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"Chang"!


CaveGirl
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Proving again that the combined talents of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack always create a visual masterpiece, TCM is showing the immortal film “Chang” early Friday morning, May 27, 2016. If I had planned surgery, I would cancel it just to be able to view this masterpiece one more time having seen it previously on the big screen.
 

“Chang” is the simple story of humans living their lives surrounded by jungle and wild animals, and how some decisions can impact a whole village, The later stages of devastation incurred by the village and Chang himself are a natural extension of his actions. It is said that even though some scenes were staged, that mostly Cooper and Schoedsack tried to allow nature to run its course in a cinema verite way, to the extent that while filming, Schoedsack  often had to be protected from harm by Cooper brandishing a rifle to keep the wildlife at bay. How many directors today would be so daring just to get things filmed. Reminds one a lot of their boy, Denham himself in "King Kong" does it not?

 

The title “Chang” supposedly comes from the word for elephant. The film is beautifully shot and in most versions has hand-tinted settings. There is a small section of the opening to be found on Youtube I think, if anyone is intriqued.
 

Filmed in Siam, it was a hard shoot and the lead, Kru being a true inhabitant of the lifestyle depicted, gave the directors many examples of his typical everyday life for the camera. If one enjoyed and appreciated films like Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North” or Murnau’s “Tabu” then this is an experience not to miss. Though somewhat  purporting to be a documentary type outing even though some scenes were staged, this does not deter from its overall importance in film history or dissuade one from enjoying its intrinsic value to be sure.

 

As an historical aside, the final elephant stampede was filmed in Magnascope, and there is an interesting article on line about its usage and the connection to Jesse Lasky below.:

http://sfsilentfilmfestival.blogspot.com/2016/02/enlarged-history-of-magnascope.html 

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Well, apparently I am the only one who watched "Chang" but I must say it was worth getting up early to see.

 

I do not think it detracts at all from the quality of this film, that some scenes might have been staged. The ideas were still relevant to the real daily life of people like Kru. I read once that the woman playing his wife, was not really that, but again...who cares!

 

The scenes with the monkeys like Bimbo, swinging from the trees, the tigers and leopards stalking prey, the snakes in the trees, the villagers beating the bushes after creating a pitfall with long branches and bush, were amazing to watch. The scene where the elephants start to stampede and you see the one baby lying in the middle of their path, who is then snatched up by his mother, was a precursor to the same idea in "King Kong" probably.

 

The ideas expressed that the jungle always remains the same and can retake civilization at any time, due to its inherent strength and power was amazing to see. This film is not just a story about natives in a jungle setting but a bit of an historical record of a time and place. I for one, am glad that I am given the opportunity to see such documents that in person I have been denied.

 

The last shots with the tamed elephant helping Kru up onto his back, by extending his leg [the elephant's leg NOT Kru's!] and then being given sugar cane as a reward was a fine denouement to a wonderful film.

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I Tivo'd Chang this morning and hope to watch it soon.  It's interesting to note that the documentary as we know it today really didn't exist in the 1920s.  While there were "actualities" in the early years of cinema and many precursors to the genre, there was no hard definition of what a documentary was, so I don't think most people of the time would necessarily object to staging scenes in a film like this.  Even Flaherty's Nanook of the North is largely staged.  The "family" in that film was not an actual family.  Flaherty selected those he considered to be the most photogenic of the Eskimo tribe and cast them as a family.  Some of the hunting methods displayed were outmoded and the Eskimos had adopted guns, but Flaherty was interested in showing the more traditional hunting methods.  And no shots were filmed inside a real igloo, which would have been too small and dark to fit a film crew inside of.  They instead built half an igloo and simply had the "family" act in front of it as though they were inside.  The basic purpose of these two particular films was less about capturing fact on film as capturing a cultural way of life.

 

I only learned about Chang a little earlier this year after re-watching King Kong on DVD and going through the bonus features.  The Carl Denham character is basically an amalgam of Cooper and Schoedsack, setting out to make a real-life jungle adventure in a real jungle and with a real jungle beast.  Only Kong proves to be a little harder to handle than Denham expected! ;)

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I Tivo'd Chang this morning and hope to watch it soon.  It's interesting to note that the documentary as we know it today really didn't exist in the 1920s.  While there were "actualities" in the early years of cinema and many precursors to the genre, there was no hard definition of what a documentary was, so I don't think most people of the time would necessarily object to staging scenes in a film like this.  Even Flaherty's Nanook of the North is largely staged.  The "family" in that film was not an actual family.  Flaherty selected those he considered to be the most photogenic of the Eskimo tribe and cast them as a family.  Some of the hunting methods displayed were outmoded and the Eskimos had adopted guns, but Flaherty was interested in showing the more traditional hunting methods.  And no shots were filmed inside a real igloo, which would have been too small and dark to fit a film crew inside of.  They instead built half an igloo and simply had the "family" act in front of it as though they were inside.  The basic purpose of these two particular films was less about capturing fact on film as capturing a cultural way of life.

 

I only learned about Chang a little earlier this year after re-watching King Kong on DVD and going through the bonus features.  The Carl Denham character is basically an amalgam of Cooper and Schoedsack, setting out to make a real-life jungle adventure in a real jungle and with a real jungle beast.  Only Kong proves to be a little harder to handle than Denham expected! ;)

First I must say I LOVE your thumbnail family portrait of the Penmarks minus Daddy!

 

Have I mentioned that I am related to Bessie Denker, but you probably knew that from the temperament of my posts.

 

Thanks for posting a very interesting and knowledgeable take on this film and others of Cooper and Schoedsack. 

 

Being that I love "King Kong" and "The Most Dangerous Game" this film, "Chang" was right down my alley and I hope you enjoy it for what it is and not what it is not, as you say.

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Has anyone seen 1925's "The Lost World"?  There is Amazing stop-motion animation in that by Willis O'Brien, and it's a clear lead-up to "King Kong" (1933).  Plot is cliched, but film really gets moving a half hour in.  Must have been the "Jurassic Park" (1993) of its' day.

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I Tivo'd Chang this morning and hope to watch it soon.  It's interesting to note that the documentary as we know it today really didn't exist in the 1920s.  While there were "actualities" in the early years of cinema and many precursors to the genre, there was no hard definition of what a documentary was, so I don't think most people of the time would necessarily object to staging scenes in a film like this.

There still isn't a hard definition of what a documentary is, really. Things haven't changed much over the years - we know how staged reality television is, for instance.

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