Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Thief of Bagdad (1940) (2011 digital 2K restoration ITV Studios, Park Circus)

Bagdadin varas / Il ladro di Bagdad. GB © 1940 Alexander Korda Films. D: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, Alexander Korda, Zoltan Korda, William Cameron Menzies. SC: Miles Malleson; SC: Lajos Biró; ED: Charles Crichton; PD: Vincent Korda; Co.: John Armstrong, Oliver Messel, Marcel Vertès; M: Miklós Rózsa; S: A.W. Watkins; Cast: Conrad Veidt (Jaffar), Sabu (Abu), June Duprez (la principessa), John Justin (Ahmad), Rex Ingram (Djin), Miles Malleson (il sultano), Morton Selten (Alter König), Mary Morris (Halima), Bruce Winston, Hay Petrie; P: London Film Productions Ltd.; Pri. pro.: 5 dicembre 1940. DCP 2K. 106’. Col. English version. From: ITV Studios Global Entertainment e Park Circus. 2K digital restoration. Sunday, 26 June 2011 at 22.00 Piazza Maggiore (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Presenta Ian Christie.

Catalogue: "This was to be a new Technicolor version of the Arabian Nights fantasy The Thief of Bagdad, exploiting two of Korda’s international stars, Veidt and the Indian child actor Sabu, who had shot to fame after his appearance in Flaherty’s semidocumentary Elephant Boy (1937). The original Thief of Bagdad had been a spectacular vehicle for Douglas Fairbanks Sr in 1924, when the young William Cameron Menzies won his spurs as its art director (it was he who part-designed and directed Korda’s Things to Come, and in turn it had borrowed some of its best magical effects from an early German classic, Lang’s Destiny). Korda intended his version to be quite different – and indeed he stood little chance of matching the immense exterior sets and thousands of extras deployed by Fairbanks. He started from a new script by Miles Malleson and his closest Hungarian confidant Lajos Biro, and the sets would be by his brother Vincent – they later prompted the famous command, ‘Build it four times as big and paint it all crimson. It stinks!’ But the trump cards would be Technicolor and Denham’s superb special effects team, who would compensate for any deficiency in front of the cameras. The production ran into immediate difficulty after it started in February 1939.""

"Korda began to disagree with the director he had hired, the German Ludwig Berger, and appointed two additional directors, Powell and Tim Whelan from Hollywood. Powell seems to have worked mainly on the sequences with Veidt, as the sinister Vizier Jaffar, and Sabu, as the little thief Abu. He claimed responsibility for having the enormous eye painted on the bow of Jaffar’s ship, which fills the screen at the beginning of the film and establishes its dominant motif – echoed in Jaffar’s hypnotic powers and Abu’s theft of the great statue’s All-Seeing Eye. He was also responsible for the scenes with Sabu and the Djinn, shot on a beach in Cornwall. Critical response has often dwelt on the film’s defects, implying that only unsophisticated audiences would accept such a hotchpotch of special effects. But latterly many have found it impossible not to attribute its striking consistency of imagery and theme to Powell, despite the fact that at least six directors are known to have contributed to the end result. Certainly the central idea of the power of the gaze seems closer to the world of E.T.A. Hoffmann, which was to infuse many of Powell and Pressburger’s films, than to anything in the Arabian Nights. And there are striking parallels between The Thief and Powell’s later film maudit Peeping Tom, also centring on the sexual metaphor of the act of looking." Ian Christie: Arrows of Desire. The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Faber and Faber, London-Boston 1994.

AA: The ninth screening today. I listened just to Ian Christie's excellent introduction (he told that the author of this film is Alexander Korda) and sampled the result based on the new 2K digital master from the close range, the middle distance, and from afar. There have been previous restorations of The Thief of Bagdad, and usually the image quality has been livelier than in this 2K version, which is bright and clean but which looks a bit like plastic. I look forward to the 4K version. Conrad Veidt is at his demonic best as the evil Jaffar in this movie.

No comments: