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(01-07-2017, 04:48 AM)ssj Wrote: [ -> ]this might be a misperception, but i get the sense you dig cinema. Big Grin

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96 years ago...

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Within Our Gates (1920)
Director: Oscar Micheaux
Country: United States
Length: 78 minutes
Type: Silent, Historical, Drama, Political

'Within Our Gates' is the earliest surviving film by an African-American Director and only Oscar Micheaux's 2nd feature. It's clearly a thematic response to D.W.Griffith's horrifically racist blockbuster 'Birth of a Nation'. It even follows Griffith's style and narrative signatures, but for me, done better.

The story mainly follows Sylvia and her struggle to raise money for a black school in the Southern US. Not only must she struggle against rampant racism and general indifference to her cause but against the very idea that educating black people is a good idea. The film concludes with an extended flashback sequence where we learn the pre-history of Sylvia and how she became who she is. A distressing history of murder, attempted rape and lynching with Sylvia and her family the blameless victims. It's pretty strong stuff for 2016, never mind 1920. So it's perhaps unsurprising that this finale was often cut from contemporary screenings (or the film was outright banned). Maybe it was deemed too inflammatory for audiences who weren't used to being shown the awful truth of racism (The earlier fictions of Griffith being more palatable).

The inter-titles even feature politics and statistics. One inter-title says "The state pays only $1.49 a year to educate every Negro child". The image below (I found on Google) indicates that you could take the whole family for a night at the movies in 1920 for less than that. It makes you angry a century later, that human-beings could be valued so little.

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The most interesting aspect for me was seeing the acting. Anybody familiar with films from the first-half of the 20th century, will recognise the ridiculous and offensive "minstrel"/"Yes massa" style of performance. Micheaux uses it... but to subvert it. The good characters and the educated characters act realistically and truthfully (I don't mean silent-acting-realistic, I mean today-realistic). Where as the subservient characters and the "Uncle Toms" perform in the hyper-exaggerated "minstrel" style.

Micheaux's intent is clear. To not just attack the message of Griffith's film but the methods too. The silent movies I've watched so far often have a certain naiveté for the times, but there is no naiveté here. Michauex knew exactly what he was doing and says it with anger and conviction. I'm sure Spike Lee is proud that African-American cinema started on this sure footing (His 2000 movie 'Bamboozled' is worth checking out on the "minstrel" subject by the way).

Sweden's first entry, 'The Phantom Carriage' is next.
95 years ago...

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The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Director: Victor Sjöström
Country: Sweden
Length: 106 minutes (1 3/4 hrs)
Type: Silent, Ghost-Story, Drama

A style of film I love is of the flashbacks-within-flashbacks type. It's something only film can do, slipping easily between time and space in an instant. It's used beautifully here (A 3-layer deep flashback structure is practically 'Inception' Cool ) to tell a New Year's Eve ghost story about a drunken father/husband consumed by hatred and self-loathing, his long-suffering wife, a kindly Salvation-Army nurse who is intent on saving his soul and the Grim-Reaper's apprentice. It's like 'A Christmas Carol' meets 'Final Destination' Wink .

The film uses few intertitles but when the performances are as good as they are here, words aren't needed. It's all there on the actors faces, minutes can go by without an intertitle and you always know what is happening, or what the characters are feeling. Director Victor Sjöström takes the lead role, with Hilda Borgström and Astrid Holm as his female co-stars. Any of the three would walk away with the best-actor Oscar, if they'd been awarding them in 1921.

Double-exposeers are used to create many in-camera FX shots of the half-visible ghosts. There is probably as much FX footage in here as you'd get in the average CGI blockbuster today. The atmospheric lighting is about as good as it's possible to be on film. Compared to others films from the 1919-1920s produced in America, the Swedish were obviously light-years ahead. It's operating on another level of the cinematic art. For me, this the first fully realised film masterpiece. Everything before, was just experimenting with how cinema could work.

I'm going to be re-watching this many times in the future! (Every New Year's Eve perhaps, for extra spookiness).

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However, I thought the last intertitle was a bit insulting to the audience...

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(p.s. It's interesting to note that smelly drunk hairy Swedish tramps from 1921, look exactly like 2016 Hipsters Big Grin )
thanks for the find, tm2yphantomcarriage!

adding that to my list, if only for the last title.
95 years ago...

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Orphans of the Storm (1921)
Director: D.W. Griffith
Country: United States
Length: 150 minutes (2.5 hours)
Type: Silent, Historical, Melodrama

'Orphans of the Storm' is the last Griffith film in the book and after my recent viewing of the superior 'The Phantom Carriage', I could understand why. He hasn't really progressed as a filmmaker in terms of editing, acting, staging, lighting, writing, framing, camera-movement, or anything really, beyond scale and set decoration. He clearly thought you made films better by having them bigger, more elaborate, longer and with more characters. Instead of thinking of ways to tell the story better through film techniques.

The characters are one dimensional, the compositions are flat, the performances are mostly pantomime (The male lead, the Austrian born Joseph Schildkraut is an exception) and no thought is given to lighting. One scene takes place at night and at day, inter-cutting the two as if there is no difference. In another scene an intertitle appears telling us that a character is giving a great impassioned speech on which the plot turns, instead of you know, actually telling us what he said and showing him saying it.

That said, the story is dramatic and emotionally engaging, so I still enjoyed myself. It's very similar in subject and tone to Les Misérables. Two orphans (Played by the Gish sisters) are caught up in the middle of the French Revolution and fate will decide if they'll end up in the Guillotine. The overall story is kept interesting as many plot threads established early, come back and pay off at the end.

