søndag 5. september 2010

My hundred favorite movies!

1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Der Müde Tod (Fritz Lang, 1921)
3. Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Pasolini, 1975)
4. Zerkalo (Tarkovskij, 1975)
5. Sunrise (Murnau, 1928)
6. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, 1924)
7. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
8. Notorious (Hitchcock, 1946)
9. Smultronstället (Bergman, 1958)
10. Offret (Tarkovskij, 1985)

11. La Double vie de Veronique (Kieslowski, 1991)
12. Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)
13. Vampyr (Dreyer, 1932)
14. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)
15. Videodrome (Cronenberg, 1983)
16. Medea (Pasolini, 1969)
17. Le testament d’Orphée (Cocteau, 1960)
18. The Grand Illusion (Renoir, 1937)
19. Ma nuit chez Maud (Rohmer, 1969)
20. Letter from an unknown woman (Max Ophuls, 1945)

21. I vitelloni (Fellini, 1953)
22. Hiroshima mon amour (Resnais, 1959)
23. The Conformist (Bertolucci, 1970)
24. Teorema (Pasolini, 1968)
25. La Pianiste (Haneke, 2001)
26. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
27. Sans Soleil (Marker, 1983)
28. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Murnau, 1922)
29. Mouchette (Bresson, 1967)
30. Death in Venice (Visconti, 1971)

31. Paris, Texas (Wenders, 1984)
32. Cache (Haneke, 2005)
33. The Dead (Huston, 1987)
34. Mr. Arkadin (Welles, 1955)
35. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Bunuel, 1972)
36. The Conversation (Coppola, 1974)
37. Persona (Bergman, 1966)
38. Days of Heaven (Malick, 1978)
39. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
40. Amarcord (Fellini, 1973)

41. Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944)
42. The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973)
43. Import/Export (Seidl, 2007)
44. The Fire Within (Malle, 1963)
45. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)
46. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
47. La passion de Jean d’Arc (Dreyer, 1928)
48. Ordet (Dreyer, 1956)
49. Le sang d’un poete (Cocteau, 1931)
50. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1956)

51. Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding, 1947)
52. Wages of Fear (Clouzot, 1953)
53. Det Sjunde Inseglet (Bergman, 1957)
54. The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963)
55. Kwaidan (Kobayashi, 1964)
56. Le Cercle Rouge (Melville, 1970)
57. Fat City (Huston, 1973)
58. Love and Death (Woody Allen, 1975)
59. Stalker (Tarkovskij, 1979)
60. Viridiana (Bunuel, 1961)

61. Sporloos (Sluizer, 1988)
62. Zodiac (Fincher, 2007)
63. The Cranes are Flying (Kalatozov, 1957)
64. Drunken Angel (Kurosawa, 1949)
65. Häxan (Christensen, 1922)
66. The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock, 1938)
67. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman, 1971)
68. The Treasure of Sierra Madre (Huston, 1948)
69. Limelight (Chaplin, 1952)
70. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Nichols, 1967)

71. Le Locataire (Roman Polanski, 1978)
72 Aguirre (Werner Herzog, 1972)
73. Antichrist (Von Trier, 2009)
74. Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson, 1966)
75. Man Bites Dog (Belvaux, Bonzel 1992)
76. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, 1920)
77. Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies, 1988)
78. The Flowers of St. Francis (Rosselini, 1950)
79. Autumn Sonata (Bergman, 1978)
80. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1976)

81. Invocation of My Demon Brother (Kenneth Anger, 1969)
82. Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais,1961)
83. The 400 Tricks of the Devil (Melies, 1906)
84. Nanook of the North (Flanerty, 1922)
85. Sisters (De Palma, 1973)
86. The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973)
87. The War Game (Watkins, 1965)
88. The Killing (Kubrick, 1956)
89. Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger, 1959)
90. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavettes, 1976)

