Wednesday, January 28, 2009

David Lean Knew How To Make A Movie

Sir David Lean is my favorite director of all time. The guy knew how to shoot a film and make it BIG. He wasn't afraid, like a lot of directors seem to be nowadays, to make a movie "cinematic" and demand that his audience be intelligent.

We watched A Passage to India last night. It was one of those movies I wanted to see but kept pushing off, because of its lukewarm critical reception. Good, but not great, seemed to be what everybody said about the film. Almost an afterthought in Lean's oeuvre.

And for the first hour or so, I was in agreement. APTI, despite the typical Lean flourishes of loads of extras, exotic locales, and theatrical dialogue, came off as a very "modest" film in the early-going. That's probably more a result of the source material (the novel by E.M. Forster is excellent by the way), than anything Lean was doing, but still, the film felt big while the story felt small.

But slowly, inexorably, the story caught up to the film. APTI became less about images and dynamic moments, though Lean's handiwork is marvelous throughout, and more about emotion. Thematically, APTI constantly asks somewhat rhetorically "Are we able to connect with other human beings?" and alternatively answers the question, retracts its answer, subverts the answer and the retraction, and ultimately leaves it up to us to decide. It was the perfect way to present Forster's famous, succinct command: "Only connect," while showing us just how simple and yet difficult that can be. In Forster's mind, it is only through relationships that we are able to grow, that we are able to see our own strengths and shortcomings, and that are we able to become better people.

Read the book, see the movie. Or, see the movie, read the book. Each is wonderful enough not to spoil the other. APTI is not Lean's best, but it's a close second to Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai so long as you're not waiting for sweeping battles and epic journeys across time and country. APTI just might be Lean's most personal work, though I have to qualify that by saying I have not seen much of his pre-Bridge films, including Great Expectations.

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