Thursday, June 30, 2016

#581: I Was Born, But...

Directed by: YASUJIRO OZU
1932, TSPDT Rank #328

As the earliest Yasujiro Ozu film on the 1,000 Greatest Films (as well as the only one of his silent films to make it on to the list), I Was Born, But... presents Ozu's style as it was still in the process of developing. It's also much lighter in mood than most of Ozu's later, more well-known dramas, highlighting the humorous antics of its child protagonists, as well as their first glimpses of the adult world, which ultimately provide a crushing realization of their father's fallibility. However, while the film initially shows a fair amount of comic promise, it suffers from a plodding middle section which slows its momentum considerably, as too many supporting child characters are introduced, and their comedic scenes become increasingly repetitive and inane in nature. This makes the film feel a bit more uneven than Ozu's later work, although the final half-hour is powerful enough to make up for it.

What ultimately makes this film stand out, despite its flaws, is Ozu's ability to convey a child's perspective while juxtaposing it with that of the adults who effectively rule their lives. Ozu's trademark low-angle visual style works perfectly for showing the world as seen through a child's eyes, but his ability to gracefully switch between low-angle point-of-view shots and long shots, which emphasize the children's small size in comparison to their environment and their parents, lends an air of sophistication to the film which will be instantly recognizable to those familiar with Ozu's later films.  Ozu had yet to perfect the pacing of his films, but his ability to convey family relationships with unmatched level of intimacy and warmth was already in full view with this early silent film.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#580: The Blood of a Poet

Directed by: JEAN COCTEAU
1930, TSPDT Rank #861

During the introductory sequence of The Blood of a Poet, a series of intertitles describes a poet's work as "a documentary of unreal events". This film was director (and poet) Jean Cocteau's first attempt with the medium, and as such, it functions primarily as a declaration of intent - a poetic meditation on the nature of art and the tortured souls whose solemn task it is to create it. As an attempt to transfer the essence of poetry to film - quite a groundbreaking idea at the time - it emphasizes art's function as a portal to "unreality", while also focusing on the creative process itself, which is depicted as being destructive for its creator - who must either destroy himself in order to create, or destroy his creations in order to save himself. Cocteau's portrayal of the struggle between an artist and his creations is shown from a number of angles, but it is seen to invariably result in the artist's death. The Blood of a Poet is known today as a landmark work of surrealism, but unlike the other famous surrealist film of the early 1930s - Luis Bunuel's L'age D'or - it is less concerned with the hypocrisies of the external world of political authority and religion than it is with the internal world of the artist. In conveying the "unreal events" of this internal world, Cocteau employed a number of innovative techniques which distort the appearance of the on-screen space and the movement of characters within it - creating a distinctive sense of the uncanny which sets this film apart from other surrealist films of its era. It would be over ten years before Cocteau made his return to the screen with his most famous film, Beauty and the Beast, but the "unreal" imagery and dreamlike atmosphere of The Blood of a Poet would go on to influence countless filmmakers and artists in the years to follow, and the film remains a striking work of vision to this day.