Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Thief of Bagdad

The Thief of Bagdad (Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, etc., 1940) Epic Alexander Korda production, with considerable work from his brothers Vincent and Zoltan, and the grand production designer William Cameron Menzies, that boasted three directors, filming on two continents (interrupted by the Blitz) and became a fantasy favorite.

It's still amazing, even if the two leads are a little leaden (and if we don't get too picky that all of the featured players are extraordinarily ethnically inaccurate—
Sabu was born in Mysore, then a part of British India, and Conrad Veidt...was German!), but if one takes it with a light-heartedness, and a mighty roaring laughter worthy of the Djinn (played by the larger-than-life—even without special effects—Rex Ingram), there are more than enough wonders that would enchant and entice a watcher (as it did with the young Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, who both count it as their favorite childhood film).
Because it all comes together, all the disparate elements in eye-popping Technicolor, that somehow manages to make the real world look drab and shabby by comparison. I've had that experience where movies change your outlook:  every new Orson Welles film made me see the world—and its possibilities—differently; a theater screening of the cinematography documentary Visions of Light was followed by an extended parking lot discussion in which the lights of the city (even in that drab corner of Seattle) never looked more beautiful to the eye; a screening of Don't Look Now (in the very same theater, coincidentally) had me walking back to the car, obsessively looking for the color red.
And The Thief of Bagdad has that same effect. Between Menzies' sets (and his insistence on how they be filmed), the vibrant color sense and stylishness of the entire production, one yearns that movies might be more like this one, let alone the world (oh, by the way, give me a chance at those three wishes)...and isn't that illusion why we go to the movies, anyway?

The visually eye-popping The Thief of Bagdad


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