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PostPosted: Fri Aug 25, 2006 5:31 pm 
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Just wanted to share my thoughts on this film, which was brought to my attention by Gary Tooze at DVDBeaver (and features a brief comment on one of his complaints about the film):

In lesser hands, 1956's Friendly Persuasion would no doubt have been a melodromatic, sentimental fantasy. That somehow William Wyler makes the film work is not only a testament to the strength of Wyler's directorial skill, but also proof that Wyler deserves the auteur status that has been given to some of his Hollywood peers, most famously Howard Hawks, championed by the Cahiers crowd in the 1960s. Wyler deserves the title, not only because he exhibited a large degree of control over his projects, but because, like many of the greatest directors, his films display a unique visual style, and his stories nearly all feature a recurring thematic motif. That his visual style is indeed the very absence of visual flourishes should not bother the auteurist critics. That he would sacrifice such visual flourishes in his unwavering committment to his stories, many of which revolved around domestic conflicts, is evidence of Wyler's mastery of the medium, resulting in a lyrical cinema stripped of its pretentions and complications.

Wyler begins his opening scene with a narration by Little Jess (Richard Eyer), accompanying it with images of his mother's (Dorothy McGuire) pet goose, the subject of his narration. This opening sequence is initially perplexing, but when viewed in the context of the rest of the picture, it is illuminating rather than banal. Like much of the rest of the film's first hour, this sequence has a deceptively light tone. By filming Little Jess' act of small violence as comedy, Wyler acknowledges that simple acts of violence can contain a perverted sense of humor, and it's almost a knowing dig at the audience who laughs right along with him. That we find this and other acts of "wholesome" violence throughout the picture humorous, demonstrates Wyler's success. What once appeared trivial and almost too playfully absurd, appears at the end a microcosm of the film's message.

Little Jess and the rest of his family are Quakers, and thus are morally and philosophically opposed to violence of any kind. With the film's very first scene, Wyler demonstrates not only how impossible it is to live a life free from violence, no matter how trivial, but also the conflicts and consequences that violence of all kinds will bring to the Birdwell family. Wyler does not pause and ask his audience whether they understand this. He know that they don't and that they won't until the picture is over. By depicting this short scene between Little Jess and the animal, Wyler makes us ask all sorts of troubling questions. How is it possible to live a life free from violence? Is that even possible at all? Should we ever compromise our moral values for what we believe is a just cause? Can violence ever be justified? While the picture offers us no definitive solutions, it does offer us several possible answers.

Wyler builds and builds these sequences of small violence, until they're lurking so near to the surface that they quite literally explode into the violence of the Civil War, a kind of violence that is completely unavoidable. When the Birdwell family travels to the local fair, every imaginable kind of temptation is on display. Jess (Gary Cooper) takes up a game at the shooting gallery, and later gets caught up with a persuasive organ salesman (Walter Catlett). Little Jess unwittingly helps out a group of gamblers, while his sister Martha (Phyllis Love) dances with her suitor, Gardner Jordan (Peter Mark Richman). Even their mother can be seen tapping her foot to the rhythms of the dance music. It is ironic that only naive, torn Josh (Anthony Perkins) is able to resist temptation, taking blows to the face from a group of angry gamblers, without so much as lifting a finger to defend himself. It's his father that uses physical force to free him from both pain and humiliation.

The second half of the picture is devoted to these contradictory actions and emotions of the Birdwell family, particularly Josh, as it is nearly torn apart by the ravages of the Civil War. The question that faces the family is simple: how do they justify their pacifism when Confederate soldiers could at any minute tear the family apart? It's ironic, Wyler persuasively argues, that the moral dilemma is what nearly destroys them, but it's the family's willingness to accept Josh's decision to fight that keeps them together. Indeed, Josh's dilemma is yet another microcosm of the film's overarching dramatic arc. Perkins brings to the character a shy warmth, while Wyler visually accentuates his lanky frame, humbling him, but showing the internal conflict that is eating at his soul.

