Frank Borzage: master of the shadows.
This, the opening of MOONRISE, is what turned me on to F.B. The beauty and boldness of the visual storytelling, the combination of a powerful story idea (a boy is persecuted because his father was hanged — then he himself becomes a killer: all this in the first five minutes!) put over with flamboyant but never inappropriate use of film technique.
Also, in the above image, the little kid is meant to be crying, but he obviously isn’t. Some crying sounds have been dubbed on, while the youngster tries to make a “sad face”. I realised that Borzage was too nice to make a baby cry for his film, even though the lack of tears slightly mars the film. That puts him in a different ethical class from practically all his peers. Can we imagine William Wyler hesitating?
I love that the entire set for this shot is the studio floor, doubling as an implausibly shiny playground. MOONRISE was shot on entirely in a tiny array of tightly packed sets in a single studio, with a very short schedule. Republic seem to have been experimenting with artistically ambitious films on low budgets in 1948: hence Welles’ MACBETH. Of course they were John Ford’s refuge where he could make less overtly commercial projects at lower cost.
The tree-shadow totally MAKES the shot, transforming it from an obvious interior to a poetic, unreal exterior. Shades of Sternberg, who was particularly fond of tree-shadows in the late ’20s and early ’30s. I want to throw in the word “autumnal”, so I’m going to.
I think this may have been the first ever Shadowplay banner, so I’m returning to it for Borzage Week as our anniversary approaches. It’s an amazingly striking image, and completely inexplicable if you haven’t seen the film. Looks like something that might come from VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. In context, it’s a horrific encapsulation of the brutality and EVIL of childhood.
Shadows of liquid fog swirl on the wall.
MOONRISE screens today on Film4 in the UK at 2.50 pm.