Thursday, June 23, 2011

Max Reinhart"s Midsummer Nights commentary

An amazing commentary track about the making of the epic, atypical film of Shakespeare's play is truly mind blowing.

Despite the fact that I will dip into the well of the Bard I am not a fan. Put me into the camp of those who feel he’s over rated. On a certain level its beautifully worded soap opera. Normally I have to have a hook to get me to watch a production, usually there has to be an actor I like.

In the case of this version of Midsummer the hook was the fact that I had only seen stills from the film, but I had never seen the film itself. Finding a copy of the film in a discount store I picked it up.

The film itself is a work of art. It’s a beautiful fantasy that rightly gave Warners a huge boost of prestige. It’s a film that is truly a work of art whose influence you can see in many films that followed including many MGM films and even Fantasia. On a certain level the performances are uneven, but then again none are truly bad or out of place. They are if nothing else interesting choices and probably close to what Julie Taymor’s disastrous Tempest would have been had she managed to pull it together. I like the film.

What I love is Scott MacQueen‘s audio commentary on the making of the film. It’s a wonderful look into the studio system and what happens when a stage director crashes into a film studio. It’s a battle of commercialism vs art where,surprisingly, both win.

It’s all here from the film’s genesis in the legendary Hollywood Bowl production (an aside the only thing wrong with the DVD is that there is no visual record of that production. Since the show is heavily talked about, it would have been nice to see something) to the films release and cutting down to a version that was screened at popular prices. We get the battle for casting. The endless battles over the look, of what they were going for, what they tried to shoot and how the studio screamed bloody murder since the footage was often so dark that it needed a very bright lamp to be seen (bulbs were something that many theaters skimped on and went for cheaper dimmer bulbs). There is the talk of the putting a section during the intermission which was going to be a classical music concert (the idea was scrapped).

Using memo’s and sections from biographies and other materials from the period MacQueen paints a wonderful portrait of how a film was made in the golden age of Hollywood that was a real eye opener to even my jaded film fanatic’s eyes.

I can’t recommend the commentary enough.

Best of all the DVD has many of the promotional bits that were mentioned during the commentary, the actor introductions, the A Dream Comes True piece which consisted of extra footage, plus trailers and other fun tidbits.

If you are a fan of Hollywood’s heyday you should see this. I don't know what else to say but go out and find yourself a copy and watch it. I'm going to guess that not only will you watch the film a couple of times, you'll also listen to the commentary a few more times as well since there is just too damn much to take in on one go through.

One of my finds of the year.

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