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 Post subject: Frank Borzage
PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2007 11:28 am 
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Frank Borzage (1894 – 1962)


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Frank Borzage was that rarity of rarities, an
uncompromising romanticist… Borzage never
needed dream worlds for his suspensions of
disbelief. He plunged into the real world of
poverty and oppression, the world of Roosevelt
and Hitler, the New Deal and the New Order, to
impart an aura to his characters, not merely
through soft focus and a fluid camera, but through
a genuine concern with the wondrous inner life of
lovers in the midst of adversity… Many of Borzage's
projects, particularly toward the end of his career,
were indisputably trivial in conception, but the
director's personality never faltered, and when the
glorious opportunity of
Moonrise presented
itself, Borzage was not stale or jaded. This, if
anything, is the moral of the
auteur theory.

~ Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema: Directors
and Directions, 1929-1968)


Filmography

The Mystery of Yellow Aster Mine (1913)

The Pitch o' Chance (1915) To be included as extra on The River Edition Filmmuseum (R2 DE) – tbr December 17th, 2007

The Pride and the Man (1916)

Dollars of Dross (1916)

Life's Harmony (1916)

The Silken Spider (1916)

The Code of Honor (1916)

Two Bits (1916)

A Flickering Light (1916)

Unlucky Luke (1916)

Jack (1916)

The Pilgrim (1916) To be included as extra on The River Edition Filmmuseum (R2 DE) – tbr December 17th, 2007

The Demon of Fear (1916)

The Quicksands of Deceit (1916)

Nugget Jim's Pardner (1916) To be included as extra on The River Edition Filmmuseum (R2 DE) – tbr December 17th, 2007

That Gal of Burke's (1916)

The Courtin' of Calliope Clew (1916)

Nell Dale's Men Folks (1916)

The Forgotten Prayer (1916)

Matchin' Jim (1916)

Land o' Lizards (1916)

Immediate Lee (1916)

Flying Colors (1917)

Until They Get Me (1917)

The Gun Woman (1918)

The Curse of Iku (1918)

The Shoes That Danced (1918)

Innocent's Progress (1918)

Society for Sale (1918)

An Honest Man (1918)

Who Is to Blame? (1918)

The Ghost Flower (1918)

The Atom (1918)

Toton the Apache (1919)

Whom the Gods Would Destroy (1919)

Prudence on Broadway (1919)

Humoresque (1919)

Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1921)

The Duke of Chimney Butte (1921)

Back Pay (1922)

Billy Jim (1922)

The Good Provider (1922)

The Valley of Silent Men (1922)

The Pride of Palomar (1922)

The Nth Commandment (1923)

Children of the Dust (1923)

The Age of Desire (1923)

Secrets (1924)

The Lady (1925)

Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1925)

The Circle (1925)

Lazybones (1925)

Wages for Wives (1925)

The First Year (1926)

The Dixie Merchant (1926)

Early to Wed (1926)

Marriage License? (1926)

Seventh Heaven (1927) Suevia Films (R2 ES) / Culture Publishers (R2 JP)

Street Angel (1928)

Lucky Star (1929)

They Had to See Paris (1929)

The River (1929) Edition Filmmuseum (R2 DE) – tbr December 17th, 2007

Song o' My Heart (1930)

Liliom (1930)

Doctor's Wives (1931)

Young as You Feel (1931)

Bad Girl (1931)

After Tomorrow (1932)

Young America (1932)

A Farewell to Arms (1932) Image Entertainment (R1) and released by dozens of PD companies on both sides of the Atlantic

Secrets (1933)

Man's Castle (1933)

No Greater Glory (1934)

Little Man, What Now? (1934)

Flirtation Walk (1934)

Living on Velvet (1935)

Stranded (1935)

Shipmates Forever (1935)

Desire (1936) Universal (R2 UK) – as part of the now OOP Marlene Dietrich Movie Collection / SGGC (R2 FR) / Universal (R2 ES)

Hearts Divided (1936)

Green Light (1937)

History Is Made at Night (1937)

Big City (1937)

Mannequin (1937)

Three Comrades (1938)

The Shining Hour (1938)

Disputed Passage (1939)

Strange Cargo (1940)

The Mortal Storm (1940)

Flight Command (1940)

Smilin' Through (1941)

The Vanishing Virginian (1942)

Seven Sweethearts (1942)

Stage Door Canteen (1943) Image Entertainment (R1)

His Butler's Sister (1943) DD Video (R2 UK)

Till We Meet Again (1944)

The Spanish Main (1945) Editions Montparnasse (R2 FR) / Manga Films (R2 ES)

I've Always Loved You (1946)

Magnificent Doll (1946) Suevia Films (R2 ES)

That's My Man (1947)

Moonrise (1948)

Screen Directors Playhouse (3 TV series episodes, 1955-56)

China Doll (1958) MGM (R1)

The Big Fisherman (1959)


