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El Cid

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movieman1957
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El Cid

Postby movieman1957 » May 28th, 2012, 11:25 am

(Hinting at SPOILERS)

El Cid has been mentioned in a couple of threads and might be worth some more discussion (some day.)

lz cutter said -
I long for the day when TCM is able to acquire El Cid with Chuck Heston (in perhaps his best role as the Cid) and Sophia Loren.


RedRiver said -
I don't care for EL CID. Long and long winded, I can see why Heston wished William Wyler had directed it. Nothing against Anthony Mann. But it's a good line!


El Cid is long and long winded. It looks magnificent. The sets and the cinematography are first rate. The magnitude of the undertaking is to be appreciated. Rosza's score is grand and wonderful. If only the first half had been as good as the second half. Yes, there is more action but I think there is more going on and the characters have more to do. Heston is quite powerful in the latter half. When he requires the King to swear on the Bible it is where he comes to life and it's great watching him the rest of the way. Loren is beautiful as always but nothing out of the ordinary for her to do.

The first half seems long. A long time to set up the story. A long time to build the conflict. A long time with travelling shots (people going to or coming from somewhere.) Scenes that go on that look pretty but only serve to slow it down. Things start to pick up just before Cid is exiled and, for me, stay up for the rest of the film.

It seems, forgive me, rather ordinary through the early part of the film. The dialog seems routine and some going through the motions. Thankfully, that all changes. I don't wonder it if it would have all been better about 30-45 minutes shorter.

There is also, for me, nothing particularly Anthony Mann-ish about it. Maybe epics don't lend themselves to the stylizing that you find in his westerns and noirs and maybe they don't fit in an epic but it seemed straightforward.

One magnificent shot is at the end when Cid comes out for the last battle. The framing of the shot with the sun hazing in the picture is powerful enough but then Rosza throws in a powerful organ section and Cid is deified. It's a great shot and a powerful moment. Credit to Yakima Canutt for more fine second unit work with several thousand participants in many of the battle scenes.

Worth a look. Whether it becomes a favorite is up for debate. (2 DVDs from Netflix.)
Chris

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Re: El Cid

Postby moira finnie » May 28th, 2012, 1:32 pm

I like El Cid (1961) a great deal, but I think it might have been one of those movies that has a greater emotional impact if seen in a theater rather than television (I've only seen it on the tube). Maybe Anthony Mann might have been a better filmmaker when he had to hide his psychological allegories and dramatic intentions in oaters, though this movie is so ravishing looking (thanks in part to DP Robert Krasker and the phenomenal--and extravagant--art direction in Samuel Bronston's movies) that I just don't care if it moves at such a leisurely pace. I think that might be part of the problem too. Maybe more attention was paid to the look of the movie than the script?

For me the biggest problem with the movie is the lack of clearly defined characters in the supporting cast.

For example, we know that Raf Vallone loves Loren and envies Chuck, but who is he when he's away from the court and the battlefield? I always want to know how people behave alone or with their intimates in movies like this, which was something that Mann developed a bit better in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), but that one was even more confusing--though Christopher Plummer's scenery chewing was fun. From reading Charlton Heston's autobiographies, maybe the tension he felt with Loren (who appears to be too tense when acting in English sometimes) really didn't help the story either. I do think that Heston's character is well played by the actor, especially as he aged throughout the movie. (Did Sophia ever get older? I can't remember, but I suspect she did not).

The most memorable times when the movie comes to life for me are the sequences you mentioned and when Loren and Heston happily spend the night in the stable, with each of them letting their guard down for once, only to awaken to a gathering of Spanish people outside at dawn. The music by Miklos Rozsa for this scene, found here, is exceptionally beautiful too.

