"Song of the South." At the New Gallery. " The Wind " and early Chaplins. At the New London Film Society.
FOR those who were not brought up on Uncle Remus, Song of the South may be quite enjoyable, always provided they like the new- style Disney with its growing concentration on ordinary photography and on the mingling of cartoon with realistic figures—technically ingenious but artistically questionable. But for the Uncle Remus fans this film will not do at all. The famous stories are all entangled with the adventures of a Little Lord Fauntleroy character on a Southern plantation ; and although the child actors are admirable, and James Baskett's Uncle Remus a most sympathetic and affec- tionate character, nothing call make up for the elimination of all but a few of his entrancing legends. Brer Possum and Brer Buzzard are absent (in favour perhaps of the horrid little top-hatted blue- oird who perches on Uncle Remus' shoulder when he takes a stroll). and there is no mention at all of the famous Deluge episode, when, you remember, " de Elephant tromped on wunner de Crawfishes." One would have liked to see a Disney interpretation of the following scene, when the Crawfishes "swarmed tergedder en draw'd up a kinder peramble wid some wharfo'es in it." But no. Even when the film reverts to pure cartoon for some of the tales—the Tar-baby, for instance—the style and the characters are coarsened out of all recog- nition, the story is twisted and changed, and the technological squawk of Donald Duck seems not far away.
Disney is perhaps a victim of the present system of film-distribution by which it is virtually impossible to get adequate financial returns from short films. Forced to inflate his style, which depends largely on brevity, he is reduced to arid ingenuities, and is apparently gradu- ally abandoning the pure fantasy of his earlier work. If the market were there, what a joyous series of ten-minute cartoons on Uncle Remus themes he could have produced! As it is, Song of the South is neither fish, fowl nor good Brer Tarrypin.
Continuing its programme of great American films, the New London Film Society recently revived Victor Seastrom's The Wind. Made in 1928, at the end of the silent era, it is a fine example Pf the creation of dramatic mood and atmosphere in terms of visuals, and without benefit of sound track. Were it to have been made today, what a howling of tempests, rustling of sand and screeching of background music there would have been! And yet, by picture alone, Seastrom achieves all the physical impact required, while at the same time manipulating a simple, sombre story with skill and, for the most part, with great artistry.
One sometimes feels sorry for the younger generation who do not remember the days before the talkies. They must find these revivals curious, perhaps sometimes comic, for they are in no position to revert to the acceptance of a convention in which the cinema grew up, and by which it developed what are still its main values. Yet, looking today at the superb acting technique of Lilian Gish, Lars Hanson and Dorothy Cummings, and observing what they achieved without the aid of dialogue, one can sentimentally sigh for the rounded perfection of the best of the silent films.
In the same programme were four Chaplins, vintage Essanay 1915, and these involve no nonsense about sound or silence. His world of shabby doss-houses, flimsy villas, cops, thugs, buffoons and golden girls revolves with the same indestructible magic around his own creation, the sentimental, cocky, pathetic, comic little figure, of whom Gilbert Seldes rightly remarked that he was destined to be " the one universal man of modern times." In The Bank and The Tramp, incidentally, one may observe the seeds of nearly all the wonderful flowers of his later and greater films. In the latter film there appears the first renunciation scene, followed by that now famous perambu- lation away from the audience towards the horizon, which was finally repeated with such effect in The Circus ; and in The Bank one may guess, from the incident of the roses, that the last scene of City Lights