Showing posts with label 1928. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1928. Show all posts

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Sometimes it only takes a few frames to realise that you’re in for a treat. This was the case for me with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. It is however a film that I’d put off watching for a long time. Despite my interest in silent cinema and all the great things I’d read and heard, there was something about what little I knew of the film that put me off. Perhaps it was the subject matter (more on that later) or the idea that it would be a depressing and/or dull watch but either way it took a good five years from my first whiff of the film to actually sitting down to watch it. What a silly boy I was for those five years. Like many other renowned films that I’d put off viewing it is of course a superb movie that features some of the best acting, editing and camera placement I’ve ever seen.

The film tells of the imprisonment, trial and (spoiler) execution of Joan of Arc (Noah’s wife) who claimed divine guidance and lead France to several important military victories during the Hundred Year’s War before being captured by the English and tried for heresy, all by the age of nineteen. The film draws on the five hundred year old transcripts of the trial and indeed original documents form the basis of the script.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Charlie Chaplin - The United Artist Films and Beyond

Last year I watched and reviewed over forty films made by one of my cinematic heroes, Charlie Chaplin. It’s taken a while but after cataloguing all of his Essanay, Mutual and First National Films, I’ve come back to the tramp to look at the final portion of his career. Even as I write these words I realise how absurd ‘final portion’ sounds as the years I’m looking at cover over four decades and include his first dramatic film, his first talkie and his final British films following his exile from his adopted United States. This period also coincides with what is today, his most iconic era; the fifteen years between 1925’s The Gold Rush and 1940’s The Great Dictator. Despite having been one of the most famous men in the world for over a decade, 1925 marks the beginning of the era which still defines Chaplin’s motion picture career. It was between the years of 1925-40 that he created some of the most essential comedy moments in film history and all but one of his films from this period has been added to the US National Film Registry. For me and indeed many film fans these films are gems but as with many of the silent shorts that I reviewed last year, some of the films surrounding this golden period will be new to me.

Most of the films listed below were produced through United Artists, the company co-founded by Chaplin and fellow stars D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (pictured above). The company is still going strong today but lost its independence in 1967 and is now a subsidiary of MGM. I have, in the past year and a half, reviewed some of the films on this list already but I’ll be watching the rest in order and may decide to re-watch the ones I have seen anyway. As usual you can click on a film’s title to read my full review.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Circus

A Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) is mistaken for a pickpocket and chased through a circus by the police. Once in the big top he outwits the cops and gets more laughs in doing so than the circus clowns so is offered a job by the ringmaster (Al Ernest Garcia). On his first morning at work the tramp meets a beautiful young dancer (Merna Kennedy) who is hungry after being punished by the ringmaster who is also her father. The tramp falls instantly in love and shares what little food he has. Despite being a hit with the audience the tramp is unaware and like the dancer is mistreated by the ringmaster. No sooner does he become self aware he begins to act with hubris, making working conditions better for himself and his love. The tramp’s intentions are soon interrupted however with the arrival of a handsome young tightrope walker (Harry Crocker).

Almost forgotten by Chaplin and his audience for sixty years, more recently The Circus has become known as one of actor/director’s defining works. Featuring some of his best comic creations and earning points for the sheer hardship of production, The Circus is amongst Chaplin’s better films and ranks as one of my favourites.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Steamboat Bill Jr

While not generally regarded as one of Buster Keaton’s greatest works and coming just a year after his most famous and arguably best film, The General, Steamboat Bill Jr, is still a fantastic example of Buster Keaton at the height of his powers and I believe a masterpiece of its era.

The film takes place along the banks of the Mississippi, where an old steamboat Captain, whose boat has seen better days, is awaiting the arrival of his son who he hasn’t seen since he was an infant. The son is Steamboat Bill, Jr, played by Keaton. Jr is not at all what his father is expecting and they don’t exactly hit it off. Keaton arrives in town at a time when his fathers livelihood is under threat from the arrival of a new steamboat, operated by the father of Keaton’s love interest. The film follows Keaton as he attempts to impress his father and his girl.

Father and Son

At only 71 minutes, the film is twenty or thirty minutes shorter than most modern comedies but packs more laughs than even the best that Apatow or the Farrelly’s can offer. The film is full to bursting with fantastic sight gags and stunt work. Keaton is always at his best when running around, getting into trouble and there is plenty of that here. Some of the highlights include Keaton climbing over a gate in a storm to find the gate has opened and he is back where he started, having a house fall on him and the reaction when his father meets him for the first time.

Keaton’s stunt work as always is unbelievable. People tend to get carried away these days when an actor announces that ‘I do my own stunts’ but Keaton was working at a time before stunt doubles, wires and CGI and along with Harold Lloyd he is responsible for some of the greatest stunt work in history. He makes everything look so easy when it reality it is both incredibly complex and dangerous.

Brilliant Stunt Work

The film builds to an incredible set piece that takes place during a storm. This scene features both the most laughs and stunt inspired gasps and is well worth watching even without the rest of the film.

It is great to know that after over 80 years the work of Buster Keaton is still being enjoyed the world over and he is still inspiring. It is a little known fact that Wall:E was based on Keaton and it is my hope that this and the renewed interest in early cinema, bought on in part by the success of The Artist will help even more people to become acquainted with the great Buster Keaton.