Tuesday, 23 July 2013

LORD OF THE FLIES - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Golding on film Shines on Criterion BLU-RAY

Lord of the Flies (1963) *****
Dir. Peter Brook
Starring: James Aubrey, Tom Chapin, Hugh Edwards

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Some movies just stay with you forever. You can't shake them out of your memory banks and when you see them again, they feel as fresh and vital as they once were - in some cases, even more so - especially if your first helping was in childhood and subsequent screenings were spread out over different periods of your life. Peter Brook's extraordinary 1963 film adaptation of William Golding's immortal novel Lord of the Flies is just such a film.

My first viewing was as a child on television at some point in the late 60s - at nine or ten years of age. The movie had such a profound effect upon me. This, of course was during a time when kids were allowed all manner of toys that replicated guns of many kinds and "war", "cops and robbers", "cowboys and indians" were frequent play amongst young boys. Here, though, was a film, that at the time, featured kids my own age - some a bit younger, others a bit older. Even with British accents (not uncommon on Canadian TV back then anyway as British programming was considered equal to indigenous Canadian programming), the movie spoke directly to myself and so many friends. The difference is that the on-screen play-acting was in the context of a boys' adventure set on an island. Even more telling for us was the fact that the games got deadly and when they did, the kids in the movie couldn't pick themselves up and continue playing - they were dead and gone.

The movie was so profound I ended up getting a paperback copy at my local Coles bookstore - a yellow cover with a photograph of the chubby young "Piggy"(Hugh Edwards), holding a conch and staring up, squinting into the blazing sun - and I read it voraciously and many times after. There was, after all, no other way to see the movie again in those pre-homevideo/cable TV days and the William Golding book proved very readable for most kids at the time and delivered any number of indelible moments to remind one of the movie, but also flesh out what was already a compelling story. I didn't see the movie again until I was 14 years old when the book was taught in Grade 9. After all the lectures and class discussions and assignments were done, our Language Arts teacher screened the film in the classroom - on actual 16mm via the trusty Bell and Howell movie projector which had to be stopped and rethreaded for each of the film's three reels. At that point, the study of the book and movie took on added resonance since by that point, Social Studies for kids included history lessons involving the World Wars as well as various battles involving the colonial periods of Canada. Though the Vietnam War was now in our collective as-it-happened consciousness, it seems odd, in retrospect, that the nightly news footage of carnage in the jungles of Vietnam played no role in the teaching of the book or movie, but I vaguely recall making note of this to myself at the time anyway.

Luckily, the film became quite an accessible work over the years and it was a movie that I saw many times at various stages throughout the 70s and 80s when I eventually acquired my own 16mm projectors and gained access to free movies from the local film exchanges (due to my youthful employment in the exhibition business) and throughout various phases of home entertainment formats including Beta, VHS, Laserdisc and eventually a great Criterion Collection DVD.

Now, however, the film appears in all its original glory in the sumptuous new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray. The story of a group of British boys marooned on an uninhabited island and their eventual regression to various stages of savagery for survival and control of power and resources seems as engaging, thrilling and powerful as it did when I first saw it. The performances of the children, the stunningly realistic black and white photography, the overall mise-en-scene which veers from neo-realist to classical to expressionistic and back again to neo-realism are all powerful attributes that contribute to a work that has not dated in the least and politically, feels as vital today as it did then - even more so.

The film's value as entertainment is unquestionable, but as a tool for teaching and discussion - especially if used in conjunction with the study of Golding's novel - has considerable virtues in a world continually torn by war, strife, unrest, terrorism and even gang warfare amongst inner city youth.

The new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray is a masterwork of the medium and offers several elements that will enhance the film. The exquisite new restoration and transfer of the picture and sound yield a movie that looks, frankly, like it could have been made yesterday. Its power in terms of story also feels incredibly modern. The first-rate extra features provide a great deal of background on the making of the film that the new Blu-Ray is valuable for both fans and scholars. It's also a must-own item for all burgeoning filmmakers as it details the remarkable manner in which the film was made. Its financial resources were, even when adjusted for inflation, far below what first-time filmmakers can acquire even now and Brooks' approach is so phenomenally sound that there's much to lean about the process of movie-making.

Universality is ultimately what defines classic work. This is doubly true for the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray which not only presents a genuinely great picture, but a bevy of materials to flesh out the entire experience so that it stands as a classic of the home entertainment medium itself.

"The Lord of the Flies" is available on Blu-Ray via the visionary Criterion Collection. It's a must-own title. Whatever you do, avoid the dreadful Harry Hook film adaptation. The Criterion version includes the following items: New, restored digital transfer (box set edition); new, restored 4K digital film transfer, supervised by editor and cameraman Gerald Feil, ASC (two-DVD and Blu-ray editions), with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition, Audio commentary featuring director Peter Brook, producer Lewis Allen, director of photography Tom Hollyman, and Feil, Audio recordings of William Golding reading from his novel Lord of the Flies, accompanied by the corresponding scenes from the film, Deleted scene, with optional commentary and Golding reading, Interview with Brook from 2008 (two-DVD and Blu-ray only), Collection of behind-the-scenes material, including home movies, screen tests, outtakes, and stills, Excerpt from a 1980 episode of The South Bank Show featuring Golding (two-DVD and Blu-ray only), New interview with Feil (two-DVD and Blu-ray only), Excerpt from Feil’s 1973 documentary The Empty Space, showcasing Brook’s theater method, Living “Lord of the Flies,” a piece composed of never-before-seen footage shot by the boy actors during production, with new voice-over by actor Tom Gaman, Trailer, PLUS: An essay by film critic Geoffrey Macnab (two-DVD and Blu-ray only) and an excerpt from Brook’s autobiography The Shifting Point, New cover by Kent Williams (two-DVD and Blu-ray editions); new cover by Olga Krigman (box set edition)