Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Wedding March (USA, 1928)

Eric von Stroheim does earn his reputation as a director. Despite the lavish production of his films, the narrative is quite often fluid and smooth, without tiring the audiences. Even the background music gives an impression to the audiences that they are indulging in a ballet dancing, where the characters are always portrayed with all their human faults, but with a pinch of sarcasm and humor too.
At the same time, he deals with love in a romantic way, but not forgetting about realism. Another noteworthy point of Stroheim’s films is that they always look modern, no matter if the setting is in a distant era. This is probably because the audiences can still relate to the feelings portrayed on screen and also due to beautiful wardrobe and scenery, that are still a feast for the eyes and stood up the test of time very well.
As an Austrian, Stroheim wanted to show the end of nobility days and of gentleman values in Vienna, all of those things coming to a brutal end with the beginning of WW1.
The setting of this film is Vienna, 1914 in the eve of WW1. Stroheim also takes part in this film as an actor, where he plays the role of Nikki, a noble man in financial crisis due to his spendthrift and the solution for him to recover financial power is marrying a rich woman for her money. He is willing to do so, but things change a little after the Corpus Christi procession, an important religious and military celebration. The nobleman meets a girl (Mitzi) in the middle of the crowd and it was love at first sight, even though the woman had a quite obnoxious fiancé, a butcher called Schani.
Unfortunately, there is an accident with Mitzi and the nobleman visits her at the hospital.  Later, they meet again in the restaurant where she works as a harpist. Love flourishes, but Schani is threatening towards Nikki all along, which scares Mitzi and, in exchange for Nikki’s safety, she ends up leaving him and the two lovers move on to their previous love commitments, Nikki marries a rich woman and Mitzi and Schani remain committed.
After the two lovers having enjoyed bliss and fulfillment through true love, their happiness is disrupted by social obligations, a situation quite similar to the disruption of happiness in dear old Austria before the horrors of WW1 reached the country. An entire lifestyle was lost forever, but the memory of the happy days would remain forever in the hearts of those who lived it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ingeborg Holm (Sweden, 1913)

Failmaker Victor Seastrom was still completely unknown in Hollywood back to 1913, but when he finally reached fame in the United States in the 1920s he already had a solid cinematic career in his native Sweden and made films good enough to still be appreciated by nowadays’ audiences, as this film shows. 
Making a good use of Swedish countryside landscapes and portraying family life of 1910s, this film is the witness of a lifestyle that has been gone for a long time, even in Scandinavian countries. Manual labor might have been strenous, but the bigger families seemed more united and life simpler. Or perhaps it is just modern audiences romanticizing the lives of Northern Europe peasants, but it is quite interesting to see how they lived, considering how urbanized most of the world has become. 
At that era, in many countries, the passing of the husband/father of the family represented a big social and financial loss to the family, specially if the wife was left with small children to be raised. 
Ingeborg Holm lived a happy and prosperous life with her husband and children, but it all comes to a end when her husband gets sick and passes away with what looks like tuberculosis, a rather deadly disease at that era. 
She tried to keep the grocery market, but the business eventually bankrupted. She was broke, ended up under poverty relief and separated from her children, who were taken to foster parents.
Unfortunately one of Ingeborg’s children gets ill and needs to undergo a operation and she run away from the shelter where she lived to see her child. After a while, the policemen managed to find Ingeborg and arrest her. The toll of all suffering of being widow and without her kids took a huge toll on Ingeborg and she was permanently mentally impaired. 
Fifteen years pass and it shows one of Ingeborg’s children visiting her after spending some time at the sea. Her mental health did not really progress and she could not even recognize her grown up son at first. After a while, he explained to his mother who he was and Ingeborg realized it was her son. 
The transition of time between the time when Ingeborg got hopelessly mentally impaired and the visit of her adult son was a little bit abrupt, though. And it could have been shown what happened with the other Ingebor’g kids. What about the sick kid? Was the operation successful or did the kid pass away? It was not mentioned and perhaps it would help the time transition being a bit more natural. 
