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Monday, 25 July 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare rejoices at the new edition of Blake Edwards' masterpiece VICTOR/VICTORIA

I recently put on the new WB Archive Blu-ray of Blake Edwards' 1982 musical comedy Victor/Victoria wondering just how I'd feel about a movie I haven't watched with any care since it first played. Within a few seconds of Henry Mancini's elegiac, melancholy, Legrand-esque credits music the tears began to roll and there I was catapulted back to my first viewing of it in NYC at the Ziegfeld Theater way back in June 1982 during it's opening week, just after the annual Christopher St celebrations I'd attended the previous week. A debut in the year that "began" the plague.
This is Edwards' last great movie and an unassailable work of grace, beauty and meaning.  I view it as the peak of a long career. 
Victor/Victoria is a movie which is impossible to analyse in a few sentences - I would leave any more profound comments to Peter Kemp who I know adores it, but it juggles the two most difficult American film tonalities - comedy and dramatic conflict - with skill that would have knocked out Lubitsch. The integration of music, and the pacing, neither missing a beat or ever proceeding a step out of time are the work of one of the few great masters of American screen comedy, surely the most taxing form in the movies and one all too rare and precious. But the pacing and the direction always keeps a brake on the speed and the tone. In fact there is an unmistakable sense of some hint of melancholy never far away. 
Edwards' cast is simply peerless, even his wife Julie Andrews whose own limitations as an actor actually play into the limited function of the nominal character. While Victor/Victoria is the notional "star" and the reason for all this fuss, as he/she is in Reinhold's Schunzel's superb original 1933 Weimar film, Edward's movie is really concerned with everyone around her and their responses to her "game". James Garner here essays another round with the demon gay shadows which Edwards had begun with Craig Stevens in the terrific Gunn from 1967 and later, sometimes ambivalently hinted at in other pictures. In Victor, Edwards is finally ready to embed himself in gay characters, in a gay sensibility and in a gay movie.The fact the film was such a big, wider hit and has never generally been considered in any official gay canon, is itself now irrelevant and needs to be addressed to acknowledge its importance, especially for a great director like Edwards, who did so much and took so long but finally got here, in this wonderful place. 
It's a complete masterpiece. The new transfer is almost (not quite) as glowing as that stunning 35mm print at the Ziegfeld in 1982. Yesterday, as it were. Before so much more water would pass under so many bridges.

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