91. A Trip to the Moon (Melies, 1902)
92. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1943)
93. Nagareru (Naruse, 1956)
94. Barton Fink (Coen, 1995)
95. Pickup on South Street (Fuller, 1953)
96. The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928)
97. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933)
98. Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock, 1940)
99. Nights of Cabiria (Fellini, 1957)
100. Hour of the Wolf (Bergman, 1968)

mandag 21. juni 2010

German Romanticism in Hollywood

In 1927, William Fox hired German film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau to make movies for Fox Studios. On the first feature, Fox gave Murnau full artistic freedom and a big budget to make what was to become Sunrise, A song of two humans. What is the movie about and how is this manifested cinematically? I will try to answer these questions as well as using film reviews to further my arguments.
The story of the film is said to take place “Every place and no place” and consists of characters as types more than individuals which is manifested by calling them simply “the man”, “the woman” and “the woman from the city”. This creates a fable-like backdrop in which the film takes place. Murnau had large and elaborate sets made for the film. This enabled him to use lighting more accurately and also creates a very special aesthetic look. Movement is an important feature in Sunrise. Murnau and his coworkers revolutionized cinema just three years before Sunrise with the use of the unchained camera on the film Der Letzte Mann (1924). They wanted the camera to be able to move about freely. They achieved this effect with a new, lighter and more convenient camera strapped on to the cameraman (Eisner,155). The unchained camera gives the spectator the effect of moving around in the filmic universe, enhancing the illusion of real life or maybe more accurately; give the spectator a more active part. With a static non-moving camera the viewer would feel like he was merely observing something being acted out, but with a free moving camera he feels like he is participating. This is most clearly illustrated in the sequence where we, as a spectator, follow the man through the forest to meet with the woman from the city (which I will from here on refer to as “the vamp”). We literarily walk through the misty forest with the help of the unchained camera, even brushing away bushes to be able to get a view of the vamp and the man. And if not the camera itself is moving, it is strapped to a moving vehicle e.g. the boat and the tram. Murnau uses movement to heighten the drama; the violent rowing of the man, the cathartic tram ride with the speeding tram and the dizzying and violent traffic in the city.

Nature and animals are recurring motifs. The dog senses fear and danger right before the man sets out on the boat ride, the woman notice the stillness and sense of danger through observing a flock of ducks on the lake and the pig creating havoc inside the restaurant. Jo Leslie Coller, in her book From Wagner to Murnau connects this with the tradition of romanticism and compares it with German romantic composer Richard Wagner’s work: “Nature also pervades the works of both artists as a living force, usually in terms of weather or of the animal kingdom. (…) There is little difference between the birds who warn Siegfried of Mime’s murderous intent and the dog in Sunrise(…) (106). It also seems to be Murnau’s intent to criticize the modern, urbanized world: The city, embodied by the vamp, corrupting the rural utopia, the economics forces the man to sell his livestock and the chaotic impersonal, egotistical and dangerous urban life symbolized by the speeding cars and the innocent little pig creating chaos at the restaurant. Murnau’s view of paradise and happiness seems to lie in nature. After the couple have reconciled in the church, they walk across the road with the camera moving along with them. Murnau transports them from a chaotic street to nature with the means of double exposure. They walk down a path with peaceful and beautiful scenery unfolding before them. An abrupt cut back to the city is made and to chaos with the honking cars.

German expressionistic methods are frequently used in Sunrise. Internal matter is shown explicitly. Emotions and psychology become part of the misè-en-scene, the acting and the camera angles. Murnau has O’Brien walk like a monster, literally carrying his mental burden, staggering with a transfixed stare as being under a spell. Also when the man sits on the bed, the image of the vamp is shown holding around him in a double exposure, having a tight grip of him. He uses the color black on the promiscuous dark-haired vamp’s costume expressing her evil state of mind whilst the blonde wife is dressed simple in an innocent farmers dress. The materializing of thoughts is also used a lot. By filming a face and the dissolving to an image and back to the face, the filmmaker signals to the spectator that we are watching the character’s thoughts. In one example, the man is lying on the bed. Murnau cuts from his face, to his wife, indicating that he is watching her and then a slow dissolve to the water in the lake outside the house. This alludes to the man’s thoughts of drowning her. In another instance, also indicated with a dissolve, he visualizes himself pushing his wife into the lake from the boat.
Lighting is also an important feature of Sunrise. The opening of the movie uses chiaroscuro lighting to emphasis the dark, disturbing and sinister motives of the man and the vamp. Murnau shifts to natural lighting and traditional three-point lighting for the city-scenes, in which the couple rediscovers love. The holy sanctity of marriage is also emphasized by having a “divine” light shine down on the marrying couple in the church. Darkness is once again used for the capsizing of the boat and finally bright light fills Janet Gaynor’s face as she wakes up after being nearly drowned, alluding to the title of the film.
There is a sense of romanticism in that the man and wife are also depicted as children. The neighbors recall them being “like children” and they fool around like children in the photographers studio, even knocking down a statue and trying desperately to cover up their folly. Coller links also this to Romanticism and thinks this creates an asexual innocence, contrasting the sexually alluring vamp and the pure Madonna-like wife (124). It is also worth noting that by using Fox’s Movietone technology, Murnau was able to combine music and image, and to get just the right expression he wanted. It is used very effectively when the man is searching for his wife. A melancholic trumpet mimics his desperate calls with a descending two-tone motif. This is reversed later when his wife is found with an optimistic ascending two-tone motif. Sound effects, such as car horns and crowd noises are used while in the city.Sunrise could be seen as a melodrama with the heightened emotions and the love-triangle drama, but it also has elements of comedy. In the city; Murnau uses comic relief to remove the previous tension of the film with the pig incident. It is a story of redemption, of temptation, but also of nature and man’s removal from it.