Although the acting of main actors was a bit over the top and stagey, considering the naturalistic Hollywoodian-like acting, which would soon become the standard in cinema, the film stood well the test of time. It showed a fairly realistic situation in the society of the era, rural life was also still relatively common. The camera work was nice and the imagery of film was very pleasant to the eyes, good lighting and characterization too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Big Parade (USA,1925)

There are not enough words to write about a such film. Its theme is more alive than ever, although it portrays a war back to an era when going to the war still had a somewhat romantic aura of dying for a cause in the name of your country. Although the horrors of WW2 could not even be predicted back then, WW1 brought enough tragedies and disrupted millions of lives. 
Some of the best war films show the lives of unknown people, their dreams, ambitions, their normal pace of life being completely engulfed in a war and changed forever. Common people, whose names are not in history books, but who borne most of toll of war. Families separated, love stories brutally interrupted, entire youths torn apart forever for reasons that were completely out of their control. People who either perished or had to carry on despite a huge amount of pain. It’s impossible not feeling overwhelmed. 
Back to late 1920s, the biggest Hollywood studios were already big and gave a plenty of examples of the sophistication that could be achieved with a high investment in both technology and human skills. John Gilbert and Renee Adoree provided beautiful pieces of acting without ever being over the top or stereotypical. Adoree is always a pleasant screen presence, showing lots of feelings in a restrained way, but really convincing, a type of acting that could resemble Lillian Gish in her heyday. 
This film can perhaps be considered the best work of John Gilbert on screen. Although he is perhaps more famous today for his films with Greta Garbo (where he also worked quite well, by the way), the character Gilbert played in The Big Parade was full of complexities and dramatic nuances that gave him full room to show off his passionate, energetic, emotional acting. And Gilbert really did not disappoint. A complex role, which he ran smoothly, in such realistic way that he could say we are seeing a friend or a relative right in front of us, as if the audience was just taking a look at a situation from real life portrayed in a documentary. 
Without focusing too much whether was something justifiable or not, the film portrays the influence of facts out of ordinary people’s control into their lives. Although the plot could be quite sad there is a good balance between light comedy, fine irony, romance and drama. Although it is not uncommon to portray on screen the maturity of a young and careless young man into adulthood by suffering the horrors of war, this film shows it under a nice perspective. James Apperson (John Gilbert) not only endures terrible moments at war, but he also had a good time with his friends, found our true love in the arms of a French girl (Melisande, played by actress Renee Adoree), even though they both couldn’t speak each other’s language, for instance. 
The end might have been relatively happy, but until a balance is accomplished, it is portrayed how much James struggled to handle the death and suffering of his friends, but also his own physical wounds. The lives of everyone involved in war, either directly or indirectly, was changed forever. Love might have been unexpectedly found, but the mental scars would have to be handled. 
The “war to end all wars” turned out to be, both on screen and in real life, much more tragic and longer than expected. And many other wars would come. The Big Parade has the distinction of being the first great pacifist war film in the United States, even prior to famous All Quiet on the Western Front (USA,1930). Something that also unites both Adoree and Gilbert is not only the fact that this film brought them to stardom, but also that both of them would die young not too long after this film was released. It was also the first noteworthy picture of filmmaker King Vidor, who would have a successful directorial career ahead of him. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

City Girl (USA, 1930)

German filmmaker F. W. Murnau made a very good work in this film showing the clash between two worlds. Urbanization was already a undeniable reality in many countries of Northern hemisphere back to 1920s, including the United States. Although farms still existed in America and kept their original country lifestyle, the existence of big cities around them could no longer be denied. The stereotypes of innocence related to the countryside and excitement around city life are also challenged. At the same time, Murnau managed to keep his typical romantic style of showing two lonely souls falling in love despite all chaos, poverty and uncertainty around them.
Lem is a relatively naive son of a farmer from Minnesota, who went to Chicago in order to try to sell the wheat crop of his father’s farm for the best price possible. He met a sweet waitress in the big city called Kate and decided to marry her and take her to the farm with him. But things would not be easy. 
In addition to arrive back home as a married man, Lem could not sell the wheat for a good price and he ended up losing money. That was disastrous news to his father, as his family desperately needed the money of that transaction. They were facing financial difficulties in the farm and struggled to make ends meet. The timing of this film was also interesting, considering it was made at around the time of The Wall Street Crash of 1929. 
