Another Sky is a nearly perfect little gem of a film. The most amazing thing about it is how low-budget it is and how long ago it was made. And it was the only film that director Gavin Lambert ever made. And I’ll bet that you, like I, never heard of it.
- Interviews with Lambert's friends
- Samples from digital restoration
Lambert was an Oxford-educated film enthusiast who edited the British Film Institute film magazine Sight & Sound in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I would guess that this experience left Gavin well versed in film technique because Another Sky is one well-crafted film. After making Another Sky, Lambert lived and worked in Hollywood, writing screenplays for such films as Sons And Lovers (1960), The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977). Lambert was also a biographer, most notably for his good friend Natalie Wood.
He died in 2005. Lambert was openly gay and I think that Another Sky could arguably be viewed in subtext as a “discreet” gay film.
Passion in the Desert
Another Sky is the story of the somewhat prissy English nanny Rose Graham (Victoria Grayson) who takes a job being the companion to an older English ex-pat Selena Prouse (Catherine Lacey) who now lives in Marrakech, Morocco. The eccentric Selena does a fair version of Norma Desmond (and since Sunset Boulevard was made in 1950, it’s a reasonable comparison to make). It is Rose who narrates the film, and the first time we see her, she’s living in a remote cluster of hovels in the middle of the desert. She says she’s been living there five years, or rather it’s been five years since Rose Graham was “buried.” She then tells us how that all came to pass. Starting at the end and going back to the beginning is a great way to begin a film... consider Citizen Kane.
Rose tells us that this was her first trip out of England and that, up till this job, she’s only taken care of other people’s children. When she arrives in the main market in Marrakech, she is overwhelmed buy the sights and sounds. Selena’s lifestyle and gigolo boyfriend add to the effect, and by the time Rose has been in-country a while she falls for Tayeb, a Moroccan musician (this is his real name so it is perhaps a self portrait). I think that given Gavin’s own predilections, it isn’t only Rose that was enamored of the young man, and the way the camera fawns on Tayeb shows it.
Rose and Tayeb meet through the assistance of Ahmed (Ahmed Ben Mohammed) the Mr. Fixit of Marrakech. You want to go somewhere, see someone, do something in Marrakech, Ahmed is your go-to guy. Ahmed arranges a series of rendezvous each one more intimate than the last, until after the last meeting we see Rose lurch out of the trysting site looking like she’s really had her bell rung. Was it beginner’s luck on her part, or does Tayeb really know how to please the ladies?... it’s not important. Later, Rose decides she must break off the relationship, but before that, she must see Tayeb one more time (sure Rose, sure). But Tayeb has skipped town and Rose now only has one thing on her mind, to find Tayeb. Ahmed, always the helpful one, takes off with Rose on a desert wild goose chase knowing that she’s not going to find her lover. He leads her far out into the desert waste and then abandons Rose to her fate.
Heart of the Wild
At this point Another Sky starts looking and acting a lot like Sheltering Sky, and not surprisingly, Lambert claimed to have had an affair with its author Paul Bowles. Here is the White woman, adrift in a sea of Arabs, who finds her own true self among them. The old Rose ‘dies’, the new one is ‘born’ and that brings us back to the starting point of the narration. She becomes like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, lost to the Arabs “other” world. Lambert also plays with the English fear of giving in to that “otherness” that is similar to the Englishman Basil in Zorba the Greek.
By the Book
I have a suspicion that Lambert’s experience as a professional film connoisseur left him with a strong vocabulary of filmmaking conventions. For instance, when Tayeb first meets Rose, it is at night, and rather than show him advancing through the door, it is his shadow in the moonlit doorway that moves into the field of view. While this might be an invention of Lambert’s, I think it’s just as likely he had seen it in another film and made a mental note for future reference. Another Sky seems to be to be a long list of such film techniques. They all worked as intended and were not simply cliches. This film exudes seemingly effortless competence.
Yet at the same time, Another Sky is a very low-budget film that, at times looks home-made, and at others, like a 1950 National Geographic travelogue shot by Lowell Thomas. As near as I can tell, the soundtrack was added after the film was shot and edited. This is not entirely a bad thing, for all the conversations are studio quality and quite understandable, regardless of where the scene is set, or how far away the speaker appears on screen. Special attention was paid to using sights and sounds that were readily available on location. These cutaways are much better than something that would have been faked or staged. And in those rare moments when there is that low-budget look, it comes across as a more genuine scene than merely a cheap one.
Best of all, this DVD has been digitally repaired to a flawless perfection. What a treat this film is to watch, and what a pity that it is not part of the general catalog of film classics. Perhaps with its reissue in this beautifully restored DVD, it will gain the recognition that it deserves.
Another Sky has a nice set of extras. Gavin Lambert Remembered has interviews with his friends, and there are also remarkable visual samples of the before-and-after digital restoration.
Picture and Sound
The picture is wonderfully restored. The sound is, as noted above, a little odd at first, but clear and crisp.
How to Use this DVD
Sit back and enjoy the show.