Sunday, June 12, 2022

An Andalusian Dog (France, 1929)

This famous silent film short is a result of the cooperation of Luiz Bunel and famous surrealist artist Salvador Dali in the production/direction. And much has been said – even by Dali himself -that nothing in this film was meant to make any sense, still many reviewers and scholars have tried to find some meaning and connection between all scenes throughout the decades. Maybe an attempt to try to find coherence by all means or would there be any sense in the images shown, after all?

The film starts with a tango song in the background and the image of a man sharpening a razor. He goes to a balcony while holding the razor and smoking a cigarette. Then a woman who is sitting down is shown with her eye being cut by the razor at night. Eight years later, a man is shown riding a bicycle on a deserted street in a sunny day. He is wearing unusual clothes and the street looks beautiful. Right afterwards, the woman who had her eye cut a while ago is shown while sitting down on a chair and reading something. The background music changes, the guy on a bicycle pops up again. The woman gets tense, stops reading and goes to the window. The guy on a bicycle is shown again, this time from above. He falls off the bicycle on the sidewalk and the woman goes downstairs to help him.

The woman is shown in her bedroom upstairs again. She is holding a tie and puts it on the bed together with the clothes that belonged to the man who fell off the bicycle. She sits down on a chair and stares at the bed with the man’s clothes on it. Suddenly, a man is shown in the bedroom and he’s looking at one of his own hands and there are ants on it, which seems to be a symbolism of his urge to kill. The images change abruptly, almost in a raw way, and we can now see a man with androgynous features and clothing playing with a human hand with a can while a crowd is around him. Would it mean the use of of human suffering and misery for the entertainment of masses? Would this man be blind or something like that? A policeman comes and disperses the crowd. The man keeps on playing with the human hand with his can and the policeman bents down to collect the hand, puts it on a small box and delivers the hand back to the man.

Both the man and woman in the bedroom follow up this commotion from their window. The man on the street remains there, lonely, holding his small box with the human hand in it until he is hit by a car. The other man by the window seems to be deeply impacted by the event unfolding downstairs. The background tango song is back. The man in the window looks at the woman besides him in a rather scary way and then the shock: He tries to sexually assault the woman by his side even though she refuses his advances. The woman pushes him and runs inside the bedroom and tries to protect herself in any way she can. 

Then the man pushes the strings of two pianos and the audience can see two dead donkeys and two priests also being pushed, which weights down on the man heavily. Would it be a representation of the weight of the church and authorities over the back of common citizens? Upon seeing this, the woman leaves the room in horror. The man tries to follow her to no avail and then it is still visible to the audiences the ants on his hand, which might mean his wish to kill and the fact that his bad passions dominated him. Right afterwards the man is suddenly shown laying down on the bed in the same room where he was in the previous scenes.

“Around three in the morning” (as an intertitle says), another man rings the bell and the woman who was previously in the bedroom opens the door. This new man goes straight to the bed where the another man is laying down and he apparently urges him to stand up. The man laying down is quite puzzled and has a submissive attitude. Would this new man be the boss urging his employee to stand up and work, perhaps?

Another intertitle says “Sixteen years before”. Both guys now appear to look the same, even though the submissive guy keeps his oppressed attitude unchanged. There is a messy office desk with torn and dirty papers on it. One guy hands over a book to the other, the image blurs briefly and the submissive man is holding a gun towards the bossy man. He shoots. Would it be the embodiment of the oppressed becoming the oppressor and representing the change of luck of a person in life?

When the shot guy falls, he falls in a place outdoors and we can see the back of a half naked woman, who looks like the woman who was previously in the bedroom. The woman disappears after a short while. Some men are shown in this outdoors place and they find the body of the man who was shot and he is carried by the other man. It seems it was already too late to save his life. Would it be a representation that everything in life will eventually come to an end?

The old bedroom is shown once more. The woman is returning to the bedroom, there is the close up of a small butterfly. The man was waiting for her, which means that the old couple of the bedroom is reunited once more. The man rubs his hand on his lips and we can see that his mouth was deleted from his face. The woman applies some lipstick in her own lips. The man still has no mouth and the woman realizes that her body hair was also gone. She pulls a face on the man and leaves the bedroom again.

It’s windy outside, we can see the man on a beach, the woman walks towards him and the man on the beach is appears to be the same man who has just been seen in the bedroom but in another outfit. He shows his watch to the woman, as if he was reprehending for having arrived late. The woman kisses the man and they embrace. The beach gets muddy and they see some garbage, including old clothes, which look like the clothes that belonged to the man who fell off the bicycle in the beginning of the film. Would it be a representation of leaving the past behind and start a new life?

