Sog.: dal dramma omonimo di Austin Strong. Scen.: Benjamin Glazer. F.: Ernest Palmer, J.A. Valentine. M.: Barney Wolf. Scgf.: Freddy Stoos. Int.: Janet Gaynor (Diane), Charles Farrell (Chico), Ben Bard (colonnello Brissac), David Butler (Gobin), Marie Mosquini (Madame Gobin), Albert Gran (Boul), Gladys Brockwell (Nana), Émile Chautard (padre Chevillon), George Stone (‘topo di fogna’). Prod.: William Fox per Fox Film Corporation DCP. D.: 110’.
Casting Fox contract player Janet Gaynor as a Parisian street urchin and newcomer Charles Farrell as the sanitation worker who loves her (in roles originally intended for Madge Bellamy and John Gilbert), director Frank Borzage created one of the great screen couples of the movies, an alliance that would continue to enchant audiences through eleven more films. 7th Heaven stands as one of Borzage’s strongest expressions of the transcendent power of romantic love, evoking feelings of such force and purity that only the dream world of silent film could contain them. Although Borzage had made several important films before (notably Humoresque and Secrets), it was with 7th Heaven that he achieved his mature style, moving between soft focus and a shallow depth of field (to suggest the private world of the lovers) and a highly mobile camera (influenced, no doubt, by F.W. Murnau, whose work on Sunrise had cast a spell over many Fox contract directors). The brilliant crane work in 7th Heaven, most famously in a repeated shot that shows Gaynor and Farrell climbing the seven flights of stairs to their garret refuge (the seventh heaven of the title), seems to capture a whole range of human aspirations toward a state of transcendence – be it sexual, spiritual or romantic, or all three at once. At the first Academy Awards ceremony, the film won Oscars for Gaynor (best actress), Borzage (best director) and Benjamin Glazer (best adapted screenplay). This is the first European screening of a new digital restoration funded by 20th Century Fox and based on the only known original element, a nitrate print from the 1927 negative made in 1930, in MoMA’s collection.
7th Heaven, between Darkness and Light
Nearly twenty years ago, a friend of mine, the late film historian Theodore van Houten suggested that I would be a good match for 7th Heaven. I didn’t understand his conceptual matrimony until I watched the film more carefully later on in life. He was right – 7th Heaven combines Expressionism with the great American optimism, a synthesis in which I identify greatly. There is a persistent darkness to this film that struggles with an impetuous light, and I tried to capture as much of it in the score as I could. 7th Heaven has no scenes in outdoor sunlight, with the minor exception – but hugely symbolic – of the charge and battle of the Marne, but even this totals only seven smoke-filled minutes in the whole film. All the street scenes are shot in an ambiguous nightly haze. This struck me deeply, and translates musically to a darker, and more contrasting score than most of American dramas up to this date. 7th Heaven was literally made alongside Murnau’s Sunrise, which was the first film-score I wrote for 20th Century Fox, back in 1986 and that reemerged in me while composing for 7th Heaven. I find these two films inextricably linked in texture and feel, despite the considerable differences between the two filmmakers. I use two quotations from composer Étienne Nicolas Méhul, the Ave Verum from the Lyra Sacra and Le Chant du départ in the charge of the Paris taxi brigade. Also the Ernö Rapée melody, Diane, which was composed for the later Fox Movietone version, makes a brief appearance towards the end of the film. The instrumentation is: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass-clarinet, contrabass-clarinet, 2 bassoons, contra-bassoon, 4 horns, 1 trumpet, 1 trombone, timpani, 3 percussionists, harp, piano, celesta, harmonium and strings.