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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: Camelot

One can speak derisively of Blu-rays for their operational legthargy, but there are amazing things that the format can accomplish, and a very good example is that they can turn bad movies into good movies.  Warner Home Video has released Camelot in a fancy jacket that doubles as a picture book and comes with a CD platter that contains the biggest four songs from the film, lasting 17 minutes.  Directed by the aging Joshua Logan (who still had one more big flop in him, following Camelot with Paint Your Wagon), the ungainly 1967 feature runs a full 180 minutes and unavoidably focuses on the enduring but dreary Arthurian tale of infidelity and impotence.  Instead of hiring perky stage performers, the film is bizarrely cast with movie stars of questionable magnitude and, MacArthur Park aside, no vocal credentials to sing-speak of.  Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero headline three hours of dwindling love and broken ideals, and are not helped when Logan’s diminishing faculties prevent the widescreen shots from matching continuity in edits—there is too much going on to keep track of everything—or just plain thinking that youthful Sixties audiences are going to get off on a film about how age can destroy romance.

But then the movie comes out on Blu-ray and all of those drawbacks matter not in the least.  The hummable Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical score, for example, can be amped to the max with the BD’s DTS sound, and it is full of joyful old-fashioned separation effects and new-fashioned purity of delivery.  The picture, letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1, is so glossy that the texture of every costume and every prop seems almost touchable, with breathtaking colors and faultless fleshtones.  Redgrave is and always has been remarkable in her role as the queen, and much of the movie is sustained by her skill at conveying her character’s inner feelings and enabling the viewer to care about what those feelings are.  But with the BD, Harris, too, is magnificent.  It is a marathon performance that loses its detail and immediacy when the film’s presentation is anything but pristine, but on the BD he is right there in the middle of the screen as his character is supposed to be, commanding the viewer’s attention and maintaining that grip even as his kingdom is slipping out of his character’s hands.  Musicals have always played by different rules than other movies, and that is what is at work here.  Rather than dwelling on the film’s failures, the BD enables one to embrace what does succeed in the film, and allows those glories to reign

David Hemmings, by the way, shows up suddenly in the second half, which then gives the film a total of three stars who had also appeared in Michelangelo Antonioni films, for what it is worth (and the only Italian actor in the cast wasn’t one of them).  The film is accompanied by a brief Overture, Entr’acte and Exit Music (and whose inspired idea was it to use If Ever I Should Leave You as the Exit Music?).  There is a very good 30-minute documentary about the film’s creation and the problems it encountered, which draws an easy parallel to the film’s plot.  A 9-minute production featurette from 1967 opens with archeologists looking for the real King Arthur before shifting into its behind-the-scenes footage and promotion.  There is also an interesting 29-minute broadcast of the film’s premiere, in very faded color, which incorporates commercials for Camelot-inspired fashions, and there are five trailers.

Film critic Stephen Farber supplies a commentary track, talking about both the film and the stage production.  He expands on the information provided in the 30-minute documentary, but the gist of what he has to say is the same.  He supplies cursory profiles of various members of the cast and crew, analyzes the strengths and flaws of individual scenes, and explains the purposes behind various story choices and stagings.  Even though he admires the work as a whole, he is forthright in discussing the film’s failures.  While praising Redgrave’s transcendent gown in the wedding sequence, for example, he has no problem turning his attention to what he thinks is a less than satisfying canvas for its display.  “If you notice the set—there is no set.  It’s just a lot of candles, and that seems like a missed opportunity because we want to see the grandeur of ‘Camelot’ and all we see is a walkway lit by candles, which seems very inadequate at that point.”

Farber readily points to the persistent lack of imagination on the part of Logan—some sequences are truly awful—and explains how the relative failure of the film dealt the death blow to the last of the great studio heads, Jack Warner, who had failed to appreciate the value of Bonnie & Clyde and almost buried it as he worked to promote his behemoth tentpole feature.  As Farber concludes, “This ending is poignant in kind of dealing with the end of the dream of ‘Camelot,’ and it’s also poignant in the sense that it marked the end of the regime and whole era in Hollywood because this was really the last of the great founding moguls who was still operational, and after this movie, the new ‘corporate’ era in Hollywood had begun, sort of not unlike what they were saying in this film, that an era that was run by these visionary, bold studio moguls was going to be taken over by smaller corporate company men, just as ‘Camelot,’ with its noble dreams, is going to give way to a much more chaotic system of governance in England after the destruction of the Round Table.”

 

2 Responses to “DVD Geek: Camelot”

  1. Keil Shults says:

    My grandfather suffers from legthargy, you Pratt. Hasn’t walked right since the war.

  2. d. pratt says:

    He can probably still get across the room and prepare dinner faster than it takes a Blu-ray to begin a movie

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“Yes, good movies sprout up, inevitably, in the cracks and seams between the tectonic plates on which all of these franchises stay balanced, and we are reassured of their hardiness. But we don’t see what we don’t see; we don’t see the effort, or the cost of the effort, or the movies of which we’re deprived because of the cost of the effort. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice may have come from a studio, but it still required a substantial chunk of outside financing, and at $35 million, it’s not even that expensive. No studio could find the $8.5 million it cost Dan Gilroy to make Nightcrawler. Birdman cost a mere $18 million and still had to scrape that together at the last minute. Imagine American movie culture for the last few years without Her or Foxcatcher or American Hustle or The Master or Zero Dark Thirty and it suddenly looks markedly more frail—and those movies exist only because of the fairy godmothership of independent producer Megan Ellison. The grace of billionaires is not a great business model on which to hang the hopes of an art form.”
~ Mark Harris On The State Of The Movies

How do you make a Top Ten list? For tax and organizational purposes, I keep a log of every movie I see (Title, year, director, exhibition format, and location the film was viewed in). Anything with an asterisk to the left of its title means it’s a 2014 release (or something I saw at a festival which is somehow in play for the year). If there’s a performance, or sequence, or line of dialogue, even, that strikes me in a certain way, I’ll make a note of it. So when year end consideration time (that is, the month and change out of the year where I feel valued) rolls around, it’s a little easier to go through and pull some contenders for categories. For 2014, I’m voting in three polls: Indiewire, SEFCA (my critics’ guild), and the Muriels. Since Indiewire was first, it required the most consternation. There were lots of films that I simply never had a chance to see, so I just went with my gut. SEFCA requires a lot of hemming and hawing and trying to be strategic, even though there’s none of the in-person skullduggery that I hear of from folk whose critics’ guild is all in the same city. The Muriels is the most fun to contribute to because it’s after the meat market phase of awards season. Also, because it’s at the beginning of next year, I’ll generally have been able to see everything I wanted to by then. I love making hierarchical lists, partially because they are so subjective and mercurial. Every critical proclamation is based on who you are at that moment and what experiences you’ve had up until that point. So they change, and that’s okay. It’s all a weird game of timing and emotional waveforms, and I’m sure a scientist could do an in-depth dissection of the process that leads to the discovery of shocking trends in collective evaluation. But I love the year end awards crush, because I feel somewhat respected and because I have a wild-and-wooly work schedule that has me bouncing around the city to screenings, or power viewing the screeners I get sent.
Jason Shawhan of Nashville Scene Answers CriticWire