(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Restoration Station

“Restored” and “extended” directors’ cuts of movies are all the rage today, largely due to demand from home video cinephiles. A film doesn’t have to be a bonafide classic to warrant such treatment; sometimes the director him- or herself revisits even a recent work in an effort to improve it. See Oliver Stone’s 2004 Alexander as one example, which underwent two revisions prior to the “final director’s cut” available on Blu-ray that still has critics and viewers divided.

Increasingly, though, a long-lost film is found, restored to its original glory as much as possible, and presented anew to modern audiences. Such was the case at Los Angeles’ historic Orpheum Theatre on October 13th, when Germany’s 1919, pro-LGBT Different from the Others (Anders als die Andern) made its US premiere nearly 100 years after it was made. The screening was the most spectacular of several highlights at this year’s Outfest Legacy Awards gala.

The annual Legacy Awards presentation has become my favorite of all the great events and festivals Outfest sponsors annually. Funds from ticket sales, auction items and donations solicited during the evening go to the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation. Administered in partnership with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Legacy Preservation Project has grown to more than 20,000 elements in only seven years. It is the largest collection of LGBT images in the world. Feature films and documentaries previously restored through the project include Mona’s Candle Light Footage (1950), Queens at Heart (1965) and Bill Sherwood’s beloved Parting Glances (1986).

Different from the Others saw all of its intact prints, along with virtually all gay media in Germany, destroyed once the Nazis rose to power. Conrad Veidt, of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fame, stars as a gay violinist who falls for one of his young male pupils (the doe-eyed Fritz Schulz, who struck me as a precursor to Sal Mineo’s closeted teen in Rebel Without a Cause). Soon after, Veidt’s character finds himself being blackmailed by a homophobic predator who discovers the men’s relationship. The film is a startlingly frank and compassionate work, even by today’s slightly more enlightened standards, co-written by then-renowned sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld as a protest against Germany’s anti-gay Paragraph 175.

Approximately 40 minutes of film fragments were discovered in Russia a few years ago. Purchased by the UCLA Archive and lovingly restored by the Legacy Project (with descriptive title cards filling in for the missing footage), it made its debut at the Orpheum with live Wurlitzer organ accompaniment before 1,000 enraptured attendees who couldn’t stop talking about the film’s impact at the lively after party. The current version is naturally somewhat stilted, as it is missing large chunks of exposition, but its historical and cultural relevance can’t be denied. With any luck, the missing footage will yet be found; after all, the silent sci-fi epic Metropolis was believed to be as complete as it would ever be in a truncated 90-minute version until its missing hour was discovered four years ago in South America. Outfest and UCLA will soon be re-introducing Different from the Others to the world via theatrical exhibitions and student screenings.

The annual Legacy Awards event also recognizes one or more contemporary filmmakers whose work has advanced positive portrayals of the LGBT community and its members. This year’s Visionary Award honorees were film, television and Broadway producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Their achievements include the Oscar-winning movie version of Chicago as well as the 2007 stage-to-screen transfer Hairspray, both film versions of Footloose, yhe made-for-TV movies Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story and Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, the current NBC series Smash, and the recent Broadway revivals of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Promises, Promises.

Out actors Michael Urie (Partners, Ugly Betty) and Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) as well as gay-for-pay Glee star Darren Criss, all veterans of Meron’s and Zadan’s stage productions, were on hand to fete the pair. Urie opened the presentation in hilarious style with his unsolicited audition to be the next Academy Awards host (Zadan and Meron are producing the 2013 show), while Criss performed a rousing, same-sex version of the song “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm” from How to Succeed. Criss and Hayes both spoke personally, sincerely and gratefully of their relationships with Zadan and Meron. It was definitely a night to be remembered.

Frank Oz’s 1986 movie musical Little Shop of Horrors isn’t as significant a cinematic achievement as Different from the Others, but it is an enjoyable romp featuring a stellar comedy cast that includes Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Bill Murray and the late John Candy, among others. Adapted from the 1982 off-Broadway stage success written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (who went on to score Disney’s animated modern classics The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin prior to Ashman’s premature death from AIDS) which was itself inspired by Roger Corman’s ultra-low budget 1960 movie, Little Shop of Horrors spins a bizarre tale of Skid Row-set love, sado-masochism and an invasion by alien, man-eating plants.

The stage version has a memorably dark finale that was expanded on by Ashman and Menken and shot by Oz. However, test audiences hated the original ending in which the hero (Moranis) and his girlfriend (the delectable Ellen Greene) are eaten by the vicious “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space,” Audrey II. Oz was forced to shoot a happier ending and the original version was locked away in a Warner Bros. vault save for a brief, black and white DVD release in the 1990’s.

Fans — myself included — who have been clamoring the last 26 years for Oz’s original version don’t have to wait any longer: the restored, full-color director’s cut of Little Shop of Horrors was just released on Blu-raylast week. The extended, 20-minute ending is very different, even from the stage version, but it blends in seamlessly and is well worth seeing and comparing to the earlier incarnations. It actually goes overboard with the elaborate visual effects now depicting an army of giant Audrey II’s destroying various US cities.

Most welcome though are an additional appearance and song by the musical’s African-American “Greek chorus,” who simply disappeared from the final quarter of the 1986 theatrical release until its second-to-last shot; a genuinely moving reprise of the signature song “Somewhere That’s Green,” performed by the aptly-named Greene as she is dying; and a sinister appearance by character actor Paul Dooley, who was cut entirely from the re-shot version and replaced by the decidedly less-sinister Jim Belushi.

The Blu-ray includes a booklet and numerous extras that relate the movie musical’s tortured history. Oz & Co. can now rest, and all but the most die-hard devotees of the 1986 theatrical version (which is also included on the Blu-ray) can rejoice.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Different from the Others: B+
Little Shop of Horrors Director’s Cut: A-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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