Metropolis (1927)

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Review of the classic silent film about a worker’s revolt in a society divided between the have’s and have not’s, starring Brigitte Helm and directed by Fritz Lang.

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Director: Fritz Lang. UFA. (U)

SILENT

 

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Flesh and the Devil (1926)

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Film review of the silent movie romance starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo about s pair of adulterous lovers.

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Director: Clarence Brown. (113 mins). MGM (U)

Silent

 

4stars - Very good lots to enjoy

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Sherlock Jr. (1924) / Seven Chances (1925)

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Director: Clyde Bruckman. Metro/Buster Keaton Productions.

COMEDY

Cast & Credits

Producers: Buster Keaton, Nicholas Schenck.
Writers: Jean Havez, Joe Mitchell, Clyde Bruckman.
Camera: Elgin Lessley, Byron Houck.
Sets: Fred Gabourie.

Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Jo Keaton, Erwin Connelly, Ward Crane.

SYNOPSIS

A movie projectionist (Keaton) who is also studying to be a detective in his part-time, finds himself wrongly accused of stealing a watch. Returning to his full-time job, he falls asleep during the latest romantic blockbuster and imagines himself and the girl he loves (McGuire) are transported into the movie to play the characters on the silver screen. Comic mayhem ensues.

In Seven Chances, a lawyer (Keaton) finds he has been left a large amount of money in a distant relative’s will – payable on condition he marries, by 7pm that evening. Easier said than done when none of the society girls he approaches do anything other than laugh at him.

REVIEW

I would never usually combine two film reviews into one, preferring to let every individual movie stand on its own. But it seems appropriate here. Not to diminish the quality of Keaton’s comedies as stand alone pieces, but as both here cover similar ground thematically, comically and in terms of construction, this seems a neat and tidy approach.

Of the two film’s recently shown at Stratford Picturehouse courtesy of The London ScreenstudySherlock Jr. is the more famous and certainly the funniest. Seven Chances suffers from a protracted and dull opening that includes a disposable, two-tone technicolour sequence chronicling how Keaton, as every season of the year approaches, cannot profess love for his woman. It doesn’t help that the colour is of the poorest quality, almost as if it was hand-tinted by employees of the Georges Melies’ movie factory back in the very early days of cinema. The crudely drawn black characters (sometimes portrayed by white actors in black face) are more disturbing. Once comfortable in your seat, you will find yourself cringing and shifting from side to side to shrug off such sensibilities.

But back to Sherlock and Arthur Conan-Doyle himself may have giggled with delight in the cinema at the delightful and raucous send-up Keaton and co. made. Sherlock shows how sophisticated Keaton’s films had become in the short-time he progressed from two-reel comedies (a reel relates to approximately 10 minutes of film, the amount of stock in a film reel at this time) to feature films, the last of his series of short films being only one year previous (he would make one more silent short in 1925).

The use of the framing device (the ‘film within a film’), which can be a clunky addition if handled by a director merely seeking artistic kudos, is ingeniously utilised in a short segment when Keaton jumps into the screen. Initially, he is booted out again by the film’s leading man, but he perseveres and we are treated to a segment that contains some of the smartest trick editing on the silent screen. Caught between cuts to different locations, he is allowed no rest by the medium he is trying to hijack and is thrust into arctic tundra, rocky outcrops and manicured gardens. Cinema has no respect for this man who toils for it.

The framing device also allows Keaton to satirically explore the beauty and unpredictability of the cinematic medium, playing with the notion of what is real and what is illusion (he replaces the film’s leading actors with people in his ‘real life’ and as he swims to freedom in the film, we then cut seamlessly to him as the sleepy projectionist sat on a stool, ‘swimming’ whilst seated).

Sweetly, the projectionist even needs tips from his on-screen peers for help with wooing and kissing his girl. Sherlock Jr. may be a comedy, but it is an ideological and technical stride ahead of the smartest films being made in France or the esoteric Russian montage school.

But let’s not forget the jewel in this little crown that is the comedy – both film’s culminate in the most extraordinary manner, a crescendo of increasingly dangerous and clever stunts. Keaton’s background working with circus performer parents is clearly in evidence here as well as his athleticism at, for instance, dodging falling boulders as well as hundreds of eager spinsters (the ‘all the single harridans’ number in Seven Chances). The staging of these scenes, particularly in Seven Chances, is eye-poppingly impressive but given how you almost need to catch your breath as each moment passes to the next, it also shows how he his talent could run away with itself if left unchecked.

Keaton is undergoing a mini-renaissance at present, with the BFI holding a season of his films. Clearly there is no need for reappraisal, but to give modern audiences the chance to enjoy his artistry again.

Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

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Film review, written as an archive newspaper article, of the silent expressionist classic about a mysterious doctor associated with a travelling carnival and a spate of murders.

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Director: Robert Wiene. Decla.

Silent

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Genuine. A Tale of a Vampire (1920)

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Director: Robert Wiene. Decla-Bioskop AG.

SILENT

 

 

Producer: Erich Pommer
Writer: Carl Mayer.
Camera: Willy Hameister.
Music: Larry Marotta (reissue).
Sets:  Walter Reimann, Cesar Klein

Fern Andra, Hans Heinrich  von Twardowski, Ernst Gronau, Harald Paulsen, Albert Bennefeld, John Gottowt, Lewis Brody.

