Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Supposedly Great Movies I Can't Find a Copy of:

#2 The Magic Box (Britain-1951)

This film, which I have never seen a poor review of, or any negative criticism at all apart from a few complaints about his hagiographic treatment of its subject, is still widely regarded as a classic in Britain, where it continues to show up on many top-50 type lists of British film. This popularity appears to have never translated to America, where the movie remains in contrast largely unknown. It is a biography of William Friese-Greene, an Englishman who has a strong claim, enthusiastically promoted in this film, to being the inventor of the movie camera. It has a unique origin, being the British Film Industry's official contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain, which seems to have been an earnest attempt in the old English style in the days before they had legions of aging rock stars to call on to inject some fun and optimism into the grim austerity period and demonstrate how the nation was recovering from the tough conditions which the war and its aftermath had imposed upon it. The movie was made in Technicolor--I cannot think of any other British film shot in color before 1965, unless those David Lean epics (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, et al) count as British films--and featured appearances by many of the top stars of the time, such as Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov. The lead was played by Robert Donat, a legendary British actor probably most well-known in the U.S. for playing the title character in the heart-tugging 1939 classic Goodbye, Mr Chips, which is a movie, by the way, that I love and endorse wholeheartedly.

The clip above is the only one from the movie I can find on Youtube, posted by someone in Germany who is actually a fan of the singer making a cameo in this scene, Oda Slobodskaya, a Russian soprano (1888-1970) of whom I know nothing, and of whom most of the consensus I can find on the internet--which isn't much--is that she was underappreciated. Even from this little bit, the films appears beautifully and meticulously made. I would like to see it.

This movie does appear to have been released on VHS at some point, but there are no copies of it for sale at Amazon or other sites I have looked at, new or used. There is a new DVD out in Britain (box pictured below) but all the places selling them warn that "British DVDs may not work in American systems" or something to that effect, which I did not know, but anyway there is no point in my sending away for something that might not work. I am assuming it will become available in a format I can watch comfortably within a few years, so I can wait for it.

What Not Being Able to See This Movie Means in My Life. Well, it sounds like this is something that is expertly made, optimistic, celebratory, patriotic and communal in spirit, well-written, tells a story that has an important bearing on our lives, etc, etc, so I think it is pretty ironic that it is never shown and is generally hard to see, as if those qualities were too dangerous for people to be exposed to or something. Of course it is intended to be inclusive and crowd-pleasing, was directed by an establishment institution operating at a time of heavy-handed government intervention in private life, all the while passing itself off as something serious and intelligent, i.e. good for you, and probably freethinkers and other aware people are attuned to this and find it distasteful. But I am sure it is miles better than the ordinary run of media the unsuspecting and earnest bourgeois are exposed to.

I am in the process of seeking ways to improve the substance and novelty of this page (within reason) without resorting to examining the more hysterical hidden workings and impulses of my mind. Eventually I will have to address the questions "Why am I doing this? What do I hope to get at?" and suchlike because I imagine everybody and nobody to be my audience at the same time, and to an individual writer both of these audiences kind of impose the same requirements for continuing.

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