Film Review
By Ray Young




Legong: Dance of the Virgins

A Film by Henri de la Falaise

A DVD collection including:

Legong: Dance of the Virgins—Directed by Henri de la Falaise. Released in 1935.
Kliou, the Killer—Directed by Henri de la Falaise. Released in 1937.
Gods of Bali—Directed by Robert Snyder, with material by Nikola Drakulic. Released in 1952.

For more information contact

Milestone Film & Video—or call them at (800) 603-1104
    Milestone Film & Video has a series of DVDs called the Age of Exploration, and Legong: Dance of the Virgins is a new and invaluable addition. Photographed in the early 1930’s on the island of Bali, the simple love story takes place in and around a primitive culture blissfully unaware of its proximity to extinction. In just a few short years, tourism and land development would implement profound, irreversible and damaging changes, eradicating the innocence captured in this film.
    Upon its release, scenes of cockfighting and topless female natives were removed from Legong by American and European censors. Though accompanied by a full-length musical score, the picture had been shot silent at the moment when silent cinema fell to the new rage of sound. And its costly two-strip red and green Technicolor was upstaged by the experimental three-strip process employed to great effect by Rouben Mamoulian in Becky Sharp that same year. Nevertheless, Legong was popular in its day, and re-released several times, once by exploitation distributor Alexander Beck who hyped it as “Nudity without crudity! A film for all audiences!”
    Director Henri Marquis de la Falaise co-wrote Legong with Gaston Glass, basing their idea on lines from an old Balinese love song:
It was written, oh virgin of Bali
When love fills your heart
If he, who you chose,
Does not respond to your love
The disdain and wrath of the Gods
Will be yours.
    From this stanza, the uncomplicated scenario follows a young woman shamed by loving and pursuing a man who’s more interested in her sister. Slight as it sounds, the triangle premise is nonetheless compelling, the minimalism of Legong04.JPGstory and storytelling allowing an unencumbered glimpse at everyday Balinese living, dances and gestures to the gods, courtship, ancient games and sport, and spiritual ceremonies and customs — most of it steeped in lush color and pageantry. The islanders’ values and reliance on prayer and worship may be lost on jaded western eyes some seventy years after the fact, but Robert Snyder’s documentary, Gods of Bali, thoughtfully included with Legong on the DVD, is an excellent reference source. It explains and illustrates primeval Balinese practices, from the fixed training of their children all the way to public cremation services for the departed.
    On location to shoot Legong and faced with the language barrier and snags with translators, Gaston Glass, by that time an established performer, acted out scenes for the inexperienced native cast to emulate. Their lack of polish compliments the unobtrusive style of Henri de la Falaise, who was relatively green to the picture business himself. A decorated war hero, the Marquis moved from Europe to America, had been married briefly to Gloria Swanson, and then to actress Constance Bennett who set up a production company, most likely as a means to travel and keep hubby busy. For Legong, they entrusted the photography — its pivotal ingredient — to William H. Green when he was a second-unit journeyman and employee of the Technicolor Corporation. Fortunately the gamble paid off, and the combination of new and untried talent is as unpretentious as the setting itself.
    The UCLA Film and Television Archive restored Legong using prints from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Seen today, the two-strip Technicolor recalls the gentle yet defined color of pre-1960’s rotogravure printing. The original soundtrack music by Abe Meyer sounds fine, but Milestone commissioned an alternate-track score composed by Richard Marriott and I Made Subandi (both of whom are interviewed on the DVD), performed by Gamelan Sekar Jaya and the Club Foot Orchestra. Purists may balk at such revisions, and the brilliant sound of the new recording juxtaposed with the older film may at first be a distraction. But it ultimately lends body and dimension, underlining the imagery and scenario with perhaps more compassion and understanding than Meyer would allow.
    Henri de la Falaise continued exploring primitive civilization with Kliou, the Killer. Filmed in two-strip Technicolor in Vietnam, it follows a young hunter tracking down the tiger responsible for killing villagers and livestock. Although not as elaborate as the earlier picture, Kliou is equally as valuable. Milestone has included it on the DVD as well, albeit struck from a less-than-pristine 16mm black and white print. (Complete color versions are believed to be gone forever.) Together these films form a rare portrait of regions and people who stood within reach of the Neolithic Age — less than one hundred years ago.


For more information contact Milestone Film & Video—or call them at (800) 603-1104


Copyright © 2004 by Ray Young