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Warner Home Video presents
George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1985)

"Life is a journey. And it's always most interesting when you're not sure where you're going."
- George Stevens

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: July 15, 2005

Stars: Jean Arthur, Fred Astaire, Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Rock Hudson, Sam Jaffe, Alan Ladd, Joel McCrea, Fred MacMurray, Jack Palance, Millie Perkins, Ginger Rogers, Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Max Von Sydow, Shelley Winters, Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, John Huston, Rouben Mamoulian, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Alan J. Pakula, Fred Zinnemann
Director: George Stevens, Jr.

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (disturbing images from German concentration camps)
Run Time: 01h:52m:21s
Release Date: December 07, 2004
UPC: 012569468023
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B D

DVD Review

You may not know the man, but you surely know his films. Shane, Giant, Alice Adams, Swing Time, Gunga Din, Woman of the Year, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and, my personal favorite, A Place in the Sun—enduring classics distinguished by meticulous craftsmanship, a compassionate heart, and a probing mind forever seeking human truths. For 30 years, George Stevens was one of Hollywood's foremost directors, and his two Oscars stand as a testament to his talent and the respect he so deservedly earned from his peers. Yet unlike his showier, auteur colleagues, Stevens disappears inside his films, intently focusing on the nuances of story and character, while often guiding his actors to performances of immeasurable power and depth.

Twenty years ago, Stevens' son, producer George Stevens, Jr., compiled a heartfelt tribute to his father, chronicling his cinematic legacy and the personal experiences that shaped it. A Filmmaker's Journey perceptively and lyrically charts Stevens' professional life, from his humble beginnings as a cameraman during the silent era to his two-reel comedies featuring Laurel & Hardy to his three-decade tenure as one of America's most successful and influential directors. (His technical achievements include pioneering the slow dissolve, and adding complexity to sound mixes to enhance dramatic impact.) Yet it's the personal anecdotes that make this exceptional documentary resonate, as the younger Stevens shines a beacon on his dad's unwavering integrity and quiet strength. By the time A Filmmaker's Journey concludes, it's impossible not to admire George Stevens, both as a director and a man.

I remember raving about A Filmmaker's Journey upon its initial release in 1985, and time has not dulled my enthusiasm for it. It remains one of the finest film documentaries ever made, largely because it so seamlessly blends personal intimacy with substantive issues, enlightening interviews, and a cavalcade of classic film clips. An impressive array of Hollywood's elite eagerly share their memories of Stevens—Katharine Hepburn (who was instrumental in giving Stevens his first big break), Fred Astaire, Warren Beatty, studio executive Pandro S. Berman, and fellow directors John Huston, Fred Zinnemann, Joseph Mankiewicz, Rouben Mamoulian, and Frank Capra. In addition to recalling Stevens' work ethic, deft comedic touch, and artistry, they detail how this hulking yet soft-spoken man took on Cecil B. DeMille and the Hollywood establishment, inspiring reason during the rabid Communist witch hunts that plagued the film industry during the McCarthy era.

Rare home movies shot on the sets of his films show off Stevens' lighter side, but without question the documentary's most affecting (and fascinating) sequence chronicles Stevens' service during World War II. Tapped by General Eisenhower to record on film the Allied invasion of Europe and liberation of Paris, Stevens brought along his trusty personal camera and shot what would become the only surviving color footage of the European ground war. These moving and, at times, gut-wrenching images (seen publicly for the first time here) bring the carnage, bloodshed, and courageous spirit of World War II to life, lending the conflict an immediacy black-and-white newsreels could never capture. Though Stevens' complete color war footage can be examined in the subsequently produced and highly worthwhile documentary, George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin, what's included here—especially the stark, brutal scenes shot just after the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp—is unforgettable.

Of course, film buffs will revel in the lengthy clips from Stevens' movies, many of which recall iconic moments from Hollywood's Golden Age—an oil-soaked James Dean confronting nemesis Rock Hudson on the porch of his sprawling ranch in Giant; Alan Ladd impressing a young Brandon DeWilde with his lightning quick draw in Shane; Sam Jaffe bravely sounding the call to warn British troops of a deadly ambush in Gunga Din; and a ravishing 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor imploring Montgomery Clift to "tell Mama all" in A Place in the Sun. Through these excerpts, we see Stevens evolve from a romantic to a realist, shifting from social comedy to movies that explore darker, more complex elements of character. As he grows up, so do we, and his insights ultimately become ours.

A Filmmaker's Journey honors Stevens' achievements, but it's much more than a one-man edition of That's Entertainment!. With grace and simplicity, the documentary profiles a talented, deeply sensitive man who lent a sense of truth to an art form based on fantasy. It would have been easy for George Stevens, Jr. to canonize his dad, but he smartly avoids the trap. Direct and honest, this inspiring tribute keeps Stevens human, like his best film work.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Warner provides a perfectly acceptable transfer, featuring a clear image, nice color, and minimal surface defects. Some noticeable grain makes the 20-year-old film look its age, but also preserves the documentary feel, and all the film clips—from the 1930s through the 1960s—enjoy fine clarity and vibrancy.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The mono track gets the job done, with narration and interviews always easily understandable, and Carl Davis' beautiful music score possesses lovely depth and presence. Some mild surface noise permeates a few of the earliest film clips, but never distracts or annoys.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The only extra offered is a brief, text-based biography of Stevens. Outtake interviews with some of the actors and directors with whom Stevens worked, or a featurette with George Stevens, Jr. discussing his experiences making the film would have been fascinating, but unfortunately are not included.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

One of the finest film documentaries ever made, George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey honors one of Hollywood's preeminent craftsmen with grace, warmth, and a rare intimacy that immerses us in the director's life and work. Anyone who appreciates classic film will be transfixed by this moving and insightful tribute that salutes both a superb director and a great man. Highly recommended.

 


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