Forum Discussion

Brazilian Borzage – brief mention of a pair of Borzage films released in Brazil

Desire (Borzage) R2 France – discussion of several releases of Desire

Joan Crawford Collection Vol. 2 – includes discussion of Borzage's Strange Cargo


Web Resources

excerpt from “Cinema: A Critical Dictionary” by Andrew Sarris and Richard Roud (Viking Press, 1980)

Film Comment – “The Sanctum Sanctorum of Love: Frank Borzage” long article by Kent Jones (November/December, 1997)

Film Reference

Senses of Cinema – “Dead Man Walking in Frank Borzage's Moonrise” by Rose Capp

Senses of Cinema – “Frank Borzage: Architect of Ineffable Desires” by Joe McElhaney

Senses of Cinema – “'The Moral of the Auteur Theory': Frank Borzage's ‘Moonrise' (and Theodore Strauss' Source Novel)” article by Holger Römers

Sight and Sound – “Essays in mad love” article by Tom Gunning (January, 1993)

Slant Magazine – Big feature on Borzage with separate reviews of more than two dozen of his films (2003)

Town Topics (Princeton's weekly newspaper) – Review by Stuart Mitchner of Hervé Dumont's book “Frank Borzage”

The Village Voice – “Tough Love: The romantic fever dreams of an underappreciated master” short article by Jessica Winter (July 11th, 2006)


Books

Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic by Hervé Dumont (McFarland & Company, 2006)

Souls Made Great Through Love and Adversity: The Film Work of Frank Borzage by Frederick Lamster (Scarecrow Press, 1981)


Last edited by Scharphedin2 on Mon Oct 22, 2007 8:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2007 11:31 am 
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Having recently - through the kind assistance of a pair of friends - had the opportunity to see a number of Borzage's films via VHS and taped television broadcasts, this truly neglected director has fast become one of my favourite Hollywood directors. And, since some of us speculated in the thread dedicated to the forthcoming John Ford Gift Set that a similar exhaustive box dedicated to Borzage would be no less exciting, I thought a filmmaker's thread might be a good place to begin a discussion and walk-through of Borzage's films.

By way of a brief introduction: According to a bulletin at UCLA's website, Borzage directed around 100 films in a career that spanned five decades. All of his sound features are claimed to survive, while more than forty of his silent films are thought to be lost. The site further informs that UCLA archives have preserved eight of Borzage's films, while the Library of Congress and The Museum of Modern Art have preserved several more. Last year, Hervé Dumont published a book length study of the director's life and work, and several retrospective series ran in the United States (one of them organized by UCLA and featuring no less than 31 films). The article from Slant Magazine (linked above) will give a fast introduction, and idea of some of what we cannot view on DVD.

On the topic of DVDs, the German Edition Filmmuseum will release Borzage's last silent The River in a new reconstruction (including scenes that were cut originally for their erotic content) this coming September along with 3 of the director's earliest two-reelers. Furthermore, BFI made an announcement last year that work was being done on DVD releases of several of Borzage's late silent films. Hopefully the subsequent silence is no indication that the project has been abandoned.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2007 11:42 am 
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Thanks to TCM, I've been slowly picking off some of the Borzages that I've never seen. (TCM obviously has easy access to all the films Borzage made at MGM, RKO, and Warner Bros, as well as the Paramount/Universal holdings. If only Fox Movie Channel would be a bit more adventurous in their programming.)

Of course, one of the first things people always talk about when they discuss Borzage's work are those climactic moments of transcendence, such as at the ends of The Mortal Storm, Three Comrades, Farewell to Arms, etc, which are absolutely extraordinary. However, in (re)watching some of his MGM films, including both the greater (Mortal Storm) and lesser (Flight Command), what I've been most struck by is the degree to which his style seems so eminently suited to MGM's -- the overall cleanness of lines, etc. He's the only major director besides George Cukor whose style seems to mesh so well with MGM's, which otherwise seemed to reward/enforce anonymity. (King Vidor's seems to mesh well at times, but not always.) I'm curious if anyone else has had this impression?


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2007 5:56 pm 
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Yes he seems to floursih in a studio like MGM, and Fox and Warners with a demonstrable house style, very direct narratives and strong professional teams. The Warner pictures, like Green Light and Living on Velvet are actually something of a stylistic departure for that studio: Velvet is a Kay Francis society comedy film that seems to play more like a Paramount movie from the era, although the pace and rhythm get a Borzagian slow down, and Green Light is Lloyd C Douglas "Faith" narrative, like Magnificent Obsession which really is a genre right outside the Warner range. With Errol Flynn as the self sacficing Doctor!! I LOVE this movie. And Tina Louise as te strong woman - strong women being surely one of the great Borzage emblems (and in the Fox silents, the men are almost always lunkheads.)

I do think however his 30s MGM pictures present a far more unabashedly sexual romantic couple than standard MGM fare, at least after the code. Certainly Crawford in particular with Mannequin and the amazing Strange Cargo. In the latter the Crawford/Gable romantic couple is also parallelled by the gay couple of Albert Dekker and the boy, who become the core of the picture when the boy dies and the boatload of human "Cargo" jointly mourns for him with Dekker!!! This is an astounding and audacious piece of filmmaking which must also have contributed to the movie's "Condemned" rating by the Catholic Heirarchy in 1939. But it goes a long way towards displaying Borzage's central concern with romantic/sexual love.

