Movie Review: Metropolis

I’ve been meaning to watch this film for quite some time. I’ve seen clips of the sets and the Maschinenmensch coming to life but that was about it. I liked what I saw; I just wish I had the English translation for it.

Divided by social class, a city-dweller sees an underground worker and falls in love.

I was faced with several options of movie prints. I eventually watched the 2 1/2 hour long print with the recovered footage from Buenos Aires on YouTube. The intertitles were all in German and there were no English captions provided. I did find the English print under the recommendations but it was missing twenty minutes. And then there was a print (which I’ll cover later) that was synced to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. I had to pass on that and watch the film with the regular score.

I am very impressed with the scale of the sets. The surprising thing is that most of them were miniatures and the actors were composited later. Granted, this was only the 1920’s and greenscreening wasn’t around but the fact that I could not find the telltale sign of the compositing job says something about how well this was visually crafted.

I had some diffuculty in identifying the characters. I could identify Maria and Freder but that was it. I could not attach any other name to the rest of the cast. Sure, I saw what different characters did but the name would escape me each time, even in the intertitles.

As soon as I saw the workers trudging along underground, the first thing that popped into my head was “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall; I can’t watch anything that has similar elements without thinking of Pink Floyd. The tasks performed by the workers and the meltdown that followed reminded me of THX 1138. I looked at the references for this film on IMDB and both were mentioned along with a host of others. It’s nice to watch the original source and see how it influenced a lot of other films.

I enjoyed some of the animated intertitles. From the scream of “MOLOCH!” in the stylized typeface to the bleeding, even the direction of how the intertitles appeared juxtaposed with the elevator’s ascent or descent was a nice surprise. So far, I haven’t seen many silent films that are as creative with the intertitles as this one. It’s a nice treat to watch.

Some images look like those from The Man with a Movie Camera with the numerous superimpositions. Mostly, they add to the spectacle and the dizzying horror in the club scene. They’re beautiful images that could easily be paintings.

I should go back and watch an English captioned print but I’m not sure if I can find the most complete one. It’s a strong film with visual effects that stand the test of time and still continue to impress.

8/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

IMDB Top 250

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Movie Review: Haxan

Haxan, the movie where the emphasis is on DARK arts, dark to the point where you can’t see what’s going on.

Before I started the 1001 quest, I had a feeling that I had seen some of it before, especially with the one picture featured in my copy (for those keeping score, it’s the Black Swan hardback). After seeing it, it turns out that I was right.

Told in chapters, this is like a documentary with most parts dramatized. Given the time period as to when this was first viewed, it was quite shocking, especially with some scenes in Chapter IV. But with the print I saw, it came off more as someone trying to touch all the bases but not giving enough attention to each one.

Chapter I presents some information about the beliefs of the time and how life was. Using models and other demonstration aids, the narrator points out certain aspects of the beliefs involved. The way the print looked, I could not see in great detail what he was pointing at, let alone get a reasonable chance to look within the shot’s duration. It ends with “To be continued,” a phrase which will be seen quite often at the end of each chapter.

The best chapter is Chapter IV where we finally see the demons. In terms of make-up, it’s well done for the time period and serves the purpose of making said demons frightening. It is in this chapter that I saw some footage that was used in The S from Hell. Viewed in the original context, I can see why it was used (uncredited, I might add) in the short. I should mention that a baby is used as an ingredient for the demon’s meal.

As to the print’s score, there was a moment of dissonance in terms of mood. As the film showed some dark and serious subject matter, the music provided a cheery, perky accent in contrast to the visuals. That, and my exposure to the music used did not help much as I kept thinking about “Return, My Love” from “What’s Opera Doc?” and the terribly shoehorned and earwormy lyrics from any given Little Einsteins episode.

As to the physical darkness of the film, it turns out that scenes were filmed with as little light as possible. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to at least pick a lighter color for the tints, namely the blue tint.

The narrator/lecturer/whoever even breaks the fourth wall a few times, namely the use of the thumbscrew. The story is a narrative up until the point where he describes the actress trying the thumbscrew, using the term “actress” and then says how the pain was unspeakable before returning to the story. An interesting aside, but it does not carry the dramatized story forward.

For 1922, it’s amazing to see how off-putting content could be depicted. Granted, this had to be toned down considerably for a US release but it’s a chance to realize that some horror conventions are older than we think. I thought it would be an engaging silent film with interesting subject matter, seeing as how Halloween is soon; not so much. If you do choose to see it, stick with the full version at 104 minutes and do some of your own research regarding the film and the subject matter in real life.

