3 Stars out of 4
In this day-and-age where CGI-created worlds are a dime a dozen and 3D reaps the rewards of most Hollywood blockbusters, is there room for a contemporary silent film? Sure, but somebody better get shot. Well, that doesn’t quite happen, although Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist is about an actor who lives and breathes to be shot on camera, and be the eye of the beholder. How he sees and embraces cinema is the heart (and style) of The Artist: in the gentle glory of silence. (continue reading…)
4 Stars out of 4
How old are you, Joan? asks one of the judges around the beginning of Carl T. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. Joan, cornered in her own (transcendent) world, responds: “nineteen…I think.” Here is a stranded character, Joan of Arc, known in mythology as a hero and legend, but through the film considerably naive and possessed.
The film is a portrait of expressions, with a predominant use of closeups to emphasize Joan’s inner pathos and her arbiters are knotted in closeups bringing out their moles and warts. They curse loudly, lambaste Joan in tirades of religious rhetoric. She’s a blaspheme of God and a work of the Devil. Is she? Joan is played by Maria Falconetti, a role deemed to be the greatest female performance in all of cinema. Falconetti embodies Joan in which it is impossible for us to feel deepest sympathy for her, but Dreyer never discourages us to have a dry cry for her. Falconetti’s performance is so brilliant because she is one of few actors to convey “the passion” with a blank face. (continue reading…)
3 Stars out of 4
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This will sound absurd, but The Last Laugh is one of those unprecedented silent films that goes its whole duration with very little dialogue. It is directed by F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu) who manifests the film with a mobile camera, whipping from one point to another to give the film a feeling of urgency. And even in one shot, the mobility embodies the pathway of sound.
The Last Laugh is nothing much in story, but it forms a simple yet genuine heart around a hotel doorman, played by Emil Jannings. His performance carried so much poignancy and tender complexities that America summoned his talent and gave way to a great career (Jannings would appear in Quo Vadis? and The Blue Angel).
The Last Laugh was hailed during the 1920s as the greatest film ever made. That was Murnau’s tagline and incentive into directing Sunrise – produced by an American corporation, Fox. As a silent film, I prefer Sunrise and I am not sure if The Last Laugh deserves a “greatest” term. When you think the film should end, it doesn’t. It spirals into a final segment, where our friend the doorman receives some poetic justice and a last laugh.
I wish instead of jumping to this arbitrary end, we found out how we got there. Murnau’s visual style is coming to life and The Last Laugh has remnants of genius. But there is something very important in seeing how the last laugh arises to make us laugh too - and if Murnau is good enough (he is), make us cry.
3.5 Stars out of 4
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Intolerance indeed is love’s struggle through the ages. That is its title. D.W. Griffith’s follow-up and apology to the racially-aberrant Birth of a Nation. Great move that was. Intolerance is damn good as well, but must be appreciated in a completely different way than its 1915 predecessor. I loved Birth of a Nation for it imbuing the power and challenges cinema holds through the moving image. Intolerance’s fascination is in its fugue approach. It cross-cuts to demonstrate the passage of intolerance through history. Where Griffith mastered emotion in Birth of a Nation, Intolerance transcends time.
The four subplots involve the dissolution of Babylon through the vanquishment of Cyrus; the Judean Era during the crucifixion of Christ; the French Renaissance and the tragic St. Bartholomew’s Massacre; and then a simple tale on a wrongfully accused Boy, convicted of murder. What is Griffith supposing here? Intolerance. Intolerance, intolerance, intolerance. In terms of message, this is not a complex film. Paradoxically, as cinema and visual concept, it is extraordinary.
All the subplots intertwine as if one event and Griffith’s script is written in the way that all the prose could apply to each subplot. Historians have often argued that history is a set of patterns repeating itself. That is a postulation that is inspired in many films nowadays, even non-historical pieces (like Haggis’s Crash or Anderson’s Magnolia). To emphasize this theory, Griffith shows a mother (who I pose is Mary), rocking the sacred carriage in an azure-saturated shot. Same angle through the whole film. This shows the passage of generations.
Intolerance is a long silent film but it is assuaged with an innovative, brilliantly told narrative. I never found what it was saying particularly elaborate, but Griffith’s grandiosity can be found in its sets and its montage. Well not precisely “montage”. Intolerance moves with the intangible grace of time. Eisenstein’s montage, through the guidance of Kuleshov, would be born 9 years later.
4 Stars out of 4
D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation can only be understood in one context: its own. Yes, the film today is scornful and belongs in an immoral universe that surpasses the amoral. It is a three hour and fifteen minute silent film that speaks of everything that is reviled in today’s society. You feel no reason to watch the film, but when you do you are flabbergasted by its evil demeanour and how it commits to that in such a fascinating way. (continue reading…)
4 Stars out of 4
Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin hurdles past cinema into the heart of history itself. It manipulates montage to a tee and also manipulates our sympathy to the point that the film is a transgressive angle to historical analysis. Never have I seen a film that made me want to root, cry, squirm, and then applaud. Eisenstein’s film is labeled, in a simple sense, as propaganda. It gives the film a harsh label, and not one it deserves, because it evokes feelings that, despite Eisenstein’s conceited ways, never feel synthetic.
The film released 8 years after the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution, where Communist took on an age of its own. Russian socialists began to rebel against the elitist tsarists and violence, pain, and civil animosity was overwhelming. As a silent film, The Battleship Potemkin works best. In all the quiet, the film is juxtaposed by a visual that moves vigorously. In the silence, the mayhem surrounding evokes repression and the emotional strife of sympathizing with our inferior heroes. (continue reading…)