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Rob Edelman: Lost Cities On Screen

In recent years, so many filmmakers establish themselves by writing and directing eye-opening independently-funded films that are issue-oriented, or that feature challenging characters and top-notch storytelling. Inevitably, some-- but not all-- graduate to big-budget Hollywood product that are loaded with special effects. Why does this happen? Is it because these filmmakers are film artists who yearn to expand their creativity? Or is it all about money? These days, the high-profile special effects-laden films that sacrifice storytelling and character development are the ones that usually lasso in more viewers and bigger bucks during their theatrical play. A film in which storytelling is king, no matter how well-reviewed that film is, will at best draw in a fraction of viewers.

This brings me to THE LOST CITY OF Z, which recently came to movie theaters. If one is unaware that THE LOST CITY OF Z happens to be the name of the nonfiction bestseller on which it is based, one might assume that the title alone promises yet one more special effects-laden action-adventure. And if this is the case, one would be oh so wrong.

THE LOST CITY OF Z is directed and scripted by James Gray, whose earliest films mostly are gritty contemporary crime thrillers and dramas. And here, his new film avoids focusing on special effects; it oozes the same intelligence that is found in his earlier works. For indeed, THE LOST CITY OF Z features an involving, multilayered story and three-dimensional characters. The central one is Percy Fawcett, a British explorer of the early 20th century who is determined to uncover what he believes to be a secret ancient Amazonian civilization.

What makes THE LOST CITY OF Z eminently watchable, beyond the depiction of Fawcett, are some of the issues that Gray deals with in his storytelling. For openers, the film works as a biting condemnation of British upper-class elitism. Fawcett is coming of age at a time in which one’s roots, one’s familial background, mightily impacted one’s place within British society. So despite his fearlessness and his accomplishments, Fawcett is casually excluded from his country’s inner circle solely because of his less-than-aristocratic roots. For indeed, the high-end British are shown to view their lower-class countrymen and women with disdain. Plus, to them, jungle natives are little more than savages who inhabit a “land of primitives.” But Fawcett knows better.    

Additionally, his wife Nina is way ahead of her time given her aspiration for partaking in exploration. She is not content merely to embrace the roles of wife and mother but, given the time in which the story is set, she has no choice. Also noteworthy is Fawcett’s evolving relationship with his eldest son, which comprises the concluding sections of the film. And finally, some of the more philosophical bits of dialogue in Gray’s script are thoughtful and provocative. They only begins with: “We are all made of the same clay”; “Nothing will happen to us which is not our destiny”; “So much of life is a mystery... We know so very little of life. To dream (is) to seek the unknown. To look for what is beautiful is its own reward. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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