15 posts categorized "Surrealism"

October 03, 2011

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI — CLASSIC FILM PICK

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ColeSmithey.comCredited as introducing the "twist ending" to cinema, Robert Wiene's 1920 "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is a groundbreaking work of German Expressionism. The early horror film also introduces the frequently copied bookend structure so popular in modern cinema.

Wiene deploys a radical dreamscape of macabre lighting, Gothic make-up, and a boldly disjointed set design to form a twisting suspense story about an evil doctor who exploits a sleepwalker in order to perform serial acts of murder.

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“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” embodies an iconic brand of angular surrealism that defies gravity. The effect is unsettling. The film's ripples of influence can be found in avant-garde, film noir, horror, and thrillers ranging from crime to psychological suspense. Its angular stage sets and long shadows presage F. W. Murnau's aggressive designs for "Nosferatu"--made two years later in 1922.

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The script was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer after World War I, a period of widespread violence throughout the country. Insanity is rampant. At an abstract level, the picture presages Hitler’s mad Machiavellian manipulation that turned Germany into a killing machine during World War II.

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A ghostly looking Francis (Friedrich Fehér) recounts to an equally pale friend his strange tale of woe involving his fiancée Jane (Lil Dagover). While visiting an annual fair in Holstenwall, Francis and his friend Alan visit a sideshow where Dr. Caligari exhibits Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a zombie-like "somnambulist" who has been asleep for 23 years. Someone has been stabbed to death the night before. Before Dr. Caligari's sideshow audience, Caesar emerges from an upright coffin to answer questions from the crowd. Alan worriedly asks how long he has left to live. Francis and Alan are caught in a love triangle with Jane. The vampire-like Caesar informs Alan he will only live "till dawn." Indeed, Alan's death comes later that night. Convinced that Caesar murdered his friend, Francis begins to follow the strange Dr. Caligari.

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The filmmakers use various colored filters to create the effect of a color movie. Tinted shades of sepia tone, blue, and purple add narrative depth to queasy episodes of altered mental states. An ingenious plot revelation involving a mental asylum puts the icing on the cake. With its unusual look and neatly folding method of storytelling “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is an artistically uninhibited silent horror film that still sends chills.

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Not Rated. 67 mins.

5 Stars“ColeSmithey.com“ SHOCKTOBER! THE BLOOD OF DRACULA THE BLOOD OF DRACULACozy Cole

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February 02, 2011

THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.ColeSmithey.comThis ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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ColeSmithey.comLuis Buñuel's most financially successful film is an absurdist satire that puts the strictures of upper class society under a pulverizing gaze to examine its many hypocrisies. The role of organized religion, the military, politicians, and the ruling classes are lambasted for their ambivalent attitudes, shallow values, and ritualized conventions of avoidance.

Discreet Charm

Where the characters of Buñuel's 1962 film "The Exterminating Angel" were unable to leave the room of their dinner party, the well-dressed dinner guests of "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" are unable to dine regardless of where they go.

Discreet-Charm 
A wealthy couple, Alice and Henri Sénéchal (Stephane Audran and Jean Pierre-Cassel), are surprised by the arrival of their four dinner guests on the wrong night. The six friends set off together in search of a civilized meal but are thwarted at every turn. A visit to a familiar restaurant turns into a wake for the former owner, whose corpse occupies an adjacent room. At another would-be feast, a curtain is pulled back to reveal an audience watching the hungry diners who sit at a table onstage for an unannounced theatrical presentation.

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Buñuel blends reveries with nightmares to expose chilling realities that simmer beneath the surface of appearances of "polite society." Time-flipping segues, flashbacks, and bizarre events break up the narrative with an off-kilter sense of gallows humor. A priest taking confession from a dying man learns that the man was responsible for killing the priest's parents many years ago. Terrorist attacks are commonplace. Buñuel doesn't just take the piss out of his muted representatives of societal repression; he makes them victims of their own devices.

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Buñuel signature surrealistic approach comes across in his asymmetrical juxtaposition of props, such as rubber chickens or a Napoleon-styled hat. Buñuel doesn't just ridicule, he pokes and prods at his dubious subjects with a gleeful delight until they squeal. Such priceless cynical joy you won't find anywhere else.

Rated PG. 102 mins. 

5 Stars“ColeSmithey.com“

Cozy Cole

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January 12, 2011

8 1/2 — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.ColeSmithey.comThis ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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Fellini had mastered narrative drama and wanted to challenge himself as a filmmaker. But he went to his modernist destiny confused, kicking and dancing the whole way, just as his simplified alter-ego Marcelo Mastroianni does as Guido Anselmi. Guido is a hugely popular filmmaker with whom everyone wants to be associated.

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Producers, mistresses, crew members, actors, family members, and friends all want to possess Guido or at least to snatch a piece of his talent. The best way for them to do so is to be associated with the film he is currently making. Indeed, the movie is as much about them as it is about Fellini's own obsessions.

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The enigmatic director's thematic goal is to mirror on a grand scale every aspect of his own soul that he can touch or project. Guido engages in a journey of self that necessarily includes his splintered fantasy visions of female archetypes that he will use and discard as his whims dictate.

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Filmed almost entirely on artificial sets, "8 1/2" is a pure look inside the mind of a director's cinematic exploration during a midlife crisis. Its title expresses the film's position as an in-between movie made on the way to Fellini's ninth feature "Juliet of the Spirits." The original title was "La Bella Confusione" ("The Beautiful Confusion").

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Fellini strikes at a hotter brand of bewilderment with a title that led some would-be audiences to think it represented pornography. It is rather a dynamic celebration of Fellini's miraculous methods of creating cinematic magic from the fabric of his personal dreams, desires, experiences, and relationship to Italian culture. This is a movie you can return to again and again, and still discover new meanings and messages.

ColeSmithey.comNot Rated. 138 mins.

5 Stars“ColeSmithey.com“

Cozy Cole

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