The couple walks happily on the beach and then another intertitle says “In the spring” and the couple is shown buried in the sand, apparently dead. A strong scene which maybe would mean that life is brief and that, despite all ups and downs, it eventually ends for everyone?

A surrealist work of art gives room for all sorts of interpretations. It can mean nothing and everything, all at the same time, but the imagery always makes people uncomfortable and raises lots of thoughts, which is the intent of the surrealist movement. Definitely it is not a film for everyone and it helps audiences if audiences are open minded about non linear plots.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Roman Holiday (USA, 1953)

 Some films age well, some don’t but there are films that only get better as time passes. The story of a princess who spent a day out without the obligations of her secluded life may seem a bit dull for nowadays’ standards. But the discovery of small pleasures in life (the first ice cream, pair of shoes, haircut, etc.) and the carefree relaxation and touching human connections make this film more relevant than ever in world where those feelings seem scarce. It is also a witness of life in post world war 2 era and of birth of a new star, Audrey Hepburn, who is on the main role, and won an Oscar in for this film, in her first major Hollywood role.

The young princess Ann of an unidentified European kingdom is on a diplomatic visit to Italy while on a goodwill tour of European capitals. We can see right in the beginning that her life consists in strict protocols and social obligations without opportunity for entertainment and she is bored with all that, longing to enjoy life without those impositions. We can also see the scenes made in magnificent sceneries, beautiful clothing, sophisticated places, everything emphasizing the luxury life of the princess. In her first diplomatic commitment, which mostly consisted in shaking hands of foreign dignitaries, she was always polite, gentle, did everything expected from her, but she was clearly impatient with all stiffness. 

After the social gathering, princess Ann is seeing in her bedroom behaving silly and frantically like a youth of her own age and then all her obligations gave her an anxiety attack. A doctor was called, who administered her injectable sedatives so the princess could relax and sleep well because she would have lots of commitments on the following day. After being left alone in the bedroom and hearing the sound of people partying she gathered courage to venture outside and explore Rome on her own. She leaves unnoticed after jumping inside a truck.

Unfortunately to Ann the sedative took effect a little too late and she fell asleep on the street at night. Joe Bradley, expatriate reporter for the "American News Service" finds her without having any idea that she was a princess and thinking she is just a random drunk woman. As Joe could not know where she lived he takes her to his house to recover. Meanwhile, it was announced in the press a sudden disease of the princess as a cover up for her disappearance and her press interview had to be canceled.

Joe Bradley was one of journalists supposed to be in the interview, but he overslept and lied to his boss about being there, as he was not aware of the cancellation at first. After a short time his boss told Joe that the princess was weak and therefore her interview was canceled and showed this news in the newspaper. When Joe saw the picture of the princess in the newspaper he instantly recognized her as the girl sleeping in her apartment. He called his Irving, his bon vivant photographer friend so they could both write a reportage on the princess. 

When the princess wake up, she take a shower and left Joe’s apartment. Having never carried any money with her, she borrows some with Joe and went outside. Joe follows her. At first Ann is not used with those crowds around her and the frantic pace of the big city, but she adjusts after some minutes. She buys a pair of shoes, have her hair cut and then Joe met her and they have an ice cream together. In order to gain time while he waits for Irving to arrive, he volunteers to show the city of Rome to Anna and she accepts it. He shows her lots of touristic attractions and have the best fun, including a rather awkward scooter riding by both Ann and Joey, which caused lots of physical losses for people around. After spending a while at the police department they are finally released after Joe lying that he and Ann were getting married.

After being released from the police station, they attend a party by the sea in the evening. When things were so nice and relaxing at the party with people dancing and chatting and Ann even met the hairdresser who cut her hair that afternoon, it arrives agents from the secret service of Ann’s country in the party. Her father had asked for the secret service look for Ann and bring her back home. Ann recognizes the agents, tries to run away and then there is a generalized fighting with both Ann and Joe falling inside the river. After they leave the river and Joe heats her up, they kissed, but stop soon when the both realize it is something inappropriate for a princess.

It was all fun and games but 24 hours have passed since Ann had left and everyone was worried with her in the country and her disappearance have already become a diplomatic problem. She knew she had to return to her headquarters without delay. After taking a shower in Joe’s apartment she asked him to drive her to the corner of the embassy of her country in Italy. He does it and it is quite painful for them to say good bye because it was clear they would never see each other again. 

Anna returns and is scolded for having disappeared like that and, as she was back, she had to meet her official commitments in Italy, including the press interview. Upon her arrival in the interview, Ann recognizes both Joe Bradley and Irving in the press area and gets shocked. However, they do not have any intention of publishing the story, it is only that she is not aware of it yet. Acting out of protocol Ann says that Rome was her favorite city among all others she has been recently visiting in Europe and she also expressed her wish to greet the journalists with a handshake. When she greets both Joe and Irving she gets to know to which agency they work for and receive the pictures that Irving took that day and it is stated to her that her day out would remain a secret. And then she leaves Italy and everyone return to their respective worlds after having the time of their lives.

