January 22, 2008

"CINEMA AS CIRCUS":

At Home With El Cid (GARY GIDDINS, January 22, 2008, NY Sun)

[Samuel Bronston's] meteoric empire soared with "El Cid" and plummeted with "Fall of the Roman Empire," also directed by [Anthony] Mann, three years later. As lawyers and prosecutors investigated the company's transgressions, Bronston's epics were more often shelved than shown.

Now the Weinstein Company is scheduling DVD restorations of the films (part of its Miriam Collection), beginning this coming week with "El Cid," encouraging a re-assessment of Bronston and his work. Vindication seems likely. Bronston, who died in 1994 at 85, beaten by creditors and Alzheimer's, is difficult for film lovers to hate. As he put it, he was "insane" for movies, and by most accounts uninterested in personal wealth; he poured the money he raised into his pictures, which are often dazzling.

That's one reason people bond over "El Cid," especially if they saw it as intended, filling the massive screen of the old, resplendent, and lamented Warner Theater on 47th Street and Broadway, where it opened in December 1961. With its glorious vistas, clanking battles, luminous colors, thumping Miklos Rozsa music, and unforgettable climax, all unfolding in 70mm grandeur like a living tapestry, it was cinema as circus — an enveloping, emotional, even inspirational event. The DVD, good as it is (clean transfer, bright and stable colors, impenetrable blacks, vivid audio), can only imply that experience, like the reproduction of a Vermeer.

If RKO once gave Orson Welles "the biggest electric train set a boy ever had," Bronston gave Mann the entirety of Spain — with its castles and churches, an army, whole communities of costume-sewers, and an elastic check to cover such extras as swords made in the same foundry that served the real Cid. Mann returned the favor. In some respects, "El Cid" is the pinnacle of his career, a visionary extrapolation of characteristic themes involving heroism, violence, treachery, fragile alliances, and moral ambiguity, previously explored in genre films he made over two decades.


Posted by Orrin Judd at January 22, 2008 1:29 PM
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