Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lost Horizon

Frank Capra's 1937 film was mutilated in a Second World War re-issue by 24 minutes to exclude the film's pacifist message.

Lovingly restored, offering relevant stills where the film itself remains lost, the original is a fabulous testament to an exemplary film makers art.

It is dated (as is the book) by the assumption that Shangri-La's possibility was only made possible by the entrance of a Western missionary, bearing a Christian ethic, into a hidden valley in Tibet; and, yet, it transcends that colonialist folly by offering an universalist message of hope. The founding Catholic priest, transformed into the High Lama, offers as his essential teaching: 'Be kind' and in doing so could be the present Dalai Lama.

Running through the film too is a realistic assessment of what might happen if a diverse group of people were offered 'paradise' - from willing, recognised acceptance through to slowly melting suspicion towards acceptance through to outright rejection.

The film's end has a gathering at a London club where the aristocratic pursuer of Robert Conway (who has left Shangri-La out of loyalty to his rejectionist brother but now must return) is asked whether he believes in Conway's belief in such a place. He replies, "Yes" for we must all carry a vision of paradise before us. For in believing it so, is our hope in making it so.

It is a sentiment that is, in a cynical age, either preposterous or a timely slap in the face. I tend towards the latter thought.


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