Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Greed (Extended Version)

Metro Goldwyn Pictures
Director: Erich von Stroheim
Length: 239 min.
Format: VHS
Date Viewed: 13 February

In 1999, Rick Schmidlin oversaw the addition of 99 minutes to the 1924 release print of Erich von Stroheim's "holy grail of cinema," Greed. These 99 minutes come in the form of still pictures of deleted material and new intertitles based on a continuity script he found in a private library, and this version will likely be the closest we ever come to seeing the full version of the film. Not only was all of the six or seven hours of excised footage completely burned, the original shooting script is long-gone.

What's interesting about using the still photographs is that it allows us to see exactly what was cut and about where it fit in the original cut. It's tough to judge a film missing over half of it's content, and this proves true here as well. Extended subplots have been partially restored here, but go mostly nowhere aside from providing point/counterpoint to the action of the main storyline. In their current form, they probably were better left on the cutting room floor, but perhaps in their full length they were of prime necessity to the film as a whole. Though some parts are redundant, tedious, and/or unclear in this extended version, some new scenes are incredibly rich in their character insight and in filling out what must have been confusing and choppy scenes.

Regardless of the fact we are only watching half a film, it is still quite good. This is an tragic and ironic morality tale showing us what happens to people who develop an obsessive love of money. The theme is of course universal, and we can still learn lessons from the movie today. None of the characters are all good or all bad, but everyone who lets money and greed overtake their lives slowly become inhuman and swing far to their dark sides, which seems to parallel real life rather well. This parallel is helped by the excellent performances of the leads and of the sheer length of the film, which allows for fuller characterizations to emerge slowly and more naturally than a more rushed film would have time for.

The film is not perfect, but von Stroheim's butchered vision is a timeless work that earns its high reputation.


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