Martin Scorsese Presents Val Lewton - The Man in the Shadows
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Though hardly a household name producer Val Lewton helped bring to the screen some of horror's most influential films. Among them are Jacques Tourneur's innovative CAT PEOPLE eerie I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and Robert Wise's atmospheric THE BODY SNATCHER. Under tight budgets limited time and pre-selected titles Lewton managed to create distinctive films that stand today as exemplars of psychological terror. Narrated and produced by Martin Scorsese this documentary recounts Val Lewton's life in film and continuing legacy.System Requirements:Running Time: 87 minutesFormat: DVD MOVIE Genre: DOCUMENTARIES/BIOGRAPHY Rating: NR UPC: 012569798366 Manufacturer No: 79836
One of the great and mysterious figures in Hollywood history is revealed in Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, a fine profile narrated and "presented" by Martin Scorsese. Lewton was the producer whose low-budget unit at RKO in the forties displayed "the most sensitive movie intelligence in Hollywood," according to the esteemed critic James Agee. He served his apprenticeship as David O. Selznick's assistant, and even suggested the famous scene at the Atlanta depot in Gone With the Wind (although Lewton actually assumed Selznick would never shoot such an elaborate scene). At RKO, Lewton achieved greatness despite his imposed restriction: the studio would give him vulgar, exploitable titles--Cat People, say, or I Walked with a Zombie--and then Lewton and his crew would make smart, visually gorgeous movies out of them. Lewton doesn't seem to have left behind a huge amount of colorful biographical anecdotes (or even that many photographs), but writer-director Kent Jones has done a splendid job of blending biographical info with film appreciation. Copious and well-chosen clips give eloquent evidence of the poetry in Lewton's approach (aided and abetted by such talented collaborators as directors Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise, and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca). These sorts of documentaries invariably have a few spoilers contained within, and anyway you'll enjoy it more if you've already seen Lewton's movies. After you've seen The Seventh Victim and Curse of the Cat People, movies that shimmer with a grown-up sense of mystery, check out this movie to look even deeper into the shadows. It's available as an individual title, and as part of the essential set, The Val Lewton Horror Collection. --Robert HortonSee all Editorial Reviews
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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.) We learn that it was Lewton who came up with the unforgettable scene set at the Atlanta Depot, where Scarlet tries to give comfort to the wounded as she wanders through the thousands of Confederate soldiers all the while the camera is pulling back further and further to expose the scale of the tragedy. The documentary notes how Lewton, who worked on the script for "Gone With the Wind", (and who didn't?) never imagined Selznick would shoot such an elaborate and frightfully expensive scene.
At this point the story moves to Lewton's big chance, his job offer with RKO to lead and produce a series of low-budget horror films. We find out that rather than getting angry at Lewton, Selznick went to bat for him and acted as agent! Complex person, David O. Selznick.
The remainder of the DVD is given over to a chronological overview of Lewton's career as producer. Here the Lewton produced films move center stage, with many short scenes and a few stills detailing each film. RKO's savage rejection of Orson Welles comes up, for the huge staircase from "The Magnificent Ambersons" appears in Lewton's first film for RKO, "The Cat People." Lewton's emphasis on blocking out of shots before shooting is discussed, along with his use of the best talents he could call up from his days with Selznick. This long meat of the documentary, the coverage of the great films, is smoothly intercut with cogent observations, taken from archives, by Tourneur, the director on Lewton's first three films. Other contemporary commentary is included from modern filmakers, writers, and actors who worked with Lewton, such as the young girl now grown up who starred in "The Curse of the Cat People". Lewton's son also makes several pertinent observations along the way. Overall this section does a very effective job, particularly in showcasing Lewton's marvelous evocation of mood, the astonishing ability to create moments of sudden cinematic ephiphany, and his insistence on intelligent, original scripts in contrast to the schlock turned out by Universal's Horror team.
The conclusion briefly sums up Lewton's tragic end.
This documentary can be watched by anyone who has seen the films. If you have not seen the films, or most of them, it might be best to watch the movies first.
DON'T FORGET: This DVD documentary now is attached to the Val Lewton box set and is a freebie when you purchase this latest release of the box set.
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".
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This is a well-organized and informative documentary.Read more