(aka 'Backwash')

Directed by Frank Borzage
USA 1929

 

The River, of which the central theme is desire, is the most erotic film of the silent cinema. Wreathed with the laurels of worldwide success and with an Oscar for 7th Heaven, American filmmaker of Italo-Swiss origin, Frank Borzage (1894-1962) conceived this work with complete artistic freedom. The immense natural sets were built in the open-air on a lot at Fox Film in Westwood, Los Angeles.

The initial situation is of an Eden-like simplicity: the initiation into love of a male virgin, a man of the woods coming into contact with a mysterious female urbanite about whom we learn but little, other than that she "has lived life to the full" and that she is always monitored by the crow belonging to her lover who was imprisoned for murder. There follow the hazards of seduction and refusal, ruses and inhibitions, endless desires confessed, with many hitches, right up to metamorphosis into love. The whole narrative unfolds on the banks of a river which reveals the nudity of the bodies (sex), the mortal perils of the vortex (passion), the purification and promise of a harmonious fulfillment (the sea.)

When it first came out the film was pursued by misfortune: not quite knowing how to promote it, Fox disguised the work with a musical prologue and a spoken word ending, filmed behind the back of the cineaste (the 'talkie' version was unseen outside of the United States). The strong sensuality of the images shocked puritan America: The River was forbidden a screening in many States and a tacit consensus limited its distribution. Many newspapers passed over the film in silence, boycotted the publicity, and even the « New York Times » only granted it a small, embarrassed paragraph.

In Europe the reception was warmer and the French movie-goers, amongst them the young Marcel Carné, praised the film to the skies (7 weeks exclusive in Paris). The surrealist milieus around André Breton saw in this Woman With Raven, as which the film was distributed in France, more true audaciousness and insight than in the entire French avant-garde. For the duration of the season, the disturbing Mary Duncan (1895-1993) provoked flights of fantasy under the same heading as Louise Brooks. Then the film disappeared, became a legend. It is rumoured to have been lost, just like the other mythic title from Fox, Murnau's 4 Devils filmed at the same time.

Excerpt from Hervé Dumont comments at the Film Museum website located HERE

Posters

Theatrical Release: October 6th, 1929

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DVD Review: Film Museum (2-disc) - Region 0 - PAL

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Distribution Film Museum 36 - Region 0 - PAL
Runtime 54:24 
Video 1.29:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.51 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:  Disc 1

Bitrate:  Disc2

Audio Silent - music in Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles English or German intertitles, optional French subtitles
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Film Museum

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.29:1

Edition Details:

DVD 1
• The River 1929, 55'
• Murnau and Borzage at Fox - The Expressionist Heritage 2007, 36'
• Stills and production stills from The River
• Rare original documents about the film and Frank Borzage's early films as PC ROM feature
DVD 2
• The Pitch o'Chance 1915, 25'
• The Pilgrim 1916, 28'
• Nugget Jim's Pardner 1916, 25'
• Music accompaniment by Günter A. Buchwald (grand piano, violin and viola)
• Production stills showing Frank Borzage as actor and director in the beginning of his career

DVD Release Date: January, 200
8
Transparent Keep Case

 

Comments:

As stated on the Film Museum website HERE:

"This DVD is an attempt at reconstruction taking as its departure the fragment of 43 minutes (of a total of 84) discovered by William K. Everson and Alex Gordon at 20th Century-Fox, augmented with a clip from the Swedish censors which did not feature in the rediscovered original. A viewing of these images confirms that what we have here is not just a major work of Borzage but one of the unknown summits of the silent cinema. In order to totally restore the plot, the missing parts (the first and the last reels as well as two segments in the middle of the film) are represented by photos from the private collection of the filmmaker deposited at the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles and others from a variety of film archives as well as with texts inspired by the original scenario which is to be found at the UCLA Film and Television Archive."

What with the recent announcement of the December 08's releases of Murnau, Borzage, & Fox Boxset (12-disc) - Sunrise (1927), City Girl (1930), Borzage films: Lazybones (1925), Seventh Heaven (1928), Street Angel (1928), Lucky Star (1929), They Had to See Paris (1929), Liliom (1930), Song O' My Heart (1930), Bad Girl (1931), After Tomorrow (1932) and Young America (1932) it is truly a time for silent, nay all serious. film fans to rejoice.

As for this Film Museum package - these are two single-layered DVDs and the film restoration attempt is very much appreciated. What is offered is:

Disc one: The River - USA 1929 - Directed by: Frank Borzage - Written by: Philip Klein, Dwight Cummins, based on the novel by Tristram Tupper - Cinematography by: Ernest Palmer - Cast: Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, Ivan Linow, Margaret Mann, Alfred Sabato - Produced by: Fox Film Corp. - Premiere: October 6, 1929

The extra feature: Murnau and Borzage at Fox - The Expressionist Heritage - USA 2007 - Directed and written by: Janet Bergstrom - Edited by: Karen Smalley - Sound edited by: Devin McNulty - Produced by: Cinémathèque de la Ville de Luxembourg - First release on DVD

NOTE: We expect this will be duplicated on the Murnau, Borzage, & Fox Boxset.

On Disc 2: The Pitch o' Chance - USA 1915 - Directed and written by: Frank Borzage - Cinematography by: L. Guy Wilky - Cast: Helen Rosson, Frank Borzage, Jack Richardson, Lizette Thorne - Produced by: Mustang Features - Premiere: December 24, 1915

The Pilgrim - USA 1916 - Directed by: Frank Borzage - Written by: Edward A. Kaufman - Cinematography by: L. Guy Wilky - Cast: Frank Borzage, Anna Little, Jack Richardson, Dick La Reno, Mary Gladding - Produced by: Mustang Features - Premiere: June 9, 1916

Nugget Jim's Pardner - USA 1916 - Directed and written by: Frank Borzage - Cinematography by: L. Guy Wilky - Cast: Anna Little, Frank Borzage, Dick La Reno, Jack Farrell - Produced by: Mustang Features - Premiere: July 14, 1916.

Both discs have some brilliant looking stills galleries included.

Pretty much an essential package that will get some justifiable votes in our year-end tally - one of the greatest silent films ever made. Such a pleasure to see - even in this incomplete form. 

Gary W. Tooze

 



DVD Menus


Disc 2

 


Intertitle Samples

 

 


 

Screen Captures

 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 

 


 

 


 

 

 


 

 


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Distribution Film Museum Home Video - Region 0 - PAL




 

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