SYNOPSIS

The subject in a painting about a high priestess of yore comes to life and escapes when the withdrawn artist who created her falls asleep. She is bought and then locked up, but released, only for murder and mayhem to follow. Eventually, the protagonists round up local villagers to try and contain this wanton apparition.

REVIEW

After such an auspicious push to his career with Das Kabinet Des Dr Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919) director Weine, having hit an artistically and thematically lucrative seam (as well as a cheap one), quickly felt how the laws of diminishing returns can come to roundly trounce on one’s new found success.

This was his follow-up to that well-received first dip into expressionist cinema, in which the outside world is wildly distorted to represent the inner thoughts and motivations of the characters or story. This time around the expressionism in the design, performances and story is odd and jaunty, rather than being genuinely creepy.

The purple tinted screens are really vivid and the lighting is clever, using the shadow of a Max Shrek-like characters to look like Nosferatu. But this time around, the idea to save money by inventingly designing the sets on canvas backdrops in place of wooden, look just cheap and an odd pick and mix of imagery is used rather than forming part of a coherent production design.

Andra turns in a briefly silly performance as the title character. The nods to the expressionist style are there as she stretches her hands to the sky on seeing the ladder that will help in her escape, ages before she needs to actually start climbing. She’s gone a bit wild in a past life, which explains the crazy hair do. The rest of the acting confirms to the type of overly histrionic and mad gestures one would get in such a film of this period.

Maroletta provides a new, appropriately bleak score.

Perhaps Wiene’s trick film it seems was of the one pony kind.

 

The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

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Director: Victor Sjostrom. Svenski Filmindustri.

SILENT

 

 

Producer: Charles Magnusson.
Camera: Julius Jaenzon.

Victor Sjostrom, Edith Erastoff, John Ekman, Nils Arehn.

SYNOPSIS

Iceland, mid-18th century: Strapping stranger Eyvind (Sjostrom) rocks up at wealthy widow Halla’s (Erastoff) farm one day. She immediately takes a liking to him, much to the consternation of her courtly brother-in-law (Arehn) who proposes marriage to her so he can grab her land and money. She refuses as she is interested in the stranger but Arehn is sure this new man is a fugitive on the run for stealing. Sure of his innocence, Halla believes Sjostrom’s story that it was an innocent one-off and he isn’t a career criminal, but to secure their romantic future together, they go on the run and live as outlaws in the hills. That is until Arehn, who never forgets a slight, finds out where they are hiding.

REVIEW

Director Sjostrom, also known as Seastrom during the American phase of his career in the 1920’s, is more famous for his work in front of the camera during his twilight years, starring in two films for the even more renowned Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, To Joy in 1950 and Wild Strawberries (1957).

It was this latter movie that he is most identifiable with, but he had a much longer career, stretching back to the days when Scandinavian cinema was in its infancy, a cinema that he would help to develop and define.

He also occasionally starred in his own films, like this frigid Western, more of a ‘Northern’ given the locale and was sometimes paired with his soon to be real-life wife, Erastoff.

Sjostrom’s pastoral dramas were progressive for the time in that the wild and rugged landscapes reflected or exemplified the harsh story lines and conflicted emotions of his characters. Iceland’s rough tundra and grassy hills, covering the bare and cold rock underneath, pre-empt the tragic path that the narrative will take. Our two lovers are unable to escape their past; Eyvind cannot, as much as he tries, cover-up his previous mistakes. The land becomes an unwelcome third person in this relationship, envious and spiteful, also represented by Eyvind’s lonely friend (Ekman) who lives with them but lusts after Halla and plots his pal’s death.

Some of the naturalistic scenery is awesomely captured on film and must have been an invigorating sight at the time to movie goers, with crisp waterfall showers and dizzying cliffs that dwarf the humans.

Sjostrom also is sexually liberated enough to inject a risque set-up to Halla’s homestead arrangements. Her farm is staffed almost exclusively by young burly men who compete with each other on manual tasks to impress her. Eyvind secures himself a position by besting all of them with a task of strength, leaving us in no doubt about what this merry widow has in mind for him.

In this regard, Erastoff is something of a revelation. Long since forgotten by film scholars and enthusiasts (she essentially retired from the screen after marrying Sjostrom in 1922), she is passionate and emotion-led, expressive and dramatic with a slightly wild look in her eyes as she buys Eyvind new bed blankets presumably to keep them both warm, baits him into wrestling her pompous brother-in-law to destroy that man’s masculinity and then promptly throws him out when he won’t marry her.

Sjostrom’s films have a tendency to focus on sad little marriages blighted by the cruel hand that circumstance and outside prejudice deals them. Such as the drunken men who disappoint their women in The Phantom Carriage, 1921, Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson as the hounded adulterers in The Scarlet Letter, 1926 and Gish and Hanson again enduring a forced marriage in The Wind, 1928. This is no exception, though being silent cinema we progress through a series of extremes. Such is the depth of their love, outside forces lead these two into murder, infanticide, poverty and madness.

As a side note, one of the most impressive scenes is of Sjostrom’s character dangling from a rope on a cliff edge and having to be pulled up. He performed this himself (with a safety line, out of shot) and nearly died when, just as he got to the top, an over-excited assistant let go of the safety line to embrace him.