When Lem arrived back home with Kate, she was accepted and welcomed by his mother and sister, but not by his father. In addition of having his authority challenged by a marriage he had no idea about, he also resented Lem about the low price of wheat and instinctively blamed Lem’s bad transaction to his marriage with Kate. 
In addition to have a hard time to handling her dictatorial, even physically abusive father in law, Kate also had a problem to adjust to the lifestyle of a farm. Things went from bad to worse when she became a object of curiosity of other men of the country and one of them even made some advancements towards her. It led to a misunderstanding of Lem’s father thinking it was Kate who was encouraging those advancements. Even Lem started having doubts about his wife’s faithfulness. One night, after a particularly heated arguments, Kate decides to leave Lem. Lem got to find her and bring her back home, but not without running the risk of being involved in a huge tragedy.
A particularly interesting thing is that Kate’s difficulties in handling her marriage did not come from out of the countryside, but they all came from that apparently calm and idyllic environment. The country could also be a threatening environment, where people could no longer be trusted and safety could not be taken for granted.
Although the plot of this film is related to the loss of overall excitement in American society at the end of so-called roaring twenties, this film stood well the test of time. It shows with accuracy the difficulties of a recently-married couple in adjusting to each other and circumstances around them. In addition to lots of love, it is required a sense of commitment, faith in your partner’s character and responsibility in dealing with that relationship in the context of both family and labor routine. Actor Charles Farrell’s acting as Lem was pretty convincing as a simple, hard-working man with a heart of gold. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Voice of Conscience (USA,1912)

The Thanhouser studios had a very nice output of drama films, but the studio unfortunately lasted only a bit over one decade. It was found prior to 1910, which puts this studio among one of the first cinema studios founded in the United States. 
A young orphaned girl is romantically interested in her guardian, who was a friend of her father. As the girl’s father was dying, he left his daughter to be taken care of by his friend, who took the orphaned girl to the home of his own mother. Time passed, the girl became part of the family and ended up having feelings for her guardian, although he had no idea about it. 
However, guests came from the city, another girl showed up, the orphaned girl’s guardian got a intense interest in the visiting girl and the orphan girl was jealous. 
After a car accident where both girls were injured and shared the same hospital room, the orphan found herself alone with the other girl and a bottle of medicine. After acting impulsively, she tried to kill the other girl with the medicine. The doctor witnessed everything and allowed the orphan to think she had killed the girl, so she could learn a lesson. 
Time passed and the orphaned grieved immensely, but after a while she realized that the visiting girl was still alive. Not without having regretted deeply the attempted murder of her rival. 
Although this film has some stagy acting and overacting at its climax, it remains a beautiful, delicate film.
The biggest irony of this film is that actress Florence La Badie (1888-1917), one of main stars of the studio, who played the visiting girl, ended up dying in a car accident in real life with 29 years old at the peak of her fame and her death was openly mourned by her fans. Perhaps, it was this precocious death which made La Badie being nearly forgotten by subsequent generations even though she was a highly popular star in her own era. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Some noticeable trends of films made in the first years of the XX century

The so-called silent era officially spanned from 1895 to 1927, even though those dates are still controversial, from the first films being shown by Lumière brothers, Thomas Edison, etc. until the release of The Jazz Singer (USA, 1927), which is considered the first talkie. Let’s just not focus on other landmarks and use those dates to delimit the silent era.
Many people claim they cannot understand silent films properly. Nevertheless, films made at the end of silent era (after the main American studios like Universal, Fox, Paramount, etc were founded) are easier to understand, as narrative structures were already consolidated. Films like The Big Parade (USA, 1925), Ben Hur (USA, 1925), Wings (USA, 1927), Sunrise (USA, 1927), Metropolis (Germany, 1927) and so on and so forth, can be much more technologically advanced than we can expect. In other words, their stories are told according to standards that can be comparable with modern films.
