Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Frailty of the Great People

Forgot about having seen Paranormal Activity in 2009. I rather liked the movie, too--I added it to yesterday's rankings.

Going back over my journal to compile movies of the decade, I find I had a tendency to forget to include Harry Potter movies on my lists, even though I've seen all but the newest film in the series. Maybe it's because they tend to feel like a television series more than a movie series. Which is not to say I don't like them--I've mostly enjoyed all of them but the first two.

I listened to two great radio shows while working on my comic yesterday--The Magnificent Ambersons (found here) and The Philadelphia Story (found here). I didn't mean to have a marathon rumination on the upper class in America, but there it was.

Orson Welles produced the radio adaptation of The Magnificent Ambersons years before the The Magnificent Ambersons became his second work as a filmmaker. RKO, as part of a series of reactions to the poor performance of Citizen Kane, extensively recut the film version of The Magnificent Ambersons without Welles' approval, changing the film fundamentally by removing 40 minutes of footage and reshooting the ending, creating a happier ending than the one Welles had made, and also one, apparently, closer to the 1918 book upon which the film is based.

All excised portions of Welles' original film have been lost, though there's a lot to appreciate about the version which survives. It's been a while since I've seen it, which is why it is perhaps hard to say in what ways the one hour radio production might have displayed the aspects of the film that were lost--perhaps they were all ideas Welles had after the radio production, which also features an ending similar to descriptions I've read of the book's ending. But it's a particularly good radio production in any case.

The cast was almost totally different from the movie's, most significantly in its featuring of Walter Huston as automobile entrepreneur Eugene Morgan and Orson Welles himself as the character central to the story, George Amberson Minafer. Both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons focus on an egotistical man in a powerful social position whose downfall is brought about by an inability to connect with others, fostered by a youth where empathy seemed unnecessary. Charles Foster Kane's inability to reach out to others might be attributed to the absence of a loving family as he grew up, while George Amberson Minafer would seem to have had the opposite problem--a mother who doted on him so much that he grew up to consider himself a sort of superior being. Interestingly, the radio show isn't remotely harsh with Isabel, George's mother, even going so far as to praise the extraordinary love she gives to her child.

But the most fascinating aspect of the story is its use of George's life as a reflection of the impact of vast social changes in the United States in the later portion of the nineteenth century. George finds himself terribly handicapped by his own arrogance in a world that expects prestige to be earned through hard work rather than bestowed by an inherited name. A pretty simple story, but made horrifically and tragically personal by the performances and Bernard Herrmann's music.

The production of The Philadelphia Story I listened to was produced and narrated by, of all people Cecil B. DeMille, who spoke of a former ambition to direct the film version. What would that have been like? Maybe Katharine Hepburn on a massive gold dais before thousands of prostrate worshipers proclaiming, "I am not a Goddess!"

But the radio show, made some time later, was actually quite similar to the George Cukor movie, featuring even the same cast; Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey, and it was nice hearing such a great cast deliver an alternate performance of that same great dialogue. It sounded like there was a studio audience, and James Stewart in particular seemed to like playing to them.

Last night's tweets;

Blameless drains suck the bubbly bathwater.
Prince Randian's hips were washed clean of leg.
Love's yellow yolk from the alma mater.
The Star of Bethlehem was a big egg.

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