The Blue Bird
Kino // G // $29.95 // September 6, 2005
Review by Matt Langdon | posted August 5, 2005
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Graphical Version
The Blue Bird is a delightful silent children's fairy tale made in 1918.

Based on a play of the same title by Maurice Maeterlinck it is about two children who enter a fantasy world in their dreams where they are accosted by a witch-like woman named Berylune who insists that they go fetch the blue bird [or 'bluebird' as the intertitles say].

The two children - a girl and boy named Mytyle and Tytyle - are joined by various colorful characters including a fairy, and spirits and souls such as the Spirit of Water, The Soul of Sugar, et al, along with their pet dog and cat that take on human form. With these characters they fly away to the fairy palace where they hope to retrieve the bluebird.

The film was directed by Maurice Tourneur who captures the fantastic world by employing a whole host of cinematic tricks including superimposition, scenes shot backward and edited forward, German Expressionist-type lighting and color tinting.

Once the children reach the palace they begin to look for the bluebird. While doing this they encounter various worlds that seem there to teach them a lesson. The children first meet Mother Night who reluctantly gives them a key to a bunch of doors she has in her domain. Behind the doors they meet dead souls, ghosts and scary creatures that haunt the Earth.

Then Mytyle and Tytyle go to a different area of this fantastic world and meet their deceased grandparents. They too meet up with all of their dead brothers and sisters - [a scene that really typifies how different the world was then]. Later they go to the Palace of Happiness where they run into a whole host of decadent characters as well as a bunch of unborn children. [A scene that would most likely have political overtones if it were done today].

Some of the characters and scenarios actually reminded me of The Wizard of Oz - especially the dog character who looks like the Cowardly Lion and the soul of sugar who has a similar looks a bit like the Tin Man. The film itself similarly has the main characters in a parallel world where they learn about their lives through a mysterious journey.

The Blue Bird has a lot of intertitles leading us along the way and it begins to feel a bit long - especially when the moral lesson about selflessness becomes apparent. It too has a slower pace than we are accustomed to today. For that reason I'm not sure some kids would appreciate it. But, still, it is a real delight to watch because of the inventive scenarios that director Tourneur comes up with in each scene. It's also good clean fun.

Filmmaker Maurice Tourneur made a good number of silent films, which have been all but forgotten. It's too bad because he was a talented filmmaker. The Blue Bird is a fine film that shows his skills as a filmmaker and is more than worth a look.

Video:
Presented full frame [1.33:1] the film image really shows it's age. In particular the film has a lot of deterioration that, in some scenes, completely affects and changes the image. While this is certainly unlike the film was in 1918 the deterioration does have an interesting aesthetic that adds it's own magical element. The film also uses blue, green, red, yellow and sepia color tinting to impressive affect. The transfer seems to be fine. The colors are not sharp but they look good.

Audio:
The film is silent but there is a musical score, in stereo, by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra that captures the fantasy element as well as the silent film era perfectly.

Extras:
There are three extras. The first is Excerpts from the original play. They are Act 1 and Act V Scene 3 of the play. Each are a good number of video text screens and are interesting to read and compare with the movie. Next is the original movie review from the New York Times and then a short bio and complete filmography of director Maurice Tourneur. The chapter selections are accompanied by live scene shots.

Overall:
The Blue Bird is a well made and enjoyable silent film fairy tale. Shot in inventive style it is closer to a Melies film than a Lumiere or Griffith film and should be seen by anyone who loves silent film and/or anyone interested in children's films of the past. The extras are modest and the DVD quality is good - considering the age of the print, which is deteriorated but still glorious.



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