I don't know why exactly Borzage's carrer floundered so badly during the 40s - is it basically the unsuitable material studios like RKO gave him? At least with Republic he was given their first Technicolor picture in 46, I've Always Loved you - depending on your position either entirely ludicrous or sublime -but whatever you think of it nobody but Borzage could have made it. And of course the last great masterpiece, Moonrise, made very much on the cheap but a flawless, beautiful work of reprise.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 2:37 pm 
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davidhare wrote:
I don't know why exactly Borzage's carrer floundered so badly during the 40s - is it basically the unsuitable material studios like RKO gave him?

Actually, I just found out (via IMDb) that Borzage made only one movie for/at RKO: the mediocre but still rather fun Spanish Main. (It mainly suffers from casting. Paul Henreid just isn't convincing as a swashbuckler, and Binnie Barnes is woefully underused. Walter Slezak alone makes it worth watching once, though. He steals the movie.) So at any rate, I guess we can't blame Borzage's decline on Howard Hughes this time....


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 6:00 pm 
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Maybe it's a combination of being adrift amongst the studios after 1942, and having to film completely unsympathetic genre material, with casts who were often less than ideal.

The great problem with I've Always Loved You is the casting of the two male leads - Philip Dorn as the "Maestro" and the unbelievably hick Bill Carter (Who? you ask). Even the relatively weak Catherine McLeod (a Republic poor man's Ann Blyth) seems too good for either of these jerks. It's also hard to conceive the screenplay was written by Borden Chase. But then it runs off with the most fantastically Borzagian set pieces - the apparently psychic dual playing of the Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto by McLeod at one end of the country and Dorn at the other. The subplot with the daughter is also risible, yet Borzage's sheer conviction with the material makes if compelling if not a great success. (A quiz for Borzagians - who is the young boy who unsuccessfully plays Beethoven's Appassionata for Dorn at the opening audition scene?)

Maybe the times were unsympathetic to his style and thematic obsessions, but there is always Moonrise in 48.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 5:13 pm 
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Having just written an article on Borzage and seen almost all of his important films, a few comments.

Quote:
Last year, Hervé Dumont published a book length study of the director's life and work

Well the book was published 14 years ago in Spain. It's a good work because he obviously researched a lot and interviewed people though I'm uncomfortable with the strong emphasis on Borzage being a Free Mason and the resulting interpretations of his films.

davidhare wrote:
Yes he seems to floursih in a studio like MGM, and Fox and Warners with a demonstrable house style, very direct narratives and strong professional teams. The Warner pictures, like Green Light and Living on Velvet are actually something of a stylistic departure for that studio: Velvet is a Kay Francis society comedy film that seems to play more like a Paramount movie from the era, although the pace and rhythm get a Borzagian slow down, and Green Light is Lloyd C Douglas "Faith" narrative, like Magnificent Obsession which really is a genre right outside the Warner range. With Errol Flynn as the self sacficing Doctor!! I LOVE this movie. And Tina Louise as te strong woman - strong women being surely one of the great Borzage emblems (and in the Fox silents, the men are almost always lunkheads.)

He certainly did NOT flourish at MGM or even worse at Warner. Borzage attained a high artistic freedom between 1927 and 1934. His short stay with Warners is regarded by Dumont as more or less fruitless and I think he's right. GREEN LIGHT is a particularily dull, stuffy and uninspired film, among the worst of the 25 I've seen.

At MGM it's more or less the same game, the standard style of the studio kills off his soft visual style in most films replacing it with the ugly flat MGM lighting. Even THE MORTAL STORM is affected by it. THREE COMRADES is saniztized down to meaninglessness and the Joan Crawford vehicles are ... Joan Crawford vehicles. It's really a step down from STREET ANGEL, THE RIVER, LILIOM, BAD GIRL, A FAREWELL TO ARMS or MAN'S CASTLE.

Regarding strong wome I would be cautious. Borzage's women are extremely idealized that's the point on which we probably could agree. Strong women sounds too modern for me.

davidhare wrote:
I don't know why exactly Borzage's carrer floundered so badly during the 40s - is it basically the unsuitable material studios like RKO gave him? At least with Republic he was given their first Technicolor picture in 46, I've Always Loved you - depending on your position either entirely ludicrous or sublime -but whatever you think of it nobody but Borzage could have made it. And of course the last great masterpiece, Moonrise, made very much on the cheap but a flawless, beautiful work of reprise.

