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Martin Scorsese Presents Val Lewton - The Man in the Shadows
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Scorsese, always keenly aware of the immigrant experience, leads the viewer back into Lewton's beginnings in Russia, on the sunny seaside resort town of Yalta on the Crimea. A beautiful mother, troubled by an impossible marriage, takes the extreme step of leaving the country with her two children. Eventually they emigrate to the United States, where their original name, Leventon, is altered to Lewton. Related to the fabulous and world famous American movie star, Nazimova, (Lewton's aunt) Lewton's boyhood world was largely dominated by strong, extraordinary women. This background is nicely discussed through narration and still films, with a few snippets of Nazimova's silent screen work.
Unfortunately, no film exits of Lewton, and stills are used throughout the 87 minute documentary to capture Lewton himself. Following his early years much of the discussion focuses on apprentice years as a writer and novelist - he wrote a best-seller - before finding his true metier as producer. There is a short cursory discussion of his work as a novelist -Lewton's pulp work then leading into his extended mentoring under the aegis of none other than Hollywood's great independent producer, David O. Selznick. Lewton during this period learns his craft, and this section of his career is well-presented during the documentary, with script examples and film scenes, such as from a Tale of Two Cities. (Not shown is that film's marvelous ending shot, conceived by Lewton.Read more ›
In the ten years he worked as a producer Val Lewton left a mark as idiosyncratic and as individual as Hitchcock, or Ford, or Welles -- and did it on budgets that lesser talent would find humiliating.
Kent Jones has written and directed a beautifully insightful documentary. Scorsese delivers his usual quietly empathetic narration, and this DVD makes an excellent companion to his "A Personal Journey".
Universal was one of the top studios in Hollywood after a string of highly profitable Monster and Horror films. Lewton was called to bring that profitable genre to RKO by making low budge B horror films at roughly 1/3 the cost of an A movie. Amazingly, Lewton created a somewhat different form of a horror film that was more thriller and suspense and didn't rely on monsters but rather on our fear of the unknown. With a a creative team around him and RKO's contract players, Lewton created a miracle.
The studio gave him a title and it was up to him to create a script and a movie from that title. The first title? CAT PEOPLE. RKO may have been hoping for a cat monster like universal's WEREWOLF. Instead, they got something much different that turned out to be a huge financial success.
Lewton was given another title I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and again the story was his to take.
Val Lewton was as humble as he was a genius. Several of today's famous directs and writers, such as Guillermo del Toro and Neil Gaiman acknowlege the inspiration Val Lewton's movies have given them.
Film students should watch this film and see how an amazing man created beautiful works of art on a tiny budget and how his "B" movies often overshadow most "A" movies in quality and story.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Wonderful biography--this was bought for a gift--I already had my copyPublished 22 days ago by Robert E. Holladay
I do have a copy of this presentation on a different DVD and watched a couple of times on TCM.
This is a well-organized and informative documentary. Read more
Scorsese brilliantly the one word that links all of Lewton's films, regardless of the director: Sadness. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Dan Hoskins
How many people realize how much Val Lewton influenced the film industry? I am definitely more interested in revisiting some of his films after watching this documentary. Read morePublished 22 months ago by K. Grismayer
Val Lewton was an unheralded genius. Although not an actor or a director, Lewton's skills as a producer made him a indispensable in the creation of a series of low-budget horror... Read morePublished on November 21, 2013 by James D. Crabtree
Enjoyed this doco immensely. Loved the subtlety and the tension created by the shadowy black and white cinematography - the art of suggestion over the in your face style of much... Read morePublished on November 24, 2009 by Garry Stewart