When the matriarch and Quaker preacher Eliza also succombs to violence in a fit of rage, both she and the audience realize that living a philosophy and believing it are two totally different things. Her husband however, never neglects his committment to his ideals when they are most direly tested. In a masterfully realized sequence, Wyler draws our sympathy when Jess discovers his dying friend Sam (Rob Middleton), but he then reverses our emotions.

In this sequence, a Confederate soldier grazes Jess with a bullet. Believing him dead, the soldier comes over to examine the body. Framing this scene in long shot, Wyler directs our anger to the slowly approaching soldier and through is mise-en-scene, focuses our attention on the faking Jess and the rifle that lay next to him. We desperately want Jess to spring up and kill the soldier, but Wyler takes the scene in an entirely different direction. When Jess indeed does surprise the soldier, he refuses to kill him. Wyler here shows us a close up of the soldier's face, a mixture of both surprise, fear, and disbelief. Wyler has taken our calousness, our desire to see the soldier dead, and throws it back in our face. Jess' nobility is so stunning because it's so surprising, so true, and so perfectly realized.

I read one review which remarked that there were several scenes were passages of minor violence go apparently unnoticed and unpunished, where violence is answered with more violence. I would be quick to add that while it's true that the violence might indeed go unnoticed it does not go unpunished. The punishment is the guilt that each family member feels and that each pushes upon one another. How can you live with yourself when you are in continuous violation of your own moral code? While Josh's morals, his sense of what is right, is at odds with his faith, he'd be unable to live with himself if he hadn't fought for what he belived was just. Likewise, his father would have never been able to live down the guilt he'd have felt had he killed the Confederate soldier. While the smaller acts of violence don't wreck nearly as much personal and familial havoc, they nevertheless put a strain on each and every member of the family. Wyler begins Friendly Persuasion with what seems to be a black-and-white morality, but ends the film with troubling shades of gray.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 25, 2006 7:21 pm 
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Reading this makes me want to buy the disc.

I haven't seen it for years but remember it with great affection (not least for Cooper.) Certainly Im prepared to reconsider Wyler's position - he's always seen as a mere craftsman - on the strength of this, The Letter and The Collector alone.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 25, 2006 7:24 pm 
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As I have always said, Wyler is in the process of being re-rated in the pantheon of directors.

His masterpiece list is very long - Dodsworth, Dead End, The Letter, Best Years...,The Heiress, Ben-Hur (which I have now re-considered, it hasn't dated), The Collector, Friendly Persuasion etc.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 26, 2006 5:16 pm 
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Via_Chicago wrote:
In lesser hands, 1956's Friendly Persuasion would no doubt have been a melodromatic, sentimental fantasy. That somehow William Wyler makes the film work is not only a testament to the strength of Wyler's directorial skill, but also proof that Wyler deserves the auteur status that has been given to some of his Hollywood peers, most famously Howard Hawks, championed by the Cahiers crowd in the 1960s. [...]That his visual style is indeed the very absence of visual flourishes should not bother the auteurist critics. That he would sacrifice such visual flourishes in his unwavering committment to his stories, many of which revolved around domestic conflicts, is evidence of Wyler's mastery of the medium, resulting in a lyrical cinema stripped of its pretentions and complications.

