I’ve received a small handful of emails from readers who watched my previous posting‘s clips from the 1936 film Things to Come; and if you’ll allow me I’ll respond to them in a little series of short replies. (Feel free to send in your own ‘Comments’ if you want to: I can easily keep them hidden, if you’d prefer not to ‘go public’ with your thoughts!)
The first message I want to address was one about the film as a stylistic ‘whole’ — since one reader evidently found it a bit hard to watch. In fact, if I’m interpreting the verbal clues correctly, he seems to have given up rather quickly — some way before the final ‘space gun’ section…
I suppose I ought to begin by saying that I’m not at all surprised when people find this film — or any movie from the 1920s or ’30s! — rather tough going. To the ‘normal’ young and young-ish adult of today — brought up mainly on corporate-owned mass-entertainment products from the 1990s and later — a pre-1939 film’s ‘language’ (in the widest sense) can take a little getting used to: there are different verbal, visual and dramatic conventions to be negotiated, and sometimes it can feel like a bit of a strain. (And, with British films of this vintage, you also have to be careful that you don’t cut yourself on the vowels…)
It’s a situation I’ve seen up close, if you want to know. I remember very vividly the time — eight or nine years ago — when I attempted to show a new girlfriend my brand-new secondhand DVD of Eisenstein’s 1938 film Aleksandr Nevskii. (Yes, as every reader of this blog knows by now, I absolutely despise Eisenstein — but I still want to see what he did; plus, I love Prokofiev and wouldn’t be without the music he wrote for this film.) There we were, on a Saturday afternoon, getting our first glimpse of ‘Russia under the Mongolian yoke’ — and suddenly she said: “But this is just old rubbish! I don’t want to see this: I like the newest things — the latest things!” Needless to say, it didn’t last long.
Now, obviously it’s up to our dear reader to decide what he does and doesn’t watch; but if he really did give up on our movie some time during its second segment, it’s a bit sad — for two reasons. First, if he didn’t hear the bit containing ‘The Boss’s March’ he won’t know where it is that part of the main tune in our famous March from ‘Things to Come’ actually comes from. (In the music for the Suite, Bliss cleverly makes a long introduction-and-statement by joining together two stretches of music that were actually kept far apart in the film itself!)
Secondly, by giving up before the half-way mark, he’ll have missed the longest musical set-piece in the entire film: the vast ‘reconstruction’ sequence — which I want to present now in another of my famous coded clips. To give a bit of explanatory context, I’ll include some preceding action as a lead-in — but, as always, I don’t want to give away too much of the story: if you want to know what’s been going on up to this point, and how the new segment relates to the wider action, then ‘man up’ and watch the whole goddam film! (And when you do, make sure you listen out for ‘The Boss’s March’!)
Just to repeat myself one more time: I think Arthur Bliss did a terrific job!
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