This film remains as a beautiful witness of post World War 2 life and the recognition of importance of a person’s individual freedoms and small pleasures in life. How important it is to enjoy those small pleasures, have good quality of life and healthy congregates with both people and places around us. And how days apparently common can be unforgettable times. In an era when things get  increasingly dangerous and the connection with simple things are sometimes forgotten it is a pleasure to see that people do not need too much to be happy and enjoy life.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Those Country Kids (USA, 1914)

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Al St. John (who were respectively uncle and nephew in real life) play two rivals in this in this one-reeler film for the affection of their sweetheart (played by actress Mabel Normand). In the beginning of the film, Mabel is at home and she sees Arbuckle on the fence and goes outside to meet him. They both hug and start talking. After a short time they start arguing but soon reconcile. Mabel’s father sees her talking to Arbuckle, gets furious and goes outside carrying a gun. The father does not actually shoot, but ends up literally kicking Arbuckle out and prohibiting Mabel to ever talk to him again. Right afterwards Arbuckle uses a slingshot to take revenge on Mabel’s father, who wastes no time to shoot back on Arbuckle’s butt. Mabel protests, to no avail.

Then an intertitle announces Mr. Reddy (played by Al St John), another suitor of Mabel, who arrives on horseback. He was very much interested in Mabel, but it was unrequited Mabel because she does not feel the same. Arbuckle sees Mr. Reddy around his girl and gets disgusted and, to make things worse, Mr. Reddy tries to kiss Mabel without her consent. Something has to be done and Arbuckle immediately separated Mabel from the unwanted advances of the other suit. She rewarded the kindness by kissing Arbuckle, who was the man she really loved. Both man start to fight and Mabel takes some distance in fear but it was such big chaos that she ended up being accidentally hit anyway.

Arbuckle retaliates by throwing bricks on his opponent. The situation escalates when a brick is throw towards the house, crosses the window and ends up hitting Mabel’s father by accident. As he was still holding his gun, the gun was also inadvertently shot, which scared all other family members who were at home and unaware of the situation. Mabel’s father got furious again and threw water out of the window and wet somebody else by the mistake. Meanwhile, the fighting between both suitors of Mabel was still going on outside. Mr. Reddy sits on a water well, but Arbuckle hit him with a brick, which made Mr. Reddy falling inside the well. Arbuckle and Mabel try to rescue Mr. Reddy, who was drowning.

Mabel returns home to ask for help and returns with some of her male relatives. In the middle of all mess, Mabel’s mother calls the Sheriff’s Office. The other policemen in the office were sleeping and the sheriff had to wake them up by shooting his own gun to the air. Then the incompetent Keystone Cops come to the rescue. Mr. Reddy is finally rescued and Arbuckle and Mabel try to go away in the middle of confusion, but her relatives realize it and they are chased by everyone – even the Keystone Cops. Fortunately traffic jams were not really a problem back to the 1910s. After this chaotic chase, Mabel and Arbuckle get to arrive in a house, where they meet a clergyman and get married. Much to Mabel’s family annoyance, it was too late to prevent anything and they were already officially married.

Despite having an extremely simple plot, this film is still entertaining with gags easy to understand and as a historical witness of the lifestyle of such long time ago, especially clothing, urbanization and different pace of family life. It is a film to sit down and watching, without questioning any absurdity that the audiences might seem on screen and we all frequently need a film to make us forget about day-to-day problems and just laugh. Recommended cute little film.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Mabel's New Hero (USA, 1913)

Keystone Studios (which was opened in September 1912) is remembered by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Ford Sterling and many of it's great comedians but also of Bathing Beauties, which was a group of beautiful women in bathing suits and carefree antics, always so lively and happy, who joined the action with the comedians in order to arise more interest in the audiences.

In this one-reeler film (which means it is circa 11 minutes long), Arbuckle visit Mabel at home and bring her some flowers while two other women listened to that behind a door. Mabel is not very flattered by the attention of Arbuckle and take him by the ear and kick him out of her house. Mabel enter the room where the other two women were and catch them both spying on her. Arbuckle returned to the house, opened the door and entered the room where the three women were. He bring flowers again and seemed very determined to win Mabel’s affection. 

Then we see on the street a fellow called called “Handsome Harry”, a “Divil” among the women, according to an intertitle. He seem to be a mix of a Don Juan and an unpleasant womanizer and has the typical villain look.