Excuse me, but I think you are seriously wrong on some things you wrote.
First there's no need to assume Wyler an auteur. The cahiers critics successfully managed to introduce this category as THE good or bad criteria for directors. By now you have to prove that somebody is an auteur or the guy is in serious trouble with the critics.
Secondly Wyler in fact could be very easily pinned down as an auteur despite the fact that he chose few of the scripts he made. He has a very consistent visual style and almost all his films centre around problems of class differences between people, just check it. That this idiots of the Cahiers missed that is not particularily surprising.
Third Wyler's films are NOT marked by the absence of visual flourishes. Again the father of auteurism Bazin wrote a remarkably dumb article about Wyler analyzing how he stripped his films from style and so on. That's deadly wrong, you can note significant differences between classical Hollywood style and Wyler's style. Consider the unusually long takes, the theatrical arrangements of the figures in closed rooms, overlong close ups and deliberately missing reaction shots, the staging of characters in the depth and in the height (the Wyler staircases) and so on. In short Wyler is a very conscious stylist.
Fourth FRIENDLY PERSUASION is pretty much the last film of Wyler I would use to begin a discussion about him and where you can see his qualities. MRS.MINIVER is at least well directed, THE LIBERATION OF L.B.JONES vaguely social conscious and HOW TO STEAL A MILLION funny.
FRIENDLY PERSUASION is nothing of the kind. First it is lacking Wyler's visual style almost completely. I am just writing a paper on Wyler's style, but this film is really no help whatsoever. when we had the seminar one year ago we dropped it as the single available film together with FUNNY GIRL and LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES because it wasn't really worth the time. Then I think your analyzing of the opening scene with the rooster is ... ah ... slightly over the top. The film plays as a collection of cute scenes which often center around the family life somehow trying to convince us that the mother of the family is nevertheless a lovable old girl despite being an American version of a Taliban (no music, dance and so on for religious reasons, oppressing the whole family). After you have suffered through all the sweet stuff the movie courageously manages to AVOID absolutely every problem it has set. The son decides to join the fight, but we don't see anything later of the fighting, the father later finds him unconscious. The scene with the father not killing the soldier is also avoiding all problems by not bringing Cooper in a situation where he HAS to kill somebody to defend his life. Instead we get a scene where he can act as good and merciful saint accompanied by the appropriate music. already the contemporary critic pointed out that the film was too saccharine and avoided a serious discussion of the issues it sets out to analyze.
Wyler's really great films are DODSWORTH, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, THE LITTLE FOXES, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, THE HEIRESS, CARRIE and THE CHILDREN'S HOUR (though that's a rather isolated standpoint of mine) and finally THE COLLECTOR.
BTW including BEN HUR is another way to disgrace Wyler the artist for Wyler the collector of pay checks.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 26, 2006 5:53 pm 
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Excuse me, but I think you are seriously wrong on some things you wrote.


That's fine. How could you have a discussion without opposing viewpoints?

Quote:
First there's no need to assume Wyler an auteur. The cahiers critics successfully managed to introduce this category as THE good or bad criteria for directors. By now you have to prove that somebody is an auteur or the guy is in serious trouble with the critics.


It seems that way doesn't it? I mentioned Cahiers and the auteur theory as a means of beginning my short essay on the film.

Quote:
Secondly Wyler in fact could be very easily pinned down as an auteur despite the fact that he chose few of the scripts he made. He has a very consistent visual style and almost all his films centre around problems of class differences between people, just check it. That this idiots of the Cahiers missed that is not particularily surprising.


I remember reading that Wyler indeed did do a lot of work on his film's scripts in his post WWII period. Is this not true?

I also noted the consistent theme of domestic conflict and more particularly the dynamic contrast between life within society and domestic life. That the Cahiers critics failed to note this is indeed a major oversight.

Quote:
Third Wyler's films are NOT marked by the absence of visual flourishes. Again the father of auteurism Bazin wrote a remarkably dumb article about Wyler analyzing how he stripped his films from style and so on. That's deadly wrong, you can note significant differences between classical Hollywood style and Wyler's style. Consider the unusually long takes, the theatrical arrangements of the figures in closed rooms, overlong close ups and deliberately missing reaction shots, the staging of characters in the depth and in the height (the Wyler staircases) and so on. In short Wyler is a very conscious stylist.


Interesting. I'll actually have to read the Bazin article, since I knew nothing of it. Perhaps I should go and watch every Wyler film (which I haven't), because I made the comment based on the several Wyler films that I have seen. I suppose there is a consistent visual style, but I'd be willing to argue that Wyler meant it more as a means of conveying his story than any conscious effort to impose his stamp upon his film. To me, that just seems entirely out of Wyler's character. But I'll make a point of looking for some of these visual patterns that you've mentioned, thanks.

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Fourth FRIENDLY PERSUASION is pretty much the last film of Wyler I would use to begin a discussion about him and where you can see his qualities. MRS.MINIVER is at least well directed, THE LIBERATION OF L.B.JONES vaguely social conscious and HOW TO STEAL A MILLION funny.


I should say that I only wrote this because I just watched the film and wanted to discuss it. That's all.

