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 war 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 out 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.