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domenica 10 aprile 2011

Taylor, Fonda, Gardner, Cukor and their hunt for The blue bird

Mytyl e Tyltyl are sister and brother kids, leaving with their parents in a nice cottage in the woods. One night The Light makes an apparition and tells them to go to look for the Blue Bird of happiness that is going to cure a sick girl living nearby. With help of Cat, Dog, Water, Fire, Bread, Milk and Sugar, all morphed in some kind of human beings by the supernatural powers of Light, the two embarks in a adventurous journey in which they’ll meet their dead grandparents, The Dark, some ghosts and other amazing creatures.
The Blue Bird was the first United States, USSR co-production and was shot in Russia on location, and at the prestigious Lenfilm Studios.
With a stellar female cast, Elizabeth Taylor (kids’ Mother and The Light), Jane Fonda (The Dark) and Ava Gardner (Luxury) the choice for a director was a natural one: George Cukor one of the greatest actresses’ helmer of all times (The women, Dinner at eight  just to name few).
The production was doomed from the beginning and went trough a painful shooting plagued with any sort of troubles, including fights between actors and directors, and between cast and crew of different language and work habits.
With a final cost of twelve millions dollars, the movie went in general release through 20TH Century Fox in 1976, was lambasted by critics and ignored by the audience, grossing a mere nine hundred thousand in its initial run.
Was the movie so bad? Not really.
This large scale production makes excellent use of the lavish costumes and the amazing built on stage sets; the whole look of the film has a sense of grandeur and of epic scale venture, but fails to deliver the goods in storytelling and narrative.
This is the typical case of a big Studio production with a stellar cast and with larger than life ambitions.
Cukor had been able in the past to manage and deliver excellent on location vehicles with big stars, like Bhowani Junction for instance, but he had to deal here with a script in which the construction of the story is as irresolute as episodic and makes no good use of the source material: the play L'Oiseau bleu by Nobel prize winner for literature Maurice Maeterlinck, that have been already adapted many times for the screen.
Maybe it was such erratic screenplay that ultimate led to undertone performances by the whole navigate cast and by the kids; specially the little girl Mytyl, played by later pop sensation Patsy Kensit in her screen debut. Cukor’s direction as well is lazy and sloppy, failing to give enough rhythm and to create the sense of wonder the story would required. Because of this, one could assume that Cukor, at the end of his career, had lost his touch, but he didn’t, matter of fact he directed one of his finest films (his final) five years later at the age of eighty two: Rich and Famous. It is very probable that everything went so wrong, and he just couldn’t saved the day.
Another problem is the tone of the of the picture: too light for grownups, and too dark at times for children, with some disturbing scenes that certainly could affect the smaller ones. But a nice message is delivered in the end: there’s no quest for happiness, that it’s just around the corner, if you know where to look for; the blue bird being right in a cage hanging in the kids’ kitchen.
It’s a pity that such talented and creative persons involved weren’t able to fully display their skills. The movie remains a nice entertainment even with all its flows, there are some fine characters and kids can still enjoy the fights between the Cat and the Dog and get some good inputs about life, love and family.
Fox was not eager to release this title in the digital format, and the film has been available only in Russia in the Ruscico catalogue.
The DVD examined here is an official Fox release in Spain, Region 2 Pal, the only one at the moment of this writing. The Amaray case comes housed in a nice cardboard, the film has been re-mastered from an inferior source, probably a low contrast print or an interpositive, the definition is too soft and the image too dark at times, but there are no dirts or damages of any kind; the aspect ratio 1.78:1, 4:3.
A lot of the original film grain is preserved, but the huge employ of optical effects complicate the view, specially during the cross fades and the animated special effects; this is a limit of the photographic process used at the time.
The audio is original mono in English, Spanish subtitles available and removable. Quality of the sound is mediocre at its best, the track appears to be sourced from film material with no equalization, but no hiss or pops are present.
There are almost no extras in the disc, just a photo gallery (freeze frames from video) and useless cast and crew list.
I still recommend this film to all your kids, maybe not the very small ones. Or maybe I’m just being wrong, since kids nowadays are used to watch movies and play videogames much more controversial than this fashionable but unresolved film.

Film mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar

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