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89 years ago...

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Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Director: F. W. Murnau
Country: United States
Length: 95 minutes
Type: Silent, Drama, Romance

Murnau's first film in the US, is a real fusion of the darkly emotional and technically sophisticated German film-making style and the joyously romantic spirit of American Cinema of this period. Case in point; the film starts off showing the misery-drenched breakdown of a marriage (to the point of contemplating murder) before devoting the last two-thirds to the couple rekindling their passion and love for each other. 'Sunrise' just about gets away with it, through shear narrative and film-making genius but I'm still not quite sure you can come back from plotting-murder, to joyful romantic finale in less than 90 minutes. I was still left with the uneasy feeling that the hero of the story (that I was somehow rooting for by the end) isn't actually deep-down a total psychopath, who is going to murder his wife some years after the films perfect ending.
 
Technically, 'Sunrise' manages many new innovations. The camera glides around in long unbroken takes, that are astonishing given the time and equipment available. It is full of near-perfect FX shots, some are so convincing that I didn't know they were FX until listening to the audio-commentary. Most notably, it features an actual optical soundtrack. No actual dialogue but it does have a synchronised score and limited soundFX. This was used early on to create the first "jump scare" I've seen. A horse suddenly came into frame during a tense scene, a loud noise played and I did jump Big Grin . With his very first go at limited sound, Murnau is even using "non-diegetic" soundFX to convey emotion.

There are two versions of the movie on the blu-ray I've got. A comparatively blurry, dull but totally watchable transfer of the original American cut (with cleverly animated intertitles) and a beautifully sharp and rich transfer of a shorter Czech-language version of the movie. I went for the full American cut but I'll view the better looking Czech cut next time. The better source could even be fanedited to conform to the longer cut Wink .



Interesting fact: 'Sunrise' and 'Wings' were essentially tied for the first ever Oscar for Best-Picture. 'Sunrise' seems to have more of a lasting reputation but that might be because no copies of 'Wings' were thought to survive until 1992, so critically it might have some catching up to do. Although 'Wings' isn't included in the 1001 book I'm following, I fully intend to be watching it very soon for comparison. I'm also interested to see a Clara Bow movie, having recently seen a documentary about her on the BBC. She was one of the biggest movie stars in History but due to many of her films being lost (and other reasons) she is largely forgotten. She is where the phrase "It girl" comes from.





More Buster Keaton next. Always welcome.
(04-25-2017, 03:12 PM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]"non-diegetic"

does that mean non-scientology?
(04-25-2017, 10:54 PM)ssj Wrote: [ -> ]
(04-25-2017, 03:12 PM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]"non-diegetic"

does that mean non-scientology?

Yes exactly.



90 years ago...

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The General (1927)
Director: Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
Country: United States
Length: 75 Minutes
Type: Silent, Comedy, Romance, War

'The General' fared poorly at the box-office on it's initial release with reviews suggesting it was not up to previous efforts but is now widely regarded as one of the greatest and funniest films ever made. I have to say I inclined to side with the initial reaction. It is very funny and it is very good but I still think Keaton's earlier feature films are better.

'The General' is much more ambitious in overall scale and features larger comedy set-pieces, but we've lost some of the up-close and frenetic comedy. Maybe when it's reputation is so great, my expectations for laughs were too high? However, it does feature one of Keaton's all-time greatest visual jokes...

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...and the set-pieces extended to blowing up bridges and trains...

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I love 'Back to the Future: Part III' but had not realised how much of a debt it owed to the chase in 'The General'. The trains used in the two films aren't identical but they are very, very similar in appearance and I suspect that was on purpose. I would love to see 'The General' again, rescored with Alan Silvestri Big Grin . I also didn't realise, until I read up on the movie afterwards, that it's based on a true Civil War story.



Another Lon Chaney flick next.
89 years ago...

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The Unknown (1927)
Director: Tod Browning
Country: United States
Length: 51 Minutes
Type: Silent, Drama, Tragedy, Horror

Having only seen Tod Browning's later 'Dracula' sound film and given that film's fairly flat direction, I'd imagined his skills to be limited. That must have been somewhat down to the restrictions of the new sound recording technologies because he's very good in the (perhaps appropriately) less well known 'The Unknown'. It's a fascinating proto-Cronenberg/Lynch like psycho-sexual Horror film about love and hate.

'The Unknown' (a movie title that operates on many levels) centers on the volatile emotional triangle between three circus performers. A young Joan Crawford plays a psychologically damaged young woman called Nanon, who is physically repulsed by the touch of a man's hands (after some past trauma). Lon Chaney plays Alonzo an arm less "circus freak" who worships Nanon in secret but due to his disability, is the only man she can feel safe around. The third is the kind circus Strongman Malabar, who truly loves Nanon but is the literal embodiment of everything she fears. It's soon revealed to us the audience, that Alonzo is not the caring man he pretends to be but is in fact a murderer who really does have arms. He's been keeping them tightly bound against his body in constant painful torture, just to get close to Nanon.

Lon Chaney's performance is astounding as the "armless" man. He throws knives, reads books, drinks tea and smokes using just his feet. At points I actually forgot and thought his feet were hands, such is his dexterity. The film only seems available on an old out-of-print $200 Lon Chaney DVD boxset from TCM, so I had to watch a poor quality stream on an out-of-copyright silent movies website. According to Wikipedia a 35mm print does exist, so hopefully one day it will be re-released to blu-ray. I'd buy it in a heartbeat to see this masterpiece of psychological Horror in glorious HD.



Next is another Eisenstein Soviet propaganda film... yay?
89 years ago...

