Beyond the Rocks (Sous-titres français) [Import]
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The rediscovery and restoration of any film long believed lost is good news. Beyond the Rocks inspired still more excitement at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival because it was the only movie ever to costar two of the silent era's highest-wattage luminaries: Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino.
Cultural cliché holds that Swanson's acting was as garish as her makeup, and the legend of Valentino is awash in camp. Yet in this picture--however preposterously plotted by Elinor (It) Glyn--both deliver very natural performances of behavioral subtlety and discretion. Swanson, as the loving daughter of a retired officer (Alec B. Francis), is willing to do anything to ensure that Papa's twilight years be comfortable. That includes marrying a much older, vulgar businessman (Robert Bolder) as wealthy as he is unappealing. It's inconvenient that she's just fallen for a dashing nobleman (Valentino) who's saved her from (1) drowning and (2) falling off an Alp. Both these beautiful people struggle to behave honorably, right up through a final reel in which the unsympathetic husband takes them--and the audience--by surprise.
Now, we mustn't make overmuch of a good thing: Beyond the Rocks, ably but unexcitingly directed by Sam Wood, isn't a lost Murnau or the uncut Greed. But it's a very respectable movie, free of the excesses (except Swanson's increasingly florid costumes!) carelessly attributed to silent films in general; and as a long-delayed footnote to two legendary careers, its historical importance is considerable. The Nederlands Filmmuseum restoration is gloriously sharp (apart from a few spasms of almost impenetrable nitrate deterioration), and the new score by Henny Vrienten sounds more like Mark Isham than the organ-and-calliope accompaniment too many silents have suffered from. --Richard T. Jameson
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I was also very pleased with the second film on this DVD, namely "The Delicious Little Devil" from 1919 in which Valentino stars opposite Mae Murray; another popular star of the silent era. While Valentino plays the usual appealing role of the lover, it is Mae Murray, in my opinion, who steals the show in this surprisingly entertaining film with her vibrant, energetic and expressive manner. The musical accompaniment chosen for each film is of a very high standard, and among the special bonus features, perhaps the most fascinating is an extensive recording of Gloria Swanson talking about her life; it plays instead of music to "Beyond the Rocks". All these things together make this Milestone release well worth the long wait for both silent film enthusiasts and anyone just curious to see these two screen legends together.
Beyond the Rocks is a moody melodrama about a poor girl named Theodora (Gloria Swanson) who marries for money and position but truly loves another man (Rudolph Valentino). The two eventually reunite and carry on a love affair that seems destined for trouble. The story is trite and typical of writer Elinor Glyn, but the actors carry it well and there are enough exciting locations and small incidents to captivate an audience. The soundtrack is not perfect, and since the one with many sound effects annoyed many people, there is an option to see the film without them. However, the music provides a distinctive mood for the film. It is almost haunting, an appropriate score for a movie that has basically come back from the dead. The picture quality is rather good apart from a few sections which do not detract from the movie. Unfortunately, there is some footage missing including a pageant scene, which one can only imagine was quite steamy. Overall, though, we can watch Beyond the Rocks in delight not only for its existence but also for its quality.
The extra features include a segment about the discovery of the film and a bit about the man who owned it. We get to see film preservationists at work and hear about a real-life eccentric collector. There is also a still gallery, some Valentino film trailers, and a second feature film. A Delicious Little Devil stars Mae Murray as an innocent girl out of work who gets a job in a nightclub impersonating a high-class woman involved in a scandal overseas. Valentino stars as her love interest; he is quite handsome despite all of his makeup. Murray toggles between Pickford-esque innocence to an overdone vamp like Nazimova. The quality of the print is not great. There are many scratches and sometimes the picture is washed out. However, as an additional film, this condition is more acceptable.
In her autobiography, Swanson begged the public to check their closets and attics for copies of her lost films including this one. It is too bad she did not live to see such a discovery, but nonetheless her wish was fulfilled. Let us hope that the publicity garnered by the event will inspire others to check their attics as well.
First, the film is shown at the wrong speed - it's projected too slowly thus ruining the pacing and making all the actors look as though they are animated by stop-motion photography (think of the jerky way the dinosaurs moved in 1933's KING KONG and you'll know what I mean). During the silent film era there was no one "correct" film speed and many cinematographers preferred to handcrank their cameras and each had his own favorite speed, somewhere between 20 and 24 frames per second. On top of that, theater projectionists were often provided with cue sheets to vary the projector speed depending on the scene. For example, action scenes were speeded up and romantic scenes were slowed down. When "talkies" came in by the late 1920s, a uniform mechanized speed was required due to the need to synchronize the sound with the picture, thus 24 fps became the industry standard and it still is today.
BEYOND THE ROCKS would probably play too fast at sound speed, 24 fps, but fortunately today modern electronics can be used to run a silent film at whatever speed seems to lend itself to natural movement. Why ROCKS is run too slowly is a mystery to me and really hurts the film's impact.
The second problem is the atonal, modernistic, anachronistic, anti-historical, and just plain lousy music score that accompanies the film. Much of it sounds funereal, and one scene where the tempo finally becomes upbeat, at a swanky Parisian restaurant, the music is inappropriately Scott Joplin's ragtime. I don't mind using "modern" music if the mood fits the action but that's not the case here.
I hate to criticize without providing some constructive comments so if you're wondering how ROCKS should have been run, and how the music should have sounded, you only have to look at the dvd's bonus material and watch the bonus feature, A DELICIOUS LITTLE DEVIL, to find out. Why is DEVIL run at the proper speed giving the actors natural movements, and given a wonderfully compatible music accompaniment (even lilting I might say) while ROCKS is seriously mishandled in these same areas?
So it's great to be able to enjoy BEYOND THE ROCKS at all (too bad Miss Swanson - whom I met once - didn't live to see it) but I suspect that a second edition needs to be issued at some point in the future with the right speed and with a sympathetic score. But there are so many great bonus items (including DEVIL) on the current disc that Milestone seems to atone for the main feature's technical shortcomings (for which I suspect it is innocent) by giving us more than our money's worth. Bravo Milestone!