Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The troubled story of Ayn Rand's 'We the Living' movie

Some good news -the 1942 film of Ayn Rand's We the Living  is now out on DVD-

Big Hollywood has a review-

We The Living was made during World War II in Mussolini’s Italy, of all places.  The government warily allowed it to be filmed as a propaganda vehicle against the Soviet Union.  But when Mussolini realized the movie was a critique not only of communism but of all forms of statism, he banned it from theatres, where it was a smash hit.

The government rounded up and destroyed all copies of the film – save one, the original negative, which was secreted away.  As we are informed by the fascinating documentary (included among the DVD extras), the film’s reels languished unseen for decades until Rand’s attorneys went hunting for it among the Italian film community.

Duncan Scott, who produced the DVD release, explains how as a young editor he talked his way into recutting and subtitling the film alongside Ayn Rand herself. WTL had originally been released as two separate films.  They combined them, trimmed away some of the excess, and removed or redubbed pro-fascist propaganda speeches inserted at the insistence of the authorities.

The issue of re-dubbing is intriguing -
Scott tells how in the original version, Andrei delivered a heated diatribe against the evils of capitalism. Needless to say, this speech didn’t exactly belong. Not content merely to change the subtitles, Scott actually hired a sound-a-like Italian actor so he could redub the voice track in Italian to match the new subtitles.

Unfortunately the digital transfer was done in 1987, and the cost of a high-definition remastering was prohibitive for this DVD release, so the picture quality isn’t quite as crisp as one might wish. Nevertheless, it is completely watchable.

Glenn Kenny quotes J.Hoberman's description of the film -
"Shot mainly in close-up and entirely in the studio, We the Living evokes an atmosphere of total, demoralized corruption. As directed by...Alessandrini, a filmmaker with some Hollywood experience, the movie does not lack for mise-en-scéne. The grim sets are scrawled with hammer-and-sickle graffiti and Cyrillic exhortations, emblazoned with menacing posters of proletarian ape-men and encephalitic Lenins. That everyone is always layered with clothing adds to the sense of unpleasant crowding, just as the already high fog quotient is significantly augmented by a constant sucking on cigarettes. The atmosphere is as gray as the dialogue is purple."

If anybody gets a hand on the DVD, you know where to contact me.

(cross posted at the Ayn Rand India)