Friday, January 07, 2005

Roadshow Follies

April 19 will bring a DVD release of Blake Edwards' semi-legendary flop, Darling Lili. A weird combination of comedy, drama, war movie and musical, it was the first movie Edwards made with his wife, Julie Andrews, and it bombed. More than that, its Old Hollywood, studio-bound style was out of fashion at the time, and the reviews were vitriolic; it was, like David Lean's Ryan's Daughter that same year, siezed upon by younger critics as an example of everything they wanted to crush. (To be fair, Ryan's Daughter is impossible to sit through without a healthy dose of amphetamines and several needles stuck in strategic spots.) Edwards' anger and frustration over being an Old Hollywood guy in the New Hollywood of the '70s eventually made it to the screen in S.O.B., which I wrote about here

Darling Lili was conceived as a "roadshow" movie, a long movie that would be projected in 70 mm, play only in selected theatres with reserved seating, incorporate an intermission, and generally be treated as "event" movies. It did, in fact, play that way in some theatres, though it was not actually filmed in 70 mm (like a number of films of the time, it was blown up to 70 mm for the big showings). Edwards' recent "director's cut" of Lili is twenty minutes shorter than this roadshow version, and is an attempt to make the movie more tonally coherent; I don't know which version will be on the DVD.

The disaster of Darling Lili caused Paramount to take another planned roadshow production, Vincente Minnelli's film of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever -- also due for release on DVD this year -- and chop out about 30 or 40 minutes to turn it into a conventionally-released movie. There were other movies from around this period that were planned as roadshows and then were chopped up when the studios realized that roadshows were no longer popular, most famously Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The period of 1969-70 is one of the strangest and in some ways saddest in the history of American movies; it's the time when what little was left of the Studio System finally collapsed entirely, when all the gimmicks that the old guard had been using to try to keep itself afloat were no longer working, and when the Easy Rider revolution (combined with an influx of young executives) threw the old hands out of work. On the one hand, movies did get better than they had been in the '60s -- how much better, I'd be inclined to dispute, but certainly better -- but on the other hand, it's kind of sad to read the rosters of veteran technicians, writers, producers and directors who never or hardly ever worked again after 1970.

Another thing that interests me is the history of the roadshow movie; it's something I'd like to write about in an article, or maybe as part of a book on '60s Hollywood. The roadshow gimmick had always been around, but it exploded in popularity in the '50s and early '60s, as the studios tried to make movies more like Broadway shows (which were at the height of their popularity in the '50s, thanks to the publicity from New York-based TV shows). The reserved seating, the intermissions, the general hugeness: it was an attempt to give movies the prestige of theatre, and distinguish movies from television by making them seem more like Big Events. But while the experience of seeing one of these movies in a theatre in 70 mm was reportedly wonderful, the movies themselves generally are not; the roadshow esthetic had a disastrous impact on musicals, making them overlong, bloated, and overly deferential to their theatrical sources.

No comments: