DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Legong, Dance of the Virgins (1935)

Restorations of two films shot in Bali with native actors and one shot in Vietnam

Published on July 17, 2005

Legong, Dance of the Virgins (1935)
Legong, Dance of the Virgins (1935)

Director: Henry de la Falaise
Studio: Milestone/Image Entertainment
Video: 1.33:1 full screen, 2-color Technicolor & B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital mono & stereo
Extras: Second optional music track in stereo featuring Gamelan Sekar
Jaya and the Club Foot Orchestra, Second feature film: Gods of Bali
(1952, 56 min.), Third feature film: Kliou The Killer (1937, 50 min.),
Video interview with composers of the new score, DVD-ROM article on
Legong, DVD-ROM press kit
Length: Legong – 56 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

I wasn’t aware that the current interest in the island of Bali as a
sort of paradise on earth started back in the 1930s. Many films had
already been shot there when the ex-husband of Gloria Swanson,
presently married to Constance Bennett, arrived with a Technicolor crew
and plenty of their early two-color process. (The notes describe the
process as “glistening” in this restoration. Can’t quite agree with
that. The two colors seems to be predominantly tan and green. At least
the bodies are tan instead of green.)

De la Falaise filmed entirely on Bali, using natives as actors. The
exotic culture, handsome (mostly topless) natives and fascinating
religious ceremonies such as the dances and the funeral pyres attracted
all the filmmakers, and good use was made of them in Legong. 
There is some stiffness in the acting and of course this is basically a
silent film with music. The story concerns the shame of the older
daughter of a man who thinks she is being wooed by a gamelan musician
she loves but he is attracted to her younger sister instead. The
disappointed girl throws herself off a high bridge, and the film ends
with the funeral pyre scene. The film is very similar to Murnau’s Tabu
in having used native actors and locations to good effect. The new
gamelan-centered soundtrack in stereo is very effective and an
improvement over the thin-sounding original music.

The extras are less interesting but worthwhile efforts. All three films
were restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archives. Kliou is about
the natives’ battle against a killer tiger and was shot in Vietnam in
B&W.  The later Gods of Bali was directed by Robert Snyder, an
Oscar winner, and tries in a very didactic manner to explain some of
the religious culture that pervades the entire island.

- John Sunier




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