10 posts categorized "Silent"

September 05, 2011

THE GENERAL — CLASSIC FILM PICK

The GeneralBuster Keaton considered “The General” his best film although it flopped at the box office and effectively ruined his career.

Made in 1927, the big budget silent film follows Keaton’s expressionless train conductor Johnnie Gray. Johnnie keeps a framed photo of his fiancée Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) by his side as he operates the enormous Southern steam locomotive (the General) toward Annabelle's home in Marietta, Georgia.

Buster Keaton's THE GENERAL (4K Restoration) | Official US Trailer - YouTube

It is the spring of 1861. During his brief visit with Annabelle the Civil War breaks out. Annabelle makes clear she will have nothing to do with Johnnie unless he enlists in the Confederate army. In spite of Johnnie's best efforts to be the first man to enlist, he's turned away at the recruiting office because he's more valuable to the South in his occupation as a Western & Atlantic Railroad engineer. Unfortunately, no one tells Johnnie the reason they won’t allow him to enlist.

Pin on Buster Keaton's The General

The film’s centerpiece, a 140-mile locomotive chase-sequence between Marietta and Chattanooga, starts off when a band of Union spies steal the General with Annabelle coincidentally on-board. Oblivious to Annabelle’s entrapment, Johnnie chases his prized train on foot before reverting to a handcar, a bicycle, and finally taking over a cannon-equipped locomotive dubbed the Texas.

General

During the ensuing train-on-train chase Keaton performs mind-boggling stunts of balanced precision as he walks and crawls over every inch of the speeding train to do things like fire its cannon or clear railroad ties thrown by the enemy on the tracks in front of him. Keaton’s graceful physical poise operates in harmony with the calm facial expression he keeps throughout every episode of brawny spectacle. The gifted actor displays an intimate working knowledge of trains in the masterful way he effortlessly manipulates the heavy machinery.

Buster Keaton in The General (1926). That and the Camraman are hilarious! |  Silent film, Silent movie, Silent film stars

The outline for the story was based on William Pettenger’s memoir “The Great Locomotive Chase.” A wildly spectacular climax involving a bridge collapse is still impressive by modern standards. Still, the joy of watching “The General” lies in Buster Keaton’s carefully planned stunts that seem instantly improvised in their execution.

MoMA | Buster's Best

The contrast between the emotional restraint of Keaton’s character and his constant exertion of fluid energy is a marvel to behold. “The General,” with its updated soundtrack, is a cinematic masterpiece that holds its own against anything Hollywood has created since. There was only one Buster Keaton. “The General” is his swan song.

Not rated. 67 mins.

5 Stars

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February 07, 2011

SUNRISE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Sunrise_a_song_of_two_humansF.W. Murnau's first American film is a much beloved tour de force of silent filmmaking. The celebrated German director of "Nosferatu" (1922) and “The Last Laugh” (1924) immigrated to Hollywood in 1926 to make a movie about a married couple for Fox Studios. "Sunrise" is subtitled "A Song of Two Humans" as a way of reinforcing the story's undying theme: the universality of endangered love.

George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor brilliantly play an unnamed peasant couple that live in a small lakeside village with their young child. They are simply referred to as The Man, and The Woman. Deadly temptation tugs at the heart, mind, and loins of O'Brien's patriarchal character, here in the form of a cunning vacationing city woman who convinces the farmer to kill his wife so they can run off together.

Sunrise, 1927 Director: F.W. Murnau | Easy movies, Silent film, Silent movie

Cinematographers Charles Rosher and Karl Struss create fascinating split-screen and double-exposure camera effects that are stunning even by modern standards. Murnau's exquisite use of juxtaposed expressionist set designs with subjective camera angles, pans, and zooms, take the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

Sunrise

Using very few inter-titles, "Sunrise" is a visual cornucopia. The film would work perfectly even without any text. Murnau used no such transcript narration on his previous film "The Last Laugh" (1924), the picture that convinced Hollywood to bankroll “Sunrise.”

Natural light sources play an important role in evoking the shadows of mood, which hang over every scene. Incorporating melodrama, comedy, romance, and fantasy, Murnau freely plays with genre, all the while remaining true to the story's humanist focus.

Recent Finds by Josine Buggenhout - editorial - Subbacultcha

It's pointless to discuss the story beyond its initial parameters. To do so would give away secrets that any audience coming to the film for the first time should be allowed to discover anew.

There is a timeless poetry at play in "Sunrise" that takes your breath away. The performances are not purely representational, but they are polished with layers of nuance that Murnau's patient camera clearly captures. The film's dreamlike quality allows it to stay with you. You can't help but fall under its spell.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans | Where to Stream and Watch | Decider

“Sunrise” won an Academy Award at its debut ceremony in 1929 for “Unique and Artistic Production.” Sadly, Murnau was killed in a car accident just four years after making “Sunrise,” by which time Fox had ripped up his contract following two failed pictures (“4 Devils” and “City Girl”). Thankfully, we still have “Sunrise” to remember him by.

Sunrise2

Not Rated. 94 mins. 

5 Stars

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February 22, 2010

THE PASSION OF JEANNE D' ARC — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

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ColeSmithey.comDanish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer was reveling in the success of his 1925 film "Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife" when he was approached by French producers to create an art film for the international market.

The teenaged Maid of Orleans who, dressed as a man, led the French to victory against the occupying English forces in the early 15th century had been canonized by the Pope in 1920.  

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The young peasant was also celebrated in a popular stage play by George Bernard Shaw when Dreyer chose the martyr as his subject for the production. As such, the global public at large were primed for a cinematic adaptation that would put a face to the name. 

Joan2

Dreyer chose to build his particularly transcendental style for the silent film around Renée Jeanne Falconetti, an expressive French stage comedienne with only one other film to her credit.

Focusing his passion play on the heroine's 1431 trial, as drawn from historical transcripts, enabled Dreyer to concern himself less with external elements of location, scenery, and costume. His vision was a stylized theatrical background to the landscape of the martyr's face against the religious and political hypocrisy of the patriarchy that condemned her.   

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Dreyer conceived the film as "a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life," with the human face as its mirror. Using panchromatic film tock to capture his actors' faces, without the addition of make-up, Dreyer made groundbreaking use of extreme close-ups to weigh Joan's spiritual gravity against the sadistic intentionality of her religion-cloaked oppressors.

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The enormous amount of emotional empathy that Dreyer extracts from his audience is heightened by our involuntary association with our heroine's tormented psychological state. We watch her break, and our hearts break with Falconetti's character. 

Joan of Arc

The actress's shockingly modern performance as the 19-year-old Joan (nee Jeanne) is a thing of irreproachable suffering. Banned after its release in Britain for its depiction of inhumane British soldiers, the film's two original prints were destroyed by fire. It wasn't until 1981 that a copy of the primary print was discovered in a "janitor's closet of an Oslo mental institution."

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The film was restored with a new musical score entitled "Voice of Light" written by composer Richard Einhorn. The result is a truly transcendent experience of timeless cinema, made all the more ethereal by the fact of its mooted voices. If you doubt that Silent Cinema can be more powerful than Sound Pictures, you need only see this masterpiece on a big screen.

Not Rated. 114 mins.

5 Stars

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