Monday, 26 March 2012

The Archers Blogathon - "Gone to Earth" Part 2 - The Making Of


The filming of Gone to Earth took place in 1949 in and around Shropshire. The film is particularly fascinating because of the controversy surrounding it. The film was a co-production between British Lion and Selznik Productions. David O'Selznick, the producer of the Oscar winning Gone with the Wind (1939) and Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), was infamous for his controlling, bordering on obsessional involvement with his productions. Selznick had recently signed a deal with Alexander Korda to make several films in England, including Gone To Earth. Korda had previously signed a five film deal in 1948 with Powell and Pressburger, who saw him as kindred spirit who allowed them to make the films they wanted, how they wanted. Although Korda was hugely respcted in the industry and had been involved with many popular films, he was in financial difficulties at this time. He had bought the literary rights for Mary Webb's Gone to Earth years before and saw a chance to sell it on to Selznick and turn over a good deal of business at the same time with a powerful alliance.

Clockwise: Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Selznick was a passionate producer who had found enormous success with his films in Hollywood, such as "Gone with the Wind". His reason for wanting to be involved in the British film industry was partly because of how Powell and Pressburger had impressed people around the world with The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death and their unique visual poetry. As this was also an important period of Italian realist cinema, Selznick saw an opportunity to be involved in what was a more gritty, new cinema. He was also looking for a vehicle for his new obsession, Jennifer Jones, and wanted something which would show her acting ability and earthiness at its best. As he later stated in a letter, Jennifer Jones' involvement in the film made him doubly concerned about the production.

Jennifer Jones and David O. Selznick {via acertaincinema}

The deal went through The Archers to Korda and then to Selznick, so The Archers were contracted to work with Selznick under an agreed script. Selnick was very involved with the filming; visiting the set and seeing some rushes. He also bombarded Powell and Pressburger with memos up to ten pages long which were for the most part (politely!) ignored. Powell and Pressburger were very much their own men and were used to a great deal of artistic freedom. Powell later said, "We decided to go ahead with David O. (Selznick) the way hedgehogs make love: very carefully!"

Selznik was ultimately unhappy with the finished film of Gone to Earth. Firstly, he didn't think there were enough close-ups of Jennifer Jones, and felt the story was unclear and did not live up the potential he thought the film had. He outlined what he believed were P&P's two "tremendous faults" in a letter to Ben Hecht:
The first is an excessively English resistance to portrayal of emotions, which I am hoping to cure with retakes and additional scenes following completion of the job of re-editing the film. And the second is a fantastic obsession against making things clear.
He (quite cheerfully apparently) told Powell and Pressburger that he was going to take them to court for not shooting the agreed script. Powell and Pressburger argued that they had, and ultimately, when the case did go to court in April 1950, the judge agreed and the film could be released in the UK. Even though he lost the case, Selznick exercised his right under the contract (as he had all of the film rights in the Western hemisphere) to make an alternate version. In Hollywood, he hired director Rouben Mamoulian (who had directed Blood and Sand) to reshoot parts of the film and re-edit it for its American release in 1952 as The Wild Heart.

David Farrar as Jack Reddin

Mamoulian cut many scenes, in fact he took over 30 minutes of the films running time from 110 minutes, to 82 minutes. Powell claimed that only 35 minutes of the original film remained. New outdoor scenes were reshot in California (though it's amazingly hard to tell those scenes apart from those filmed in Shropshire), and shot some more melodramatic interior scenes between Hazel and Reddin. Selznick also hired Joseph Cotten to do a voiceover for the film and included more close-ups of Jennifer Jones. In some reshot scenes, Jennifer Jones can be seen carrying what is obviously a toy fox.

Selznick's changes and cuts more or less eradicated the subtle symbolism of the original film as well as the incidental details which made Powell and Pressburger's work so atmospheric and evocative of the English countryside. Many of the scenes he cut because he found them too slow, were essential to the plot, making the final film quite confusing to watch compared to the original for some viewers.

Jennifer Jones as Hazel Woodus

In his later years, Michael Powell found it increasingly difficult to get his ideas finiancially backed, though, paradoxically, his reputation grew. As a result of this renewed interest in Powell and Pressburger's work, particularly from the 1970s, many of their "forgotten" films were restored and reissued, including Gone to Earth which was restored by The National Film Archive in 1985. This allowed people to see the film again for the first time in decades.

For his part, Michael Powell later dismissed the film as a "disaster" apart from Jennifer Jones' performance.