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Then I think your analyzing of the opening scene with the rooster is ... ah ... slightly over the top.


That's fine if you think so, but for the sake of your own argument, you might want to actually qualify that statement (oh, and it's a goose, not a rooster). The opening scene is quite consistent with the tone of the first half of the picture. That the film changes gears completely in its second half should not go unnoticed. Hell, Wyler even throws in a bit of chiasmus at the end of the picture wherein Little Jess is seen feeding the goose, demonstrating a reversal wherein the mother becomes the violent protector of her pet, while the son becomes its nurturer.

Quote:
The film plays as a collection of cute scenes which often center around the family life somehow trying to convince us that the mother of the family is nevertheless a lovable old girl despite being an American version of a Taliban (no music, dance and so on for religious reasons, oppressing the whole family).


I don't think the film's trying to convince us of anything of the sort. Instead, it transforms a passive woman into a violent woman. It casually (and somewhat subversively) exposes her hypocrisy. This hypocrisy is pointed out in almost every scene. I alluded to her tapping her foot to the rhythm of the music at the fair, but her hypocrisy is again pointed out to her by her husband in a later scene where her daughter is upstairs with her beau. That Wyler doesn't make her out to be the personfiication of the Taliban is to his credit, since Eliza's tactics are entirely psychological, but never violent.

Quote:
After you have suffered through all the sweet stuff the movie courageously manages to AVOID absolutely every problem it has set. The son decides to join the fight, but we don't see anything later of the fighting, the father later finds him unconscious. The scene with the father not killing the soldier is also avoiding all problems by not bringing Cooper in a situation where he HAS to kill somebody to defend his life. Instead we get a scene where he can act as good and merciful saint accompanied by the appropriate music. already the contemporary critic pointed out that the film was too saccharine and avoided a serious discussion of the issues it sets out to analyze.


The son's response to what he's witnessed is shown by Wyler. While you mention that his father finds him unconscious this is not true. Indeed, his father finds his son clutching to the body of a Confederate soldier he'd killed. All Josh can say is: "I killed him...I killed him," before his father picks him up and carries him home. The psychological impact that the murdering has had on Josh is demonstrated effectively by Wyler without hitting us over the head with it. Likewise, the scene you allude to with his father I already commented on in what I wrote earlier, so I won't repeat it.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 26, 2006 7:22 pm 
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Lubitsch said:

"He has a very consistent visual style and almost all his films centre around problems of class differences between people, just check it. That this idiots of the Cahiers missed that is not particularily surprising."


The "problem" I have with Wyler ovreall is discerning ANY distinctive visual style. His best work displays some clear engagement with the material, possibly some invovlement with the screenplay, and an obvious affinity with the actors. In a sense you could compare him with another studio director, Cukor, although the differences are instructive.

There is a distinct thematic thread running through Cukor's work which relates to the role of the performer, and the tensions between performance and reality. As for screenplays, Cukor wouldn't touch a word of them unless the writers he worked with were entirely happy with what he wanted to do. And I still rate Cukor very highly on the barometer - there are so many masterpieces in his canon.

Wyler is much more difficult to pin down, and I don't want to try to pin him down in some sort of cahierist way (that whole period is long gone anyway.) We agree on some titles, and I agree with your discernment of the class issue, but I don't see this as a consistent thread. When it comes to literary adaptations Cukor/Wyler comparisons are again instructive. Cukor's Copperfield is wildly succesful through not only the adapation but the casting and the tone. And his versions of Durrel's Justine, after Strick left, and the Green Travels with my Aunt really do show enormous flair for their subjects. Coming to Wyler I really DON'T find say the Hellman Children's Hour or the James the Heiress anything more than faithful and dogged. One should say in fairness James' almost impressionistitcally refined writing is untranslatable to the screen, and the Hellman material is dated by its era, and frankly the attitude to the subject matter which, even by post code 1962 frankly plays like bad melodrama.

Wyler's four or five best are very good indeed, but the subject is still out for research, for me anyway.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 26, 2006 7:48 pm 
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I'm hardly an expert on Wyler (I have only seen two of his films), but everything I ever read about him indicates that from about the mid 1940s onward he chose his own stories and hired his own screenwriters.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 27, 2006 2:20 pm 
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Via_Chicago wrote:
I remember reading that Wyler indeed did do a lot of work on his film's scripts in his post WWII period. Is this not true?

