Mater Dolorosa (1917)

There was a discussion recently at ICheckMovies about how the visual quality of whatever copy of a film we’re watching affects our enjoyment of it. Bit late now, but I could’ve used this as an example. I presume the Youtube copy I found was taken from the Grapevine disc, which uses what I presume was a 16mm print of the American release version (called The Torture of Silence). It’s good enough (albeit just) to show that, in 1917, this film must’ve been a thing of some visual beauty, and a print from the original negative would probably have looked stunning. But if I could see such a thing, would I feel any less unkind towards the film as I do having watched this version? I don’t know but I doubt it. I’m not sure the putative visual beauty of an original print would help me overlook the wretchedness of the story; woman has affair with husband’s “best friend”, marital strife ensues and hubby takes their child that resulted from said adultery away from her. Dennis Grunes notes that in the original French version the “best friend” was in fact her brother-in-law, which is… a bit of a change, shall we say. (I find his assertion that the film is “burdened with the ugliest little boy in cinema” quite baffling, though.) This is a film I’d likely never have watched, nor heard of in the first place, if Abel Gance weren’t the director, and were he not better known for the films he made after it… and Gance could do melodrama, J’accuse and La roue are nothing if not that, but it didn’t work here… it’s too small a story compared to those two films and it’s not as well-played as them either; there’s little if any indication of Gance’s later sense of scale. Disappointing, however nice it might’ve looked 95 years ago.

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