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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

As Mutilated Masterpieces Go ...

Could We Hack 40 Reels Of Greed?

There's nothing like Greed to lead you back to books after watching. This time, I consulted Arthur Lenig and Herman Weinberg, who dealt exhaustive with Erich von Stroheim's doomed masterpiece. But would forty-two reels, another four or so hours, amount to that? It was accepted for decades that (uncut) Greed would rank among greatest, if not #1 of all time, but days of it turning up on critic polls are over, and I've come to wonder how many, even among serious cineastes, are bothering to watch. Think of mini-series playing television "complete" in the 70/80's, those long tortured hours with commercials besides. Networks even padded big-name theatricals with unused footage to sell additional hours of advertising --- Superman, Earthquake, plenty more. All of Greed might fit nicely over four nights of NBC primetime, and imagine it going dusk to dawn on TCM. Stroheim had rigid system of the 20's to face. Theatres were only in a second decade of coping with features, and here comes EvS with nine-hours. No wonder the town thought he was nuts.

I went over the Weinberg summary of cut stuff, accompanied by stills. A lot of it involved support characters. How engaging would that have been? Tough enough sticking with Greed's downer of a principal narrative. Human nature being what it is, there's nothing we crave like something we're told we can't see, but would all of Greed please, even if the whole kit and caboodle turned up? What I saw on TCM was the release version Thalberg and dicers turned out, as opposed to mix of footage with dancing stills that bloated Greed to longer length and called it restoration. Not to knock that effort, but give me stills or a movie, not both at once. Greed is good where mood is right (as in utterly depressed or suicidal), but who'll pull it down for repeat runs or party placement? I'll be surprised if Warners goes for Blu-Ray release what with Greed's diminished cache. There just aren't enough champions left for it today.


Blogger John McElwee said...

This from Griff re the long-form GREED:

Dear John:

Well, I'd like to see the complete GREED. [Yes, I own a copy of that Weinberg reconstruction book.]

-- Griff

10:31 AM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

Warners probably won't put out the theatrical cut of "Greed" because the only score recording they have was prepared for the Thames Silents series back in the 80s. They'd have to license it for a dvd or blu-ray release or create a new one and I just don't see them spending the money for that, unless somebody like Scorsese embarrasses them into doing it. I'll just have to live with my laserdisc of the movie.

10:34 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

GREED should have been left as it is. The so call restoration is OK but it is a very annoying exercise accomplishing nothing, but boredom. The first time I saw the movie was in a screening by Filmoteca Buenos Aires (Fernando Martín Peña, whose show is coming back in a few days) in absolute silence and with no background music of any kind, just somebody doing a live translation to Spanish of the titles and signs.

The film is fine in its theatrical version and the cuts ordered by Thalberg make sense and actually help the movie. The Rick Schmidling version is an absolute waste of time, money and resources that could have been use to reconstruct other lost films instead. The deleted subplots are either too grim or to imbecilic to stand out. In fact, they simply don't work.

Yet, the very best moments of the film are in the end which impressed even my late dad who say it aloud "this is extraordinary, this is great".

This ad from Cuba highlights those moments.

And here is a rare candid still on the set that was preserved in Argentina.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Chris Wuchte said...

I thought it was just me. After years of hearing how brilliant "Greed" is, I finally watched it about a month ago. I'd be curious to see the theatrical version, because the subplots shoehorned into the reconstruction via stills felt more like distractions than crucial parts of the film. There were a few moments involving the two leads that I think should have stayed in, but if the subplots that revolve around the other two couples are there to simply show us two different paths marriages can take when money dominates the relationship -- well, I certainly don't need two hours of that to explain it to me, and I doubt that viewers in the 1920s did either. I can't even imagine what an eight hour version would add that would be beneficial.

2:05 PM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

Recently re-watched GREED on TCM, and a question came to mind: Has this film ever been “remade”, or heavily borrowed from, appearing under a different title, so to speak?

6:39 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers the long and the short of GREED:

In Kevin Brownlow’s “Hollywood: The Pioneers,” there is a picture of D. W. Griffith, his cameraman Billy Bitzer, and the actress Josephine Crowell on the set of “Hearts of the World.” When it was published in a 1918 issue of “Photoplay,” the background was painted over to emphasize the three. Out of curiosity, Brownlow had it restored. When the paint was removed, a familiar face emerged, that of Erich von Stroheim. As “military advisor” on the film, he was in the process of adjusting the fit of an actor's kepi. Von Stroheim had also been one of the assistant directors on Griffith’s “Intolerance.”

If you accept von Stroheim as a protégée of D. W. Griffith, or at least as someone heavily influenced by the master, the complex structure of “Greed” become more understandable. Just as “Intolerance” wove together four stories—the “only film fugue,” one critic called it—von Stroheim uses the two major subplots to reflect and comment upon the theme presented in the central story.