Dylan wrote:
I'm hardly an expert on Wyler (I have only seen two of his films), but everything I ever read about him indicates that from about the mid 1940s onward he chose his own stories and hired his own screenwriters.

Partly. Before the war only WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Between 1946 and 1956 pretty much everything, then it's again more on suggestions by other people.

Via_Chicago wrote:
Interesting. I'll actually have to read the Bazin article, since I knew nothing of it. Perhaps I should go and watch every Wyler film (which I haven't), because I made the comment based on the several Wyler films that I have seen.

the Bazin article is often considered THE article on Wyler. Unfortunately. Our prof and me who disagree pretty much on everything concerning Bazin and his nouvelle vague pupils nevertheless managed to agree that the main idea of the text is a mess.

Via_Chicago wrote:
I should say that I only wrote this because I just watched the film and wanted to discuss it. That's all.

I know, I'm nasty, sorry :oops:. But PERSUASION was the one film of Wyler which made me really suffer, that's why I launched my attack. Wasn't personal.

Via_Chicago wrote:
That's fine if you think so, but for the sake of your own argument, you might want to actually qualify that statement (oh, and it's a goose, not a rooster). The opening scene is quite consistent with the tone of the first half of the picture. That the film changes gears completely in its second half should not go unnoticed. Hell, Wyler even throws in a bit of chiasmus at the end of the picture wherein Little Jess is seen feeding the goose, demonstrating a reversal wherein the mother becomes the violent protector of her pet, while the son becomes its nurturer.

I admit you may have a point there. But it seems terribly inadequate to deal with the problems of violence via the treatment of a goose!!! And the family has much luck that the invaders are not more aggressive and even accept a beating for the sake of the goose.

Via_Chicago wrote:
I don't think the film's trying to convince us of anything of the sort. Instead, it transforms a passive woman into a violent woman. It casually (and somewhat subversively) exposes her hypocrisy. This hypocrisy is pointed out in almost every scene. I alluded to her tapping her foot to the rhythm of the music at the fair, but her hypocrisy is again pointed out to her by her husband in a later scene where her daughter is upstairs with her beau. That Wyler doesn't make her out to be the personfiication of the Taliban is to his credit, since Eliza's tactics are entirely psychological, but never violent.

Yep, but nevertheless it's the strategy of the film not to really deepen this problems. It all is played always the same way: Mother is against it and then gives in a bit which mekes her sympathetic again. A more honest film would confront her oppressive attitude, but the film tries to sell us a compromise between Taliban life style and progressive Western lifestyle as the ideal family.
BTW I react also in such an aggressive way because this film remembers me of the notorious German "Heimatfilme". They presented wildly successful in the 50s the joys of healthy, idealized life in the country as opposed to the life in the city. Wyler got damn near this stuff in PERSUASION.

Via_Chicago wrote:
The son's response to what he's witnessed is shown by Wyler. While you mention that his father finds him unconscious this is not true. Indeed, his father finds his son clutching to the body of a Confederate soldier he'd killed. All Josh can say is: "I killed him...I killed him," before his father picks him up and carries him home. The psychological impact that the murdering has had on Josh is demonstrated effectively by Wyler without hitting us over the head with it. Likewise, the scene you allude to with his father I already commented on in what I wrote earlier, so I won't repeat it.

I miss here the action. I know I'm elsewhere praising Wyler for his ways to avoid plump reaction cuts and to show too much, but somehow it feels deadly wrong to make such an ellipsis. Maybe I'm wrong on this point.

davidhare wrote:
The "problem" I have with Wyler ovreall is discerning ANY distinctive visual style. His best work displays some clear engagement with the material, possibly some invovlement with the screenplay, and an obvious affinity with the actors.

