Tuesday 20 December 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare struggles to find merit in Frank Lloyd's CHILDREN OF DIVORCE (USA, 1927)

I cannot recall struggling so hard to find a screen worth grabbing during the past 18 months of doing these Blu-ray spots, than I did with the turgid sludge that goes under the name of Children of Divorce (Frank Lloyd. 1927). The new Blu-ray is from Flicker Alley and comes with an ancient hagiographic one hour and three minute "documentary" on the life and times of Clara Bow, a featurette in itself which if it were possible is even more unbearable than the feature film. The unlucky actor in the screen who looks undertsandably like a a deer (with lippy) caught in the headlights of this moving turkey is of course a very young Gary Cooper in his second feature role, if you count his very short part in Wings from the previous year of 1926. In both that and this film he's paired with Miss Clara Bow, an actor of such stupefying badness he and almost anyone else in coo-ee has to look good. No, great. 
Indeed Miss Bow is one half (at least) of what makes this piece of Elinor Glyn-esque high society nonsense basically unwatchable. The other half is the genre itself, pre-Depression Society Antics in which the rich end up paying for their sins, as they must . Meanwhile Miss Bow's performance is on a par with everything else I've ever had the misfortune to see, including her risibly camp second last talkie, Call Her Savage. Hers is probably the most methedrine-fuelled concoction of an entirely exteriorized form of "acting" in which every emotion, feeling or mere inflection is amplified to Boschian levels of caricature with mugging, exaggerated hyper reaction, and body movement, physically underlining for the frail of intellect amongst us every facial expression otherwise already screaming from the proscenium, even though her physical gravitas is possibly the most unattractive and unnatural I can nominate for any screen actor I've ever watched in a lifetime of films. She moves in "neutral" scenes like an agitated, drugged dying cow. Which is about where I would leave any further comment on the picture. 
Josef von Sternberg is reputed to have "salvaged" this piece of shit, indeed he boasts about his contribution on page 215 of the great autobiography, "Fun in a Chinese Laundry". Perhaps he thought the movie would never resurface in any form after his lifetime sufficiently to come back and bite him on the ass. But it does, I fear, and I am totally at a loss to divine the slightest scent of Jo's style or use of actors or lighting or anything else in the film. The way Jo tells it he had to re shoot around 50% of the picture after they'd struck the sets and disbanded the crew. But the movie literally only ever "moves" in the half dozen or so shots that come anywhere near him which are exactly that number of short travellings which follow characters in or away from doorways in interiors. The rest is silence. 
Which is where I came in. But to mention the 35mm elements and the scan for this junk are astonishingly lustrously beautiful, sharp, clear, barely a trace of nitrate decomp or emulsion damage, with stunning resolution and contrast. That such grace had been bestowed upon the poor, dupey, scratched and pale, low contrast elements for the three titanic Sternberg silents released by Criterion several years ago. There is no god. 
Exit left, flouncing.

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