In the case of “Intolerance,” Griffith’s great success with “The Birth of a Nation” allowed him to make the film he wanted and, just as importantly, to release it in the form he wanted it to be in. Later, to bring in further revenues, the film was dismembered, with the “Babylonian” and “Modern” stories being detached, re-edited, and released as separate films. In a way, this is what happened with “Greed,” with the subplots removed from the central story before its release, which in effect was released on its own, the great difference being that no version of the film that von Stroheim could accept was ever seen by the public. The 42 reel one was probably more than a rough cut, but an expression of how the story could be told, had there been no commercial considerations. It was to acknowledge those considerations, however, that von Stroheim prepared a 24-reel cut—about four and a half hours long—with the possibility of showing it in two parts on consecutive nights, and allowed his friend, director Rex Ingram, and Ingram’s editor, Grant Whytock, to further trim it to 18 reels, or about three and a quarter hours. Most versions of “Intolerance” we have today are also around three hours long.

Of course, the management of the newly merged Goldwyn and Metro studios disagreed with either approach, not being taken with the story itself—evidently they appreciated that an audience composed of melancholics was bound to be limited—and finding even a three-hour film commercially unreasonable, in that it eliminated one or two showings a day. The studio version exists, while the efforts today to restore the film through the use of stills and title cards only demonstrate how utterly lost von Stroheim’s version is.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I recorded the "restored" version off TCM seven years ago, and still haven't been able to bring myself to watch. I read "McTeague" about 30 years ago, and I remember how depressing it was. Great novel, sure, but not one I'd like to revisit.

I remember reading about the daughter of an MGM executive who was one of the few people to have seen the complete version. In the '50s, she was asked what she thought of it. She replied something to the effect of, "What do you think an eight hour movie would be like?"

As for von Stroheim: a brilliant director who was also incredibly self-destructive. Did he really think the studios would go along with his endless shooting schedule and ridiculously expensive movies forever?

5:17 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

If you hadn't heard this before, it may make your eyeballs sweat.

8:01 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Is that meant to be Zazu Pitts in the print ad? Thinking of your book "The Art of Selling Movies", where ads for "All Quiet on the Western Front" were crowded with chorus girls.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Well, we have your "FOOLISH WIVES" express post to show us that Von Stroheim was going where Irving Thalberg feared to tread. It is unfortunate that so mature an artist was destined to be at the mercy of a boy ready and eager to bowdlerize Victor Hugo's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME to make it into a movie.

We have the example of Abel Gance in Europe to show us that Stroheim was not alone in desiring to put more meat on the screen than the industry was eager to allow. Thanks to Kevin Brownlow and the BFI I can look at the Blu-ray of the restored NAPOLEON and see most of Gance's vision.

Perhaps the day will come when computer animation can take the photographs from GREED and make them move. That would be something.

GREED could and should have been released as a serialized feature. The secret to commercial success in the motion picture industry is franchising. Franchises are created from Characters (James Bond, Tarzan, etc.), Stars, Directors, Stories (THE GODFATHER I, II, II). Every book is at least three movies. Doing a book as one movie means the elimination of so much detail that the results are rarely as rich as they could be. I remember at 12 seeing MGM'S "THE KNIGHT'S OF THE ROUND TABLE." Unlike my classmates I was familiar with the story. They were happy with what they saw. I sure as Hell was not. Ditto EXCALIBUR which is even worse.

I read McTEAGUE and enjoyed it immensely. I programmed THE GOOD EARTH after reading the book. As I watched it I thought for the briefest moment Thalberg had finally done a great book justice then I looked at the print of the film. There was about five minutes left in the film's running time and a couple of hundred pages that were cut completely.

It is the artists who propel the medium forward both artistically and commercially. The industry always takes it backwards. Stroheim directed THE MERRY WIDOW for MGM for a percentage of the profits to make up for the losses incurred by GREED. He was told that GREED'S losses outweighed THE MERRY WIDOW's profits. Thomas Quin Curtis for his book on Stroheim checked the records. Cut to the bone and released in theaters people needed a guide to find GREED actually turned a profit. It's too bad the folks who produced Von Stroheim's films lacked his vision. He was lucky with Uncle Carl Laemmle who, when told about the escalating cost of FOOLISH WIVES by the alarmed Irving Thalberg, said, "ADVERTISE IT!" We can get a different version of Von Stroheim's BLIND HUSBANDS here: . I have already received their copy of the restored Eisenstein OCTOBER (1927) with the Edmund Meisel score. It's a real winner. I'm going to be ordering more of their titles.

5:17 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

If it is Zazu, they certainly flatter her, though on the other hand, I recently saw a photo taken when she was a teenager, and Zazu was very cute.

5:20 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I want to put in a recommendation for a novel just out by our own Donald Benson. It's called HER TEMPORARY PRINCE, and has romance, adventure, plenty of what was once called "derring-do," very much after the fashion of "The Prisoner Of Zenda." A long read, but quick tempo belies that --- HER TEMPORARY PRINCE moves right along, has sweep plus variety, and characters that a re consistently engaging. There are few books written like this today because too few authors understand the genre like Donald Benson. You're familiar with intelligence and insight he brings to comments here at Greenbriar --- there is that and plenty more in HER TEMPORARY PRINCE. Amazon has it on Kindle at a bargain price:

5:36 AM  

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