but first, a prologue.
AMMI's Glorious Technicolor! Series - which is fantastic, by the way - kicked off on Nov 17 with a double feature introduced by Wesleyan film professor Scott Higgins. The series is in conjunction with the publication of Scott's book Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow (which I wrote about briefly here).
Becky Sharp was the first film shown (preceded by The 1932 Disney short Flowers and Trees).
Note: I had written up some notes on Becky Sharp, but they've disappeared. Keep an eye on the comments here and I may write them up again in briefer form.
Trail of the Lonesome Pine, though, was a revelation. Starring Sylvia Sidney, Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda, it's a romantic drama set amongst feuding families in an isolated rural area that begin to encounter the outside world via a railway company's interest in their land. Sidney is captivating, and both male leads are impressive, already fully inhabiting their screen personae. With assured script and direction, this is an effectively stirring classical Hollywood drama that, sadly, is on the verge of being lost (the print we saw of this rare film was from a private collection). Lonesome Pine is notable for its restraint where color is concerned. Instead of using color to paint emotion or abstraction, the palatte here is full of desaturated browns and greens. The color score bursts out at a few moments, however, to punctuate drama and emphasize the centrality of Sidney's character (A 'color score' is like a musical score that uses color design rather than sound). Trail of the Lonesome Pine is impressive for its natural, understated use of color, and also for the success of its drama.
The film shares some strange cultural points of contact with Shohei Imamura's The Profound Desire of the Gods, itself about the tension between isolated rural mores and the encroachment of technological modernity. In both films the railroad brings 'progress,' which brings a different set of concerns and a total shift in social mores among the formerly-isolated residents. Both films are ambivalent toward 'progress,' but this progress is in both cases portrayed as inevitable. The forces of economy march forward, changing the landscape through a series of individual actions by the people to be affected. Trail of the Lonesome Pine is a love story, a story of loss, and a story about the dissolution of a community and its rebirth as something entirely new.