10 posts categorized "Silent"

November 04, 2014

PANDORA'S BOX — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Pandora's BoxEastern European-born Georg Wilhelm Pabst was a socially driven filmmaker of the silent era dedicated to exploring and exposing social dilemmas facing women in German society. For “Pandora’s Box,” Pabst created a proto-feminist icon for the ages in the guise of a gifted young actress named Louise Brooks, whose bold acting style prefigured modern cinema’s naturalistic acting techniques by decades. Having studied classical dance, Brooks uses her dynamic physicality to define Lulu, a promiscuous bisexual dancer and prostitute whose inviting smile charms men and women alike.

All exotic image and obtainable commodity, Lulu is an adventurous free spirit; in a phrase, trouble happening. Long before Betty Page struck her fetish pose there was a 22-year-old Louise Brooks wearing a black liquid-looking dress that is pure BDSM. Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles character in “Cabaret” is based on Brooks’s Lulu. Needless to say, “Pandora’s Box” was a controversial movie at the time of its release. The movie can be construed as the first international LGBT film ever.

Pandoras-Box-1929That Brooks brought her own history of sexual abuse to Lulu’s lap-sitting courtesan allows for a raw yet focused sense of carnal awareness that is delightfully transparent. Lulu is a sensuous creature whose omnivorous appetite for affection leaves a trail of ruined men in its wake. Brooks’s charismatic on-screen persona is put in perspective against her inviting lips via the tiny bob hairstyle of black hair that she wears during much of the movie.

Pabst co-wrote the screenplay for “Pandora’s Box” by combining two plays by Frank Wedekind, a German playwright reflecting Germany’s hypocritical mores regarding freedom of sexual expression, especially for women. The “Box” of the film’s myth-related title fulfills a crass ironic pun related to its uninhibited heroine, but it can also be interpreted to represent the metaphorical box in which the male-dominated Weimar Republic sought to contain its definition of womanhood. In no way is the film intended to represent any literal translation of the Pandora myth. The association is purely an allusion.

Louise BrooksPabst seamlessly shifts through generational and economic shifts in Germany’s Weimar Republic in relation to Lulu’s hairstyle. Although Lulu’s hair always remains short, Lulu matures over the film’s novelistic seven-act structure via changes in her hairstyle. The film’s episodic form allows for repetitive character traits to take hold and for varying social conditions to lend an epic quality to Lulu’s not-so-romantic story.

Its themes express Pabst’s involvement in Germany’s post-expressionist New Objectivity that rejected “romantic idealism.” There is an underlying irony in the fact that it was this exact brand of capitalist aspirationalism that created the space for Hitler’s reign of German expansionism and genocide.

Pabst shows the power of the female image to disguise the model even to herself. Lulu’s fate takes on a tragic, albeit renowned quality, when she meets up with none other than Jack the Ripper. Lulu strays so far beyond social norms that even the serial killer who takes her life seems drab and dull by comparison.

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Not Rated. 109 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)


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October 14, 2014

THE KID — CLASSIC FILM PICK

The KidIn 1921 Charlie Chaplin struck out on his own as a filmmaker. He wrote, produced, directed, and starred in a movie that contained the seeds of his comedy-inspired humanitarian vision for the kind of stories he wanted to tell. He also wrote and performed the music for “The Kid.” By this time Chaplin had thoroughly developed his iconic alter ego character, the Tramp. His mastery of mime, broad comedy, slapstick, and vaudeville shtick informed the unique physicality he put into the character.  

Every film Chaplin made after “The Kid” has some of its influence at its core. “The Kid’s” tagline announced “six reels of Joy.” It was Chaplin’s way of letting audiences know that his first full-length feature film (it runs 68 minutes) was meant to make them feel good about the society they lived in, and about their neighbors. Another clue came at the beginning of the film. A subtitle informs the audience about what they should expect to experience, “A picture with a smile, and perhaps, a tear.” 

