'Beyond the Rocks' and 'Electric Edwardians: The Lost Films of Mitchell & Kenyon
Reviewed by Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., July 14, 2006
Beyond the Rocks
Electric Edwardians: The Lost Films of Mitchell & Kenyon
Two recently rediscovered and restored treasures from the silent era make their way back from oblivion and onto DVD this month. Electric Edwardians, a collection of film vignettes by English filmmakers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon, has been culled together from negatives long since thought lost to time but recently retrieved from the dark corners of a basement in Blackburn, England. Filmed over 13 years at parades, football matches, fisheries, collieries, and dozens of other locations throughout early 20th-century England, the film is an original and hypnotic meditation of everyday humanity before the first World War an era that, captured on film, feels a thousand centuries gone. Mitchell and Kenyon were true pioneers of cinema and commerce, traveling throughout England, filming people going about their daily lives and then screening their work at local fairs, offering the public a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see themselves on screen: all for the low, low price of a ticket. Now, a hundred years on, and relieved of those commercial duties, their sublime footage has improbably attained the level of art. The same can't be said, unfortunately, for Beyond the Rocks, a melodrama from 1922, which, before its rediscovery by cataloguers at the Nederlands Filmmuseum in 2004, was one of the cinema's most coveted and mourned "lost classics," legendary by its absence. Beyond the Rocks stars Gloria Swanson as Theodora, a beautiful, free-spirited Englishwoman who is forced into marrying an aging grocery magnate to restore her family's fortune and good name. Her heart, however, belongs to Lord Hector Bracondale (Rudolph Valentino), a Hollywood romantic hero of the first order, who spends half the movie rescuing his paramour from life-threatening situations and the other half leering at her in gilded parlor rooms. It's pure boilerplate Hollywood storytelling from top to bottom, given life only by the impossible attractiveness of its two stars. Both of these discs come with an abundance of extras, including short films, interviews, and detailed accounts of how the films made the journey from once-lost classics to now-restored new releases. For its part, Beyond the Rocks supplies the cherry on top with an introduction by Martin Scorsese, the world's most famous film-preservation advocate.
Also Out Now
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Sony, $26.96): Poetic and morally ambivalent Western from longtime actor/first-time director Tommy Lee Jones.
Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (Paramount, $29.95): Doing its part to ensure that Middle America's claims to cultural irrelevancy remain unassailable.