SAKURA in KYOTO 2018 Back to Kansai
Hello Chit Chat Film Club students, here is your Chit Chat Film Club Film Czar, ready to discuss this week's Chit Chat Film Club Film Of The Week - She.
Spoilers, spoilers, you know there must be spoilers.
This is a Hammer Films production (co-prod, whatever), and so stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It also has Bernard Cribbins for light relief, and the absolutely stunning Ursula Andress. Ding Dong! Toot Toot! I say!
How did this film come to be made? In 1965? Lawrence Of Arabia 1962. Dr No 1962. Film production is commercial. Not artistic, it is commercial. Hey look, sand, deserts, camels, adventure, adds up to big box office. Hey look, the most gorgeous woman we can get! Ding Dong! Get a classic story, bung it all together, Bob's your uncle.
I think this is actually a much better production than that suggests. There's some clever character work here, some metaphysical discussion and morality. The slaves are thrown into the lava pit, Holly challenges Aysha's cruelty and she responds with the cruelty of their modern world after a world war. Leo struggles with the realisation that he is re-incarnate (where did that memory of his death come from?), and so should he take on immortality. And Ustane, who saved him in the desert (arriving in a very similar shot to Omar Sharif's arrival in Lawrence), is rewarded by Leo's betrayal, in a golden cage above the lava pit. The whole concept is fantastic, time travel essentially, immortality, which Holly rejects with the observation that the thrill of living is for the young mind.
I was also struck by Christopher Lee's response to Cushing's questioning. "And yours, I suppose, is to fill the next alcove. I can't believe you're such a fool, Bellali". Looking down at him, Lee replies "No, Mr Holly. I am not such a fool". A very nice performance, controlled but ripe with promise.
Also, there is some decent editing, especially during the action. When the slaves are preparing to kill Leo, the wild dancing, and then the large knife is brought out, and we see the knife rise, but from several different angles, very quick, sharp cutting gives a simple threat real menace. And Leo is in the city, dreaming, calling to Ayesha, and suddenly wakes, and there are the guards.
It's a dramatic story, well presented, well performed within its own limits, and yet disappointing. It seemed very flat throughout. I think this is from several causes.
The photography. For some strange reason, it is filmed in Cinemascope. This is a special wide lens on the camera, and needs a matching lens on the projector. I have a feeling that when this print was transferred to DVD, the Cinemascope was mis-handled. In some scenes, as the camera pans, a wave of focus sweeps across, as the image warps through the original lens. But even if that was fixed, Cinemascope seems a wholly bad choice for this film. There is the journey across the desert, but so little of that is worthy of a wide apsect, and so much of the film is on close-in sets, the whole aspect ratio jars with the presentation. And there seems to be no depth of field. Everything does appear very flat indeed, faces, crowds, there's no quality of strength across the scenes.
The colour balance is also terrible, very washed out. It says Metrocolor on the titles, MGM being part of the production, but the colour is generally poor. Which is a shame, because some of the costumes are fantastic. It may have been a deliberate choice of a sandy, desert, North African palette, but no, I think it's just poor film stock and decay.
There's another big problem too. So much of the film's dialogue is dubbed. Obviously, Ursula Andress never speaks a word (I've seen her on chat shows a few years ago and her (Swiss) German accent is still very thick), but so many of the other players are also dubbed, including the male lead playing Leo. This constant shifting of sound is distracting, but the dubbing levels are also badly handled.
The film's score is weak too. There are nice themes, but those simpering strings, laaadeeedaaaa laaadeeedaaa again and again. And yes, the special effects are far from special.
So, all in all, a disappointment when it could have delivered much more. But that's Hammer for you. Cheapskate production, knock em out, it's in colour what are you complaining about. And they wonder why Britain film production died.
It is a cracking story, begging for a modern remake. It would work I think. That final scene, Leo bathes in the flames, rubs his faces, and then staggers back from the crumbling Ayesha. And then cursed to wait, how long? Another three thousand years.
Wikipedia informs me that Soraya was actually Soraya Esfandairy, Princess Of Iran! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soraya_Esfandiary
I could not work out where she actually appears in the film. The only two speaking roles for women are Ustane and Ayesha, otherwise there are the dancing girls in the nightclub (and blimey, what was going on behind Peter Cushing's head!) or the two handmaidens, and imdb reckons Soraya wasn't them either. So where was she?