Posted by: philosopherouge | December 17, 2007

P & P Blog-a-thon: Gone to Earth

Sorry I had promised an entry yesterday, but a terrible snow storm hit (as some of you may have been victims of as well). I spent a good part of the day shoveling and re-shoveling my drive-way.

Gone to Earth falls just short of being a masterpiece. I’m not one to use the term lightly, and I truly believe if it were not for some maddening transitions between scenes, the film would have been perfect. Even if, in the instant the ushering of one moment to the next feels clumsy, and rushed, the nature of the film makes the viewer forget in an instant because of the stirring passions of the characters and the filmmakers. Powell and Pressburger rank among my favourite filmmakers, their sense of visuals and exploration of passions is unparalleled in my eyes. This film most resembles Black Narcissus in it’s treatment of lust, and “sin” as themes and emotions that propel the film forward. Even David Farrar reappears: he was the object of desire in Narcissus makes a reappearance as the lecherous squire after Hazel (played beautifully by Jennifer Jones). The setting and the characters, however are rather drastically different, and instead of resembling one of the sisters, Hazel is closer to being a more coy and naive version of Kanchi (Jean Simmons). Suffice to say, her own internal conflicts are far removed from religion, but rooted in the superstition and magic she believes in.

I have to admit, even though my lofty adoration for the film, it’s not for everyone. I’ve seen it described as a pot-boiler, and kitsch… perhaps they’re closer in their interpretation than I am. The film is over the top, it’s over sexualized (although by today’s standard’s it’s quite tame), and it’s borderline exploitive, but I love it. I’ve always been attracted to this style of film though, from Pabst’s melodramas to Sirks’ grandiose American portraits, I see this film in the same vein. Jones’ enthusiasm and dedication seem to overcome what is at first an apparent discomfort with the accent. While some of the dialogue is delivered rather clumsily, the part is sold on Jones’ body language and in her face. She seems to thrive off of the talent that surrounds her, perhaps a little less smothered from Selznick than in her American films (although there is no doubt he’s here, which explains the sleaze). Her performance is very sincere and earnest, and it’s what holds the film together. Jones is an actress that had more talent than one would ever expect, but was crushed by external pressures no one should be asked to deal with. The talent of Powell helps the film in it’s very delicate balancing act, he knew how to direct melodrama like few other filmmakers, and prevents the film from taking itself too seriously or from dropping too far into self-conscious excess.

What I love about this film is the excessive sexuality of it. So many of my favourite films are these older movies that ooze with sex, without ever showing anything at all. This film fits into the same vein as Kazan’s Baby Doll, as it’s all about implications and teasing. Powell uses the red lights to really accentuate the passion, and while it doesn’t quite work to the same effect as in Narcissus, it works at the very least to increase the tension and to make for a very beautiful palette. As I mentioned Farrar, he’s perhaps even more electric here than he was in Black Narcissus. He’s a chauvinistic ass in this film, and not afraid to strut his stuff. I can’t remember the last time a male actor was so good at being sexy? Sexy is the word.. because he’s just, he has magnetism or something, but wow. He and Jones play off each other wonderfully, they have incredible chemistry onscreen, rivalling some of the best screen couples I can think of.

Even if you don’t like all that super sleazy sex stuff, the film is worth seeing for the beautiful landscape and the Technicolor. I don’t think this is their most beautiful film, but it certainly beats out 90% of the competition. The colours are rich and well thought out, lots of care is taken in choosing just the right lighting, from dawn till dusk. The music is also wonderful, a very earthy feel to it. Just looking it up, I’m surprised to see that Jennifer Jones might have actually done her own singing, because her voice is impeccable in the film, it’s almost as if she’s casting a spell on the viewer and the characters in the film feel the same effect.

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Responses

  1. This is one of the few Powell/Pressburgers I haven’t seen but I’d love to. When you said that it had been described as “kitsch” I had to smile. I’ve heard so much of Powell’s work described that way. Whenever anyone sees anything from the forties or fifties that uses technicolor, innuendo and sub-surface desire they describe it as kitsch. It’s an easy moniker that allows the viewer a way out of any deeper analysis.

    When I watch Sirk’s Written on the Wind I can see all the elements that one might describe as kitsch but I can also see that there is much more going on visually that calls out for a deeper look.

    Back to Powell, I think Black Narcissus is one of the most gorgeous and captivating films I’ve ever seen and whenever I hear it written off as kitsch it just makes my blood boil. I don’t think many average moviegoers today appreciate what filmmakers like Powell and Pressburger (and Sirk for that matter) were trying to do. They are not for the gritty realist or the literal minded.

    Thanks for calling attetion to this and their work with this blogathon. Ever since I saw The Red Shoes for the first time they have been among my most beloved filmmakers.

  2. It’s true, the term is thrown around very easily and lightly. It really applies in this case, at least nearly. It’s very much in the vein of cult classic Duel in the Sun, also with Jones… but with a bit more restraint because of Powell & Pressburger. It doesn’t quite seem to be their doing, but rather the external influence of Selznick.

    I would never call Sirk Kitsch, because it is his conscious decision to approach the material in this particular way that is essential to his visual and storytelling style. Written on the Wind, however, is probably my least favourite of his films (that I’ve seen), Imitation of Life is where it’s at.

    You’re very right, I think too many people see film’s goal as being to achieve reality; which is not only impossible, but an archaic idea about art. It’s the same as dismissing modern, or abstract art because it doesn’t aim to achieve reality. It’s not an issue of escapism (which some pin it down to, because “gritty” equates a “serious” film that has to be contemplated) but a lack of willingness to explore and analyze a visual aesthetic that’s in conflict with your expectations.

  3. Cool project — I happen to have my first two P&P films on hand now: Red Shoes & Black Narcissus. Perhaps I will contribute something from the pov of a total noob. πŸ™‚ This film sounds terrific, too.

  4. Oh great–great!–throw it in my face? Here you are timidly recommending this film, unsure of its kitsch and sexuality–aspects of film that, if it is not notorious already, I LOVE–telling us it is worth watching, and I can’t even watch it! You’re such an awful person, Justine. πŸ‘Ώ
    My love for Powell, my lust for Jennifer Jones, my adoration of classical sexual deviations, and you dangle this film in front of me.
    It’s Christmas. If I don’t receive this from you as a gift, you will never be forgiven.

    P.S. to Lauren: As one who is proud to know your taste, I predict you will hate those films. I doubt you’ll like any P+P, but you especially won’t take to The Red Shoes. If you’re still up for more P+P after those, go watch I Know Where I’m Going!

  5. I have joined the dark side

  6. Oh, Justine. πŸ˜₯ Where have you lost your heart?

    A curse: you will die as you will live: without Mango!
    *storms off*

  7. 😦 I’m now officially sad on the inside.


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