However, when we see the films produced in first years of silent era, until around 1915, when D.W. Griffith revolutionized film making with the highly controversial The Birth of a Nation (USA, 1915), we realize they are much more difficult to understand. It happens for some reasons, one of them is that it took a while until cinema got to develop its own “language” and “grammar,” so films were really connected to popular forms of culture, such as vaudeville, circus, magic, fair attractions, magic lantern, which were very popular ways people had fun in the end of XIX century, beginning of XX century. Such representations were opposed to more classic forms of art, such as literature and painting, theatre, etc.
Therefore, it really comes as no surprise that in those first years films were not shown in places where they were the only attraction, they shared the same space as other types of mass distraction, such as vaudevilles and burlesque shows. Mass media was advancing, so, for instance, newspapers had been much more common since XIX century already, news were spread more easily, novels were being read by more people and in many countries urbanization was advancing, which represented a small revolution in the typical peasant life. So, films were a result of all those changes brought about by industrialization and technology. In other words, a completely new world opened up for people and they felt deeply insecure at first.
Sensationalism also started being more widespread, especially because it did help sell more newspapers (some things don’t ever change, huh?). but it was not only that. The grotesque sensationalism was not only connected with economic exploitation, but it was also a way of people representing their feeling of vulnerability and insecurity in this new urban environment.
Thus, many references of early films can be seen in elements of popular culture like current jokes, news, songs, famous plays, novels, etc. So, the audience somehow already knew the plot. Some films that represent this trend are Uncle Tom’s Cabin (USA, 1903); Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son (USA, 1905); The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog (USA, 1905), etc.
Everyday life was shown in many short films since the first short films were shot by Lumière (for example:  Démolition d’un mur (1896), among others) and Edison. An aspect of private life that was particularly highlighted was public spaces, as in films like The Great Train Robbery (1903) and Romance of the Rail (1903). One might say those very early silents are hard to understand by nowadays’ standards, but we must keep in mind that cinema has evolved very fast, particularly in its first 3 decades.
Something that can be easily noticed in those films is that life at that time compared with the one we have nowadays clearly revolved around manual labor, both to men and women.
This can be easily noticed, in slapstick films in general, such as Mabel Normand’s films by Keystone Studios. She was a rather athletic actress, who did most of her own stunts, which was not uncommon in early Hollywood and already in 1910ies we can see a long list of daredevil stars who did so. At that time not even domestic duties were a piece of cake. Many women used entire days to simply wash their clothes, for example. We also may not forget that in countries like the United States, in the first years of cinema, especially until 1915, when feature films established themselves, most of the audience of those short films were laborers and immigrants, the ones who were more involved with that manual labor.
Those events were not only related to rural life and habits, but also to news and urban life. An example of technology being readily shown in films is that trains were commonplace throughout the silent era, from Leaving Jerusalem by Railway (1896) to standard Hollywood productions like The General (1926). After all, cinema itself was a result of fast industrialization that started in the Northern Hemisphere as of middle XIX century, so it is natural that it portrays the wonders of recent inventions.
Let’s take a look at one of Normand’s films and briefly analyze some factors. In the short film A Dash Through the Clouds (1912), Normand in the beginning of the film enters an airplane that is rather fragile for nowaday’s standards.
Those films were somehow important for women’s rights, especially because women were commonly depicted as brave and intelligent enough to be out of trouble due to their own ingenuity, rather than being rescued by a protective man. An example of this new type of heroine can be seen in the serial The Hazards of Helen, released between 1914 and 1917. Even though in other films women were still portrayed as fragile little creatures who fainted at every little difficulty, we can consider it good progress towards acknowledging women could be as skilled and strong as men. Evidence of that is the featured image of this article. Despite being usually shown as a Victorian beauty, a little girl, always kind and fragile, Actress Mary Pickford (1892-1979) in real life was a real pioneer and responsible for many aspects of film making and the first female superstar Hollywood ever produced. But that is another story.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Some Comments About the Silent Era

The so-called silent era officially spanned from 1895 to 1927, even though those dates are still controversial, from the first films being shown by Lumière brothers until the release of The Jazz Singer, which is considered the first talkie. Let’s just not focus on other landmarks and use those dates to delimit the silent era.