Borzage floundered because he began to drink after his wife left him in 1940 which leads to a sharp decline in the following three years where he gets swallowed up by the MGM machinery. Breaking free from these constraints and regaining his powers led to MOONRISE and to one of the least known masterpieces of the 40s, TILL WE MEET AGAIN. IT's an exquisitely photographed and beautifully acted film about the story of a nun who tries to get out a shot down pilot out of Nazi occupied France. I know that doesn't sound that great, it's nevertheless one of Borzage's best films. MOONRISE is fascinating because it's a merger of film noir with it's fatalistic attitude on the one hand and Borzage's affirmative love philosophy on the other hand which makes it a very fascinating film. I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU has a horrible cast, is very Borzagian, but also a bit indecisive which goes to the end which resolves nothing even if the film pretends to do so.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 8:08 pm 
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I understand your comment about the MGM "House style" of photography but this is possibly much more the result of Studio art direction/production design under the Cedric Gibbons umbrella. In fact the pre-38 MGM Borzages (like Mannequin), all with different DPs, have a much more tonally shaded "look", although they are less highly regarded than the later MGM movies of 1939-1940, notably Three Comrades and Mortal Storm - yet these two are canonical Borzages (rightly so) AND they also both display the very flat tonal MGM "look" that you mention. His Warner period is a bunch of odds and sods - my regard for both Living on Velvet and Green Light is certainly not shared by evryone but I very much enjoy the way he bends the two genres to suit his personality, especially with such unlikely actors as Flynn and Kay Francis. I would agree with you that the very finest of the early 30s pictures are for smaller studios like Columbia - surely the most noteworthy Little Man What Now, and the sublime History is Made at Night (a perfect film.)

I also have a lot of time for Bad Girl, Stranded, Big City etc and I own virtually all the 30s pictures but simply haven't had the luxury of time lately to initiate a thorough reviewing regime.

I think the issue of a big studio like MGM cramping Borzage is a meritorious beginning for discussion but it's not a straightforward one, given the range of screenwriters and DPs for one thing. I also agree with your estimation of Till we Meet Again.

I should add of course Crawford is an axiom of cinema to me, so almost any Crawford picture (at least from Sadie McKee onwards) is worth my affection, and absolutely EVERY Crawford picture directed by Borzage is more than worthy.

Are you able to post a link to your essay? Any writing on Borzage is valuable - there is so little of it.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2007 5:07 pm 
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davidhare wrote:
Are you able to post a link to your essay? Any writing on Borzage is valuable- there is so little of it.

It's in German, written for the FILM DIRECTORS book. Our uni in Mainz is - believe it or not - the only one in the whole Germany where film studies is not put together with theatre or media. It's pitiful, but gives us the advantage to dominate the (barely existing) book market.

The Crawford films of the 30s are so similar, I get bored by them. The stairs and the flickering bulb in MANNEQUIN are nice, but the rest. LITTLE MAN WHAT NOW is Borzage's stab at satire and he isn't always on sure ground especially the first half is often broad farce. The actor episode later is a gem. HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT is the most wildly melodramatic film. Ever. Who penned this script, moving from evil villain husbands to prolonged love scenes to an iceberg disaster?

Anyway I see the evil forces of the studio system at work. The MGM films are up to 1940 still Borzage films but it's disquieting to see how his film ideas merge with the Joan Crawford formula.

BTW, you don't happen to have AFTER TOMORROW or NO GREATER GLORY in your collection? Missed them sorely for the article. Not to speak of THE RIVER, the DVD was two months too late for me.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2007 7:22 pm 
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I suppose I would be willing to read your essay as well, lubitsch, if for no other reason than to try and understand how you see the world (of film). Maybe, some further substantiation of your views on Borzage's work would also help me understand, how you can be so seemingly unmoved and unimpressed with so many of his films. However, although I can read and understand German, probably your jargon would be too academic for my linguistic abilities.

Within the past few months, I have also viewed a number of Borzage's films (albeit, only about a dozen) -- spanning from Street Angel and 7th Heaven to Moonrise and I'll Always Love You -- (for the sheer pleasure and joy of seeing the films), and to me these films came across as one of the most coherent of bodies of work that I have seen come out of the Hollywood studio system. In their way, they were also amongst the most lovely and humane films that I have ever seen.

The romantisicim that is present in Borzage's films (and yes, we can laugh and shrug at it today, and maybe it is melodrama and maybe it is naive... and, so what!?) is, as I see it, the purest distillate of what the movies were all about in those days. If I had seen even more of Borzage's films, I also think that I might be able to support Tryavna's suggestion that the style of MGM of all the studios complemented Borzage's style and worldview better than any other.

As I viewed these films, I tried to imagine myself back in the times in which they were made and premiered. It was the middle of the depression, and here Borzage was making Little Man, what Now, showing his audience a young couple going through all the same privations and deprivations in the not distant past in Germany, and he shows how this young couple perseveres through their love for each other. And, he paints the world that they move in much in the way that Dickens told his stories, with a wonderful gallery of grotesque characters. There is not a dull moment in this film, and we see how the male protagonist is at the brink of giving up many times, but he is always saved by the knowledge that his wife (and child) is there with him, and counting on him. Of course, we get a wonderful happy ending that brings us back to the dedication at the beginning of the film. I can think of few films more cathartic than this one (especially given the times and circumstances in which it was made). And, actually, it is as relevant today, as back when it was made.

