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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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MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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