

And of course the narrative imbalances are enormous. So much time is taken setting up the narrative, that the narrative, when it actually gets rolling, seems almost an afterthought. A long slow rhythm is established, and then the melodrama is subsequently ticked off in such rapid fashion in the second half that it feels almost like the film was cut down by the studio prior to release. Normally I'd wonder whether pieces of the film were missing and thus the print I saw was not complete.. but the narrative doesn't have any factual holes. Nothing from the story is missing, and the chronology is completely intact. It's just unfolded in an extremely uneven fashion.

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tryavna
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#50 Post by tryavna » Fri Oct 10, 2008 3:58 pm

I finally got around to watching Secrets, and sadly, I have to agree with Via once again. It's pretty dire, and it's easy to see why it was Pickford's swan song. She lacks the vitality and charisma here that she brought to her best silent films (like Sparrows). I think my biggest problem, however, is that it's yet another of those episodic, multi-decade family sagas that seemed to be the rage in the 1930s that bore me to tears (like Cavalcade and Cimarron -- the latter featuring another long-suffering frontier wife). So once I realized where the film was going, I began zoning out during the second half.

Via has picked out a couple of the moments where Borzage shines: the transitions between the "acts" and the great shot of Pickford exiting the burning building. But there are a few others. The first act focuses a lot on the feet of the young lovers (Pickford dancing, Howard hiding from her father, etc.), and Borzage playfully transitions from feet walking to wheels turning as the couple heads West. I also thought that the very last shot of film had a typically Borzagian touch. First we see the now-elderly couple driving away from their adult children, and then it fades into the image of the two as a newly married couple riding a wagon west. It's the one moment of transcendence-through-love (that I typically expect from Borzage) in the film, reminding us of the shared life of this couple. Unfortunately, as Via points out, by this time, we just don't really care about the characters enough.

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