Disraeli is the first film I’ve had to work somewhat circuitously to find and watch because of how old it is and how it has fallen through the proverbial crack in terms of modernization. Barring some deep web hunting, this film has never been released digitally, which meant that I would need both the VHS physical copy and the physical place to play the film. Without university support, I think that both of these would have been far more difficult than my time allows. Several key questions continue to circle the eventual completion and thesis attention of The Academy Nominees Project:
- For films that have been mostly lost or partially archived on the West Coast, is it worth the posterity to travel? I will most likely leave these films for last and with 400+ posts under my belt, I hope that credence alone will allow me to get into UCLA’s film archive. It’s a big if.
- In a quasi-corollary, should I not be able to complete this, is synopsis and gravitational review work enough from which to draw succinct opinion? The obvious answer is no, because the aesthetic of watching the film adds as much to the theory as the actual film, but the practical answer is yes because no one really reads this (yet!) and I’m certain the films in question are not particularly groundbreaking – thought they may be.
- The point of ANP is to demonstrate a cohesive, approximately 300,000 word grand thesis on the relevance of film to culture, contemporary societal behavior and idea breathing through the near hundred years of Academy presence. I’m not sure it means anything, but I’m also not sure it doesn’t either, so onward.
So the work put into obtaining a perfect copy of Disraeli became part of its thesis and in terms of film-making, worth the effort because while dated and contextually grating, the film is too a testament to an epoch by those who lived it. Mr. George Arliss is illuminating production notwithstanding. Seeing as he was alive, though young, at the same time as the 1870s’ British Prime Minister breathes a freshness and authenticity into his work as Mr. Arliss seemed to take pride in country to heart and pride in cheek to levels of charm and wit understated. His work is foiled somewhat by the rather strictness in his supporting cast, who had apparently taken English Stoicism as a mandate. The airiness in Mr. Arliss’ light-footed portrayal is the best example of why I have to watch all these films; a story about Suez Canal faux pas is uninteresting in and of itself.
Disraeli, and pre-1931 film in general, shares composition with later Academy structure, post-1944, five-film competition, but for different reasons, so again context matters. Certainly, several hundred films, amateur and professional, are disintegrating in the vastness of nothingness, but of the ones that had financial backing, widespread release and appropriate conservation, it would have been difficult to pick more than the five films for simple lack of supply. As a conjecture, it makes sense to undercut this with a discussion of quality versus quantity, wherein there lies an obvious argument for both sides. But the structure of a five-film Best Picture category also allows for contained discussion in context, where a nine- or ten-film structure necessarily loses coherence due to user attention span or clarity in direction. We have a better idea about the state of 1929/30 because of the contained structure, but we also lose some of the comprehensiveness that might have been relevant for a posterity of completeness. Take your pick.
All Quiet on the Western Front took home top honors at the 3rd Academy Awards, but the Pre-Hays work in The Big House, The Divorcee and The Love Parade add to Disraeli‘s attempt to document the years before morals were Morals, but instead regulated by exogenous forces spilled over from Propriety of Decades’ Past. All Quiet on the Western Front as a harrowing Great War commentary (remember this is pre-WWII) is most remembered today, again either as a product of or an input into film lore. Luckily, all these films are available…at least on VHS.