Check DODSWORTH, THE LITTLE FOXES, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, THE HEIRESS, THE DESPERATE HOURS and THE CHILDREN'S HOUR and search for the traits I mentioned. It's enough to write a paper trust me :wink:. The same tendencies run through all these films especially the tendency to withdraw into closed rooms and to carefully group the characters in room. I could make screenshots all day for certain scenes and you can exactly see how Wyler composes the scenes like a ballet. I think he's arguably the best director in such matters. there's an unerring eye to arrange his characters sometimes aided by Toland's compositions, but it works also without him. Check the overlong closeups in DODSWORTH and THE HEIRESS or teh arrangement of people in HOUR as the trio visits the older lady to confront them about the rumours and how Wyler manages to arrange them effortlessly into telling compositions.

davidhare wrote:
Wyler is much more difficult to pin down, and I don't want to try to pin him down in some sort of cahierist way (that whole period is long gone anyway.) We agree on some titles, and I agree with your discernment of the class issue, but I don't see this as a consistent thread.

The role of seperation and conflicts along class lines features in
The Love Trap (high)
Hell' Heroes (a bit)
Counsellor-at-Law (high)
The Good Fairy (partly)
These Three (partly)
Dodsworth (highly)
Dead End (highly)
Jezebel (partly)
Wuthering Heights (highly)
The Westerner (partly)
The Letter (a bit)
The Little foxes (highly)
Mrs.Miniver (highly)
The Best Years of our lives (highly)
The Heiress (highly)
Detective Story (no)
Carrie (highly)
Roman Holiday (highly)
The Desperate Hours (highly)
Friendly Persuasion (no)
the Big Country (highly)
Ben Hur (partly)
The Children's Hour (partly)
The Collector (highly)
How to steal a million (no)
Funny Girl (partly)
The liberation of L.B.Jones (highly)
There is no other American director whose movies mostly have a class conflict at their core, it's absolutely stunning since he chose only a part of his scripts.
BTW, yes I have seen all his films :wink:, at least the available ones.
davidhare wrote:
In a sense you could compare him with another studio director, Cukor, although the differences are instructive. [...] And I still rate Cukor very highly on the barometer - there are so many masterpieces in his canon.
Cukor's Copperfield is wildly succesful through not only the adapation but the casting and the tone. And his versions of Durrel's Justine, after Strick left, and the Green Travels with my Aunt really do show enormous flair for their subjects. Coming to Wyler I really DON'T find say the Hellman Children's Hour or the James the Heiress anything more than faithful and dogged. One should say in fairness James' almost impressionistitcally refined writing is untranslatable to the screen, and the Hellman material is dated by its era, and frankly the attitude to the subject matter which, even by post code 1962 frankly plays like bad melodrama.

Cukor ... ouch :(. Cukor directorial abilities go towards zero. No camera instinct, tasteful filmer of oh so very much tasteful and acclaimed literature and surprisingly mediocre actor's director.
THE HEIRESS is arguably THE Wyler film, not only in my opinion. And it's less from the James novel than from the play based on the novel. It build slowly towards a second half where it strikes with full force, a trait the novel lacks.
THE CHILDREN'S HOUR is NOT dated. It plays in an opressed time where people find it hard to deal and to speak about certain problems. I would find it absolutely unreasonable to attack the problem with frankness, it's a very useful description how a culture of oppression works ... to the degree that the characters have incorporated these rules and feel guilty about it as MacLaine does.


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lubitsch wrote:
davidhare wrote:
In a sense you could compare him with another studio director, Cukor, although the differences are instructive. [...] And I still rate Cukor very highly on the barometer - there are so many masterpieces in his canon.
Cukor's Copperfield is wildly succesful through not only the adapation but the casting and the tone. And his versions of Durrel's Justine, after Strick left, and the Green Travels with my Aunt really do show enormous flair for their subjects. Coming to Wyler I really DON'T find say the Hellman Children's Hour or the James the Heiress anything more than faithful and dogged. One should say in fairness James' almost impressionistitcally refined writing is untranslatable to the screen, and the Hellman material is dated by its era, and frankly the attitude to the subject matter which, even by post code 1962 frankly plays like bad melodrama.

