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Ghost Worlds

At one point, The Devil's Backbone defines a ghost as "an emotion suspended in time," and so it is here. Frank's parents are simultaneously haunted by the spaces their son once inhabited and taunted by the flagrant thereness of his killer. In the Bedroom has a flair for visual metaphor, but unsurprisingly (since Field is himself an actor), the movie is primarily performance-driven. Spacek is particularly skillful at etching her grief and anger on the screen; Wilkinson (last seen as a supercilious British general in The Patriot) is even more nuanced in evoking his character's weary denial.

Field takes his time arriving at the couple's inevitable orgy of mutual accusation. In the Bedroom feels long-winded, but only in retrospect. Having front-loaded his adaptation of Andre Dubus's story "Killings" with emotional baggage, Field shifts gears abruptly to pick up Dubus's tale and let the good doctor go beyond the law. Increasingly unconvincing, In the Bedroom turns genteel rabble-rouser. Field's leisurely buildup forestalls but doesn't prevent his movie's mutation into a granola Death Wish.


Uncanny primarily in its disjunction: Paredes and Noriega in The Devil's Backbone
photo: Miguel Bracho
Uncanny primarily in its disjunction: Paredes and Noriega in The Devil's Backbone

Details

The Devil's Backbone
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by del Toro, Antonio Trashorras, and David Muoz
Sony Pictures Classics

In The Bedroom
Directed by Todd Field
Written by Field and Rob Festinger, from the story "Killings" by Andre Dubus
Miramax Opens November 23

Greed: A Reconstruction
Directed and written by Erich von Stroheim, from the novel McTeague by Frank Norris
Reconstruction produced by Rick Schmidlin
Turner Classic Movies
American Museum of the Moving Image
November 24 and 25

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There's another sort of ghost exorcised in Greed: A Reconstruction, the 243-minute DV approximation of Erich von Stroheim's legendary 1924 masterpiece, showing twice this weekend at the American Museum of the Moving Image. Originally said to be eight-plus hours, cut in half by the filmmaker and in half again by his studio, MGM, Greed is the most celebrated aesthetic mutilation in movie history—"the skeleton of my dead child," in Stroheim's colorful phrase.

Rick Schmidlin's reconstruction, financed by Turner Classic Movies and screening in video, restores nearly two and a half hours—taking us back to Stroheim's second cut. The missing scenes have been fashioned from surviving production stills (some published 30 years ago in Herman Weinberg's picture book, The Complete Greed). On one hand, these sequences serve to deepen the narrative with background material on the protagonists: the brutish dentist McTeague and his miserly wife, Trina. On the other, they broaden the movie's sweep with a host of missing subplots, mainly concerning two parallel couples—the demented rag-picker Maria and crazy junk-dealer Zerkow, and the elderly lovers, Old Grannis and Miss Baker.

Thanks to the miracle of DV, the image has been digitally cleaned up and Schmidlin has restored Stroheim's original color scheme—selectively flecking bits of gold throughout the movie to tint coins, teeth, and even canaries. In the famous Death Valley finale, the entire world is bathed in a malevolent yellow. Here, as in some of the re-created material, Schmidlin retrieves a lost expressionistic component in counterpoint to Greed's justly celebrated naturalism. Watching this reconstruction, one can appreciate how brutal Stroheim's film originally was and how brutally it was butchered.


Related Stories:

"Scenes From a Marriage: First-Time Filmmaker Todd Field Goes Behind Closed Doors" by Dennis Lim

"Into the Dark: Guillermo del Toro Drinks Deep" by Ed Morales

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