Ed note: For the next several weeks, composer and film aficionado Lewis Saul has agreed to supply us with in-depth commentary about the films of Akira Kurosawa, now showing in an extended festival at the Film Forum. Even if you're unable to stop by the Forum, we think Lew's insights will deepen your appreciation of these important movies.
PLAYING on January 31st and February 1st at The Film Forum
This is Kurosawa's 17th film.
(The above link will take you to the Google Books 1922 edition ~ I love reading old editions.)
Criterion has done us a wonderful favor here: two really good films based on the Gorky play in one package! Although I don't intend to review the Renoir version here and now, let me state for the record that it's a pretty darn good film! Not as good as Kurosawa's version (imho) but a nice entry in the Renoir canon ...
So read the original (a very easy read!) and then compare both cinematic versions! Kurosawa's version is startlingly faithful to the original -- unlike his Shakespeare adaptations (Macbeth/Throne of Blood, Hamlet/The Bad Sleep Well and King Lear/Ran) very little is either added or removed from the 1902 play. (You may recall that in Hakuchi (The Idiot) , he tried to remain equally faithfully to the original Dostoyevsky, but was thwarted by the studio's insistence on making massive cuts to the film.)
The DVD packaging is quite clever; both the case and booklet are printed so that you have to turn the whole thing upside-down to read the other version! (Buy it, you'll see!)
There are two things about this film that have always fascinated me: one, that it is such a perfect ensemble piece -- there is no star, no character who is more important than another. Secondly, that it is so much fun to watch this film!!
This is a film about a bunch of really really really poor people who live in a really shitty little house together (90% of the film takes place in one room!) and bitch and fight with one another and they sing and dance and die. The End.