Gone to Earth with JJ
Jennifer Jones and Esmond Knight as Hazel and Abel Woodus

A New Statesman review claimed the restored film to be "One of the great British regional films" and, according to Powell's cinematographer, Christopher Challis, "one of the most beautiful films ever to be shot of the English countryside". It was extremely unusual for a film of Gone to Earth's scale to be shot on location at the time. Though The Wild Heart is not an awful film by any means, it's just a very different film and I was spoiled by seeing The Archers' film first. Gone to Earth is very much a story about the countryside, and that evocative nature of the film was mostly removed in The Wild Heart.

I've included a "making of" film in three parts which consists of Michael Powell's private films while making Gone to Earth

P&P employed the residents of Much Wenlock to act as extras in several scenes, such as the Condover Brass Band and the choir from the local Methodist Chapel. Apparently when he heard them singing, director Michael Powell said they were too good and he wanted them to sound "more ragged, like a choir of country folk," only to be told, "But we are country folk, Mr Powell".

Much Wenlock residents as extras on the set of Gone to Earth

The score was composed by Brian Easdale, a long time collaborator with Powell and Pressburger. Here is the suite from Gone to Earth and I very much recommend the album The Music of Brian Easdale which includes his scores for the Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, Battle of the River Plate, Gone to Earth and other works.

To round up this LONG double post, I thought I'd post a video of Kate Bush's song, "Hounds of Love", which has been edited to include scenes from Gone to Earth. Although Kate Bush has stated the song was inspired by the excellent British horror The Night of the Demon, obviously I'm not alone in thinking that it owes something to Gone to Earth. It certainly sums up Hazel's predicament in the film. Kate Bush has said that the song is about being frightened of falling in love and compares the feeling to being pursued by dogs.

Thank you for reading and many thanks to The Archers Blogathon for letting me take part and write for ages about one of my favourite films for a good reason.

The DVD of Gone to Earth seems to be now out of print (in the UK at least). I'm sure you can still pick up a secondhand copy online somewhere. It's well worth the effort.

Worcester | | A documentary on the GtE DVD


Kendra said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Great post, laura, and lovely visuals as always! I really want to see this film now! I've never been a huge fan of Jennifer Jones but do quite like David Ferrar and obviously P&P. It's really interesting how Selznick had such an overbearing hand in a lot of these British films, and not always for the positive. I'm glad Powell did it his own way in the end.

Caftan Woman said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Fascinating background on a film that must have been very frustrating to create. Thank you for the film clips as well. Jennifer Jones is an actress who does not get her due these days. I'm sure her association with Powell and Pressburger must have been a joy for her.

Laura said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@KendraThank you so much, Kendra. If you can't find a copy of the film give me a shout and I'll send you mine. I'm not a huge fan of Jennifer Jones either but I thin this is the best performance I've seen of hers. David Farrar is brilliant! He was very predatory in the film. I love the whole backstory with Selznick. He sounds like such an awkward person but brilliant at the same time. I'm glad P&P stood up to him though.

Really looking forward to your post about The Canterbury Tale. I love that film!

Laura said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Caftan Woman Thank you for your comment and for reading. I agree, I think she was a very capable actress who hasn't really been given the respect she deserves. She looks like she really enjoyed the filming from the clips. I wish she could have been involved with more films with P&P.

whistlingypsy said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Laura ~ I am so glad you reviewed this film for The Archers tribute blogathon. I learned of the film only recently when doing some research on David Farrar and his film career. I’ve heard and read mixed opinions on this one, but if the original story inspired "Cold Comfort Farm", Stella Gibbons spoof, this is a film I definitely want to see. I'll follow up with a comment on Part One after I've had a chance to read it.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

What a great post! I now want to see this film, which is one of the few Powell-Pressburger films I haven't seen. Very glad that their version was restored. Thank you for using so many shots from the film to tell the story.

Kevyn Knox said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Great post on a great film. Usually overlooked when delving into the mostly spectacular oeuvre of The Archers, it is great to see someone with such a keen eye dissect it. A near equal to Black Narcissus and Colonel Blimp, as well as that other oft-overlooked P&P work, A Canterbury Tale, though none shall ever pass the fondness in my heart for The Red Shoes. Again, great post indeed.

DorianTB said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Laura, I was quite fascinated with your post about Powell & Pressburger's tug-of-war with the ever-controlling David O. Selznick during the fractious making of DOWN TO EARTH, a.k.a. THE WILD HEART. Sometimes I think filmmaking is like a marriage: you really have to get to know your partner really well inside and out before you become a couple or in this case, a filmmaking team! :-) Excellent post!

DorianTB said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Oops! Of course I meant to say GONE TO EARTH, not DOWN TO EARTH! Sorry about that, Laura!

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