The bedroom is shown again, the two women leave and Mabel and Arbuckle are alone. Mabel is furious and slap Arbuckle but fortunately they reconcile a short time later. Meanwhile, the other two women meet “Handsome Harry” on the street, apparently by chance. They go swimming and “Handsome Harry” follow them. Mabel and Arbuckle go to the same place and also bump into “Handsome Harry”, who start watching Mabel from a distance. Both Arbuckle and Mabel exchange clothes to put on swimming suits. When Arbuckle leave his dressing room to meet Mabel he realize what “Handsome Harry” was doing, tell to Mabel about what was going on and both men start fighting. The other two women also returned from their dressing rooms and “Handsome Harry” followed them.

On the beach “Handsome Harry” make advances on the two women, who promptly beat him up. While it happen there is another confusion, as another man made advances on Mabel and Arbuckle beat him up to defend her. When Mabel is a bit away from Arbuckle, “Handsome Harry” approach her and bully her and Mabel also beat him up. Arbuckle run to Mabel and is involved in another fight to defend her. Mabel run away and find the other two women and a policeman on the beach. The policeman try to  prevent both man from fighting but end up being hit instead.

Afterwards, for any crazy reason, Mabel is in a balloon (Yes, it makes no sense why) and “Handsome Harry” untie the rope of the balloon, making it fly away too early and Mabel is terrorized. Arbuckle get to find a telephone and call the police. The Keystone Cops, with their usual degree of incompetence, quickly arrive in the scene while Mabel struggle inside the balloon. Arbuckle and the policemen get to bring the balloon a bit down so Mabel could slide through the rope in safety and she meet everyone upon her return to the soil. The film finish with Mabel and Arbuckle embracing after all the mess.

This is one of the very simply short films made in the first years of Keystone Studios. The plot remain easy to be understood by audiences and entertaining. The frantic, lively and good acting of actors is captivating regardless of era and the sample of 1910s swimming suits provide a unique historical witnesses of an era that has been gone long ago. Both Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand had short-lived careers and were caught in real life in controversies beyond their control but it is easy to understand why both actors were so popular in their own era. They were really good comedians.

Friday, January 28, 2022

A Thief Catcher (USA, 1914)

 In the first years of Keystone Studios (founded in 1912 in California, USA) we could see a plenty of one reelers and it did not take long until the studio forged its own identity with the Keystone Cops, the Bathing Beauties, Fatty Arbuckle, the sweet and bold Mabel Normand and even a very young Charlie Chaplin and his little tramp. Actually, many comedians who would become famous later started working at Keystone studios to the point of the following sentence being made: “Start with Sennett, get rich somewhere else”.

Ford Sterling was very popular among audiences of the era, usually in the roles of mustached villains and ready to make the lives of other characters hell on Earth. Many of his films are lost nowadays but luckily The Thief Catcher was founded in 2010. Today it's not remembered due to Sterling but because Charlie Chaplin played a bit role as a villain.

The film has a very simple plot and it is quite easy to be understood by audiences of any era. It started with the incompetent Keystone cops, who could barely take care of themselves let alone facing criminals. Those characters were an opportunity for making films laughing at authority figures and were very successful among working classes of the first decades of the XX century. 

The Keystone cops were told about some crooks and a certain “suspicious John“ (played by Ford sterling himself) is shown holding a dog. The crooks started to beat each other and one of them is thrown downhill. John saw it and the remaining crooks ran after him. John, followed by his faithful dog, decided to hide himself in a household where a woman was hanging clothes. Someone was trapped on the clothes being hanged and was caught by the crooks, but unfortunately the person was the woman who was hanging the clothes, not John. The woman promptly kicked the guys out of her house while John was hidden with his dog nearby.

However, peace would not last for too long because somebody threw water on John and the crooks were still looking after him and they had guns. After leaving his hideout, John took refuge in an abandoned wooden house, with the crooks always on a short distance from him. The crooks ended up finding John. While one of crooks was trying to kill John, the other one was waiting outside the house, but then it came the Keystone Cops. John’s dog was also outside and dig a hole below the fence and found John, who wrote a note and left it on the dog’s leash. Thinking that nothing particularly bad was going on, the cops left the house.

The cops returned to the police station and the chase between John and the crooks still went on. But the dog went to the police station and the cops noticed the note with the dog and read it. After realizing there was someone in danger in the house, they returned with the dog leading their way. This gave room with a typical car chase involving the Keystone cops while John was kneeling down in the house, begging for his life.

Finally, the cops returned and it was the turn of the crooks to start hiding themselves and John, in an attempt to defend himself, beat up the cops by mistake and then the film end with him and one of the cops fainting in the most exaggerated way.