Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Bicycle Thief (1948)

I watched it for class. It's a great example of Italian neo-realism. Unless you're interested in the cinematography, I see no reason to put yourself through this, though the reviewers on Netflix seemed to like it a lot. I don't know why. It's realism, so the artifice of American melodramatic tensions, and emotional payoff don't appear at all, though it's ideologically stable, if somewhat momentarily inconsistent.

Friday, January 25, 2013

L'illusionniste

Sad. Sad, sad, sad. This animated feature, about an unsuccessful magician and the girl who believes he's truly magical, ends on an abruptly "coming of age" moment for what seemed to be static characters, rather than working towards a long, dynamic shift. I found the animation entertaining, and at moments beautiful, and comical, and for those who think "sad" is "happy for deep people," this should be your nirvana. I think happy is happy for anyone who can reject postmodern angst.

The story, really, is about the magician, not the little girl. He craves adoration, but can only get it by fooling a child. His rejection of such trickery at the end seems to indicate his freedom from some kind of addiction. It's meant to be hopeful, but it means that the storytellers portray the child, as she grows into a woman, as frustratingly naive, and ultimately hopeless. She simply passes from one kind of belief in magic into another, while the magician moves from a potentially enriching association to lonely oblivion.

But this film has value, and provokes thought. I would recommend it for a quiet, rainy afternoon. With lots of chocolate.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Battleship Potemkin

I made a serious emotional mistake. This silent film from Sergei Eisenstein (1925) was assigned by my professor for a discussion of montage in film, and Eisenstein's abrasive montage style. Watching the film was not any kind of mistake; it's an intelligent film, if you overlook the broad propaganda. Eisenstein uses several different cutting techniques to create different kinds of montage, all for the purpose of Attractions; of shocking the audience with defamiliarization, and a quick sequence of synnergistic images (images which seem unrelated, extra-narrative, but combine inside the viewer's experience to indicate a third, further idea). Eisenstein wrote about his theories, and of course I got to read it.

Battleship Potemkin was often difficult. Images of raw meat, violence, and long, geometric cuts all make the experience somewhat less than full of wonder. Also, the montages often felt like a mental assault. But it was clever, and artistic.

Totally coincidentally, a film I'd been putting off for months arrived via Netflix. Josef Sternberg's The Last Command (1928) sat on the nightstand for a week. But last night I decided I should watch it and get it into the mail right after the holiday. So I stuck it in, and started watching. It took ten minutes for the American melodrama to reach my tear-ducts. I cried like a baby for an hour and fifteen minutes (I fast-forwarded, for the sake of sleep). It's a silent film, also about the Russian Revolution (the 1917 one this time, instead of the 1905 Odessa incident). The lead actors gave brilliant performances, and the editing was smooth, and narrativistic. I'm afraid the sight of a sad, old man being victimized just breaks my heart.

These two films contrast each-other brilliantly. You get a strong sense of the differences between these early editing theories. But they're both a bit much. Maybe watch with a half-gallon of ice cream?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Jane Eyre (1973)

This is the worst version of Jane Eyre I've ever run across. Though the novel was, in several moments, melodramatic, nowhere does the script necessitate chewing the scenery. And yet, I could see teethmarks.

PASS. 1 out of 10 for picking a good book, and an eternity of hell for what they did to it.

Broken Blossoms

Now begins a new and exciting era of film viewing; a graduate-level film theory course, and the films it necessitates. I shall become insufferable on the subject of film.

This abnormally depressing specimen by D. W. Griffith fascinates me for a few reasons. The colors shift from blue at night, sepia indoors, and red in China. They're nonspecific (the whole screen changes color), but fascinating shifts with interesting meanings. Dark blues (violet) in the street. . . What Does It Mean!?

The scenes in China are strongly anglicized, I'm sure. The scene of the chinese family, the father giving children coins, feels English. The leading man's mission to convert the Anglo-Saxon is just European orientalism with the roles reversed (in London, he has a conversation with an English missionary, to emphasize the irony). Did the Chinese bother to convert the English to Buddhism? It doesn't seem an evangelical religion in the slightest - very welcoming, but not proselytized.

The lead male, as Chinese, is portrayed as kindly and well-meaning, but weak and dissolute. His love for an abused girl is a cultural transgression (in the eyes of English patriarchal society) that the film cannot allow to be successful, though the audience sympathizes with the pair.

It seems, on this note, significant that Cheng Huan doesn't try to sleep with Lucy. "His love remains pure and holy." In pre-code Hollywood, the significance is not lost.

The femal lead (Lillian Gish), acts very well. The way she forces a smile with her fingers, curls up on the rope at the dock, flinches back from her abusive father, they all catch the character forcefully.

Broken Blossoms

Now begins a new and exciting era of film viewing; a graduate-level film theory course, and the films it necessitates. I shall become insufferable on the subject of film.

This abnormally depressing specimen by D. W. Griffith fascinates me for a few reasons. The colors shift from blue at night, sepia indoors, and red in China. They're nonspecific (the whole screen changes color), but fascinating shifts with interesting meanings. Dark blues (violet) in the street. . . What Does It Mean!?

The scenes in China are strongly anglicized, I'm sure. The scene of the chinese family, the father giving children coins, feels English. The leading man's mission to convert the Anglo-Saxon is just European orientalism with the roles reversed (in London, he has a conversation with an English missionary, to emphasize the irony). Did the Chinese bother to convert the English to Buddhism? It doesn't seem an evangelical religion in the slightest - very welcoming, but not proselytized.

The lead male, as Chinese, is portrayed as kindly and well-meaning, but weak and dissolute. His love for an abused girl is a cultural transgression (in the eyes of English patriarchal society) that the film cannot allow to be successful, though the audience sympathizes with the pair.

The femal lead (Lillian Gish), acts very well. The way she forces a smile with her fingers, curls up on the rope at the dock, flinches back from her abusive father, they all catch the character forcefully.