5/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

Movie Review: Safety Last!

 

Like A Trip to the Moon and The General, I was fortunate enough to see this on actual film with an accompanying organist. Then this semester, our Film Club selected this after Hugo and I watched it in our personal screening room. Those two screenings were by and large very different in terms of medium, atmosphere, and audience, but I’ll delve into those later.

Our hero, Harold Lloyd, works in a department store. He doesn’t get paid a whole lot but for the time it seems like a lot, especially with $15 rent due in . Harold’s girlfriend, living in a small city, arrives to surprise Harold and that’s where the comedy really begins as he poses as the general manager instead of a salesclerk. The real manager wants to attract more customers and Harold is granted the task of having a mystery climber, his roommate who we see scale a building in a chase scene, climb the store for $1000. Problem is, his roommate is chased by a cop and makes Harold climb the storefront instead.

To put this in perspective, the climb up looks really terrifying. I still felt on edge during my second viewing. It looks so REAL, but there is some trickery involved. During my second viewing, I looked in the background and the footage doesn’t match from floor to floor. On top of that, stuntmen were used and the building side wasn’t as tall as believed. With that in mind, I still believe and will still believe Harold is climbing the building, even with a few fingers missing. It’s just really magical.

Now, the viewings were clearly different. For the film viewing, there were a lot more laughs from the audience. In the digital viewing, there were a few muted chuckles. For the film, I was close to the front row in a large theater; digital, front row in a twenty-five seat room thirty feet or so from an active railroad. Just because it’s a silent film doesn’t mean you can’t feel annoyed when a train blares its horn and you can’t hear the score. I remember that when we screened The Artist last year (with mixed reactions), the one screening I attended was completely train-free; it’d be hard to replicate that instance in our screening room.

Which screening did I like more? The one with the film. Don’t get me wrong, the digital print looked pretty good as it was the Criterion Collection print. It’s that the film print had a better contrast in values and showed more depth. The film screening was more of a once-in-a-lifetime experience focusing on authenticity that most people won’t experience. I’ll get into this more when I review Side by Side next year.

What’s interesting is that this isn’t one of the 1001; I’m as surprised as you are. For something as iconic as that image at the top, I’m hoping that this will be included in future editions in the book. Still, a great movie that keeps the suspense and laughter all the way to the end.

7.5/10

400 Nominations for AFI Top 100 for both years

Movie Review: The General

Featured with A Trip to the Moon, I saw this on actual film with an actual organist. It’s a comedy that’s actually comedic, not like what we have today.

Buster Keaton plays a train engineer who wants to enlist for the Civil War. He’s rejected as he sees fellow men going off to war, not to mention that his fiancee won’t speak to him until he’s in uniform. One year later, some Union spies plan to steal The General, Keaton’s train. Keaton’s fiancee is also on the train and it’s a race to take over and save the day.

What’s interesting about this is that Buster Keaton does all of his own stunts. The film’s climax is one where you have to see it to believe it, especially for 1926. The film was a box office bomb upon first release but it has been within the past few decades that it has received acclaim.

When I went, people laughed. It was the good kind of laugh because what was shown on screen was actually funny. It’s not every day that you see a comedy taking place during the Civil War. It’s on DVD and Blu-ray but you’re better off seeing it on film if at all possible.

8.5/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

IMDB Top 250

AFI Top 100 (2007): #18

400 Nominations selection for AFI Top 100 for both years

Movie Review: An Andalusian Dog

You know what comes next. It’s one of the few films I’ve seen that remains unsettling to look at each time because of the infamous razor across the eye. I know it’s not a human eye but it’s still creepy. As a surrealist film, it lives up to it’s name, even though there is no Andalusian dog in sight. I’m baffled as to what it means, if anything.

As far as my unsliced eyes can see, there’s a stalker with ants coming from his hand who goes after a woman. He hauls dead cows on pianos/ living priests as he comes closer. A hand is found in the street, an urban opposite to the ear in the grass from Blue Velvet. A striped box is important somehow. Books become pistols. Death happens in a grassy field. A man with no mouth magically transfers a woman’s armpit hair to his mouth. We end with a trip to the beach as a dead couple becomes buried in the sand.

I couldn’t dream up something like this even with the most potent materials available. It defies all reasonable logic. That said, dream logic is the only way any of it makes sense. The film behaves like a dream. Nothing is really explained but items become associated with themes that could only be understood by the dreamer.

It’s better than Wavelength. In conclusion: finnicky poison goldfish cupcake. Once upon a time.

5/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection