Monday, May 30, 2016

#579: La Roue

Directed by: ABEL GANCE
1923, TSPDT Rank #930

Here's another film with a relatively simple narrative which gets stretched across a very long running time. But unlike The Mother and the Whore, this film's length isn't necessarily meant to be a key component of the experience. Instead, it just suggests the seemingly endless supply of bold cinematic ideas possessed by director Abel Gance during its production. The film was originally cut down from an original length of nine hours, and at its current restored length of four and a half hours, it still seems to be bursting at the seams with visual dynamism and stunning displays of technical innovation. The film is unlike just about anything else in the history of cinema, as Gance brings an approach to the medium which is seemingly unconnected to any conception of established rules or conventional approaches to filmmaking, editing, and storytelling. At its most basic narrative level, the film merely tells the story of two men, a railroad engineer and his son, who fall in love with the same woman - the railroad engineer's unofficially adopted daughter. However, Gance proceeds to amplify the tragic implications of the film's narrative to epic proportions - drawing audacious symbolic connections to the myths of Sisyphus and Oedipus Rex, while augmenting his basic narrative with frequent dramatic subplots and multiple climaxes in order to intensify the film's emotional impact. As a viewing experience, the film is more engaging than a French silent film made nearly a century ago has any right to be. And while there are few films which can truly be compared to this one, there are moments which seem to predict the later work of similarly ambitious filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein and Stan Brakhage. Abel Gance, however, was clearly in a class of his own as a cinematic visionary, and La Roue may be even more successful as a whole than Gance's later masterpiece, Napoleon, in conveying Gance's technical brilliance and desire for boundless narrative scope in his films.

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