Love to spend years following rumors of the recreation of the lost masterpiece by an all-time great filmmaker, only for the thing to finally appear direct-to-video, then watch it in fragments over a week of late nights because I keep falling asleep. I watched the previously released scenes of this in the early days of the movie blog, never thinking there’d be a feature, and here we are, not quite knowing what to put in quote marks (the “complete” feature “by” Welles). Rosenbaum approves, so who am I to argue?

Stills, narration, and the line “that was long before cellphone cameras” mar the opening minutes, then hammy P-Bog becomes a main character, and the movie’s in trouble. It recovers easily – a party film with a magnetic John Huston as the Wellesian center, artists and hangers-on all around, cutting all over the place, and then the scenes of Huston’s never-to-be-completed film (this is an extremely self-aware movie – even Hammy P-Bog appears to be playing “hammy” “p-bog”), a miniature, fragmented work inside the work, which is both a beautiful art film and a pretentious parody of a beautiful art film, problematically starring an always-nude Oja Kodar, who in fact cowrote this film, making it knowingly, self-parodically problematic, I guess. Playfully homoerotic dialogue, apparently documentary sections, and all the colored lights making this more Suspiria-like than the Suspiria remake. The whole project and its implications fill your brain up all the way. Besides P-Bog there are a few overdone performances – I’m thinking of the film critic (Susan Strasberg) and Zimmy The Southern Gentleman (Cameron Mitchell) – but on first viewing it seemed 15% tiresome, 85% wonderful.


They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018, Morgan Neville)

I remember this being fun… let’s see, my notes say “uses every bit of Welles footage they could find to place in dialogue with interviewees” and “ends with Why Can’t I Touch It, wow.” I should watch the making-of and the new Mark Cousins doc then rewatch the feature, but I also got things going on besides Orson.

A treasure trove of film prints, largely of silent movies thought long-lost, were discovered buried in Dawson City, but the films weren’t any good – dramas so generic that Morrison has fun editing together scenes from them, changing the source film with every shot and showing how it still coheres. So rather than spotlight the films on their own merit, we follow the fascinating story of Dawson City, its famous former residents and unfamous locals, illustrating this history lesson with clips from the discovered films and others, and showcasing some astounding glass-plate photography from the era under discussion. And of course we’re not limited to the most well-preserved films – different kinds of decay and destruction are discussed and displayed. Dawson City was a primary Canadian gold rush town, so it’s full of sordid and enterprising stories, and he sidetracks into any exciting bit for as long as it takes. Exciting is relative, though – Bill’s into drawing things out, slowing them down to the wavelength of the great Alex Somers (Sigur Rós) score, my favorite yet in a Morrison movie. What could’ve been a one-hour informational PBS special becomes a two-hour feature, and Katy wanted things to move more quickly.

Yes, we celebrated the receipt of a Netflix Streaming disc for our Wii by spontaneously watching a Goldie Hawn movie. I thought it’d be a Jonathan Demme movie, but it turned out not to be – Demme has disowned this version. As he told The Guardian: “It turned out very poorly, yeah. We did a film and I hope that very few people here have seen it!”

In this, the Goldie version (Demme’s cut was reportedly available on bootleg VHS in the 80’s, but seems impossible to find now), Hawn goes off to work at the airplane factory when hubby Ed Harris goes to war to fight the dirty Japs who bombed the harbor. Hawn teams up, eventually and reluctantly, with rebel girl Hazel (Christine Lahti of Housekeeping, Running On Empty) and rebel boy Kurt Russell (lately of The Thing). Their friendship and her new self-sufficiency lead Goldie to redefine herself as a person. Then somehow she ends up back at home with hubby Ed, Kurt reading a wistfully-voiceovered note from Goldie as he rides away to tour with his new band.

