Tempest (1928): member review(s)/comments

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Bill Burns, Jul 13, 2003.

  1. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    The Picture:
    I've just had the tremendous pleasure of discovering yet another Camilla Horn/John Barrymore gem. I adore their work together in Eternal Love, which is available on disc from Image in a restored edition (I believe by the Library of Congress?) that is certainly soft, but nevertheless quite pleasing. Now another of their teamings, Tempest, has just been released from Image; the efforts of David Shepard and his company, Film Preservation Associates (which is usually just him, he's said, but here a few other names are also credited at the end of the picture), are to thank. The picture itself, as the back of the DVD case details, has a fascinating production history. Not only did Eric Von Stroheim write the original screenplay (which was apparently changed to great extent), but the film itself went through three directors before completion. On top of this, one of the biggest names in art/set design, William Cameron Menzies (Gone With the Wind, as the DVD case casually points out), designed the film, Charles Rosher (one of the two men credited with the cinematography of Sunrise) shot the picture, and of course Camilla Horn and John Barrymore star! What a set up.

    And what a pay off. The picture is a treat, unfolding its story of reluctant, star-crossed lovers against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution (no, Anastasia and her siblings do not make an appearance). You see, Camilla plays a princess, and John plays a peasant with military ambitions, but ... but ... oh, you'll have to discover the rest for yourself. It plays out charmingly and enjoyably, with a few unexpected twists and turns, and a balance in both construction and subject matter that warrants high praise for the screenplay, however many authors it eventually encompassed (I particularly enjoy the even-handed look at both the aristocracy and the peasantry who revolt against it; neither comes away faultlessly heroic, but neither is presented as uniformly villainous, either; this and a soon-to-be leader of the peasants who feels very Rasputin-like all reminded me of a number of other films, including John's turn with his siblings in Rasputin and the Empress*, where his brother Lionel played the mad monk, John's own turn as a bearded mesmer in Svengali**, and 1997's excellent animated telling of the story of Anastasia and the Revolution, of course entitled Anastasia***). And Camilla Horn ... ah ... I've mentioned it elsewhere this evening, but her eyes absolutely stop my heart. What kind of a recommendation is that, you ask? Why, an enthusiastic one. [​IMG] I already knew how beautiful she was, thanks to Eternal Love, but even that foreknowledge didn't quite prepare me for her first close-up beside her character's father, in the room where John's character is suffering the scrutiny of his higher ups as he is considered for a commission to a lieutenancy. We've already seen Camilla in medium shots and long shots, but that first close-up ... wow.

    Hmmm. Well, enough about the leading lady. Fans of John Barrymore will find him remarkably vigorous here (all due nods to Catherine Zeta-Jones' descriptive dialogue in The Mask of Zorro; the DVD promises John Barrymore a turn as a seemingly youthful, spry leading man, and the film delivers), and the emotion he invests in several scenes, including a death scene in which he weeps in close-up, are truly moving. Those of you worrying that I've given away the ending needn't, however: the death of which I speak is not of a lead.

    I loved the picture. It's strong, well crafted, engaging, and very entertaining. I should add that it has absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare's play, "The Tempest," but you can find some suggestion of "Romeo and Juliet" (the star-crossed lovers I mentioned earlier) and perhaps a hint of "The Taming of the Shrew."

    The Picture of the Picture:
    How, then, the DVD? Well, the image has been taken, the case tells us, from a print made in the 50's from the original camera negative. As such, contrast is generally excellent (only a few minor inserts are washed out, likely taken from alternate sources for the print in question), fine detail is also very good, and the film's speed, while it may be just a touch fast to some eyes, syncs with the vintage soundtrack and thus is undoubtedly correct.

    The only caveat to the image quality is frame damage. Most who view silent films regularly are accustomed to frame damage, but this is some of the most extensive scratching I've ever seen. Virtually every scene (I believe it does let up once or twice to some extent) is criss-crossed in a latticework of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal scratches, such as exceeds even the very scratchy, but pleasant, print of Blind Husbands used on Kino's recent DVD of that title (Blind Husbands also features color tinting, which Tempest does not, and such tints can help to obscure scratches). I was amazed at how scratched Tempest's print seems to be -- there are times when you'd swear someone was carving a checkerboard on the emulsion. Still, I find scratches, even to this extent, only minimally distracting. I believe there are a few moments in which the emulsion has deteriorated (moments in which bits of the frame seem to bubble and melt), but they are minor and few. Such damage actually obscures or destroys the image itself, and is far more problematic for viewing than scratches. Again, while scratches abound, emulsion deterioration does not, and so the presentation always looks and feels very filmlike. At the end of the day, that's what I most ask from a DVD.

    The Sound of the Picture:
    Two soundtracks are available: the original Vitaphone discs (a few are apparently missing, but these gaps, the box tells us, have been filled with manipulation of the surviving discs), and a new piano score by Philip Carli. I listened to five or ten minutes of the Carli score, which certainly seemed good, but it did not appeal to me -- the sound of the piano felt harsh, and the passion of some of the playing felt too overpowering for the images. I also thought I noted one or two flubs, but I'm not a musician, so this may not be the case.

    At any rate, I began the film again with the Vitaphone soundtrack, and this, I found, was the track I much preferred. It quickly blends into the images, but while I was aware of it I noted violins, what I think was a base drum, and even a few bits of operatic singing. They make for a lovely sonic canvas, and I highly recommend the track. Fidelity is low, as is to be expected for discs of this period (it's remarkable they survive at all), and hiss and crackle are the chorus we've come to love -- [​IMG] well, at least tolerate -- in such a release. But overall, with the Vitaphone soundtrack engaged, I found the image and sound blended beautifully, and the experience was one of thoroughly entertaining cinema.

    And Aside from the Picture ...:
    The only supplement (apart from Philip Carli's score) is a strange little slice-of-life (or so it claims) following John Barrymore the actor on a boat trip. The film is entitled Vagabonding on the Pacific, which gives us some idea of the whimsical experience to follow. We see him play with a monkey (apparently a pet?) and various wild seals who seem intent on eating him whole (John isn't phased, continuously teasing the poor beasts like a young boy unwisely poking his arms into the lion's cage at the zoo), look knowingly at the sea from both his boat and the cliffs of an island off the coast of Mexico, and even cozy up to some rum runners; a title card informs us that John did not go aboard as the actor looks knowingly at the camera. It's a strange, fun little film, and a nice addition, though it has nothing whatever to do with the feature, apart from the presence of its star.

    In Closing:
    I recommend the disc most highly, along with Eternal Love, and hope it finds a fair success on the format. It's really quite a gem. Anyone else who's seen it, please share your thoughts as well. These smaller, classic releases, which emerge from the digital mists with little fanfare, need all the attention they can get. [​IMG]

    * An early talkie not yet available on DVD.

    ** an early talkie available from Roan Group Archival Entertainment on DVD in a soft transfer with a rather narrow grayscale, but it still makes for acceptable viewing.

    *** Available from Fox as a non-anamorphic widescreen disc; a P&S copy of this CinemaScope production is also included. Remember, this is the animated version; the live-action version with Ingrid Bergman is also available from Fox in an anamorphic edition.
     
  2. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    would you have a link for this dvd as well Bill

    Sounds like a great buy

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    You betchya:

    Here's a link for cover scans at DVDEmpire:

    Tempest

    And if you'd like to order from Amazon, here's a link to their page for the title:

    Tempest

    Other e-tailers have it as well, of course, so I'd recommend using whichever you've found most reliable in the past. [​IMG]
     
  4. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    cheerio

    [​IMG]
     

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