2 October 2000 | kev-22
Don't bother (and don't judge) unless you can see a good Technicolor print
No doubt the jaded postmodern cynical viewer will find plenty to pick apart in this fluff (facile metaphysics, etc.). That is their loss.
This is not one of the great MGM musicals, but at its best it does what great musicals do: it sweeps you along in a kaleidoscope of color, movement and sound. And because of these qualities this trifle IS art as surely as Citizen Kane or La Promesse are. Cinema is not just an art of--or forum for-- philosophy; it is an art of the color palette, and with The Ziegfeld Follies the technical forces of a great studio created a sometimes exquisite canvas to behold. Unfortunately, like many old films, the canvas is fading.
I first saw this film 20 years ago projected from an exceptional 16 millimeter print that brought out the full richness of the Technicolor cinematography. None of the video versions I've seen since have come close. The same is true for the 1949 John Ford western, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, which I saw many years ago in an unbelievably painterly 16mm Technicolor print. Prints of that film shown on the AMC network don't even come close to the richness of that print.
Its color alone is enough to make The Ziegfeld Follies visually entertaining for me, and that print I saw long ago convinces me that is one of the 10 or 20 most beautiful color films ever made. The merry go round scene (with Lucille Ball as I recall) in hot garish pink was particularly striking visually.
I contend that any film, even marginal or bad ones, made in the extinct and impossible to resurrect Technicolor process is worthy of seeing, because its very usage constitutes a lost art form in and of itself.
Like Ziegfeld Follies, middling films such as Kid Millions (1934), Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), Jesse James (1939), Down Argentine Way (1940), The Gang's All Here (1943) and The Captain from Castile (1947) are worth seeing almost exclusively because of their amazing color schemes.
The biggest crack about "Tech," as cine buffs call it, is that it was not "realistic" color. Bogus line of reasoning, as no cinematic color process can ever be realistic in the sense of replicating human sight. OK maybe Roger Deakins came close in "Sid and Nancy." Admiring Ziegfeld Follies solely for its color may not be enough for you, but it's enough for me in our era of dreary cinematic color.