"Kismet" Standard DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 1 Old 04-13-08, 07:16 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Croton-on-Hudson, NY
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"Kismet" Standard DVD review

I screened the MGM musical "Kismet" yesterday which is a standard DVD anamorphically enhanced on the Toshiba HDXA2 player and Optoma HD70 DLP on my 10 foot wide glass beaded screen. I mention these details because it's important to simulate the conditions of the original theatrical experience this
1955 movie was released in decades ago.

This was one of those musicals that was literally a photographed stage play along
the lines of "My Fair Lady". The movie's CinemaScope
dimensions simulated the procenium arch and the sets, cinematography and compositions were very
much like watching it on Broadway in an orchestra row seat. Keeping this in mind, I enjoyed the movie
version. If you watch it on a smaller screen or letterboxed on television, you'll be missing the original intent which is part of it's appeal. It will seem very stagey and static which is why this musical doesn't have a good reputation. But seen as it was designed to be screened makes a big difference.

The director, Vincente Minelli, was best know for his Technicolor musicals from the forties. They
were stylish and very filmic with elaborate camera movements and color design. In this picture the
camera is more static but as I mentioned, he wasn't going for a 'motion picture' appearance but a stage
look. The film was photographed and printed in Eastmancolor which lacked the vibrancy of Technicolor
but I was able to tweak the image and saturate the color level and brightness to simulate the three
strip look. The sets are obviously sets along the lines of what they used in "Guys and Dolls" released
the same year. It's artificiality was a specific approach back then. They weren't trying to give
the illusion of a real location (as in "West Side Story") but a fantasy. A motion picture representation
of the Broadway stage.

As I mentioned in my previous post about formats, CinemaScope was an imitation of Cinerama.
The image was very wide but the lenses distorted close ups and made the actor's faces appear
stretched and distorted. Minelli circumvented this restriction by shooting the entire feature in
wide shots and medium shots. There are very few full face close ups in the movie so it looks a
lot less funky than CinemaScope pictures like "The Robe" which did attempt them. This also
contributed to the front row theater illusion.

In the case of this show, the music's the thing. There are many classic songs that later became
standards like "Stranger in Paradise", "Baubles, Bangles" and "Night of my Nights". The cast contains
excellent singers including Howard Keel, Ann Blyth and Vic Damone. They were very much linked
with the fifties since none of them had motion picture careers that expanded into subsequent decades
primarily because they stopped making this type of musical. The songs in this show were primarily
derived from classical pieces by Alexander Borodon and adapted into show tunes. It works although
it's not a particularly original concept.

The story is an old warhorse that dates back to the silent era. There was an earlier non-musical
version from the forties starring Ronald Colman in Technicolor. To a large degree the narrative
followed the Arab worldview where the future is written in the Koran which eliminates the ability to determine your own future. There's even a joke about it at the beginning. Keel's character says, "If everything is written, why get up in the morning?". In classic Western dramas the hero or heroinne take action to save the day. In this story, everything happens randomly or by "fate" which is what the title refers to. Keel sings a song called "Fate" too. It might be accurate in terms of the Eastern worldview but it doesn't make for good drama. It's just pure luck that things work out in the end. I'm used to the protagonist doing something rather than letting things happen to them.

However, if you accept the premise there are enough show stopping dance numbers and tunes
for entertainment. The garish color and sets did make me feel I was in a legit theater back then.
Again I must emphasize that this is not a musical in the convensional sense of the genre. It's not
"Singin' in the Rain" or "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers". If you expect that type of film with
lots of camera movement and snazzy editing you'll be disappointed. In most songs the camera
just sits there while the performer does their number for the audience. However it you want to pretend
you're sitting in a legit theater and watching an old fashioned Broadway 'show', you'll have a good
time with this picture.

Here's a historical footnote. This was the first CinemaScope film to be presented in the 2.35 x 1
ratio and 'mag/optical' format. The earlier scope films had a 2.55 x 1 ratio since there was no
optical track on the print and they used the entire silent film ratio with the anamorphic squeeze.
Inside and outside the sprockets were four magnetic sound stripes for the stereophonic audio.
This limited bookings to theaters since most cinemas only had mono optical sound. MGM decided
to expand potential exhibition by including the optical track along with the magnetic stripes on
the same print. The extra width necessary for the optical track reduced the width to 2.35 x 1.
The other studios, including Fox, adapted this change as did the Panavision company. After 1955
all anamorphic movies were 2.35 rather than 2.55. The image on this anamorphically enhanced
disc looks better than most CinemaScope films released on standard DVD but still lacks the
superior sharpness of Panavision features and has those grainy opticals (fades, dissolves, titles).
I look forward to a high definition transfer some day because CinemaScope needs all the help
it can get. The lenses just weren't that good.

In the language options they offer the original 4 track stereo mix along with a revised 5.1 audio
mix. I like the fact that you have these two choices. I personally prefer the 5.1 mix which contains
more rear channel surrounds including music cues and more background crowds. However, if you
want to experience exactly what audiences heard decades ago you have the 4 track version although
the rear channel is used less frequently.

The suppliments include a funny trailer shot on set with Howard Keel introducing his character
within the context of the narrative. There is also a short on Gettysburg. Although both were
shot in the CinemaScope ratio, they are only letterboxed and not anamorphically enhanced.
There's also a flat cartoon by Tex Avery and two clips from "The MGM Parade" regarding this
movie. It was a strage show. Basically an infomercial pitching the latest product from the studio.
It's amusing in that they pretend the office Keel is being interviewed in is a real one rather than
a set. I always enjoy 'on set' trailers. Robert Preston did a similar one for "The Music Man"
and Hitchcock was famous for his tongue in cheek coming attractions like the "Psycho" trailer
where he takes you on a tour of the Bates mansion.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 04-13-08 at 03:48 PM.
Richard W. Haines is offline  


dvd , kismet , review , standard

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