Sunday, April 06, 2008

Lost Horizon

I've spent a very lazy and pleasant morning this morning curled up on the sofa knitting, listening to the rain, and watching DVDs. Noon and I'm still in my robe. Decadent! Daylight Savings Time also ended early this morning, so since setting the clocks back it feel like the morning has gone on forever. I guess I have been up for 5 hours already, such is the curse of the early riser.

I decided to rewatch Frank Capra's 1937 film Lost Horizon, which I bought on DVD in the 1998 restored original version, with 24 minutes of excised footage put back in. I just checked, and I first mentioned buying this DVD way back in 2005! Wow, time flies. Over the past few years I've gone back and watched it a couple of times, and it's one of those films for me that holds up to multiple viewings.

It was a huge production in its day. Columbia Pictures spent as much on Lost Horizon as they did on the next 20 pictures they made that year. It almost sent the studio broke, running to nearly double its original budget. At 132 minutes it was also cut and re-cut over the years and the storyline suffered accordingly.

One thing I love about the film is the design, with the hidden Tibetan valley of Shangri-La given a curious blend of traditional and Western 'Art Deco' styles. It sort of works in the context of the film, because one of the reasons for the existence of Shangri-La is a desire to preserve the beauty of human art and knowledge against the coming darkness in human civilisation. So outside influences are not unknown, even though Shangri-La is a secret to the outside world.

It must have been full of timely themes in 1937, to a world on the cusp of another world war. The central theme of the inherant goodness in people allowed to blossom given the right circumtances, freedom from the need for struggle and toil for instance, and a society built on contemplation, kindness and manners is both optomistic and very Buddhist. A secure place of peace and plenty, and concerns about greed, avarice and agression must have been very timely and seductive for a world coming out of The Great Depression and heading towards a World War.

There are some great performances in the film, Ronald Coleman and Jane Wyatt for instance. With a lot of their love story restored to the film you get to appreciate just how good their performances are. Coleman's tellibly, tellibly stiff-upper-lip accent still doesn't detract from what is a very likeable and quite naturalistic performance, and Jany Wyatt just lights up the screen. Edward Everett Horton provides some camp humour to liven up the proceedings.

For me though a special shout-out has to go to the very beautiful John Howard. No, not this one:

(I found this pic via The Google, and the name of the pic is "Twat.jpg". Genius!)

This one:

(Do you know how many screens of pics of our now very ex Prime Minister I had to wade through before I found pics of this lovely? Way too many!)

John Howard's character (along with love interest Maria in the pic below) is the closest thing to a villain in the film, a man who cannot adapt and refuses to accept the lifestyle of Shangri-La. Capra was criticised for Howard's last minute casting at the time, with his very American accent jarring against Coleman's thick toffy English accent, given the the two men are supposed to be brothers. But I think Howard does a good job of playing a very unsympathetic character, given that he does little other than throw tantrums and fail to appreciate paradise.

He looks so damn pretty while he does it, for starters.

If you haven't seen this film and have an interest in classic cinema and 1930s design I really recommend it, especially if you can get hold of the Columbia Classics restored and digitally remastered version. (Whatever you do don't make the mistake of buying the 1973 remake. It's a musical version, one that includes the delights of Liv Ullman singing just for starters.)


Cecilia said...

Wading through all those pics of our very very ex-PM: how you suffer for your blog! :)

Ur-spo said...

i've been meaning to see Lost Horizon for years. perhaps now I will.

thombeau said...

Love it. Old Hollywood. And yes, by all means avoid the musical remake!

yani said...

Well, he had to keep a "tellibly, tellibly stiff-upper-lip", otherwise his tellible little moustache would have fallen right off... ;)

You know, I don't think I've ever even heard of this movie...

The Other Andrew said...

Cecilia, what was funny was that if you Google John Howard + Lost Horizon you still get lots of ex-PM! Maybe The Google is making comment on Johnnie's own 'lost horizon'?

Ur-spo, try and see the restored version if you can, it puts back whole subplots cut from the later versions.

Thombeau, I remember seeing the musical version as a kid. Not. Good. I think it made the 'wrost films of all time' list, back when those things were popular.

Yani, despite the moustache Coleman is really good in this.

John C said...

I always enjoyed this one too. And I have on tape a TV screening from the late 80s which I think predates the restored reissue where someone had made the attempt to restore it but some scenes have sound only so they used stills for the pictures. Does the DVD have all the excised footage?

I'm guessing without going to IMDB that William Cameron Menzies was the production designer, yes?

The Other Andrew said...

John, this retored version was finished in 1998 after 25 years of restoration work. (The DVD has a fascinating commentary by the retorer.) Columbia Pictures never kept a 'safety' print of the entire film. They worked from a complete 132 minute audio track, but had to piece together footage from all over. There are a few bits of poor image quality, blow ups from Canadian 16mm copies of the film, and about 7 minutes of missing footage still. The missing footage is replaced with production stills. It's not really that distracting, because the audio is there and the sequences are brief.

Stephen Goosson did the art direction.

The Other Andrew said...

Um, gah typo central!

"retored" = restored and "retorer" = restorer. I have a problem with word, obviously.

John C said...

Yes, I checked IMDB after all. No idea where I got the idea it was WCM who worked on it, my film buffery is usually sharper than that.

Interesting because my tape version sounds pretty much the same. I think C4 who showed it here that one time must have liaised with the restorers since it's the same deal with scratchy 16mm and stills in places. Definitely one for the shopping list anyway.