Thursday, January 17, 2013

An Outtake From “A Bridge Too Far”

An outtake from “A Bridge Too Far”, Richard Attenborough’s epic film about Operation Market Garden.

“A Bridge Too Far” is the only Attenborough film I have seen that is worth watching; all other Attenborough films I have experienced have been plodding bores.

The film is successful largely because of the extraordinary cinematography of Geoffrey Unsworth and the superb editing of Antony Gibbs, both masters of their trades. The work of Unsworth, especially, is notable: Unsworth understood light, color and composition as well as Nicolas Poussin. Unsworth and Gibbs must have carried Attenborough through the project—“A Bridge Too Far” may be the sole Attenborough film that doesn’t look like television. I don’t believe that Attenborough, who began directing films only in his late forties, fundamentally understood the art of cinema.

“A Bridge Too Far” was a commercial hit in Europe, but failed miserably at the American box office. I have never understood that failure. The film is one of the great exemplars of the war-film genre, albeit overstuffed with Hollywood stars.

Some persons theorize that the film, released in 1977, hit American shores one year too soon; exhibitors, they argue, should have held the film until 1978, and released the film after the national mood had changed. In a limited 1978 re-release, the film, in head-to-head comparisons, outperformed first-run box-office receipts from the previous year.

Nevertheless, worldwide, the film was enormously profitable, largely because of European receipts—despite the fact that “A Bridge Too Far” was one of the most costly films ever produced.

I have always wondered whether the awards heaped on Attenborough’s mind-numbing “Ghandi” a few years later were belated acknowledgements that his work on “A Bridge Too Far” had been unjustly overlooked.

Since the day it was released, “A Bridge Too Far” has inspired numerous scholarly assessments, including books, journal essays and documentary films. Most such assessments have originated in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, a fact that suggests that Operation Market Garden carries more resonance on the European continent than in the English-speaking world.

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