Apparently it used to be more of an ensemble piece than a Goldie showcase, so side characters like coworker Holly Hunter (in what would’ve been her first major role if it had stayed major) and Fred Ward (as Hazel’s complicatedly sleazy ex) had beefier parts. Even in its diminished state, though, Katy and I liked it quite a bit.

Demme to The Guardian:

We had this hard-nosed feminist, all women together thing, and Kurt Russell was supposed to be a bastard, and suddenly all these scenes were being rewritten, and I found myself in a very awkward position because I had to co-operate with these new scenes. I actually had to shoot them, otherwise I would have been in violation of my contract, and so in order to protect the movie that I thought we were making I had to shoot these very bad scenes.

Demme doesn’t finger Robert Towne as the emergency rewriter, though he’s strongly rumored to be the one. Towne had once written Chinatown, but having just done the craptastic Deal of the Century he owed the studio a favor. Demme goes on to tell the story of how Ed Harris saved Stop Making Sense, for which we should all be forever grateful.

I’ve enjoyed all the Frank Borzage movies I’ve seen so far, so this week I watched all three that he released in 1929. Not only in the same year, but according to IMDB they all came out within a two-month period – can that be right? I’ve only seen seven feature-length movies from 1929, so now 43% of them are by Borzage.


Lucky Star

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Hunky, brave Tim (Charles Farrell, of course) meets a cute girl (Janet Gaynor, of course), then goes off to war in France and gets his legs blown off delivering food to the troops in a crappy horse carriage whilst his old boss at the telephone company takes the proper army truck to meet girls. There is no such thing as subtlety!

Chuck and Big Boy fight atop a telephone pole:
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Janet watches, impressed:
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Back home, Tim’s boss (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams of a couple Lang and Renoir movies) is passing himself off as a brave sergeant in town and wheelchair-bound Tim is making friends with the dirty, savage young girl (TOO young, as Tim eventually finds out, backing away slowly). But the girl’s parents promise her to Big Boy. Can Tim rise from his wheelchair for the first time since the war and crutch-walk into town (in the snow) in time to stop the marriage and claim the girl as his own, publicly revealing Big Boy to be a war coward along the way? Yes!

Big Boy and Janet’s mom Hedwiga Reicher:
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Paul Fix (After the Thin Man, El Dorado, Red River), who sadly never worked with Tom Mix, is a buddy of Tim’s, his only human contact besides the girl. That’s probably him driving by, as Tim leans on a crutch at top of the frame.

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Shot as a part-talkie with dialogue and effects, but that version has been lost, leaving behind a silent masterpiece. As silly as the plot can be, I got caught up in the (melo)drama of it all and the glorious visuals. Also loved how the film is sped up to make Tim look more wheelchair-proficient than he actually was.

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They Had To See Paris

Good ol’ down-home mechanic Will Rogers (I liked him better as Judge Priest) strikes it rich as an investor in the town oil field. His wife acts just like Effie in Ruggles of Red Gap, packing up the family (unattached older son Rod, and daughter Opal who’s in love with a hometown boy) and heading to Paris to get them all fine clothes and high culture.

Rod with Christiane Yves, probably:
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What would a Borzage movie be without beautiful cinematography, fluid camera movements and heartfelt performances? Well, it would be this one. Sound pictures were in their clunky infancy, and even a prestige director like Frank couldn’t make much of a talkie in 1929. No music, but could’ve used some – full of stagey, awkward, staticky silences in the dialogue. It’s also his first comedy that I’ve seen, and I wouldn’t say it exactly had the Lubitsch Touch. But it’s not late-Keaton bad, just disappointing.

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Poor Will is saddled with increasingly unlikable wife Irene Rich (Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Champ, Fort Apache), aristo-dating daughter Marguerite Churchill (Dracula’s Daughter) and wannabe-bohemian son Owen Davis Jr. (All Quiet on the Western Front). Will raises some hell, wearing a suit of armor to a party and having a non-genteel, drunken conversation with guest of honor Grand Duke Mikhail (above), but eventually his family has him depressed so he fakes an affair with tedious slut Fifi (below) to horrify his family into returning home.