Three Comrades is just about as impressive. Here Borzage depicts the friendship of three men, who have fought in the war together, and again he depicts how ordinary people rise to the challenges of their day, and do their best to do right, and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. We also get another beautiful Borzagian love story, and again, maybe the romanticism is played to the hilt, but what I see Borzage doing is to communicate to the screen (in this and in most of his love stories) the very euphoria that belongs to anyone in love. So, if the films come across as "overly" romantic, and stretching the limits of the believable, it is because to anyone in love, the world becomes a slightly different and magic place, not necessarily dictated by what is plausible and what makes sense in conventional story terms. And, Borzage's ability and stylistic hallmark (as I see it) was to superimpose this quality of the romantic onto the entirety of his stories -- love as a prism held up to the world.

I think this is particularly clear at the end of Seventh Heaven. Honestly, if one views this film as a realistic depiction of the world, then it will provoke the most hysterical fits of laughter. Yet, if we follow Borzage up that "ladder that leads to the stars," then the film becomes a sublime representation of the state of being in love, and the ending is transformed into the most natural of conclusions.

And I agree, we can level every cynical objection that we please at History Is Made At Night (just as with the ending of Seventh Heaven); in fact, every bone in the body of this film's script is an outlandish insult to a rational mind. But here again I think that the point is that to lovers the impossible is commonplace, so yes, French chefs and maitre d's skip across the Atlantic, walk into the first and the best restaurant and turn it into the talk of the town over night, and just as surely, jealous husbands run steamliners into icebergs, and naturally the lovers overcome it all. This is storytelling, and if we are invested in the beauty and charm and fun of the performances and the story at the heart of the film, then we have no problem with these slight liberties that are taken with what is plausible.

I am sorry, lubitsch, I suppose I am rambling on about things that you know very well about Borzage's films, having seen all of these and many more. My arguments are not well constructed, as I am sure yours are in your paper, but you see, the interesting and important thing at the heart of this discussion to me, is not so much whether Borzage was a great or good or mediocre director (I know the answer to that question, just as surely as you do). The interesting thing is, why would we sit down and view his films at all -- to write a dismissal of the majority of his films? To be moved and inspired to go on with our own lives? And, or, for the joy of it all?

One thing I do envy you, and that is that you have had the (in my opinion) wonderful opportunity, time and leisure to sit down and see 25 of Borzage's films. That indeed should be an opportunity open to all of us.

(Sorry, I suppose I am overly hostile toward you, lubitsch, but you kind of did come out guns blazing yourself :wink: )


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2007 8:51 pm 
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A couple of resources to add to the books section of the opening post: Frederick Lamster's book Souls Made Great Through Love and Adversity is a monograph on Borzage, and Cinema and Sentiment by Charles Affron deals with 10 or so of his films in a cursory way.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 21, 2007 3:23 am 
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Scharphe I should let Lube speak for him/herself but he/she has always has a thing about the big studios.

I can't imagine my life being essentially bearable if there had never been a Moonrise or a History is made at night. A you well know a good copy of the latter (there are none about) is one of the major holy grails of cinephiles the world over. As you say so eloquently, the pleasure Borzage gives you or me in the sheer faith in and rapture with romantic and sexual love is unparallelled by any other filmmaker.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 21, 2007 7:41 am 
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davidhare wrote:
Scharphe I should let Lube speak for him/herself but he/she has always has a thing about the big studios.

The pros and cons of the studio system is of course a huge topic in itself, and I was debating whether to get into it last night.

I think the general opinion for many years has been that the studio system exploited the talents of the screenwriters, directors, actors, etc., and that it was a restrictive environment, within which artistic personalities struggled and were customarily squelched. There is a long line of examples with Stroheim, Sternberg and Welles being some of the most often cited. However, reading these accounts objectively, I think it is also possible to see the other side of the stories. These were not easy people to work with, and they were artists working in a medium that at the time was very much a business first.

Viewing more and more of the classic Hollywood films in the last couple of years, I think that the studio system had many things right. Each studio managed to establish itself with a distinct signature, and thus were able to market their films cost-effectively. They were also excellent institutions for developing the talents of the people working within the system, and like any big operation they had processes in place for developing films from idea to finished product and into the theatres, just as they had career paths that took fledgling writers and actors and directors, "apprenticed" them, and moved them up into star positions. Think about the amount of talent and personality and ego that was managed by these studios; really, the amazing thing is not that there were casualties, but that it was possible to create a framework of systems and processes within which these creative and artistic powers could flourish, without losing sight of the economic side of the business (which again was also in the interest of the talents, because their continued work and development was naturally dependent on the economic success of the films that they helped create).

When looking at the films of the classic directors, and the general output of films from the studio era, is it not amazing how consistently high the quality was? And, if creativity or artistry is the argument, I think it is difficult to maintain a position that the studio system habitually suffocated its talent. I imagine if these thousands of creative people had not been harnessed in any way, that they could have created purer and more extravagantly artistic films, but then, few of them would ever have worked.

