Osian’s Cinefan will present the first-ever grand public screening of Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 silent classic Greed at the 10th OCFF

 

New Delhi, 14th July  2008:

 

This film remains one in the history of cinema that is not only worth a watch but also a lost classic. The full version of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed running to 47 reels remains the cinephile’s ultimate dream to stumble upon one fine day. It was first cut down to a 24-reel version and then through further edits was released as a 10-reeler running for two and a half hours. More stunning is the fact that von Stroheim had shot about 130 reels of film over two years before paring it down to an eight-hour version. Legend has it the surfeit footage beyond the 10 reels that the film was cut down to by the studio hacks at MGM was melted for the silver it could yield. Recently Turner released the 75th Anniversary ‘full’ version with still inserts from the lost footage into the extant shorter version of the film.

 

Whatever might have been the fate of the original version of the film, Greed has managed to remain in the list of the world’s greatest films ever from the time it was made. Its starkness and direct approach to melodrama was at once surreal as well as socially critical enough to drive home a point about the extreme living conditions in boom and bust America of the 1920s hurtling towards the Wall Street Crash later in that decade. It tells the story of three characters drawn into a tragic circle of events due to the sudden fortune one of them makes by winning a lottery ticket. The woman who wins the fortune refuses to spend the money even while she and her husband find themselves in dire straits due to the machinations of a previous suitor. Things come to a head when husband and jilted suitor meet in California’s Death Valley for a showdown, a sequence that has justly gone down in history as one of the greatest ever.

 

The performances of Gibson Gowland, ZaSu Pitts and Jean Hersholt have been universally hailed as amongst the finest for the silent film era. The camerawork of William Daniels (who lit up Garbo throughout her MGM career) was of the highest calibre, with Cedric Gibbons providing the art direction in one of the earliest triumphs in his glittering career. On another register, Greed remains the most audacious attempt made by a filmmaker to adapt a novel to cinema. Von Stroheim adapted the Naturalist Frank Norris’s novel McTeague whose The Pit had been adapted to screen by DW Griffith as A Corner in Wheat in 1909. Indeed the 130 or so reels he shot is an indicator as regards the empirical temporal relationship that cinema should bear with the details of a realist novel such as Norris’s.  Stroheim had apparently found the novel lying around in an apartment he had moved into and had devoured it in a single marathon reading session through the night.

 

For the director the chance to direct the film came when Irving Thalberg, studio head at MGM, was impressed by the critical and box office successes of von Stroheim’s earlier films Blind Husbands and Foolish Wives. After the commercial failure of the film, von Stroheim made only a few more films before finding fame as an actor in such films as Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion and Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

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