Lousie Bogan, film critic for The New Republic, states that: “Sunrise is not fortunate in its art director. It has had contrived for it a village evidently molded from marzipan, artificial trees (…) and a claptrap moon. Mr. Murnau does not need this “art” super-imposed upon his reality” (195). I disagree with this judgment. It is not Murnau’s intention to create a realistic universe, and I will argue is deliberately done this way to emphasize the fable-aspect of the movie. Sunrise starts with a drawing of a train at a station, which cuts and the same exact image of train, except now it is real. It seems like Murnau is suggesting already in the opening frame that this is a fable. It is not realistic and he does not want you to get that impression either. It states in the opening intertitle: “of no place and all places”. The characters do not have names, only generalized as the man or woman from the city. Murnau had shown that he could work on location and do it well, as he does in Nosferatu (1922), so it was a deliberate choice to film it using the full potential of the studio. Bogan is right in that there is a kind of reality to the picture, namely the moving camera. It makes Murnaus fairytale world come alive, but he does seem to not want the spectator to forget that this is not real. Murnau does not want his film to be transparent, to just show us an objective reality. He wants it to be like paintings; un-transparent, showing the viewer a magical world outside of reality. He was not interested in making films of Lumiere-esque realism. His aim with cinema was to elevate it from reality. This is obvious when looking at his previous films Faust, Der Letzte Mann and Nosferatu.

Pare Lorentz, film critic and film maker, wrote in 1927 a positive review about Sunrise, but had one objection:
“Then something happens. (…) Sunrise deliberately becomes slapstick and at loose ends, and my theory is that William Fox either would not let Murnau produce the film as he wanted or else scared him so that he felt an American audience would not stand for a movie without a Prohibition joke in it. It is as terrible as Hamlet suddenly leaving off his soliloquy to do the Black Bottom” (6-7).
Lorentz does not like the radical changing of mood in the film, but is this an error within the art work itself? The movie suggests even in the title of an optimistic tale, and it seems like Murnau deemed laughter an important element in reconciling the man and wife. It is if Murnau wants to depict transformation and redemption by making the piece itself and its effect on the spectator a transformation. The mood changes all through the film, from the eerie opening, the brutal murder attempt, the melodramatic and melancholic forgiveness, the laughter, the shock and finally the relief. Murnau plays the whole range of emotions, but somehow laughter is deemed inappropriate by Lorentz. It may be the way it is done, that troubles Lorentz, but he does not articulate that in the review.

Coller, Jo Leslie (1988). From Wagner to Murnau; The transposition of Romanticism from stage to screen. Umi Research Press, London.
Eisner, Lotte (1973). Murnau. University of California press, California.
Kauffmann, Stanley.ed. (1972) American Film Criticism; from the beginnings to Citizen Kane. Liveright, New York.
Lorentz, Pare (1975). Lorentz on film. Hopkinson and Blake, New York.

mandag 26. oktober 2009

My favorite movies pre 1930

So diskuterfilm has had a new poll of the best movies pre 1930. The final list had this top ten:

