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.