Gee, I don't know if Wyler really had another epic in him after Ben-Hur, do you think? I still haven't gotten to see that two-disc DVD set that came out for El Cid (1961) a few years ago, but you have reminded me that I should probably track one down.
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Re: El Cid

Postby movieman1957 » May 28th, 2012, 5:34 pm

Sophia did not age. Maybe it was in her contract. The second disc starts right after the intermission when Cid has been away for a few years. He shows up bearded and with a heavy scar across his face. What is not shown may have been interesting.

You're right about Vallone. Some of the characters fly in and out with little basis for the motivation. Save for Vallone's attempt to get to Cid he has little else to do except when Lom catches him later.

I saw it years ago on TV so I am glad I saw this DVD copy but it may have a whole different feel in the theater.

I have a copy of "The Fall of The Roman Empire" so I would like to see it to see how it differs, if at all, in presentation and style from "Cid." Maybe that feels more like Mann.

Looking at his imdb listing for Wyler he seems to have had little left in him. A few films were made but for "Funny Girl" they seem smallish by comparison.
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Re: El Cid

Postby MissGoddess » May 28th, 2012, 10:50 pm

I went to see Gladiator at Lincoln Center yesterday, and spotted a moment out of El Cid, even though I've never actually seen ALL of El Cid. I'm afraid the first part of it was too much for me the day I tried to watch it, and I gave up after about 30 or 40 minutes. Now that I hear it picks up later on, maybe I should try it again.
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Re: El Cid

Postby RedRiver » May 29th, 2012, 1:38 pm

Maybe it's just me. I don't like FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE either! Give me RAW DEAL!

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Re: El Cid

Postby Mr. Arkadin » June 6th, 2012, 11:48 am

El Cid was one of my earliest movies and I still admire it a great deal. Is it a long movie? Yes. Boring? Not to me because the film deals with themes and ideas that I have always found interesting. Unfortunately, I have been working for some time on a project that includes this film, so I really can't discuss it too deeply here, but I will say that it is a work that grows on repeat viewings.

As for not seeing Mann's hand, I disagree. In the opening shot, you have a priest praying at a desecrated altar when a bloody sword enters the frame introducing us to Rodrigo. He comforts the father and then reaches for the cross, breaking the arrows which impale it (foreshadowing his death), and places the cross on his back in an allusion to Christ. In the trial scene where he waits in an empty chamber, a single light beams down from the ceiling while the rest of the room is in darkness. Rodrigo and Chimene stand in the shadows on opposite sides and then clasp hands under the light. The joust segment intersperses close cutting and long shots creating one of the most realistic fight scenes ever staged for a film (those broad swords, even unsharpened, would have literally cut a man in half). Tons of other great examples lie here, including the famous finale mentioned above.

Finally, El Cid asks one of the most important questions of life: "Can a man live without honor?" and manages to find an answer that is neither cloying or cheap.
Last edited by Mr. Arkadin on June 6th, 2012, 11:55 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: El Cid

Postby MissGoddess » June 6th, 2012, 11:51 am

All I needed was a good reason to give this movie another chance. :D Thanks, Ark. I look forward to hearing more in the future about your mysterious project.
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Re: El Cid

Postby movieman1957 » June 6th, 2012, 12:22 pm

I do remember that scene about Cid carrying the cross as most references to Christ show. Thanks for the reminder. That one stood out.
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Re: El Cid

Postby Gary J. » June 6th, 2012, 7:41 pm

It does seem that many successful directors of the 50s, who had found their niche making certain types of films, got sucked into the ego boost of the epic-style of film-making that exploded in the 60s. Mann was one of those directors and his career suffered for it.
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Re: El Cid

Postby kingrat » June 7th, 2012, 11:53 am

Gary, I wish that someone would write a book about all the directors who made the move from regular to epic films, the common challenges, and the way this affected their individual styles. I'm not aware of a book that does this, but would love to read one.

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Re: El Cid

Postby ChiO » June 7th, 2012, 2:38 pm

It does seem that many successful directors of the 50s, who had found their niche making certain types of films, got sucked into the ego boost of the epic-style of film-making that exploded in the 60s.

