All the Night Long -- Film Review

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SAN SEBASTIAN -- A dazzlingly kaleidoscopic homage to 1940s/50s superstar Ava Gardner, concentrating almost exclusively on her various spells filming and living (and loving) in Spain, "All the Night Long" is an offbeat, distinguished made-for-TV documentary that deserves big-screen exposure before what will surely be a lengthy DVD afterlife.

A must-have for those many festivals featuring sidebars on cinema history, this entertainingly unorthodox affair combines an impressive range of archive clips with modern-day footage, interviews and recollections. The result, presented on video and made under the auspices of cabler Turner Classic Movies, comprises 80 minutes of sheer heaven for Gardner devotees, and a fine introduction for those for whom she is just another name from a bygone golden era.

What "All the Night Long" ("La noche que no acaba," more literally "endless night") isn't, however, is a conventional biographical documentary. We learn very little about Gardner's early life, for example -- her real name, Lucy Johnson, is never even mentioned -- because, as the narration makes clear, the film is more concerned with how her celluloid image compared and contrasted with offscreen reality. The voiceover defines the project as "looking for the life of Ava through her films," while simultaneously warning of the risk of drawing too simplistic connections and conclusions.

Director Isaki Lacuesta, previously known for more rarefied (and largely less satisfying) arthouse fare such as last year�s moody, excessively opaque feature "The Damned," focuses on the period between Gardner�s first film to be shot in Spain, elaborate romantic fantasy "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman" (1950), and the now-forgotten telemovie "Harem" (1985), which she shot five years before her death.

Gardner lived in Spain for several years from the late 1950s, and her boozy, bedhopping escapades are recalled in an impressive, valuable example of oral cultural history by her film-making colleagues (including late cinematographer Jack Cardiff) and lesser-known survivors who came into contact with her or observed her scandal-stoking antics.

Along the way the film makes some droll wider points about the effect of Hollywood's post-war "runaway" productions on the small towns which were visited and in many cases irrevocably altered by invasions of American moneyed glamor. Lacuesta also obliquely explores the nature of movie stardom and its effect on the often-fragile individuals in the unforgiving spotlight.

But what really elevates "All the Night Long" (the title is taken from a poem which longtime Majorca resident Robert Graves wrote for and about Gardner) is the selection and presentation of clips from her films.

Granted what seems to have been all-areas access to the TCM archives, director Lacuesta, his researcher Anna M. Bofarull and editor Diana Toucedo compile rapid-fire montages from movies famous and obscure -- plus contemporary documentary footage that represent a sustained masterclass in the interpretation and recontextualization of such materials.

At times recalling Jean-Luc Godard�s sometimes playful, sometimes academic manipulation and exploration of video footage, these sequences are informative, provocative and often witty, allowing us to peer into and ultimately beyond Gardner's exquisite facades.

Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival
Production companies: Turner Broadcasting System Espana
Director: Isaki Lacuesta
Screenwriters: Isa Campo, Isaki Lacuesta
Executive producers: Ines Garia, Jose Skaf
Director of photography: Diego Dussuel
Editor: Diana Toucedo
Sales: Turner Broadcasting System Espana
No rating, 80 minutes
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