1. La Passion De Jeanne D'arc (Dreyer)
2. Metropolis (Lang)
3. The General (Keaton, Bruckman)
4. Sunrise; a song of two humans (Murnau)
5. Nosferatu, eine symphonie das grauens (Murnau)
6. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
7. The Phantom Carriage (Seastrom)
8. Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel)
9. Faust, eine Deutsche volkssage (Murnau)
10. The Kid (Chaplin)

Here is my personal top 20 of pre 1930 films:

20. The Birth of a Nation (Griffith)

19. Faust, eine Deutsche volkssage (Murnau)

18. Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel)

17. Blackmail (Hitchcock)

16. Nanook of the North (Flaherty)

15. The Gold Rush (Chaplin)

14. Metropolis (Lang)

13. Der Letzte Mann aka The Last Laugh (Murnau)

12. La Voyage dans la Lune (Melies)

11. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Wiene)

10. The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)

9. The Crowd (Vidor)

8. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)

7. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein)

6. Menilmontant (Kirsanoff)

5. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Dreyer)

4. Häxan (Christensen)

3. Nosferatu, eine symphonie das Grauens (Murnau)

2. Der Müde Tod aka Destiny (Lang)

1. Sunrise; a song of two humans (Murnau)

fredag 23. oktober 2009

Presumably lost Alfred Hitchcock interview discovered

Someone recently discovered an interview of Alfred Hitchcock from 1974 which was presumed lost.

My favorite part:
In clip 4, the interviewer speaks of the modern movie and how "morally corrupt" it has become, and tries to get Hitchcock to express similar sentiments by asking him; "What would you not show in your pictures?" and Hitchcock, instead of talking of low morality and exploitation, answers that he would never show the old cliched "wrestling match" in bed with the camera angle over ones shoulder! There are some great moments in the following clips, where Hitchcock tells several macabre stories and the interviewer is apalled and seems uncomfortable.

fredag 16. oktober 2009

Review of The Cameraman

Note: This is an essay I wrote for filmclass at school, so it's a bit different than my other reviews, but I thought it would be interesting to post it here. I did some research and found some old newspapers from the 20's, reviewing the movie. The sources are not available online (except for the New York Times review) and were found on microfilm at my school's library.

By the time The Cameraman was released in 1928, Buster Keaton was an established and popular silent movie comic, having been in the business since 1917. The Cameraman was Keaton’s first movie under a contract with MGM, a two-year deal including a clause giving the producer the final say. Keaton himself later called it the biggest mistake of his life (McPherson, 206-207). Even though The Cameraman was his biggest hit in three years, his career went downhill afterwards. How was The Cameraman received by the press at the time of release? Three reviews from The New York Herald Tribune, The New York Times and Variety Magazine all states that it is an enjoyable movie, but they also have some complaints.

In the movie, Buster plays a photographer who falls in love with a girl. The girl (Sally, played by Marceline Day) works as a secretary at a news desk. In order to impress her and be closer to her, Buster (as he is also called in the movie) buys a movie camera to get a job shooting newsreels. While trying to woo the girl, he finds himself in several funny situations; losing his oversized swimsuit while swimming in the public pool, photographing in the midst of a shootout between Chinese gangsters, and finally rescuing Sally from drowning after a boating mishap.

The movie starts out with a series of scenes focusing on establishing the relationship between Buster and Sally. Variety (09/19/1928) states: “The familiar pattern has been dressed up with some bright gags and several sequences where the laughter comes thick and fast.” The review calls the movie a “good laugh picture” and states that “Production, direction and photography all first rate”. Even at that time, the story was perceived as a “familiar pattern”, which tells us that maybe Keaton and MGM did not want to take a lot of risks creating an original and challenging story, and instead focus on good craftsmanship and funny sequences. The “competing against another wooer in order to get the girl”-plot seems to be a comfortable backdrop to incorporate gags into. The reviewer for Variety also writes that “All in all, it will probably deliver general satisfaction”. In other words, this is not a rave review, although it acknowledges the fact that there are several funny sequences. The review rightfully addresses the lackluster love story that takes up a lot of run-time. Variety remarks: “Apparently some attempt to inject more romance into the yarn than customary in Buster Keaton films. Keaton is a problem on love interest. In the present case, his cow-like adoration of the heroine (Marceline Day) is used to build up sympathy as a counter irritant to his abysmal stupidity in most respects”. One could speculate that this was added to cater for the traditional Hollywood audience.