If "ego-boost" refers to a concerted effort of certain directors to make epics to fulfill their own psychological needs, I'm not convinced that was the case. If it means a desire to continue to work by making popular films and putting money into their bank accounts, sure...but that's hardly limited to the move from a '50s niche to the '60s epic. It could even explain Mann's move from his mid- & late-40s film noir to his '50s Westerns.

Another related and common explanation is:

Beginning in 1960, Mann turned his attention to a type of film that was becoming popular: the international all-star blockbuster. In a last-ditch effort to stem the tide of television, films decided to blow the budget and give the public what TV couldn't: size, spectacle (me: kind of the CGI of the time, I guess). Cast of thousands thundered over the tundra toward the box office, and Mann was afforded the opportunity to work on the grandest scale imaginable. -- Anthony Mann, p. 145 (Jeanine Basinger 2007, 2nd ed.)

The bulk of the films released by the Majors (in the '60s) were independent productions, often cofinanced by the studio. What films did the Majors finance, plan, and produce on their own? More and more these tended to be roadshow movies of the sort that had proved enticing during the 1950s. During the 1960s, six films were roadshowed per year, and most proved lucrative. The Sound of Music roadshowed at 266 theatres, running for as long as twenty months on some screens. Only 1 percent of films released between 1960 and 1968 grossed over $1 million, but a third of the roadshow pictures surpassed that figure. The success of roadshow films like West Side Story, El Cid (1961), How the West Was Won (1962), and Lawrence of Arabia drove the studios to risk millions on epic movies. Soon, however, the investments were in peril. In 1962, MGM lost nearly $20 million, thanks largely to cost overruns on Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), and Cleopatra's protracted production pushed Fox to a loss of over $40 million.

By the late 1960s, every studio faced a financial crisis. Most releases lost money, and executives proved slow to understand that the big picture was no longer a sure thing. -- Film History: An Introduction, pp.512-13 (Kristin Thompson & David Bordwell 2003 2nd ed.)

Studios looked at epics as a money-making way of survival by, as a consultant might put it now, branding and increasing market share. Given the scale of the productions, one would think it only made sense to turn to directors with a decent track record such as Mann. With notable exceptions (Welles or Cassavetes, anyone?), one works where the work is, especially if one is not positioned to write and self-finance (in significant part), as well as direct and possibly act in, one's films.
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Re: El Cid

Postby MissGoddess » July 2nd, 2012, 9:39 am

I finally did watch all of El Cid this weekend, though not in the best format (on YouTube, in 17 parts) so some of my perception of the movie is a result of that less than ideal circumstance. I thought it was beautifully mounted...so much more impressive when you compare real thousands of people to today's cgi hordes. Some truly beautiful sets and shots. And the cast was exceptional. Charlton Heston really surprised me by playing this character in a way I did not expect, even though the idea is that the "Cid" was basically a simple man. Heston did very well by this idea, making him human-scale, sincere and not at all remote as he can sometimes seem (for instance, as Judah Ben-Hur).

Sophia was a slight disappointment, as she seemed to be playing the movie star/beauty icon more than a flesh and blood woman. That venomous princess, I forget the actress who plays her, was much more interesting and believable.

I was however not very emotionally involved in the story, I think perhaps because of what was at stake, things that do not matter to me such as fealty to king, power and land grabbing, all that concerns the machinations of politics and the intrigues of the powerful. I would have wished the "Cid" was not concerned for such things, his loyalty just seemed so wasted and misguided as I come from a different perspective, and try to remain separate from the world on such matters. What I can appreciate was his absolute sincerity, that he was untarnished by ambition and that he often tried to avoid bloodshed and seek peace. Those moments that illustrated these qualities were the most affecting for me.

I also re-watched Heston in another middle ages film made 3 years later and far less known, The War Lord. He's far older, still fighting for king and country but much more conflicted and the story is far less grand, far more gritty. Richard Boone is excellent as his aide.

I was in a medieval mood. :)
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