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Boiling Sand
DVD Review: ANOTHER SKY (1954)

Milos and the gang at FACETS have scored big-time by unearthing this film, cleaning it up, and releasing it on DVD.

ANOTHER SKY is the only film directed by screenwriter / novelist / Hollywood-biographer Gavin Lambert, made in Morocco on a budget of £25,000.  The movie was made during Lambert’s days as editor of the British Film Institute’s magazine SIGHT AND SOUND, before his collaboration (both creative and sexual) with director Nicholas Ray (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE) brought him to Hollywood.

As a member of the Gay Cultural Elite of that era, Lambert was a friend of author Paul Bowles, whose book The Sheltering Sky — written five years before ANOTHER SKY — shared ideas and imagery with this film:  a reserved British spinster takes a position in Marrakech, where she experiences a sexual awakening with a local musician named Tayeb.  When he disappears into the desert, she begins a trek to unite with him, leading her farther and farther away from civilization and into the abyss of the Sahara.

The film’s superbly-realized cinematography, gorgeously cleaned up for this DVD release, was by Walter Lassally whose use of polarizing filters in the desert shots give them jaw-dropping articulation.  This was his first feature film, from which he went on to collaborate four times with director Tony Richardson (including TOM JONES) and winning an Oscar for his cinematography in ZORBA THE GREEK.  Before graduating to features, Lassally had shot the celebrated James Broughton short THE PLEASURE GARDEN which featured Lambert’s college friend (and future director) Lindsay Anderson and ANOTHER SKY‘s lead actress, Victoria Grayson.

[Grayson leads me into a minor gripe about the DVD package: the bonus brochure enclosed with the disc constantly identifies actress Grayson and her character Rose Graham as Catherine Lacey and her character Selena Prouse.  Lacey gets top billing in the cast (she was a well-established actress, having worked with Hitchcock on his 1938 film THE LADY VANISHES), but the central actress is Grayson.  I can’t believe that got all the way to print without being discovered.  Also the brochure’s copy includes the typo that makes me go ballistic:  spelling “expatriate” as “ex-patriot.”]

Rose Graham (Victoria Grayson) realizes her life-threatening situation.

Among the artistic crafts to treasure in this film are the sound looping and mixing — the film was shot silent in Morocco with dialog later recorded in London — and Vera Campbell’s editing, which masks any flaws and shortcomings that must have occurred when a first-time director shoots on location.  Campbell’s other credits include the riveting Victorian thriller SO EVIL, MY LOVE and Herbert Wilcox’s YELLOW CANARY.

With so many Queer creatives having direct or tangential influences on this film, I’d like to bring in one more name:  Truman Capote.  Before contemporary times Queer artists would create by infusing homosexual dynamics into heterosexual symbols and situations.  Capote based his Breakfast at Tifanny’s heroine Holly Golightly on an actual small-town Gay boy who had just arrived in NYC and was peddling his ass on the streets.  [The kid was so naive he thought Tiffany’s was a restaurant and hoped someday to dine there:  hence the novella’s title.]  ANOTHER SKY‘s situation in many ways resonates more with the post-War Tangier-based literature of Gay writers who were exploring and succumbing to the fleshly delights of the locals, and today the gender of the protagonist could easily be switched and still be plausible, perhaps even more plausible.

There is a documentary as an extra on this disc which has amateurishly conducted interviews that are poorly shot and crudely edited.  But it’s still worth viewing just for the testimony of people who were part of the creative circle of expat Gays in Morocco in the 1950s.

Doug / PoMo Joan

PS — There is a great homage to the classic Dietrich / von Sternberg movie MOROCCO as Rose leaves her shoes in the sand as she treks after her lover.  And it may be my imagination but several shots from this film seem to have been duplicated 40 years later by Bob Spiers in the ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS episode shot in Marrakech.

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