Many people claim they cannot understand silent films properly. I mean, films made at the end of silent era, after the main American studios like Universal, Fox, Paramount, etc were founded are easier to understand, as narrative structures were already consolidated. Films like The Big Parade (USA, 1925), Ben Hur (USA, 1925), Wings (USA, 1927), Sunrise (USA, 1927), Metropolis (Germany, 1927) and so on and so forth can be much more technologically advanced than we can expect. In other words, their stories are told according to standards that can be comparable with modern films.
However, when we see the films produced on first years of silent era, until around 1915, when D.W. Griffith revolutionized film making with the highly controversial The Birth of a Nation (USA, 1915), we realize they are much more difficult to understand. It happens for some reasons, one of them is that it took a while until cinema got to develop its own “language” and “grammar”, so films were really connected to popular forms of culture, such as vaudeville, circus, magic, fair attractions, magic lantern, which were very popular ways people had fun in the end of XIX century, beginning of XX century. Such representations were opposed to more classic forms of art, such as literature and painting, theatre, etc.
Therefore, it really comes as no surprise that in those first years films were not shown in places where they were the only attraction, they shared the same space as other types of mass distraction, such as vaudevilles and burlesque shows. Mass media was advancing, so, for instance, newspapers had been much more common since XIX century already, news were spread more easily, novels were being read by more people and in many countries urbanization was advancing, which represented a small revolution in the typical peasant life. So, films were a result of all those changes brought about by industrialization and technology. In other words, a completely new world opened up for people and they felt deeply insecure at first.
Sensationalism also started being more widespread, specially because it did help selling more newspapers (Some things don’t ever change, huh?). But it was not only that. The grotesque sensationalism was not only connected with economic exploitation, but it was also a way of people representing their feeling of vulnerability and insecurity in this new urban environment. 
Thus, many references of early films can be seen in elements of popular culture like current jokes, news, songs, famous plays, novels, etc. So, the audience somehow already knew the plot. Some films that represent this trend are Uncle Tom’s Cabin (USA, 1903), Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son (USA, 1905), The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog (USA, 1905), etc. 
Everyday life was shown in many short films since the first short films were shot by Lumière (for example:  Démolition d'un mur (1896), among others) and Edison. An aspect of private life that was particularly highlighted were public spaces, as in films like Great Train Robbery (1903) and Romance of the Rail (1903). One might say those very early silents are hard to understand by nowadays' standards, but we must keep in mind that cinema has evolved very fast, particularly in their first 3 decades.
Something that can be easily noticed in those films is that life at that time compared with the one we have nowadays clearly revolved around manual labor, both to men and women.
This can be easily noticed, in slapstick films in general, such as Mabel Normand’s films by Keystone Studios. She was a rather athletic actress, who did most of her own stunts, which was not uncommon in early Hollywood and already in 1910ies we can see a long list of daredevil stars who did so. At that time not even domestic duties were a piece of cake. Many women used entire days to simply wash their clothes, for example. We also may not forget that in countries like the United States, in the first years of cinema, specially until 1915, when feature films established themselves, most of the audience of those short films were laborers and immigrants, the ones who were more involved with those manual labor.
Those events were not only related to rural life and habits, but also to news and urban life. An example of technology being readily shown in films is that trains were a commonplace throughout the silent era, from Leaving Jerusalem by Railway (1896) to standard Hollywood production, like The General (1926). After all, cinema itself was a result of fast industrialization that started in Northern Hemisphere as of middle XIX century, so it is natural it portrays the wonders of recent invents.
Let’s take a look at one of her films and briefly analyze some factors. In the short film A Dash Through the Clouds (1912) Mabel in the beginning of film enters an airplane that is rather fragile for nowaday’s standards.
Those films were somehow important for women’s rights, specially because women were commonly depicted as brave and intelligent enough to be out of trouble due to their own ingenuity, rather than being rescued by a protective man. Na example of this new type of heroine can be seen in the serial The Hazards of Helen released between 1914 and 1917. Even though in other films women were still portrayed as fragile little creatures who fainted at every little difficulty, we can consider it a good progress towards acknowledging women could be as skilled and strong as men. An evidence of that is the featured image of this article. Despite being usually shown as a Victorian beauty, a little girl, always kind and fragile, Mary Pickford in the real life was a real pioneer and was responsible for many aspects of film making and the first female super star Hollywood ever produced. But that is another story.