Cukor ... ouch :(. Cukor directorial abilities go towards zero. No camera instinct, tasteful filmer of oh so very much tasteful and acclaimed literature and surprisingly mediocre actor's director.
THE HEIRESS is arguably THE Wyler film, not only in my opinion. And it's less from the James novel than from the play based on the novel. It build slowly towards a second half where it strikes with full force, a trait the novel lacks.


Strangely enough (based on our past disagreements), I think I'm in fairly close agreement with Lubitsch in this thread.

First, THE HEIRESS has almost nothing to do with James' original novel (Washington Square), which incidentally was one of only two or three novels that James didn't revise for inclusion in his New York Edition because he considered it so weak. Wyler's version is much closer to the Goetzs' stage play, which more or less follows the plot of the novel but considerably amplifies the dialogue, characters, and individual scenes. I think the reason I like Wyler's film is that, like the play, it's not afraid to depart from the novel, using it merely as a springboard. (In a way, it's a bit like other "worst" novels by great authors that ended up as pretty good films: Hawks' version of Hemingway's TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and Sirk's TARNISHED ANGELS, which was based on Faulkner's Pylon.) At any rate, there's nothing "faithful" or "dogged" about THE HEIRESS in terms of its relationship to Washington Square.

I also find that Wyler's ability to turn great -- or at least popular or canonical -- works of literature into acceptable films far superior to Cukor's. Cukor's adaptation of Copperfield is, as David points out, a joy, but I'm frankly baffled by David's appreciation of Cukor's adaptation of Greene's Travels With My Aunt, which I find deadly dull. (It's flamboyant, yes -- but predictably so. Maggie Smith's "eccentric" performance is cinematically by-the-numbers.) Compare that with Wyler's willingness to lop off large segments of major literary works, like the last third of Wuthering Heights or the first section (and several major characters) from Ben-Hur. It just seems like Wyler's mind operates in cineatic mode whenever he approaches literature. He's anything but "faithful" or "dogged."

At the same time, I do like an awful lot of Cukor's films, especially the ones he made in the 1940s.


Last edited by tryavna on Sun Aug 27, 2006 5:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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I wish you would spend as much time actually looking at Cukor's mise-en-scene and his incredibly nurturing skill with actors as you have with Wyler.

Theye're chalk and cheese to me. And some time I'll write something on Cukor, but frankly his filmography is his greatest defence - one of the most consistently high in American movies.

As for CHildren's Hour/These Three/the Loudest Whisper. I can only agree with the late Vito Russo who found it appropriate as the first movie -post code the ban on homosexuality to honor it with the opening spot in his gay Necrology (the shame list of movies in which the gay characters are required to be tragic and all die, or get killed by the end.) I find the movie AND the text unbarably bad. And the performances grotesque.


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lubitsch wrote:
Wyler's really great films are DODSWORTH, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, THE LITTLE FOXES, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, THE HEIRESS, CARRIE and THE CHILDREN'S HOUR (though that's a rather isolated standpoint of mine) and finally THE COLLECTOR.


I'd also like to put in a good word for his excellent late silent The Shakedown, very different to every other Wyler I've seen, but probably my favourite of his films.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 27, 2006 9:35 pm 
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Tryavna said:
"Compare that with Wyler's willingness to lop off large segments of major literary works, like the last third of Wuthering Heights or the first section (and several major characters) from Ben-Hur. It just seems like Wyler's mind operates in cineatic mode whenever he approaches literature. He's anything but "faithful" or "dogged." "

This opens up the whole question of what is "cinematic." Merely truncating works of literature, or having your writers do them , or "opening out" stage bound texts is not necessarily a good OR CINEMATIC thing. Not that Wyler does this badly.

His writer in the Letter, Howard Koch (one of the screeenrwiter's Pantheons) himself condenses Maugham's already movie-friendly text to the essentials, and the great Tony Gaudio shoots the movie in a style that is a precursor to Noir. Not to mention the exemplary casting, including the secondary roles of Stephenson and Sondegard. And the Steiner score. Wyler is the glue that pulls all this together of course, but like Cukor he's a studio director. And he's at his best when he has a sound production team, cast and a budget.

