Paul Fejos was an artist during a time when filmmaking was clearly about profits. At the cusp of the arrival of sound, studios scrambled to create films that catered to the latest popular craze of the time. This is a tradition which has carried on throughout the history of cinema, all the way to today’s 3D films and Imax presentations that are the new craze of audiences. In 1928, it was sound and talking in films which had become lucrative with the success of The Jazz Singer. Eventually even Charlie Chaplin would make films with some sound, though thankfully he kept the Tramp for the most part silent. Lonesome is one of the films in the middle; a silent film which has sequences of dialogue.
The simplicity of Lonesome lies within the plot, which is simply about two hardworking New Yorkers who find each other on a Fourth of July weekend in
Coney Island. Where Lonesome becomes an intricately designed film is all in the stylistic approach that Fejos takes, using a remarkable amount of camera movement and even some color tinting to select sequences. In the end, it is the sound sequences which are the most static and uninteresting by today’s standards. They sound may have been novel at the time, but the silent sequence on the roller coaster is timeless.
Hungarian filmmaker Fejos went on to a successful career as an anthropologist after his stint as a filmmaker. At the time, Fejos struggled to fit into the studio system. He couldn’t find any studio willing to give him the creative control he saw as necessary, and only Universal Studios was willing to take a chance on him. The result is Lonesome, as well as a few other rare classics. Two of them have been included as a bonus feature in the Blu-ray release of Lonesome. There is The Last Performance, a 1929 silent starring Conrad Veidt, as well a reconstructed sound version of the 1929 musical Broadway. At the time Broadway was the most expensive film the studio had ever undertaken.
Additional special features include an audio commentary with film historian Richard Koszarski, as well as a1963 visual essay about Fejos and his career. There is also an excerpt from an audio interview with cinematographer Hal Mohr about Broadway, and a booklet insert with essay by film critic Phillip Lopate and film historian Graham Petrie. The new digital restoration of the film is astounding and the special features could not get much better for a forgotten classic.
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