Next up is an apparent early feminist French film from Germaine Dulac.
Griffith persevered another decade, but of his final output I've only watched America (stiff and creaky),
and Sally Of The Sawdust (good W C Fields vehicle, which is why I viewed it).

I have read for years he was involved in One Million Years BC (1940), a Hal Roach film.
That would have been his final work.

My own preference is for his Biograph shorts.
I would recommend D.W. Griffith: Years of Discovery 1909-1913.
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There are 20 shorts in that compilation and essential for film buffs and those interested in cinema history.
Audio commentary available on several.
(01-15-2017, 02:10 PM)Vultural Wrote: [ -> ]I would recommend D.W. Griffith: Years of Discovery 1909-1913.

There are 20 shorts in that compilation and essential for film buffs and those interested in cinema history.

I'm not that keen to watch more Griffith right now, as he seems quite "amateurish" (in terms of technique) compared to his contemporaries round the world. But I might do in future and will check out those shorts if I do. Perhaps when he's not trying to be overly ambitious and is just doing a short story he's better.

94 years ago...

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The Smiling Madame Beudet (1922)
Director: Germaine Dulac
Country: France
Length: 38 minutes
Type: Silent, Feminist, Blackly-Comic

This is the first film in he book Directed by a woman and it does bring a fresh perspective (introspective even) compared to the others so far.  The Direction mints that kind of existential French cinema that is almost a cliche to viewers now. The Madame Beudet of the title is an intelligent artistic dreamer trapped in a marriage to a mundane and oafish husband. We see her idle fantasies/dreams of murdering him but it mostly amounts to nothing more than moving a vase of flowers off center to irritate him. That is until she loads his favourite gun with live ammunition, leading to a blackly comic finale.

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She often stares outwards at the camera with her misery obvious to the audience (thanks to Germaine Dermoz's wonderful performance) but invisible to her husband. A strong early cinematic argument for divorce.

Next up is a the great Fritz Lang's first entry in the book (I'm already halfway through it).
94 years ago...

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Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922)
Director: Fritz Lang
Country: Germany
Length: 268 minutes (4.5 hours)
Type: Silent, Crime-Drama, Mystery

The first film the book by the famous Fritz Lang is subtitled 'der Spieler', translating as player, gambler, puppeteer, or actor. So "the Gambler" doesn't quite capture the full meaning of the translation, although gambling (in the literal sense) is the main focus of the plot. Dr. Mabuse is a gambler with cards (Baccarat) but more importantly with people. In a chilling scene/intertitle he says "Nothing in this world is interesting in the long run, except for one thing. Gambling with people and with the fates of people".

He manipulates, coerces, tricks and even hypnotises people to do his bidding, to lose money, or to kill themselves. The State Prosecutor, Von Wenk is constantly on his tail but always ones step behind thanks to Mabuse adopting myriad disguises and personalities. I was reminded a lot of Holmes and Prof. Moriarty. With rewritten intertitles and some clever edits this could easily become a Sherlock fanedit Wink .

The central performance by Rudolf Klein-Rogge with his intense staring eyes makes Dr. Mabuse's hypnotic powers very believable.

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My attention was captured for the full 4.5 hours, although it's actually broken into two films: 'Part I - The Great Gambler: A Picture of the Time' and 'Part II - Inferno: A Game for the People of our Age', so I watched them on separate days.

One of the intertitles towards the end gave me a genuine LOL moment. During a shootout with the police/army, one of Mabuse's minions is angrily told to...

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...before he snorts a handful and continues to fire back at the authorities. It's Scarface, 1922 style Big Grin . I thought maybe had written the blu-ray subtitles for a moment Cool .

Next up is the first "documentary".
^ Been rewatching Mabuse a couple days now.
Brilliant film.  My favorite Lang.
(01-31-2017, 06:59 PM)Vultural Wrote: [ -> ]^ Been rewatching Mabuse a couple days now.
Brilliant film.  My favorite Lang.

I've not seen too many Lang films, Metropolis and a couple of  Film Noirs. The book misses out on a few of his more famous works like Die Nibelungen, Spione, Dr. Mabuse 2&3 and the 2x Indian films. I might try and fit them in too.

94 years ago...

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Nanook of the North (1922)
Director: Robert J. Flaherty
Country: United States
Length: 67 minutes
Type: Silent, docu-fiction, historical, nature

There is a long and complicated controversy about how much of 'Nanook of the North' is documentary and how much is staged fiction. It's best to ignore all that, as a real 1920s Eskimo spearing a real Seal, capturing a real Snow Fox and building a real Igloo in real freezing conditions is damned interesting stuff, regardless of whether the Director shouted "Action!" first or not.

I watched a new 2015 BBC Radio version with a live soundtrack featuring the Inuk "throat singer" Tanya Tagaq. It's a really strange and fitting accompaniment. Piercing strings, guttural vocals and sounds from nature. Here is a sample...

Filming out in what are clearly treacherous Arctic conditions must have been damned difficult with 1920s equipment. A particularly effective sequence intercuts a snarling ravenous Husky's teeth, with the Eskimo family killing a Seal, skinning it and then happily tucking into the raw flesh, with the blood running down the little hands and faces of the children. It's man meets nature, at the limits of survival, with the division between the two less than clear.

Next up is the famous 'Nosferatu'. I've wanted to see it for years but needed an excuse. Now's the time.