“There’s always a harp in a dream sequence, don’t be silly.”
Damn modern cinema. I watched A Star Is Born (George Cukor, 1954) last night, but was hesitant to because of its 169 minute running time. But, no surprise, it was amazing, because three hours of an amazing film is amazing. It was damn Pirates of the Carribean, at 168 minutes, that put me off such a long running time – but only because it was a poor film. Never again!
Also, Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006) had me thinking the other day that it had made the wonderful achievement of a few scenes of long takes. Fair enough, Cuarón’s would have taken hours/days to set up, prepare for, and probably several takes to get a suitable one for the film, but he also had the convenience of CGI to easy up the task, and polish up any ‘imperfections’. But Cukor did phenomenal single-take scenes, and long takes, and this was in (and perhaps before) the fifties! Cukor uses the single-take to sustain the emotion of the actor on screen, to create their energy into something that we can feel as we spectate. There are two points in the film that clearly demonstrate the director’s intention to do this- at the Academy Awards ceremony, when Norman, walking drunkenly towards the camera, goes out of focus for just a second. And during Judy’s first true performance, in the bar, singing ‘The Man That Got Away’. Again, one long take filming her song as a whole, her perfermance as a whole, and it is this that is more important than eliminating those few frames in which Judy slides out of focus. No CGI to fix that up, because celluloid is a raw form in itself that can capture what is most important.
I didn’t appreciate everything so intensely, though. Cukor’s decision to have dialogue playing back over still shots of the characters to condense several important developments was a little jarring. Have seen it done as well in What I Have Written (John Hughes, 1995) and wasn’t too keen on it there, either. But Cukor wins favour a little by being a smart arse: when Norman (James Mason) is drunk on set he says they should ‘cut some corners’ in the filming- just what Cukor is doing.
But just like I felt with Young Man With A Horn, I wish I could just sing a song, perform for myself, when I was feeling melancholy. Judy did. Probably didn’t make a difference. Liza seemed to stop doing it too after a good run, probably because it wasn’t making much of a difference. But it would still be lovely (or excessively melancholic, depressing, if that’s your thing) if I could.
Ever since this world began
There’s nothing sadder than
A one-man woman looking for
The man that got away