Let us look again at Borzage, who made more than 80 films within the studio system. Throughout his career he worked for most of the major studios (Fox, Warner, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, Columbia) and made at least a few films for RKO and Republic, and look at the consistency of vision that he maintained. I am sure that there are some of his many films that are more successful and some that are less so from an artistic (or auteurist) standpoint, and I am sure that in his fifty year career, there were moments when he was frustrated with the studio or producer that he was working for, and that there were people that his temper and methods harmonized better with than others, but in all the films I have seen (and I am sure in most of all of his films), his guiding sensibility is present in the stories and the way that they are told on film. In a way, I think Borzage would not be the worst example to stage a defense of the merits of the studio system -- I say this without having read anything about Borzage (or his feelings about the studio system), but strictly from having viewed a number of his films, all produced within the system for a handful of different studios.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 21, 2007 12:50 pm 
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Scharphedin2 wrote:
I suppose I would be willing to read your essay as well, lubitsch, if for no other reason than to try and understand how you see the world (of film). Maybe, some further substantiation of your views on Borzage's work would also help me understand, how you can be so seemingly unmoved and unimpressed with so many of his films. However, although I can read and understand German, probably your jargon would be too academic for my linguistic abilities.

You would be hard pressed to find academic babble in my essay. The book is meant for the wide public, our prof wants clearly written articles and I detest writers who terrorize their their readers with oh so intellectual expressions.

First thing I got the article in a last minute decision not much away from the deadline for the book and crashed through his films knowing frankly not much about him because he is almost completely absent from German TV. Not much of a love affair on my side, but that's hardly the point because I find it dangerous if writers become enamoured of directors or other artists and look lovingly at their works. This leads very fast to a cult attitude which I find unproductive. My three strongest impressions of Borzage's work were:

1) He's a romantic to the nth degree. So romantic in fact that he transcends Hollywood romance. His "love conquers all" attitude is philosophical and metaphysical. That's an attitude which must provoke scepticism today. Borzage is very un-modern in this regard.

2) He's a daring taboo breaker. Borzage's complete disregard for marriage or other bourgeois institutions leads to a body of work full of social misfits and outsiders who live for their love. And they live this love also with their bodies and not only in heavenly abstraction. Both attitudes lead to clashes with the censorship. Not to forget the stylized portraits of social realities in his films. Borzage appears VERY modern in that.

3) His attitude towards mise en scene and narrative is such that it creates artificial spaces beyond reality for the lovers and to be frank he often doesn't care a damn for the stories, he just stops them or reduces them to a slow point. that's very modern and exciting, too.

4)The women are very idealized. In LILIOM and MAN'S CASTLE it goes to the limits of a masochistic suffering which I find disquieting. I know some women get stronger during the progress of the stories, but I don't think he really manages to deal with women in a more complex way.

Therefore I have strong sympathy for his films, but I see no need to excuse or cover up the weaknesses. At the end of THREE COMRADES there's the sentence "There's fighting in the city". But what is this fighting about? The whole time we get a CAMILLE-plot with Sullavan dying and coughing in a lovely way and from time to time the film reminds us that he is in Germany in times of political turmoil. Sorry I don't buy and accept this attitude. Either you tell the whole story or you just leave it.

Gregory wrote:
A couple of resources to add to the books section of the opening post: Frederick Lamster's book Souls Made Great Through Love and Adversity is a monograph on Borzage

That's a book that should be read with care because Lamster tries to press the films into a nice scheme with complete disregard for production realities. If you want to read a book, read Dumont, Lamster is considerably duller and debatable.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 21, 2007 1:16 pm 
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lubitsch wrote:
At the end of THREE COMRADES there's the sentence "There's fighting in the city". But what is this fighting about? The whole time we get a CAMILLE-plot with Sullavan dying and coughing in a lovely way and from time to time the film reminds us that he is in Germany in times of political turmoil. Sorry I don't buy and accept this attitude. Either you tell the whole story or you just leave it.

Having read F. Scott Fitzgerald's original screenplay for Three Comrades, published Southern Illinois UP by with an introduction and notes by Matthew Bruccoli, my impression is that the context and backstory of Remarque's original novel was actively toned down by MGM via producer Joseph Mankiewicz, for fear of overly offending the German government. The geopolitics of Hollywood movies in the late-1930s is actually a fairly complicated affair with only a few studios actually taking a very strong stance against the Nazis before 1940/41, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that so many studio heads were Jewish. At any rate, my point is that there's more to this particular story than Borzage's lack of interest in the story or historical context. (Considering that he went on to make the slightly more explicitly anti-Nazi Mortal Storm before the U.S. entered the war, it would seem that he was less reluctant to take a stance on the matter than many of his fellow American-born directors.)

Scharphedin2 wrote:
If I had seen even more of Borzage's films, I also think that I might be able to support Tryavna's suggestion that the style of MGM of all the studios complemented Borzage's style and worldview better than any other.