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Unfortunately this wasn’t a career-killer for the grating Fifi D’Orsay. She appeared in They Just Had To Get Married, then in Joanna’s favorite film What a Way to Go. TJHTGM isn’t a sequel to this (though it sounds like one) but apparently They Had To See Paris was enough of a hit to engender follow-ups, first the semi-sequel So This Is London then the full-on sequel Down to Earth, both of which starred Will Rogers and Irene Rich (and Grand Duke Mikhail even returns in Down to Earth). This is some corny flick, and with Borzage (and let’s also blame the writer Owen Davis Sr., young Ross’s dad) unable to hide his cheesy melodrama behind the artifice of title cards and artful silent cinematography, it just sits out stinking.

Family reunion:
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The River

Another gorgeous Borzage silent about simple-minded youth in love, ho-hum. This one is a different viewing experience because it’s incomplete, reconstructed with stills and titles a la the TCM version of Greed. Something else that’s different: Charles Farrell plays opposite Mary Duncan, not Janet Gaynor. Duncan (also of City Girl, 4 Devils) lived till the 90’s but only acted through ’33, and was obviously better-suited to this part than Gaynor, since the character is not at all the innocent sweet girl.

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Farrell, polite and capable but so dumb, builds a riverboat to see the country but stalls at a dam for the winter. There are six more trains into the city where he plans to spend the season, but busying himself with skinny-dipping and wood-chopping, he can’t seem to manage timetables and misses them all. Now it’s just Farrell and somewhat cruel sexpot Duncan. Finally she stabs him and he proposes to her, in that order, but she laughs off the proposal until he almost dies in the cold.

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Take it, D. Callahan:

The fragment ends with an extraordinary sequence that stands with Borzage’s best work. Allen John has chopped wood all night in the snow, trying to prove that he’s man enough for Rosalee, and he falls deathly ill. Snow is rubbed all over his bare chest in an effort to break his fever, but his heart stops beating. Desperate, realizing how much she loves him, Rosalee climbs into bed with Allen John and tries to warm him alive with her body. Borzage films their faces in close-up with a religious intensity reminiscent of Dreyer, lingering on Farrell’s beatific eyes as his soul slowly seeps back into them. The communion of bodies here is both a rebirth and a renewal, of Allen John’s life and Rosalee’s hopes.

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Just then, Mary Duncan’s old boyfriend, the murderer Marsdon (Alfred Sabato, who directed the first talkie in Italian) escapes from prison to reclaim her from the weakened Farrell, but fortunately hulking deaf-mute Sam (Ivan Linow, of the Unholy Three remake, who has played characters named Rako, Red, twins Loko and Boko, Tossilitis, Slumguillion and Heinie) appears just in time. The closing titles are outrageous:

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IMDB mentions lost characters The Miller and Widow Thompson, but the fifth lead of the surviving footage has got to be Marsdon’s pet crow, left behind to watch the girl while he’s imprisoned. I’m always glad to see a bird as a major character.

Mary Duncan with crow:
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Watched the four-hour TCM reconstructed version over a few days. Liked it pretty well. Excellent intro to McTeague’s character: finds an injured bird while mining and picks it up… another miner knocks it out of his hand, so McTeague hurls the guy down a hill. Oh, and the slang between McTeague and Marcus is fun. The elderly neighbors and junk dealers provide nice counterpoints to McTeague’s relationship with his wife, and the movie keeps coming back to the heavy-handed theme of greed. I’d wondered if it had just been a four-hour movie in 1924 that Stroheim had edited himself whether anyone would talk about it half as much today. Is it THAT important a film, or is the fact that most of the footage was destroyed by the studio the thing that makes it important? Anyway, cool movie, glad I saw it. Not quite as nice as Sunrise (but what is?) and the story’s a bit of a bummer. Appropriate ending, anyway (and nicely tinted desert scenes).