the official website for the writings of
Review is Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore. Review was first published in the June 29, 1980 issue of The Los Angeles Times, in the Calendar Magazine section.
Print in HTML format.
Return to essays.
background on the essay
Review was my first 'big' publication, in the Los Angeles Times.
It was probably read by about a hundred thousand people the Sunday morning it appeared, and because it appeared in the L.A. Times, a lot of those readers were famous actors, actresses and directors. It was a great feeling.
About a year after it was published, a well-known male movie critic quoted Review during an interview in Time magazine, but never mentioned my name. A month or so after that, he paraphrased one of the jokes from Review in his syndicated movie review column, again without giving me credit. I was thrilled, both times.
Mary and I lived in San Mateo, California, at the time the piece was published. We didn't have much money then, so we'd go to a newsstand each Sunday to quickly flip through Calendar to see if it had been used yet. Somehow we missed its appearance. When I suddenly received a check in the mail for $75 for its publication, we went to the San Mateo library, to its reading room, located the page the review was on, and, four shoulders blocking what we were doing, carefully, quietly, tore the page out of the library's copy, Mary slipping the long rectangle of gray newsprint up under her blouse, against one of her lovely breasts.
The piece, as published, had two passages edited out of what I wrote, both, I believe, because of 'taste'. I've restored one of the excisions, which now appears at the end of the second paragraph-- the Braille/jigsaw bit. The second expurgated passage appeared at the end of the fourth paragraph. After reviewing my original text, I've decided not to restore that cut, not because of its content, but because I now believe it doesn't add to the overall flow of the piece.
My right hand twitched a few times during my re-read of Review, but outside of a few commas and dashes, I have decided not to rewrite it, out of respect for the original author.
an essay by ralph robert moore
It is an extraordinary film. To call it a masterpiece does not do it justice. To call it a Masterpiece with a capital M does not do it justice. Even if we were to capitalize all the letters, calling it a MASTERPIECE, we still would not begin to convey the brilliance of its execution, or its uniqueness as the only real "film" film. Having seen this film once, we must see it again. We would rather see this film again than fall in love, for having seen it once, one cannot bear the thought of living without seeing it again.
It justifies us having invented film making. It justifies the miracle that eons ago one of our primeval ancestors first developed a patch of skin sensitive to light which, over the millions of years of slow evolution, developed into eyes. We would never allow this film review to be printed in Braille, no matter what the monetary rewards, because having perused it, one who is blind would feel an infinite sorrow at not being able to see this film for themselves. It would be like taunting a quadriplegic true believer with a jigsaw puzzle of God's face.
This film is not just powerhouse performances, state-of-the-art cinematography, brilliant scoring, peerless directing. It is the story itself, told against the sweeping majesty of 20 countries and 70 years, of the love of a man for a woman, and vice versa, which makes this film what it is. It is a powerful film, with an ability to transport you magically via its lush, varied scenes. From the dank sewers of Paris, where Charles and Dee quarrel jealously in the shadowy archways, to the presidential suite of the New York Astoria, its canopied bed made up with satin sheets as crisp and neat as a pink envelope about to be opened, from the days when a pack of cigarettes cost a nickel, to a time in the not-too-distant future when we travel great distances in the isolated comfort of spaceships, this film has it all.
It starts off slowly. Care is taken that the subtitles are printed in white when against dark backgrounds, and in black against light backgrounds, so that not one precious word is blurred. The actors, all unknowns, must know now, after having appeared in this film, the reason for their having been born. Everything they do henceforth will be a letdown. One can so easily understand why three of them, once principal photography was wrapped up, chose to take their lives.
Coming out of the theater, blinking at the harsh daylight, one thinks back on the performances in this film just seen as a drowning man must think back on his life, in a series of never-ending flashes that will stay with one to the end of one's days. Take, for example, the scene in the warm, brownish interior of the stagecoach, its curved canvas walls glowing ethereally as the flaring light of Charles' campfire outside streaks across the coarse fabric, turning the arrow holes into exploding stars, all this a mere backdrop-- a throwaway that other, mortal directors would kill for-- to allow one's gaze to slowly descend from the glowing top of the screen to the mauve and maroon blankets along its bottom where 8-year-old Marla, her long, bare legs pinker than roses in the dazzling iridescence, first learns of her lover's death. The expression on that child's face!
Or, later, when Hans, Charles' rival, has been pulled fully clothed up onto the beach by the others, the low-hovering helicopter's loud wop-wop mimicking his slowing heart, each painful dying word of his coming out with its own emerald gush of spittle mixed with sea water: "Until now, I had always thought of Death as something like the horizon. Always there. Never here." Even the ushers had their handkerchiefs out.
At no point does the pace of this film slacken for even a moment. Indeed, the final series of scenes, set in the Andromeda galaxy, as Hans Junior's saucers, their metal gleaming like knife blades, Ferris wheel around Charles' meteor-battered ship, with the total weightlessness of space abruptly brought home to us by first spinning the camera in the opposite direction, and then suddenly switching the projection of the film from the screen to the ceiling of the theater, brought the audience to its feet.
Yes, it is an extraordinary film. It slaps you on the back, then slaps you in the face. It picks you up and throws you down, grinds your face in a mud puddle, then you feel its strong hands reach into your armpits to help you up again. It flies in your face like a vaudeville pie and courses through your system like Mexican water. It is not just a film for our time: it is a film for All Time. Even if time itself did not exist, it would be a film for whatever existed as a substitute for time. And even if there were absolutely nothing at all in existence, if there had never been a Big Bang with its crucial molecule mixing, and the Earth had never been flung out into space to swirl and cool so that life, under the pressure of its own potential, could pop like phosphenes into being, it would be a film for that, too.