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Biography of director George Stevens by his son. It includes clips from many of his films with commentary by the actors and by directors such as Frank Capra, John Huston and Alan Pakula, among others. Also included are Stevens's war "home movies," found only after his death. Assigned by Eisenhower to film the war in Europe, Stevens used the opportunity to produce, at the same time, the only color footage ever shot in World War II. There is breathtaking film of D-Day and its aftermath; the triumphal march through Paris of the Allied liberators; and the unspeakable horrors of Dachau. This is what Goya might have done with a movie camera. On a more mundane level is a segment on Cecil B. DeMille's 1950 underhanded attempt to oust Joseph L. Mankiewicz, then president, from the Directors' Guild, which Stevens was instrumental in blocking. Written by
Jacqueline Jarvis <email@example.com>
No one can fault George Stevens Jr. for not wanting to make the movie that really ought to be made about his father-- the decline of a once-nimble and always intelligent filmmaker into the bloated self-consciousness of his 1950s films and the suffocating self- importance of his virtually unwatchable final work. But this is a frustratingly superficial work that misses what's interesting about early Stevens so that it can lavish praise on the noble intentions that were so disastrous to the later work. For instance, Stevens' apprenticeship at Hal Roach (where he directed Laurel and Hardy) is reduced to a soundbite about Stevens wanting a subtler approach to character-driven comedy than Roach-- as if Roach were Mack Sennett rather than the man who pioneered a subtler and more character-driven form of slapstick. If Stevens wanted to out-Roach Roach, that's surely a more interesting line of inquiry than making Roach out to be a hack. Likewise, Stevens is credited by Hermes Pan with inventing the idea of dance numbers that advanced the plot in Swing Time-- when seduction-by-dance had been a feature of the Astaire-Rogers films since The Gay Divorcee, and in any case it's doubtful how much Stevens would have had to do with the dance numbers' form. It would have been far more interesting (not to mention accurate) to have a real film critic explore the development of Stevens' style in these early house assignments, which in the end look like Stevens' most consistently fine work. Conversely, when we get to the postwar period, we hear only about Stevens' ideals and intentions, his encouragement of the actors and his technical innovations (Warren Beatty has a good anecdote to tell), but even well-chosen clips can't cover up the fact that Shane clothes a stock story in a handsomely muddly realism, that Giant is merely a ponderous soap opera, that Diary of Anne Frank, visually promising, is nearly unbearably wrong with those cute California kids telling each other Hallmark sentiments (in sadly ironic contrast to Stevens' own home movies of the camps)-- and that The Ghastliest Story Ever Told, the aircraft carrier of Jesus movies, is not even a movie but a series of visually exquisite, dramatically deadly religious postcards. By this period, almost any other series of similar films would be more interesting to examine-- who wouldn't rather hear Nicholas Ray talk about They Live By Night, Johnny Guitar and King of Kings, say? Or Anthony Mann talk about Winchester 73 and El Cid? Or Pasolini talk about how he was inspired to make The Gospel According to St. Matthew by how wrongheaded Stevens' Jesus was?
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