The New York Herald Tribune (09/18/1927) was a bit more skeptical than Variety:

”Buster Keaton gives a performance brightened only here and there by downright comedy, but they are funny enough, perhaps, to justify going to see him”. It goes on with a somewhat bleak conclusion:

“Needless to say, the picture, relating the adventures of a cameraman in love, is a string of gags. The “frozen faced” hero contributed little new in the way of characterization. Marceline Day, as the telephone girl, considerably decorated the scene, although her acting was negligible. The direction was straight, conservative work, letting its hopes rest in Keaton’s talent as a comic”.

Although the directing is for the most part “straight, conservative work”, there are some inventive sequences. One example of this is the scene where Keaton runs down all the stairs in his building to answer the telephone. A crane shot follows Keaton as he descends the stairs in a long and well rehearsed scene. Also credit should be given to the long take in the dressing room, which is a combination of complex performances and a daringly lengthy take for a commercial movie. To address the other points of the critique, Marceline Day’s acting is a bit anonymous, relying more on her good looks than trying to be inventive or funny and Keaton’s character is really nothing new besides being dumber and more naïve then we are used to.

The New York Times (09/16/1928) is a bit more positive, claiming that it is: “…filled with guffaws and grins, the sort of thing with many original and adroitly worked-out gags. But whether they belong to the story is immaterial”. The review has a point. There are several good and unforgettable comedic sequences in the film including: the long take in the dressing room, the sequence in which Buster imagines himself playing a baseball game at Yankee stadium and, last but not least, the spectacular Chinese tong war sequence where Keaton’s naïve and clumsy character is contrasted with and in the midst of brutes fighting with guns and knives. But there are also some forgettable gags; Buster trying to photograph Sally while fumbling with his camera builds on a cliché and lacks the timing Keaton usually mastered to perfection. The window-breaking gag is also trite and repetitious without being any funnier the second and third time around.

In an article featured in The New York Herald September 18th, 1928 entitled “Buster Keaton on the timing of the laugh”, Buster Keaton told the paper that:

“…the scene where I come into the newsreel office and Harold Goodwin follows and breaks the glass door with his camera was slated for an earlier part of the picture. But it found that the laugh at this point hindered the forward movement of the story which plants the beginning of my romance with Marceline Day. So we had the romance planting all run off first, then worked the glass door gag where the laugh wouldn’t slow up the action of the story”.

The philosophy behind Keaton’s reasoning really explains why the picture failed in this respect; the love story is not interesting or original enough to keep the viewer engaged. And when delaying his gags for the sake of the story, the beginning of the picture gets slow and uninteresting. In the article, Keaton also talks about how he and Edward Sedgewick (the director of the movie) worked out timed intervals for the sequences even before they were filmed, and made a rule that “a good commercial laugh is worth $600”. So if it would cost more, they would probably not do it. Such rigid rules can undermine creativity and seems like rules imposed by MGM, or stems from the responsibility of working for MGM, rather than Keaton’s own.

The Cameraman is ultimately a film with some great comedic sequences bogged down by a trite story and a lot of standardized work. Rudy Blesh, in his book Keaton (1966), sums up my sentiments: A friend of Buster Keaton tells Keaton that the print of The Cameraman is worn out because MGM used it as a “training picture” for future MGM comedians to study. Blesh adds:

“The MGM man spoke with evident pride. But it was equally evident that he was not thinking of Buster Keaton, a man whom MGM had already long since forgotten. He was thinking, MGM story, MGM direction, MGM production. The Machine, not the man. That sounds like the story of Buster Keaton, and so it is. At MGM the real history of The Cameraman is not remembered: the man, Keaton, fighting The Machine, MGM” (302).


Blesh, Rudi (1966) Keaton. 1st printing. New York, The MacMillian Company

McPherson, Edward (2005) Buster Keaton, Tempest in a flat hat. 1st ed. New York, Newmarket Press


I: The New York Times, 16th September, 1928: Review

II: Variety Magazine, 19th September, 1928: Review

III: The New York Herald Tribune, 18th September, 1928: Review

IV: The New York Herald Tribune, 18th September, 1928: Buster Keaton on the timing of the laugh