As for "Cinematic" take a look at what Cukor does in the maligned amd disparaged Chapman Report from a trash novel by Irwin Shaw. Take the lengthy interview scenes of dialogue between the four actresses (Bloom, Fonda, Winters and Johns) and Kinsey"surrogate" Efrem Zimablist. Cukor simply shoots the actors in what seems to be merely a sequence of medium, close, reverse angle shots and so on. But the emotional power of these sequences is derived entirely from the intensity (or ambivalent objectivity in Zimablist's case) of the actors and the way Cukor shapes the delivery of the actresses to counterpoint and imply unspoken, changing meanings in their relationship with Zimablist. The sequences deliver a range of levels and meaning way beyond the script alone, or a shot by shot analysis. Nobody except Hitchcock could film scenes of dialogue for performance, physical counterpoint or conflict better than Cukor, at least until Rohmer.

As for a vigorous expressive mise-en-scene take a random handful of movies:

Sylvia Scarlet - Kate's box-office poison first movie with Grant in which she masquerades as a boy, and a whirlwind comedy of sexual identities;

Camille - simply the greatest Garbo, and as rewarding to its other actors as it is is to Garbo herself

Holiday - Grant and Heburn perfecting their partnership in this gentle Barry play (plus another screenplay from Donald Ogden Stewart also from the Screeenwriters Pantheon;)

A Double Life - the darkest movie ever made about the obsessions of the stage, incredible work from Colman and Winters;

All the Garson Kanin/Ruth Gordon partnerships at Columbia with Judy Holliday - the first and still best serious comedy films shot in location and perfect captures of "class" in American society;

A Star is Born - peak Hollywood as a subject movie and a very great musical;

Bhowani Junction - Gardner's best performance, as a woman "passing", and Granger's best performance along with his turn in Lang's Moonfleet ;

Heller in Pink Tights - a combo location/studio Western/Musical comedy/drama with Loren and Quinn's best performances and frankly the equal to Renoir's Golden Coach thematically and artistically;

and The Chapman Report - a film maudit in the sense that it was butchered by Zanuck and the Production Code. Despite which the movie is crying out for review and esteem beyond a handful of American (and French) cinephiles.

That's enough OT. Cukor deserves his own thread.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 28, 2006 1:38 pm 
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davidhare wrote:
Tryavna said:
"Compare that with Wyler's willingness to lop off large segments of major literary works, like the last third of Wuthering Heights or the first section (and several major characters) from Ben-Hur. It just seems like Wyler's mind operates in cineatic mode whenever he approaches literature. He's anything but "faithful" or "dogged." "

This opens up the whole question of what is "cinematic." Merely truncating works of literature, or having your writers do them , or "opening out" stage bound texts is not necessarily a good OR CINEMATIC thing. Not that Wyler does this badly.

Yeah, that came out wrong. I didn't mean to say that a simple willingness to condense or eliminate sections from a novel automatically translate into great cinema. Rather, I was mainly disagreeing with your use of the adjectives "faithful" and "dogged" in reference to Wyler -- a point that I've already made, so I won't repeat. Nevertheless, I do find a consistently ruthless approach to literary adaptation more indicative of interesting movie-making than pure faithfulness. (This is a point I assume you'd agree with, David, based on your earlier posts.)

Anyway, as I said, I didn't mean to deprecate Cukor's work. I'm totally with you on Copperfield, Double Life, and others. But two of my least favorite Cukor films happen to be literary adaptations: Romeo and Juliet and the aforementioned Travels with My Aunt. I'm not sure why, but I get the impression that Cukor is handling the material with kid gloves -- when a more creative ("ruthless"?) approach might have been better.

Then again, I love Jack Clayton's The Innocents, which is about as faithful as an adaptation can get. So go figure....


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 28, 2006 5:21 pm 
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Romeo and Julietis one of CUkor's WORST films, along with junk like Our Betters. But the dross is very rare indeed.

And I'll still argue the case for Travels despite the two negatives of the Tony Hatch score (awful dated 70s goo) and - to a degree Maggie Smith, at least in her present tense persona - in the flashbacks she's terrific.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2006 6:49 pm 
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Spam alert above

who IS this motherfucker!

EDIT Good to see the mods quick off the mark!


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