952 The Magnificent Ambersons

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Drucker
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#276 Post by Drucker » Mon Jan 21, 2019 1:20 pm

Well I wound up posting my long spiel about the edition already!

Here's a question I have as an admirer of the film: is there any other, pre-1950s major studio film that deals with and confronts the evolution and development of America in such a way? Any other film that calls out American "progress" as perhaps a negative? Thematically I think there is overlap with this film and say Heaven's Gate, but as I scan my DVD collection I can think of no other film from this era which so boldly questions what I perceive to be orthodox thought in America. I suppose film noirs often do it, but I'm wondering if there is any film that's comparable to this one, or at least, what it attempted to achieve?

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Roger Ryan
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#277 Post by Roger Ryan » Tue Jan 22, 2019 1:45 pm

Drucker wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 1:20 pm
...is there any other, pre-1950s major studio film that deals with and confronts the evolution and development of America in such a way?
Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940)?

I'm coming up empty for anything else. A much later film indebted to Ambersons is Barry Levinson's Avalon (1990). Since the opening scenes are set in 1914, Levinson's film begins right where Ambersons ends and then continues into the mid-century. Levinson substitutes the arrival of television for the arrival of the automobile as the invention that negatively affects the once-strong family dynamic. The film even concludes with a tribute to Ambersons' original lost "boarding house" ending with the family patriarch being visited by his grandson and great-grandson in a nursing home. Suffering from dementia, the patriarch has difficulty following the conversation as a distracting television is broadcasting a Thanksgiving Day parade. Clearly, Levinson was trying to evoke the downbeat finale that Welles wanted for his film...in a similar way to how Peter Bogdanovich ended The Last Picture Show (1971), another film that shows the development of America in a less-than-ideal light.

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domino harvey
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#278 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jan 22, 2019 2:02 pm

If we're talking films critical of the direction America is going, pencil in any of the countless social problem pictures of the 30s to start with, then as Drucker mentions move on to the Noirs of the forties. There's no shortage of Depression-era movies that showed a dark side of the country. I think the question as posed is pretty odd, though

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#279 Post by movielocke » Tue Jan 22, 2019 5:26 pm

Going through the 5.5 hours of non commentary extras lately, it is a must to go through the two key interviews back to back because Simon Callow gives one, fairly traditional take on Welles partying in Brazil, and Joseph McBride gives an alternate (meticulously documented and naming of names of the villains), heavily researched (he found the receipts, so to speak) take on Welles and Brazil.

The Herrmann extra was fine, but I found it somewhat uninteresting compared to the other two interviews. The Dick Cavett show might be the best Dick Cavett bit I've ever seen on TCM or as an extra on a disc, Welles is in fine form, and it's a completely fabulous and fun and insightful interview.
Last edited by movielocke on Tue Jan 22, 2019 5:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#280 Post by FrauBlucher » Tue Jan 22, 2019 5:27 pm

Drucker wrote:Any other film that calls out American "progress" as perhaps a negative?
Awesome thought. I can’t think of anything. It would be like someone making a film today that wishes for life before the internet/social media.

I did think of the opposite though. The Fountainhead (1949), Gary Cooper plays an architect that wants to build modern structures against the wishes of people that hired him to build buildings that mirror the older more staid reality of the time.

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#281 Post by Calvin » Tue Jan 22, 2019 7:48 pm

It's perhaps stating the obvious, but the theme can be found outside of American cinema in Kozaburo Yoshimura's The Ball at the Anjo House and Satyajit Ray's The Music Room.

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knives
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#282 Post by knives » Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:22 pm

FrauBlucher wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 5:27 pm
Drucker wrote:Any other film that calls out American "progress" as perhaps a negative?
Awesome thought. I can’t think of anything. It would be like someone making a film today that wishes for life before the internet/social media.
Isn't that the plot to about 90% of westerns?

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#283 Post by FrauBlucher » Tue Jan 22, 2019 9:36 pm

True. But wasn 't Ambersons made closer to it's time of reference, as opposed to westerns being further in the past.

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Drucker
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#284 Post by Drucker » Tue Jan 22, 2019 11:08 pm

In several of the extras, the strength of Welles' critique of American progress came off as central to the original vision of the film. I found that critique more direct and striking than anything I could think of, though of course that broader critique runs through many other films. I wanted to ask if anything else was comparable. The only thing I can really think of is like I said, Heaven's Gate, or perhaps the "this is going to be a fine country, some day" line in The Searchers.

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#285 Post by JakeStewart » Tue Jan 22, 2019 11:49 pm

But isn't also critical of the way America was before it progressed in the 20th century? George essentially sabotages his mother's life and happiness because he can't let go of some silly social principle.

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#286 Post by knives » Wed Jan 23, 2019 6:00 pm

FrauBlucher wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 9:36 pm
True. But wasn 't Ambersons made closer to it's time of reference, as opposed to westerns being further in the past.
Not originally.

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#287 Post by FrauBlucher » Wed Jan 23, 2019 6:22 pm

I don’t get the feeling that Ford was longing for or wanting life to be as in Stagecoach as Welles was for The Ambersons.

