Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Big Parade

Directed by: KING VIDOR
1925, TSPDT Rank #798

Okay, if you're honest with yourself, this movie isn't that good anymore. It was important when it was released, specifically for not glorifying war, but showing it as something where decent young men get injured or killed for a cause that doesn't truly matter to them. Which was groundbreaking at the time. Many of the characters (excluding the American soldier and the French peasant he falls in love with) are really one-sided, or used for cheap laughs, which gets pretty old after a while. And the anti-war themes are pretty heavy-handed. On top of that (and I understand this isn't really fair of me to say), after seeing something like Napoleon, the technical aspects of The Big Parade seem pretty basic and average. So if you're interested in an early silent anti-war film, maybe check it out, but otherwise leave it to history.

(Rating: 5/10)


Directed by: ABEL GANCE
1927, TSPDT Rank #108

Another silent film. This one is much longer (about four hours in the Francis Ford Coppola restoration, which is still much shorter than the film originally was), and is impressive mostly for its technical complexity. The editing was the best of anything in silent film, and has rarely been matched in sound film any time since. It works to show you violence, power, exhilaration, and wonder with just the way the frames are arranged. At one point there's a split screen going on (during an epic pillow fight at Napoleon Bonaparte's boarding school) with nine different views going on at once. The last reel was filmed to be projected on three huge screens, with three separate images on 70mm film. The spectacle of this is diminished on Coppola's VHS release from the early '80s (the only one available on video), but it still sends chills down your spine realizing how amazing this would have looked in the theater on these huge screens. As far as plot goes, it's the story of Napoleon's rise to power from his beginnings in the previously mentioned boarding school. It was the first in a planned series of seven (obvious budgetary restrictions stopped this from ever happening, as Abel Gance ran the production company practically bankrupt), so it ends with Napoleon marching his enormous army into the first battle in his Italian campaign, with promise of a great ascension to power still to follow. When it's over, you feel you've seen something big, but you can't get that true feeling that you would get in the theater. Still worth seeing.

(Rating: 7/10)

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Directed by: CARL DREYER
1928, TSPDT Rank #20

This is the type of movie that you know deserves to be high up on a list of great films, because it just has this aura around it. It was thought to be a lost film, until someone found the sole remaining print (the negative had been burned in a fire) of this silent Danish film in a mental hospital in Norway, in 1985 (no joke), after which it was restored by the French Cinematheque. First of all, Renee Falconetti's acting is one of the greatest performances - intense, desperate, and even scary at times, while still completely sympathetic, not over the top in the stereotypical silent film way, and without any words!!! Probably the greatest acting anyone ever pulled off with just facial expressions. I watched the movie with no music, and although I feel it tends to get pretty repetitive, it is often very hypnotic, and the camerawork is quite innovative. But I've heard the Criterion release has some pretty good music along with the movie, so I would most likely recommend that. It might make the movie easier to get into. But this movie is definitely essential in learning about silent films, acting, and film in general.

(Rating: 8/10)

The Rules of the Game

Directed by: JEAN RENOIR
1939, TSPDT Rank #3

This movie was butchered and panned by everyone when it came out - one man took his newspaper, lit it, and tried to burn down the theater where this movie was showing. Now its one of the most acclaimed movies ever. This is because, quite simply, this movie was an attack on the French society of the time; it was funny, and that was because it hit the nail right on the head with all of its characters. Its an enjoyable movie to watch, and the fact that it was finally restored and rediscovered in the 1950s is definitely a good thing. For a movie that is too close a reflection of its current time, its value increases a lot once the people who watch it can be detached from that time and view it on its own merits. This is a very well-made, well-written, complex work of film, I won't say its the greatest, but its definitely a landmark in the history of movies.

(Rating: 8/10)