Silent Treatment: A Stark, Forgotten Fairy Tale's Fierce Poetry

Dreamy simplicity: The Blue Bird
photo: Kino
Dreamy simplicity: The Blue Bird

Archivo-obsessives will plotz over this 1918 Famous Players–Lasky adaptation of Maeterlinck, directed by Maurice Tourneur with a spritz of Magic Flute theater and a knack for stark sets and expressionistic com- position that forecasts the gargantuan silents of Fritz Lang. The classic fairy tale is treated with more respect than in the 1940 Shirley Temple version—the haymaker climax with the Unborn Children in the Kingdom of the Future has a fiercer poetry by virtue of remaining pre-adolescent. Besides, the story's Victorian ethos is a more comfortable fit with the early silent era's dreamy simplicity and silhouetted toy-shop effects, and Tourneur deliberately favored the already obsolete syntax of Méliés over Griffith-era editing. This restored rarity, rescued from elements often already half consumed with nitrate decay, is a beguiling artifact, threatening to collapse into attic dust right before your eyes. (Even so, Tourneur's mastery with the lost art of atmospheric tinting still dazzles.) Father of Jacques and a fabulously prolific director working all over Europe as well as Hollywood into the 1940s, Tourneur is virtually forgotten, but Kino's also releasing his filmization of the Brit chestnut Lorna Doone (1922), a romantic-highwayman melodrama that's been filmed 11 times but has never been more eloquently framed. Additionals include original New York Times reviews, stills, and an excerpt from Maeterlinck's text.

 
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