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Big Ben
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#288 Post by Big Ben » Wed Jan 23, 2019 6:29 pm

The thing about "The West" is that that time period only really encompass a very short time period. The most fertile period was about thirty years, from 1865 to 1895 although it extended to a much less degree into the twentieth century. The Wild Bunch for instance is at the very end of this taking place in 1913. Booth Tarkington's original novel was published in 1918. knives is absolutely correct in his statement.

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#289 Post by FrauBlucher » Wed Jan 23, 2019 6:44 pm

I still think there is a difference about Welles’ contemporary longing and something that was based on the legend of the west.

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knives
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#290 Post by knives » Wed Jan 23, 2019 8:16 pm

It wasn't a legend in the 20s and 30s. It was recent history. Just look at Hell's Hinges for example. I am not even sure that one is a period piece.

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Big Ben
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#291 Post by Big Ben » Wed Jan 23, 2019 8:38 pm

I can only speak for myself here but I think there's a difference between longing for something long gone and the myth of the Old West. The West that most people have is one manufactured by the movies as the Wild West for the most part was pretty mundane. Conflict most certainly occurred but it was nowhere near as frequent as the movies made it look. For instance the average town had about a murder per year. Boasting about your kill count back then was a bit like bragging about how many people you've slept with while you were still in College. Even the most "badass" cowpunks like Billy the Kid only managed to kill four people in their entire lives.

Another thing that movies have overlooked was how important women were to those towns. The most powerful person in West could quite often be brothel madams. They not only knew secrets but quite often instrumental in getting education and healthcare infrastructure implemented into towns. The west was significantly less violent than most people think it was. But it was WAY sexier.

Welles' longing strikes me more as nostalgia driven rather than about a notion about constructed myth. It FELT easier and because of that "it was." It certainly doesn't mean Welles can't have his head in the clouds but that doesn't mean his fears about growth are unwarranted. The decay of somethings that come alongside progress and growth is not something I feel is something that's myth driven (Although you could most certainly argue about whether something that has been lost is good or bad.) and I think it's a far cry from the rootin' tootin' image of the West that was being created in cinemas at the time Welles was making Ambersons.

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#292 Post by domino harvey » Wed Jan 23, 2019 8:48 pm

Mankiewicz's the Late George Apley would fit the bill as an anti-nostalgia progress pic too, though it still seems to me like we're all talking about something slightly different from each other!

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knives
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#293 Post by knives » Wed Jan 23, 2019 9:29 pm

I have been assuming this was about anti-progress movies that happen to also not be nostalgic rather than, as you seem to be saying films about progress that don't treat the past with nostalgia.

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#294 Post by domino harvey » Wed Jan 23, 2019 9:37 pm

But a film that says the past was better than the present/future is inherently nostalgic by definition (and also, I might add, completely at odds with film noir as a genre, as having no future and/or being haunted by the past is not what's being described, so not sure why that's used as an example in the initial post). This is why I remain confused here, I guess

EDIT: And Heaven's Gate does a good job of making life in the old west look miserable, so I'm not sure how that is an example of a film saying progress is bad since it goes out of its way to highlight how it would have sucked to live back then?

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knives
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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#295 Post by knives » Wed Jan 23, 2019 9:57 pm

I don't think anyone was talking about films which argue that the past is better, but rather that progress doesn't mean that the future is improved over the past. That's especially what I took the film noir comment to mean as the future is a dead end, but the past is also rancid. Heaven's Gate then also becomes a sensible example as that is a film about how the coming industrial revolution did nothing to stem flaws in American society and may even have come to exacerbate some.

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Re: The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)

#296 Post by Big Ben » Wed Jan 23, 2019 10:10 pm

Progress isn't necessarily the issue per se but the idea that it can't come with unwanted harm isn't a disingenuous statement in my opinion. For instance one might also view technological progress as a double edged sword. In may indeed help people in all manner of ways but it's also enabled terrible harassment, doxxing, death threats, etc. With the encroachment of civilization comes all manner of benefits but it also brings sorrow and other social ills such as destruction of resources. I wonder how Welles would have looked at what the film industry nowadays due to it's more exposed nature but also the ever increasing demand studios have to make all of the money. A lamentation over the loss of something in this regard isn't inherently anti-progress in my mind but a reflection. In Monte Walsh (The original) a character remarks that the building of fences on Western land is bringing the end to an era. It's not really an angry statement but a reminder that the good times come to an end and that things are always going to be lost. "Nobody gets to be a cowboy forever." was the line that stuck with me as it was reflective (If a bit simple.) but it wasn't exactly angry.

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Re: 952 The Magnificent Ambersons

#297 Post by filmyfan » Sat Jan 26, 2019 11:34 am

hearthesilence wrote:
Sun Jan 20, 2019 6:12 pm
Jesus, this is a pretty Herculean effort. Just skimming it now, but it looks like he even fabricated stills from lost shots using existing materials via Photoshop. (Looking at the lost ending - Moorehead's face looks like it was duplicated from the same still for several re-created shots meant to portray different angles.)
Fantastic site..just a glance at it so far...so much to dip into..

Answered a few of my questions re: locations already!

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