April 06, 2005

Lost Valentino film premieres in Netherlands after 75 years

AMSTERDAM - Many pining looks, a story of forbidden love, whirlwind changes of scenery and costumes were revealed after more than 75 years when a long lost silent film featuring Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson was shown in Amsterdam.

The only known copy of the 1922 classic "Beyond the Rocks", with an imaginative and playful new score by Dutch composer Henny Vrienten, premiered in style at Amsterdam's art deco Tuschinski theatre to mark the start of the Filmmuseum's Biennal festival.

"Beyond the Rocks" tells the story of the young Theodora Fitzgerald (Swanson) who is forced to marry an older man but falls in love with the dashing aristocrat Lord Bracondale, played by Valentino, while on her honeymoon.

For over three quarters of a century, movie critics and historians had been looking for the film directed by Sam Woods (1883-1949)-- the only one in which Valentino and Swanson starred together.

One of the first ever screen legends, Valentino was a huge star in the early 1920s and is remembered as the ultimate "Latin lover".

Swanson was one of the most popular actresses of the 1920s but is best known for her role as Norma Raymond in the 1950 movie "Sunset Boulevard".

In muted brown tints "Beyond the Rocks" shows Swanson and Valentino moving from England to the Alps to Paris and back to England only to land in a spectacular final act in the North African desert. The thin plot seems mostly designed to allow the stars to change into a maximum of different costumes.

Even though some of the sets seem hilariously fake by today's standards -- cardboard mountains and castles painted on the backdrop-- "Beyond the Rocks" does show why Swanson and Valentino were the undisputed stars of the silent era. Of course, there is some overacting and theatrical clutching of chests, but generally they convey their characters' emotions with restraint and subtle looks.

All known copies of "Beyond the Rocks" were lost in the late 1920s.

In her 1980 autobiography "Swanson on Swanson" Gloria Swanson wrote: "The same sad questions are always asked: Does anyone know of a print anywhere of "Beyond The Rocks", the film Rudy Valentino made with me in 1921?"

In 2000 the first fragments of the long-lost film were found in a collection left to the museum by a deceased film collector.

"We had over 2,000 rusty canisters with film fragments. In 2000 we found the first part of "Beyond the Rocks" and during the next two years we kept finding parts when finally in 2003 we found the final missing fragment, the opening credits," Geke Roelink of the Filmmuseum told AFP.

Experts from the museum reassembled the pieces and copied the film so it could be viewed with the projectors used today. Roelink stressed that the film had not been restored other than to digitally remove scratches and blotches.

In some scenes you can clearly see how the chemicals have eaten into the celluloid but generally the movie is in good condition.

"It is remarkable, considering how it was stored," Roelink said.

The version that was found by the Filmmuseum was a special export version, which is racier than the American original.

"We shot each kiss twice, once for the version to be released in America and once for the European version. Poor Rudy could hardly get his nostrils flaring before the American version was over. Only Europeans and South Americans could see Swanson and Valentino engage in any honest-to-goodness torrid kisses," Swanson wrote in her autobiography.

"Beyond the Rocks" will be shown in Dutch theatres from May 26 and the international distribution will be done by American distributor Milestone who plans to screen the movie in US theatres in October this year.

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