Friday, 9 December 2011

Lost Horzion

My only reservation with the day was falling asleep early waking but remaining tired and eventual going to bed at 9.30 which meant rising at 4, Now to the original 1937 film Lost Horizon created from the 1933 novel of the same name by James Hilton and which is remembered as the concept of Shangri-La a fictional utopian non industrial society set in an isolated sheltered Tibetan Valley.

There are several important similarities between the film and book. Both rely on a third party recounting his experience of finding a former British diplomat/politician Richard Conway in strange circumstances and nearly dead who after recovering told his bizarre story about the utopian community he had discovered and to which he had decided to return. The man had disappeared and his fate was unknown. In the book Hugh Conway is a Diplomat while the film Robert is an ambitious politician talked of becoming Foreign Secretary.

His story opens when on a mission to India in 1931 and the need to evacuate 80 white British citizens because of a local uprising with planes provided by the Maharajah of Chandapore, a real character. This is in the days of small twin engine passenger planes accommodating less than a dozen.

In the book in addition to Conway there are Conway’s number two and an American together with a British missionary, a female. The plane is hijacked and taken into Tibet and running out of fuel crashes killing the hijacking pilot who is able to reveal to the passengers that they should make their way to the nearby lamasery known as Shangri-La where they will find shelter and help. They meet up with someone from the lamasery who takes them to the valley where they find a modern house community with central heating, bathtubs, a huge library, a grand piano and a harpsichord and unlimited food from the valley.

In the film Ronald Coleman plays Conway and instead of his deputy John Howard plays a neurotic brother who cannot wait to get away from the valley as soon as porters arrive to lead them back to civilization. The other significant difference is that Conway is kidnapped because of his previous writings and known works whereas in the book the decision has been taken to add some “outsiders.” In both formats the American is someone escaping from the authorities because of a share fraud although in the film he explains that this was all to do with the great crash. In both situations he has no wish to immediate return when he finds there is unmined unlimited gold in the hills which would help to put him right with his creditors.
In the film there is an additional male character that has been researching fossils and has uncovered remains indicating that a creature previously unknown to the area has been found. This strikes a chord with UP the family two and three dimension feature where I recently saw the two dimension version on Sky Premier. He is a thoughtful individual used to relying on his own resources and also immediately takes to the community. The woman character could not be more different. In the book she is a missionary who also immediately takes to the community seeing her role as bringing Christian morality and education to the native population who are essentially Buddhist. In the film the woman is an actress who has an incurable disease who already has reached the forecast length of her life.

In the film there are two women who interest the visitors. Jane Wyatt plays Sondra Bizet who has grown up in the valley and teaches the local children. It is she who read about Conway and suggests he should be brought to the valley. They quickly establish a bond.

In both formats Conway is ripe for this relaxed contemplative peaceful life. In both the author predicts the prospect of another world war and that the destruction of property will be as great as that of human life as experienced in the first. Conway has been pursuing a peaceful solution to the world’s conflict.

In the book there is only one female character of interest Lo Tsen who does not speak English and plays the harpsichord. In the film there a similar character who falls in love with the brother (in the book the Vice consul) with both wanting to leave.

The core issue in the book is the discovery that the community was established several hundred years before by another traveller, a Catholic Monk from Luxembourg who is now the High Lama and 300 years old. The way of life has lead to such a long life, forecasting present knowledge that with appropriate diet, exercise and an absence of stress, coupled with the control of disease, the human body is capable of a much long existence than in the past. However their is a limit to life and the High Lama is aware he is approaching the end and is seeking a replacement and find Conway is ideally suited and Conway is interested especially after exploring the community and finding romance.

His brother refuses to believe the story and persuades Conway to leave with him and Maria when local porters/ Sherpa’s arrive to mark the death of the High Lama. In the film they were found at the plane by such a party sent to look out for them and who lead through blizzards and high mountain passes to the secret entrance to the valley. On the way back the two outsiders and the local woman find it difficult keep up with the Sherpa’s who cause an avalanche which consumes them. Then the local woman rapidly changes from a beautiful young girl to an aged woman who dies from old age and the hostile environment. The brother also dies from a fall leaving Conway to struggle over many days to find another community where he collapses but is cared and survives until news reaches the outside world and someone is sent to find him and bring back as the new Foreign Secretary. Conway rejects this and makes his way back eventually finding the pathway and the entrance to the community. The cinema audience is left to conjecture what happens. The actress has discovered her life has improved and decides to stay and similarly the two others but for different reasons. The community is able to continue as before but the search for Shangri-la has continued.

In the book Conway agrees to accompany his Vice Consul and Lo-Tsen to where the porters are waiting five miles beyond the valley but when he is found he was brought by a very old woman. He is known to be attempting to make his way back but the readers do not know if he made it.

The book has sold several million copies with a burst in sales in the 1960’s. In 1973 a musical version of the film was released although previously a broadway production was not successful. The BBC has made a three hour radio play in three parts in 1981 and was broadcast again last year with Derek Jacobi.

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