The Blue Bird
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(Sep 06, 2005)
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Wildly inventive and effortlessly enchanting, Maurice Tourneur's legendary 1918 fantasy The Blue Bird combines spectacular costumes, lavish sets, ingenious camera effects and disarmingly naturalistic performances in a wholly original American silent film masterpiece. Tourneur's extravagant vision anticipates the spellbinding German Expressionism of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, made the following year, while affectionately evoking the whimsical theatricality of Georges M+ªli+¨s's pioneering cinematic genius. Based upon Nobel Prize-winner Maurice Maeterlinck's play, The Blue Bird takes two young children on an allegorical voyage that bridges the chasm between the conscious and the unconscious. Joined by magically humanized pets and living household objects, brother and sister Mytyl and Tyltyl travel through a series of dream worlds on a quest for the elusive Blue Bird of Happiness. Beautifully preserved with its original color tints, The Blue Bird was rescued from decomposing nitrate elements by the George Eastman House as part of The National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Park Service's Saving America's Treasures program through the National Film Preservation Foundation.
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But let's be honest -- for many contemporary viewers, this will be something of a slog. Some simply won't want to watch a silent film, or a film made before they were born, or a film with (to them) primitive special effects. Sadly, with so much of film history available to all these days, many viewers have increasingly narrowed their focus & miss out on treasures such as this one. But it's their loss. To see a film that celebrates beauty, wonder, and compassion -- all without a slick, glib, modernist gloss -- is a gift.
And yes, the image quality suffers where some of the film has deteriorated; and yes, it's not for every taste. Even so, it has much to offer, some of it quite surprising -- it's quite comfortable with discreet nudity, for instance, used in a strictly artistic sense -- as shown by the children of Mother Night. And some aspects anticipate 1939's "The Wizard of Ox" -- the faithful Dog is very reminiscent of the Cowardly Lion -- while the Cat is a marvel of sly, self-serving sneakiness. The symbolic souls of Fire, Water, Milk, and so forth are both beautiful & comical, depending on the figures. Even the then-popular sentimentality of so many turn-of-the-century stories is somehow charming here.
Again, this will always be something of a niche film. As with many Symbolist works, it's a clear predecessor of Surrealism -- for that aspect alone, it's well worth watching. But it also offers an almost archetypal vision of purity & idealism that we all long for at some point in our lives -- and for that reason, it remains more timely than you might think. For those who can indeed turn the diamond & see, highly recommended!
The bonus material on this DVD has extensive excerpts from the 1910 play for anyone who'd like to compare and go further in-depth, as well as an easy-to-read biography and filmography of Maurice Tourneur. Several scenes in "The Blue Bird" reminded me of "The Wizard of Oz", such as when bread and sugar, as well as the dog and cat take on human form and accompany the children on their dream-like journey. Everything is even more impressive when you keep in mind that this film was made in 1918, and features a high standard of production, including beautiful, artistic intertitle cards. Although there are several minutes here and there when the film shows some damage and deterioration, the overall excellent production, enhanced by a beautiful, calming classical music score, easily outweighs this flaw, and together with its deeply meaningful and inspirational theme, I think it well deserves 5 stars and an important place in a silent film collection.