Saturday, September 01, 2007
cinema obscura: Otto Preminger's "Porgy and Bess" (1959)
Otto Preminger's long-suppressed 1959 film version of George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" will receive rare showings on September 26th and 27th at New York's Ziegfeld Theater, 141 West 54th Street.
It's not clear who's behind the screenings. It's most likely the Gershwin estate which controls the film and not Columbia Pictures, which originally released the Sam Goldwyn production. And so, by extention, the condition of the print that will be screened is also not clear. I've heard nothing about the film being restored. So will the film be projected in Todd-AO or traditional 'scope? Your guess is as good as mine.
Apparently, the screenings have something to do with Otto Preminger's centennial.
Preminger, whose work I adore, was not the original director of "Porgy and Bess." Goldwyn had initially enlisted the equally great Rouben Mamoulian, who staged the original 1935 production on Broadway. Mamoulian, who will forever be honored for his "Love Me Tonight" (1932), among many others, apparently wanted location shooting, but Goldwyn favored the soundstage arena. Reportedly, all that's left of Mamoulian's work is the "Good Morning, Sistuh" number at the beginning of the final scene.
According to Wikipedia, the film "was broadcast on network television only once, on the night of March 5th, 1967, on ABC-TV. It has not been seen in its entirety on network TV since, although clips have been shown on some of the American Film Institute specials. Ira Gershwin and the Gershwin estate were unhappy with the film, and rescinded the rights to it in the 1970s. As a result, the film has never been on video or DVD, and few public screenings have been permitted, albeit begrudgingly. It is believed that the original negative is in dire need of a restoration."
Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge, who play the title roles, had voices dubbed in songs. Robert McFerrin and Adele Addison, respectively. Diahann Carroll, although an accomplished singer, had her voice dubbed for the role of Clara by Loulie Jean Norman.
Wikipedia adds: "The film cut much of the music, turning the musical recitatives into spoken dialogue, as was done in the 1942 Broadway revival of the show. Gershwin's original underscoring, which is heard constantly in the opera during the recitatives as well as the two fight scenes, was not used, having been replaced by Andre Previn's own. (Previn adapted and conducted the music for the film.)"
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: Brock Peters, Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier elevating Preminger's "Porgy and Bess"; Rouben Mamoulian, who directed the original stage production and almost directed the film)