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October: Ten Days that Shook the World (1928)
Director: Sergei Eisenstein & Grigori Aleksandrov
Country: Russia
Length: 97 Minutes
Type: Silent, Propaganda, Historical, War

You know, I don't think I'm really a fan of Eisenstein. 'October' is better than the last two but the lack of characters and a plot, makes a 1.5hour+ film hard to enjoy. Various events from the 1917 Russian Revolution (Filmed to celebrate the 10 year anniversary) are recreated in a pseudo documentary style, with little or no explanation of their context or meaning. I imagine if you were the intended period Soviet audience you'd know these events by heart and would just appreciate seeing them put on film. Unfortunately, my own knowledge of the specifics of the revolution were not up to the task of filling in the gaps. Stalin ordered all scenes involving Trotsky be removed (as he had himself recently been "removed" from the Soviet Union and Soviet history, just as the film was nearing completion) so that might explain some of the incomprehensibility.

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There are a few striking moments in there. The best being shots of Lenin, atop a tank, bearing a  fluttering flag. It's difficult to not feel the soul stir a little with propaganda images this powerful, regardless of the viewers own political opinions. Another effective moment is during a street massacre scene, when footage of a machine gun and footage of its victims are rapidly intercut at the speed of the gunfire. The street bound battle scenes in general are directed very well. Again Eisenstein uses animals as a metaphor for human cruelty but at least this time they seem to be dead before he rolls camera.

I watched a later 1966 re-release version, which has limited use of soundFX. Mostly I choose this version for it's specially composed Shostakovich score.



Next up is Al Jolson's 'The Jazz Singer'. The twilight of the silent era is approaching Sad .
Sergei Eisenstein, Dmitri Shostakovitch and Lenin all in one movie?
Sold.
89 years ago...

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The Jazz Singer (1927)
Director: Alan Crosland
Country: United States
Length: 96 Minutes
Type: "Silent", "Musical", Drama

I was under the impression that 'The Jazz Singer' was the first "Talkie" but it's really another silent movie, with a few synchronised musical and vocal sequences bolted on. It still features dialogue intertitles throughout, almost no soundFX and only a handful of spoken lines. Ironically the sound portions are the weakest parts, while the silent majority of the film is a master work. A story that is being told beautifully with music, intertitles and visuals alone, is interupted by 2-3 minute long song sequences, where the film's plot stops dead.

One of my all-time favourite movies is 'Once Upon a Time in America', so I was immediately interested when I realised this takes place in the same sort of 1920s New York Jewish ghetto as that film wonderfully evokes (only this time it's a contemporary story). Young Jakie Rabinowitz wants to be a Broadway Jazz singer but his stubborn father wants him to carry on the family tradition of singing in the Synagogue. The difficult relationship between father and son is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. 'The Jazz Singer' would be a perfect masterpiece if it wasn't for Jolson's awfully dated singing style and him "blacking up" in two crucial emotional scenes and ruining it all.



Abel Gance's 5.5 hour silent epic 'Napoléon' is next, a film I've been excitedly looking forward to seeing, since I got the blu-ray for christmas.
God damn, did you see Napoleon when it was re-released in cinemas recently? Like 6 hours long (Pretty sure it had restored footage) with an all new original score. It might have been the best cinema experience I've ever had.... if they had an intermission. The cinema I was in decided to show it in its full glory uncut, and it wasn't until about 3/4 through that I realised there wasn't going to be one. I was thirsty, hungry, tired and really needed a pee. But god damn, I wasn't going to miss a single second.

I wish they'd shown us this in film class, instead of The Birth of a Nation in its full uncut depravity.

The Jazz Singer's pretty good too. I'd love to see a fan edit that removes all the spoken dialogue, so the sound just comes from score and whenever we hear Jackie sing. I think it'd be more powerful if the only part of his voice we heard was his singing.

I was told in film class (I feel like I talk about film class too much) that it was the first ever film with sound AT ALL. Only took a quick google to discover Edison beat Crosland to the punch by more than 3 decades. The first sound film was proposed even further back than that by Muybridge. The first commercial screening of a sound film was in 1923! This film's marketing is still fooling folks today!
Is Coppola still blocking the Brownlow restoration?
I know Francis always vented a stink because it did not use his daddy's score.
(05-02-2017, 01:48 PM)Zamros Wrote: [ -> ]God damn, did you see Napoleon when it was re-released in cinemas recently?

Alas no. I'd been wanting to see it for years but unless you happened to live near a super-rae screening, or were prepared to see a short version in VHS/DVD quality, it wasn't available. Lucky you. Now the BFI have finally put it out on blu-ray everyone can see it!  Smile I was reading last night, that Coppola had been legally blocking the restored version's release on home video for years. I'd like to see Coppola's  version too (with his dad's score) if it also gets the HD treatment.

(05-02-2017, 01:48 PM)Zamros Wrote: [ -> ]Like 6 hours long (Pretty sure it had restored footage) with an all new original score.

Wikipedia has a long list of versions/screenings and according to that you must have heard the Carl Davis score? Which is the same score on the blu-ray and is really wonderful stuff. Napoleon's "Eagle of Destiny" theme is terrific and woven throughout the score...



Wikipedia also says 20fps for the recent screenings, where as the blu-ray is 24fps, which might account for the longer runtime. It looks fine in 24fps to me (apart from people clapping) and since most of the time Napoleon is standing statue still observing others run around like headless chickens, it probably adds a little something Big Grin .

EDIT: Posted before reading that last comment...

(05-02-2017, 03:38 PM)Vultural Wrote: [ -> ]Is Coppola still blocking the Brownlow restoration?
I know Francis always vented a stink because it did not use his daddy's score.

You can easily get the Brownlow restoration from Amazon-UK on Blu-Ray here (It's Region-B locked) Coppola is still probably blocking it in the USA, as I can't see it on Amazon-US.
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