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The Noah

by Dan Georgakas

The Noah

Does he find the Ten Commandments?

Directed by Daniel Bourla; starring Robert Strauss, Geoffrey Holder and Sally Kirkland. DVD, color, 107 mins., 1964. Distributed by Pathfinder Entertainment, www.pathfinderpictures.com.

Some films take a long time to find their audience, but in this respect The Noah is in a league of its own. Ignored for nearly forty years, it now finds itself a top seller on many DVD lists. The film began as an act of hubris in 1964 when Daniel Bourla, a filmmaker from Greece, was attending a workshop in Jerusalem at which Carl Foreman (High Noon) was lecturing on screenwriting. A brash Bourla proclaimed, "If one really has something to say, he can do it with one man and a fly in a room." That night he began to write a story of the stranded survivor of a nuclear holocaust. Four days later the English-language script was done.

Although The Noah was his first script, Bourla had been in filmmaking for more than a decade. Born in Thessaloniki, Greece and a Holocaust survivor, Bourla had been educated in the United States. Due to the strains of McCarthyism, he had returned to Greece in the mid-1950's where he worked with Nikos Koundouros on the production of The River and Young Aphrodite. His first task in producing The Noah was finding financing, which was difficult as most would-be financers wanted to make significant changes. Among those who bolstered Bourla's resolve to make the film as conceived was Dalton Trumbo, who also tried to raise money for him. Three years passed before sufficient funds were accumulated to begin shooting.

The Noah opens with a man coming out of the sea. This crucial role had been written with Mickey Rooney in mind, but it was ultimately played by craggy-faced Robert Strauss, an established character actor, best known for his role as Animal in Stalag 17. This nameless survivor has a "conversation" with an unseen God (voice of Geoffrey Holder) and together they create an unseen Eve (voice of Sally Kirkland). At one point, the unnamed survivor walks around with what looks like the original Ten Commandments. Later, he is haunted by historic voices of his era. This voice sequence is amazing. Bourla has told me that though the voices seem randomly sequenced, they were carefully selected and precisely placed. We hear a Polish officer who actually ordered his horse cavalry to attack Nazi tanks in 1939; Harry Truman announcing the dropping of the first atomic bomb; and Emperor Hirohito telling his people that Japan is surrendering. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and John F. Kennedy, among many others, speak of a world awash in brutality. When the voices cease, the survivor realizes that they live only in his consciousness. A strip of film treated to detect radiation that he has put near his bed then indicates he, too, has been contaminated. He sits there waiting for death. With him, the human race and all its memories will perish.

Robert Strauss in The Noah

Robert Strauss as the survivor

Bourla, used his entire $80,000 budget to shoot the film in Puerto Rico, using a Greek crew headed by cinematographer Jerry Kalogeratos. Funds needed for final editing, music, and other postproduction costs did not materialize until 1973 when money became available because of his involvement with other films. Bourla rushed the newly cut The Noah to the Cannes film festival, but he says that when he saw the festival's market atmosphere, he realized that the antinuclear sentiment of the late 1960's and the whole countercultural movement that had inspired him were dead. He didn't bother to take the film out of the can.

The Noah was shelved, and Bourla went on to work on the production of films such as Amarcord and Cinema Paradiso. Later he broke the Greek government's television monopoly by establishing the first private TV station in Greece. Other cinema ventures included his successful touring of seven contemporary Greek films in the United States.

In 1997, Bourla met Jerry Carlson, host of a film show on the television station owned by the City University of New York. Intrigued by The Noah's genealogy, Carlson asked for a look. He liked what he saw and screened the film on his show three times. Among those who saw it was Phil Hall, writing for Film Threat, a film magazine that prides itself on bucking the cinematic Establishment. Hall greatly enjoyed the film, but, as befits the film's strange history, inexplicably did not write about it until 2005! That review, however, brought buyers for the DVD version of The Noah that had recently been released. Hall then decided to publish an interview with Bourla, which pushed the DVD even higher on the charts.

Bourla says, with some irony, that the belated review came out just on time, as The Noah had not previously been available on DVD. He is irritated that his film is classified as science fiction, but he is delighted that Internet word of mouth is transforming The Noah into a genuine cult classic.

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Cineaste, Vol. 32 No.2 (Spring 2007), on-line only.

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