Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Memory Of A Film That Was

On my last post I talked a bit about, in general terms, the work of Vincente Minnelli and the importance of his retrospective currently playing here in New York. I think a great example of the relevance of Minnelli as a director who deserves another look as a moving force in the history of cinema is his last film: A Matter of Time.

Throughout his career, Minnelli worked under the umbrella of a big Hollywood institution, MGM studios. His later films, however, are developed outside of the familiar studio system, and A Matter of Time in particular showcases his singular conceptions on death, the tragic and the cinema without having recourse to the workings of a big film making machine.

The story of the production of the film is nightmarish. It is said he was by the time of production already showing signs of dementia. The final cut of the film was taken away from him (though not because of his rumored mental state during production), and his producer butchered the film, not only leaving out pivotal scenes but also adding a conventional framing narrative and even shooting additional footage that only did great disservice to the final product.

And yet...Minnelli's last effort, as it stands today, is a great, moving film.

In it, Ingrid Bergman gives one of her greatest performances. Her performance conjures a complete world with delirium. Aptly called, a great, remarkable "ruin of a film", the scenes not shot by Minnelli and the narrative structure forced upon it only exacerbate the traits and ideas Minnelli so courageously, and yes, deliriously puts forward. We find he accentuates his understanding of the tragic with remarkable passion, a passion he seems to surrender to more than in any other of his works. His style gains a sense of wisdom that can only come from a personal understanding of the nature of cinema and its biggest concern: the nature of being and its representation, its temporality.
His treatment of mise en scene transcends any remark about him using actors as props, or his frame as a still window to dress prettily. Mise en scene here deals strictly with time in its folds and transformations. Bodies travel not only through space but through time in a manner that can only make one recall the most magical beginnings of cinema with Melies.
Minnelli's sensibility, his ideas and his working through of them is consistent with the rest of his body of work, except that in this film he doesn't hold back his own idiosyncrasies, nor those of his actors, and that is where his courage lies.

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