Director: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, Alexander Korda (un-credited) , Zoltan Korda (un-credited) , William Cameron Menzies (un-credited) [wow...]
Writer: Lajos Biro and Miles Malleson
Cinematographer: George Perinal
by Jon Cvack
Considering it was made in 1940 and looks absolutely gorgeous, winning an Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography and utilizing Chroma-Key with the first ever bluescreen, The Thief of Bagdad is a pretty fun adventure that utilizes three white leads amidst countless Arabic background actors. Seventy-five years later, with Camera Crowe deciding to cast Emma Stone as the Native Hawaiian woman in Aloha ( or Gods of Egypt using an entire white cast for its Egyptian setting, it is unbelievable that we’re still experiencing the same exact problems in having white people play people of color.
Nevertheless, the movie is fun and exciting. Knowing that it was the first to use bluescreen for many of its effects, all while plagued with having six total directors, you can’t help but appreciate the early days of effects artistry, as filmmakers discovered what worked and what didn’t. For instance, while they use the tools in brilliant ways for the genie and flying sequences, for wider set ups they used what look like an action figures in static positions. Counter to that, in the most exciting sequence, right up there with the first Indiana Jones, Apu invades the Oracle building after the Genie flies him over. In order to demonstrate the Genie’s vast height, they built an extremely detailed miniature city. Thus, we get to see the physical craft that people put into creating a believable world, in constant awe that the film was made 75 years prior.
The stories were based off The Book of a Thousand and One Nights, and many of the elements would inspire Disney’s Aladdin in later years. Considering that the Ottoman Empire had just fallen only 18 years prior, I often wonder what Natives of the area must have thought. With France, Britain, and Russia rushing to grab the fallen Empire, it was during this time that countless revolts and power grabs were occurring across the region. While I’m not all that educated on the idea of Orientalism and how the Western conceptions of the Middle East were strongly based on conjecture and stereotypes, I can see how this movie aided in the process. During the time, many of the regions this movie explores were banned from non-Muslims, considered either too dangerous or based on religious decree.
The film is full of magic and adventure, and we can see that most of the people live poor compared to the extravagant lives of kings. The movie isn’t interested in politics, but I think we’re still long overdue for a film that’s from the Native perspective. I think of other films like The Darjeeing Unlimited, The Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Men Who Would Be Kings, and many others, and how we continue to examine the region through white eyes to this very day. If only we could get away from the White perspective on the land, perhaps the stereotypes would get redefined. With Bollywood going stronger than ever before I have my doubts. We are long overdue for a story from the other side.
BELOW: I try to avoid embedding trailers, but this gives a great taste of ToB's incredible effects
Thoughts on films, old and new
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