I also should point out that many of the Borzage films I've been seeing lately, including two more later this week, have been from the post-Fox part of his career. In fact, it's his Fox films that I really need to (re)watch, since I actually know very few of them well. So I'm not in a position to challenge Lubitsch's assertion that MGM killed off "his soft visual style." However, I do think that Lubitsch may be going a bit too far when he claims that Borzage "did NOT flourish" at MGM. Considering how strongly you, David, and I feel about some of his MGM work, it would seem that he was quite capable of creating great art there -- though perhaps not of the same caliber or nature of his earlier Fox and Paramount stuff.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 3:06 pm 
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tryavna wrote:
I also should point out that many of the Borzage films I've been seeing lately, including two more later this week, have been from the post-Fox part of his career. In fact, it's his Fox films that I really need to (re)watch, since I actually know very few of them well. So I'm not in a position to challenge Lubitsch's assertion that MGM killed off "his soft visual style." However, I do think that Lubitsch may be going a bit too far when he claims that Borzage "did NOT flourish" at MGM. Considering how strongly you, David, and I feel about some of his MGM work, it would seem that he was quite capable of creating great art there -- though perhaps not of the same caliber or nature of his earlier Fox and Paramount stuff.

To be frank, just to see this lion at the beginning of a film puts me in a sceptical mood. Maybe I've read too many of DVD Savant's witty takes on MGM films, but I mostly agree with him about the ideological implications and find the films stiff, badly paced and stately acted. You're right that other people regard some of the MGM films highly especially THREE COMRADES and MORTAL STORM, but I'm not convinced. The only people who flourished at MGM were anonymous hacks or a dull uninspired director like Cukor who represented "culture" with a capital C. Most directors clashed with the studio beginning with Ingram, Stroheim, Sjöström and Tourneur which left them without any creative input from their directors which always shows in the films. The studio system was great if it allowed some free spaces like at Paramount, RKO or Universal, but there's a certain degree to which films can bear being produced in a factory and MGM oversteps this limit by far. Which doesn't necessarily mean that 100% creative freedom is the best, I rather did grind my teeth during SEVENTH HEAVEN and the problems I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU were already mentioned. BUt I've developed a strong aversion against MGM product over the years, not seeing much of a difference between Thalberg and Mayer


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 5:36 pm 
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lubitsch wrote:
The only people who flourished at MGM were anonymous hacks or a dull uninspired director like Cukor who represented "culture" with a capital C.

Well, there's always King Vidor, who managed to intersperse several extraordinary films among his hack-work (which still generally manages to have more life than most of MGM's cookie-cutters). Or do you not care for Vidor?

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Ingram

Ingram is, of course, the odd man out in your list, since he did manage to achieve almost total creative freedom throughout the 1920s -- but only because he established his own studio in the south of France, which altered his relationship with MGM into more or less mere distribution. (Plus, you've got to admire a man with the guts to leave off the "Mayer" portion of the logos at the start of each of his films. In fact, Ingram deserves a lot of admiration. His films desperately need to be released on DVD.)

In the past couple of years, I've come to enjoy Hollywood studio films much more enthusiastically than I used to. I'm not sure why it is. Perhaps I've been watching a lot of B movies and B-movie series. The studios certainly knew how to trade on the good-will of their aging stars (like Warren William and Richard Dix over at Columbia in the 1940s). Plus, it's unlikely that some of those wonderful character actors, like Lorre, Coburn, McGraw, et al, would have gotten as much work as they did had they not been operating within the studio system. I guess it's just a trade-off with auteurship that I've come to accept.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 8:42 pm 
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tryavna wrote:
Ingram is, of course, the odd man out in your list, since he did manage to achieve almost total creative freedom throughout the 1920s -- but only because he established his own studio in the south of France, which altered his relationship with MGM into more or less mere distribution. (Plus, you've got to admire a man with the guts to leave off the "Mayer" portion of the logos at the start of each of his films. In fact, Ingram deserves a lot of admiration. His films desperately need to be released on DVD.)

Indeed. And it's amazing that TCM hasn't yet run THE MAGICIAN, which one would have thought a natural, given the popularity of other films of this type. I've been dying to see GARDEN OF ALLAH for years; WB owns an excellent print which is occasionally seen on California screens, but again, not yet on TCM.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 12:02 am 
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//


Last edited by jonah.77 on Sat Nov 17, 2007 6:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 12:08 am 
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I am so glad to see more and more people coming on board to this thread.

