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Milestone Film & Video presents
"Come, smile, my child. This is the day of your last Temple dance. Soon you will wear the bridal sarong."
DVD ReviewDuring the 1930s, there was a great increase in interest in the cultures of the South Seas; perhaps the despair of the Great Depression made the simple life of dancing in the sunshine seem irresistible. The island of Bali came to particular attention, more than probably due to the lack of clothing worn by the young women as they performed those dances. Hollywood turned its eye to the South Seas as well; F.W. Murnau had taken a film crew to Tahiti to shoot Tabu (1931), while Goona Goona (1932), shot in Bali, made a huge amount of money. Henri de la Falaise, husband of actress Constance Bennett (not to mention ex-husband of Gloria Swanson) did Murnau one better by hauling a Technicolor crew to Bali to shoot this romance that also happens to be a ethnographic classic.
Young Poutou, a dancer in the Temple, is the daughter of Gousti Bagus. One day she sees the handsome Nyong and immediately falls in love with him. When he reciprocates, Poutou is overjoyed and tells her father she can no longer dance the sacred Legong dance as a virgin, since she will be marrying Nyong. Gousti is pleased, but warns Poutou about giving her heart too readily. That's good advice, for when Nyong is on his way to see Poutou, he runs across Poutou's attractive sister Saplak bathing. Unknowing that Nyong's heart is going elsewhere, Poutou announces that this will be her final dance, setting herself up for humiliation.
The plot is pretty flimsy, but that's certainly not the main attraction here. That attractions are the visuals and the peek at Javanese life. The film is particularly important for capturing the splendor of the costumes, dances and decorations of the temples in Technicolor before they became spoiled by commercialization. Viewed from this perspective, it's a fascinating piece of anthropology The limitations of two-strip Technicolor (which includes red and green only, and cannot reproduce blue well) aren't readily apparent due to the lush green jungles and the golds and reds of the costumes.
The actors are all natives, who manage to convey more or less convincing portrayals of their thinly-outlined characters. They're essentially playing themselves, for the most part. This was one of the last silent feature films to be released commercially (as well as one of the last two-strip Technicolor features). This helps with the performances, since the story can be conveyed through intertitles. The intertitles themselves are gorgeous works of art, created by noted Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, with their stylized and striking ornamentation.
Legong was heavily censored after release, with British prints cutting out the cockfighting sequences and the American prints the nudity (which must have made for extremely short programs, not to mention furiously disappointed titillation-seekers). This DVD uses the UCLA restoration of the film incorporating three different prints from three continents to produce a complete, uncut version of the film.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture generally looks quite good for its age; the two-strip Technicolor is often striking in its vividness. The source prints have seen some wear, however, and there's minor damage throughout. It's nothing that would make it unwatchable, however, and once you get used to the frequent speckling and minor scratching it's hardly noticeable. The bonus features are in pretty good shape, considering Kliou only survives in a single 16mm print. Gods of Bali generally looks quite nice, with good greyscale and decent black levels.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The disc features two 2.0 mono audio tracks. The first is a period musical track that has the anticipated noise and crackle throughout and suffers from extreme tinniness. But it's there for authenticity's sake. A new audio track has been composed by Richard Marriott and I Made Subandi and is performed by members of Gamelan Sekar Jaya and the Club Foot Orchestra. This percussive and exotic-sounding track sounds quite fine, with zero problems of any kind, though it is recorded at fairly high volume levels. For some reason, the tracks are not switchable on the fly.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
A 15m:27s interview with the composers delves into their collaborational process and also includes footage of performance of a portion of the score. DVD ROM extras include a press kit from Milestone that adds biographical information about de la Falaise and Constance Bennett (who acted as producer of his films), as well as background. Although the keepcase promises an article by ethnomusicologist Katherine Hagedorn and film historian Peter Bloom, I wasn't able to find it.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsAlthough the plot's not much, this is a visual feast both in the photography and subject matter. And you can hardly sneeze at two additional features for extras.
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