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June 03, 2011

Sons and Lovers

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Jack Cardiff - 1960
Netflix Instant

Sometimes the limitations of availability dictate both seeing a film, and how it is seen. I had been curious about Jack Cardiff's film, especially after reading D. H. Lawrence's novel. It's been quite a while since I read Lawrence and I feel I'm not one to discuss the translation from novel to film, except to say that the themes seem to still be there, brushed in broad strokes. I'm probably not alone in thinking how, almost a century later, what I am watching is not only the drama of the tug of the past against the hopes of the future, but also the various shifts marking the closure of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century.

The film received several Oscar nominations. Certainly as a director, Jack Cardiff has no better film. Likewise, cinematographer Freddie Francis, who like Cardiff moved for a time to the director's chair, has not done better with the possible exception of his work for David Lynch's film of The Elephant Man. The film was rightly filmed in black and white. Some of the most striking shots are of the mine tower, almost another character, overlooking the rows of houses and people. The film was shot on location in Nottingham, where Lawrence's novel takes place.

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In the instant streaming format, someone made a decision that may have seemed like a good compromise. The film was, like all 20th Century Fox films at the time, shot in CinemaScope, generally with a ratio of 2.35:1, width to height. The streaming version, while fortunately not pan and scan, lops off a bit of the sides at 1:85:1. Maybe the concern was that a true wide screen film would lose much watched on a computer screen. Most of the time, this change of aspect ratio is not noticeable, but on some shots the loss is obvious. The opening titles and the last three minutes are shown correctly, with the the last screen cap as an example. In this regard, viewing films on the streaming video format is inconsistent, with some studio fairly consistent about showing their films in the appropriate wide screen format, and others hoping you don't mind watching pan and scan versions. It's something of a step up from the days when the only option for watching older films was on network TV, when everything was in Academy ratio, interrupted by commercials, and in the case in my house, broadcast in black and white.

Carping about aspect ratios aside, Cardiff's film is reminder of the time when big studios had no problem producing films based on "literature". The cast and crew is noteworthy with Trevor Howard, Wendy Hiller, Mary Ure, and briefly, Donald Pleasance, and delightfully, Ernest Thesiger. Dean Stockwell, cast as a recognizable Hollywood name, maintains a consistent British accent, and capably holds his own in the lead role. Screenwriters T.E.B. Clarke and Gavin Lambert have other notable films on their respective resumes. Assistant Director Peter Yates went on to bigger, and sometimes better, films as a director as the decade progressed. I have included more screen caps than usual because, if nothing else, this is a visually gorgeous film.

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Dean Stockwell and Heather Sears in a shot from the last three minutes, in the correct aspect ratio.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 3, 2011 07:55 AM