A few very quick points - Tryavna, I have all the Fox silents but - as you can well imagine - the quality of source material is variable to say the least, so a fair evaluation of their visual qualities is difficult but it is irresistible not to make comparisons with Murnau's American pictures up to and including the (underrated if butchered) City Girl - indeed there is another very fruitful avenue for discourse on the shared or symbiotic qualities of both Borzage and Murnau, even beyond the occasionally shared performers, and the resonances of this aspect. Certainly the Fiox pictures I think display a very wide range of visual quality form finely focussed open air exteriors, to highly detailed high contrast lighting in studio shot scenes. I am 1500 miles away from my DVDs and books at the moment so I simply cannot get anything out to make a halfway decent argument. But I also think, by extrapolation at least, that the visual style of Borzage's MGM pictures is similarly broad, although I - strangely enough - dont disagree witrh Lube over the issue of a certain sameness in the formal qualities of the prestige MGM 30s movies, although this is clearly a compund of several aspects of th4e studio involving the writers, the pacing and shaping of the screenplays, as well as things like the favored lighting styles of the top MGM DPs (including masters like William Daniels.) But the studio system simply cannot be brashly pigeonholed as an entirely negative monolith during the late 20s to late 40s. Too many very fine, if not great directors would never have made some of their best pictures without the studios, and for all the masters like Sternberg and Welles who fell foul of it for one reason or another, you will always find someone like Fuller at Fox who found a totally sympathetic and supprotive producer in Zanuck (at least for six years or so) and under whom some of his pictures were directed. Ditto Sirk with Zugsmith and Ross Hunter at Universal, and indeed Welles for an all too brief single pic under Zugsmith at Universal. Thinking broadly MGM probably does suffer as a studio in terms of the mediocrity of so many of its producers rather than any opther single issue. (Always leaving aside the great Arthur Freed Unit musicals of course!)

But that's altogether another HUGE topic and surely it deserves a thread of its own.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2007 12:29 pm 
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tryavna wrote:
Having read F. Scott Fitzgerald's original screenplay for Three Comrades, published Southern Illinois UP by with an introduction and notes by Matthew Bruccoli, my impression is that the context and backstory of Remarque's original novel was actively toned down by MGM via producer Joseph Mankiewicz, for fear of overly offending the German government. The geopolitics of Hollywood movies in the late-1930s is actually a fairly complicated affair with only a few studios actually taking a very strong stance against the Nazis before 1940/41, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that so many studio heads were Jewish. At any rate, my point is that there's more to this particular story than Borzage's lack of interest in the story or historical context. (Considering that he went on to make the slightly more explicitly anti-Nazi Mortal Storm before the U.S. entered the war, it would seem that he was less reluctant to take a stance on the matter than many of his fellow American-born directors.)

If the political content of Three Comrades underwent a softening somewhere between Fitzgerald's screenplay and the finished film, the blame can't really be placed on Mankiewicz. When, after a screening for the German consul, it was suggested to Mank by censor Joseph Breen that the ostensible Nazis in the film could be replaced by communists, the producer refused and threatened to resign from MGM. Maybe credit for the diminished political element goes to Ted Paramore, the ironically-named co-writer forced on Fitzgerald after Scott submitted his first draft, which was deemed too literary and insufficiently cinematic.

Short of explicitly naming the Nazis, Borzage's film retains an anti-fascist tone that is pretty pungent, especially evident in Otto's response to the killing of Gottfried. But why, anyway, should Borzage be taken to task for focusing not on larger events, but on the shared inner lives of his four comrades? Losing Gottfried, the survivors refuse to relinquish their intense commitment to the power of love, even when their number is further reduced to two, and one's reaction to the closing shot depends on how thoroughly one has surrendered to Borzage's vision.

Quote:
However, I do think that Lubitsch may be going a bit too far when he claims that Borzage "did NOT flourish" at MGM. Considering how strongly you, David, and I feel about some of his MGM work, it would seem that he was quite capable of creating great art there -- though perhaps not of the same caliber or nature of his earlier Fox and Paramount stuff.

Davidhare and tryvna are right to stand up for Borzage's MGMs. Three Comrades, The Mortal Storm and Strange Cargo may be less visually arresting than The River or Street Angel (though Strange Cargo, at least, may right up there). But those specific MGM films are even more audacious, to use davidhare's apt term, at least as effective in achieving the singular romantic and erotic delirium that is Borzage's trademark. The fact that he managed to make those films at a producer's studio like MGM only magnifies his achievement.

As for the “Joan Crawford vehiclesâ€


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PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 6:12 pm 
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Any opinions here on 1919's Humoresque? It doesn't have a release, but some may have access to whats floating around thru back channels. I know the film doesnt enjoy the greatest reputation, but the location shooting all around the lower east side of 1919 NYC is blowing me away as I work thru this.


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PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 7:13 pm 
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This is a back passage I havent explored yet. Can someone (whoever) enlighten me somewhat? I would be curious given, the very high quality of the three Western shorts on the River FilmMuseum set.


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PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 7:34 pm 
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I think he's talking about something very green and pixeled... not anything like the Filmmuseum dvds.


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PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 8:35 pm 
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No the green would be the glorious Raskolnikow by Weine-- green tints all the way thru the Michael Courland show at home print (maybe even 8mm instead of 16) on the pflud pfloating around these invisible way stations, and enlivening Dox's back corridors. The Humoresque print taken from some covert UCLA projection / video is sepia toned all the way thru. Lovely location shooting straight thru-- apartment staring straight at the old 2nd Avenue El subway as it passed over the Bowery where Mama Kantor has her digs yelling at the streetlife below and across the tracks. Borz clearly hauled his camera out on the fire escapes, in the tenements, roofs, etc. Visually wonderful. Will do a review (after I finish Scherben on the Mayer thread) on this thread.

Of course this is the source for the later Joan vehicle.


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