This is actually a very good time to be a fan of classic cinema. While we bemoan the lack of older films on broadcast television and the dying breed of retro houses, we often overlook the fact that DVDs are offering beautifully restored classics with wonderful extras.
Companies like Milestone Film and Video go even further. They offer up important silent films that would otherwise be resting in archives upon their discovery, being pampered with temperature controlled storage, but not immediately accessible to the general public.
Milestone has now released the long elusive drama "Beyond The Rocks," a 1922 romantic drama based on a novel by Elinor Glyn, and starring silent screen icons Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson.
Having a decades-long reputation as one of the maddeningly lost films of the silent era, a lone nitrate print of "Beyond The Rocks" was recently found among the effects of a deceased Dutch film collector. This collector had thousands of reels of films cooking away in rusted cans. The Nederlands Filmmuseum was alerted and made the wonderful discovery that "Beyond The Rocks" was among this man’s possessions.
The condition of the print was quite poor, and the restoration process was very difficult. When one considers that this is the only existing print of "Beyond The Rocks," (the camera negative no longer exists) and the level of its condition when found, it is truly amazing how wonderfully restored it appears on the DVD, including the original tints. Only two brief sequences were so completely destroyed, they had to be jettisoned.
"Beyond the Rocks" is not an particularly significant cinematic achievement for either of its stars, or its director Sam Wood ("Goodbye Mr. Chips," "A Night at the Opera"). It is, however, an entertaining Hollywood romantic drama and adds to the filmography of two very important cinematic legends, featuring both Valentino and Swanson at the height of their careers. The extras on this disc are particularly impressive. First, there is an introduction by Martin Scorsese who explains the importance of any film discovery, and the rarity of two stars the magnitude of Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson appearing together in the same film — a practice that did not become commonplace until the talkies. Also, included is a delightful 54 minute feature from 1919 entitled "Dirty Little Devil" with Valentino and Mae Marsh. There is a fascinating film for Dutch television, first broadcast in April, 2004, which details how "Beyond The Rocks" was found among the effects of the deceased collector, and some background on how this man hoarded, but did not care for, so many films. Elife Rongen-Kaynakci of the Nederlands Filmmuseum details the excitement of the discovery, while people who were familiar with the collector are also interviewed. Another intriguing extra features Giovanna Fossati, who is responsible for the restoration process, giving an informative and enlightening look at the painstaking methods of a practice so important to cinema’s history. Some brief footage shows composer Henny Vrienten working on his beautiful score for the DVD. Perhaps the two most impressive extras, especially for persons interested in Gloria Swanson’s work, are the extensive gallery of stills from her personal collection, and an 85 minute wire recording of Ms. Swanson that has not been heard before inclusion on this DVD.
The fact that so much of cinema’s history has been lost to the ravages of time, it is a of tremendous importance when any lost film is discovered. And since "Beyond The Rocks" is nothing more than a delightfully entertaining romantic drama, and not so deep and fulfilling as "Sunrise" or "The Gold Rush," it could very well have ended up quietly archived. That Milestone Film and Video has made it available on DVD is cause for celebration, and a reminder that it is, indeed, a good time for those of us who truly care about the moving picture’s rich history being accessible to the masses.