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The story for “The Kid” is not as simple as it seems. An unmarried woman with a child was widely considered a social pariah in American culture in the early half of the 20th century, especially if she was poor. However, Charlie Chaplin thought differently about such conditions. Just such a woman (played by Edna Purviance) abandons her newborn son in the back of a classy car with a note for the ostensibly wealthy owner to raise her socially doomed baby. In keystone-cop (or "Raising Arizona") fashion, the car is stolen and the thieves put the baby out on the street. Along comes Chaplin’s happy-go-lucky Tramp to rescue the boy and give him a name, John. The story jumps five years. Now, John works as the Tramp’s little criminal partner, breaking windows that Chaplin’s glass repairman is soon hired to replace.

During this time the boy’s mother becomes a successful actress. If anyone can possibly reunite the child with his mother, it must surely be Chaplin’s physically vivacious, industrious, and emotionally caring little tramp.

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Chaplin discovered the child actor Jackie Coogan working in vaudeville, not long after Chaplin’s firstborn son died, just three days after he was born. As much as Chaplin might have transposed the heartbreak and affection he felt for his deceased son on the bright-eyed Jackie Coogan, his casting choice could not have been better founded in the boy’s natural talent. At just four years old, Jackie Coogan’s acting skills were light-years ahead of his age. The naturalistic chemistry that Chaplin and Coogan share is as authentic as such a thing can get. It brings a lump to your throat just seeing how instinctive and responsive their characters are to one another. Indeed, the two remained friends for the rest of their lives.    

“The Kid” is significant in cinema history because it is one of the first films to combine comedy and drama as a succinct filmic form. It is a nurturing comic movie that never gets old, regardless of how many times you watch it.  

Colesmithey.com

Not Rated. 68 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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April 16, 2014

METROPOLIS — CLASSIC FILM PICK

METROPOLISThe original three-and-a-half hour version of “Metropolis” was shown to an audience of 2500 guests during the Weimar Republic in Berlin in 1927. It was the most expensive film ever made up at the time. Cited as the first feature-length science fiction film, Fritz Lang’s expressionist silent movie is a dystopian vision of a futruistic Germany in the year 2000. Impoverished downtrodden masses suffer under an autocratic corporate capitalist system that favors an elite few. Sound prescient?

Sadly much of “Metropolis’s” fragile film stock was lost over time. It wasn’t until 2008 that a 16 mm reduction negative of the original movie was discovered in the archives of Argentina’s Museo del Cine. Another print, discovered in New Zealand’s National Film Archive in 2005, contributed to an extensive restoration process that replaced 25 minutes of missing footage. Although it is still missing nearly an hour from its original, the restored version functions as a complete narrative.

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Joh Fredersen (played by Alfred Abel) is the oligarch who oversees his monolithic empire from high above the city of Metropolis in his skyscraper office. Joh’s son Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) wears the sporty white clothes of a tennis player. He spends his days in an idyllic “pleasure garden” where the rich frolic around a large fountain and exotic birds play. Women of high class wear outlandish dresses that look like something from a fairy tale. The arrival of a beautiful working class teacher named Maria (Brigitte Helm) — on a field trip with a large group of destitute children — awakens Freder to the disparity of wealth around him even as he falls instantly in love with Maria.

Freder goes searching for Maria only to discover the inhuman working conditions in the city’s giant underground boiler room. He witnesses an explosion that kills many workers and watches as many more are systematically murdered. Freder reports back to his father, who in turn questions Rotwang, the mad inventor responsible for creating the city’s colossal power-driving machine. In a crucial subplot, Rotwang is busy creating a machine-human incarnation of Freder’s mother who, coincidentally looks exactly like Maria.

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Although it ends with an overwrought climax, topped off with a laughably banal cliché that unites the workers with their greedy overlord, “Metropolis” is filled with stunning archetypal imagery and grand-scale spectacle. Its production designers drew heavily from the Art Deco movement for their designs. Cameraman Eugen Schüfftan’s groundbreaking methods — utilizing miniature sets in conjunction with specialized camera techniques involving mirrors — contributes to the film’s lasting effect. Significant too is the design for Rotwang’s female robot that serves as the ultimate vision of a mechanized femme fatale.

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