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Subject: Re: Butterfly Film
From: Robert Long <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Robert Long <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 3 Jul 1997 14:19:53 GMT
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On Thu, 3 Jul 1997 00:07:25 EDT, Charles Handelman wrote:

|the cast was picked for visual reasons and so you did not have much really great
|singing of this incredible music. Even the soprano,the lovely Ying Huang,said in
|the interview that followed the film,that the role is not in her repertory. I

This was, perhaps, one of the strengths of the film.  Granted that
there were many moments at which I regretted the loss of musical
substance, but there were many more at which it worked as cinema in a
way that would not have been true with the higher vocal voltage of
great voices.  That ultimately was the point on which the dubbed
Butterfly movie of the 1950s (I think) foundered.  The soundtrack was
recorded first (by whom?  was it the Tebaldi recording for
Decca/London?) and then the images pasted over the sound, using actors
lip-syncing to the audio.  It was loaded with moments that just didn't
work as cinema, and this film was loaded with moments that did work.

Though I enjoyed it a lot on several levels, there were a few things
in it that really bothered me.  The first has been mentioned here
before: the arbitrary flying family.  I suppose one is to assume that
they were ghosts of a few militant ancestors, though an uncle is not
usually termed an ancestor.  But I have no idea what Mitterand hoped
to gain by the change, which just struck me as silly.

The second was the handling of the end of the Act I finale.  The
libretto seems perfectly clear to me.  Pinkerton is eager to consumate
the marriage; his bride is understandably hesitant, despite her regard
for Pinkerton, and keeps clinging to images of the garden the way
Ophelia clings to the flowers that grow beside the brook.  Pinkerton's
"Vieni!"s can thus hardly be misinterpreted.  Yet he never once looked
at Butterfly on that word, addressing it instead to the night (?).
Why??  The sense of the scene was utterly confounded by that bit of
direction.

Then there was the obviously historical footage that was spliced in
(without even speed correction) during the humming chorus.  Granted
that some of the images more or less related to the story, but the
style and the color (or lack of it) so blatantly went against the
grain of the film that it didn't work at all for me.  There had been
so many attractive images (with obvious references to the landscapes
of Hiroshige) earlier in the film that I expected and was looking
forward to a delicately colored visual feast while everyone but
Butterfly slept.  Instead, this!  The cinematographer might have
redeemed him- (her-?) -self for the moments of bad composition earlier
but the opportunity was lost in favor of footage that really makes
very little sense.  Again, why??

And the final moments were marred by cinematic ambiguity.  Precisely
what was happening in the street as Butterfly was dying?  What was
Goro's role?  Had he been paid for an unnecessary kidnapping?  By
whom?  Was Kate in that rickshaw?  Or was something much more sinister
intended?  And why wasn't the meaning of the scene made clear?

Sorry to carp.  There was so much to admire in the film that these
problems stood out like warts.

Bob Long
([log in to unmask])

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