Posted by: Vasco | December 22, 2009

A Minha Viagem Pelo Cinema (Prólogo. 1902-1919)

Durante as próximas semanas irei revelar os “filmes da minha vida”, por décadas. Como esta lista foi originalmente criada para o Rotten Tomatoes os pequenos comentários estão em inglês.

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#10

The Assassination of the Duke de Guise (Calmettes/Bargy, 1908)

An episode in the de Guise family struggle to seize power in 1563. Henri I of Lorraine, the Duc de Guise, rival to King Henri III of Navarre, is stabbed to death by the king’s bodyguards in the Château de Blois, to the distress of his mistress, the Marquise of Noirmoutiers…

One of the first films to use the narrative form, L’Assassinat may seem strange to today’s audiences but it’s a film of great historic importance. The camera’s position was innovative and the actors turn the back to the camera (this was also new), the music by Saint-Saëns was written especially for the film (“reputedly the first narrative film in history to have this honour”). The acting is surprisingly good and the screenplay is very well written, great set design too.

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#9

Hævnens nat (Christensen, 1916)

A simple-minded circus strongman, John Sikes, has been wrongly accused of a crime committed by Wilken. On the run with his infant son, he enters an affluent house and seeks help from Ann, but is taken captive and imprisoned. Fourteen years pass…

Christensen was one of the great directors of this period, the use of light in this film was prodigious and influenced many directors (Victor Sjöström comes to mind).

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#8

Le Voyage dans la lune (Méliès, 1902)

At a meeting of the astronomy club, Professor Barbenfouillis announces his next venture: to lead a manned expedition to the moon. Six astronomers volunteer to accompany him on his journey, which is made via a rocket shell catapulted to the moon by an enormous cannon.

I am almost sure that everyone already saw this movie…
Méliès was a pioneer in the special effects and the shot of the rocket shell landing in the eye of the moon remains one of the most enduring images in cinema history.
A revolutionary film.

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#7

The Queen of Spades (Protazanov, 1916)

Adapting the 1833 tale by Aleksandr Pushkin, Queen of Spades shows us an aged countess with insomnia. Sitting up through the night, she begins to hallucinate, dream, or vividly remember an affair of youth. – from Weirdwildrealm

I only saw this movie once, but I remember of having appreciated its psychological complexity (for the time) and the extraordinary photography.

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#6

Cabiria (Pastrone, 1914)

Three centuries before Christus. Young Cabiria is kidnapped by some pirates during one eruption of the Etna. She is sold as a slave in Carthage, and as she is just going to be sacrificed to god Moloch, Cabiria is rescued by both Fulvio Axilla, a Roman noble, and his giant slave Maciste…

I discovered this movie through Scorsese’s documentary My Voyage to Italy, and I can tell you, it is a colossal film! Amazing sets and costumes, superb camera work and the acting… acceptable.
Some scenes are still very effective today (all the Moloch sequences are brilliant), Cabiria also influenced Griffith and DeMille and was very innovative in many cinematic techniques.
A gigantic spectacle.

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#5

Louis Feuillade, 1915

Paris is in the grip of an unseen, nameless, terror, against which the police are powerless to act. A criminal organisation known as the Vampires create fear and mayhem, killing, looting, abducting – no crime is too daring, or too despicable. Little is known about the gang of villains except that they are led by the Grand Vampire and his seductive partner, Irma Vep. A journalist, Philippe Guerande, investigating the murder of a government official soon runs up against the Vampires, and so begins his long crusade to rid Paris of this evil scourge…

“Famously it had an impact on the surrealists, notably André Breton and Luis Buñuel, and also the New Wave film directors Alain Renais and Georges Franju.”

An absolute masterpiece of storytelling, Les Vampires is an essential film in the development of the crime/thriller genre. Feuillade’s direction is imaginative, he creates a dreamlike/strange world, but at the same time very convincing and familiar. Musidora is mesmerizing in the role of Irma Vep (anagram), and  the final carnage is really disturbing.

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#4

D.W. Griffith, 1919

Young Lucy Battling lives under her father’s iron rule. Out one day, she falls in love with Cheng Huan, newly arrived in London from China. This does not please her father, who attempts to break the bond by brute force.

Directed after The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, many consider Blossoms to be Griffith’s best film, it’s a tragic and poetic masterpiece with powerful and serious themes.
Once again, Griffith’s techniques are amazing and the highly stylized lighting gives to this film an ethereal beauty. Gish is unforgettable as always.

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#3

D.W. Griffith, 1915

Yes, it has a disgusting message, but it’s clearly one of the most important films ever made.

Its pioneering technical work, often the work of Griffith’s under-rated cameraman Billy Bitzer, includes many techniques that are now standard features of films, but first used in this film. Griffith brought all of his experience and techniques to this film from his earliest short films at Biograph, including the following:

  • the use of ornate title cards
  • special use of subtitles graphically verbalizing imagery
  • its own original musical score written for an orchestra
  • the introduction of night photography (using magnesium flares)
  • the use of outdoor natural landscapes as backgrounds
  • the definitive usage of the still-shot
  • elaborate costuming to achieve historical authenticity and accuracy
  • many scenes innovatively filmed from many different and multiple angles
  • the technique of the camera “iris” effect (expanding or contracting circular masks to either reveal and open up a scene, or close down and conceal a part of an image)
  • the use of parallel action and editing in a sequence (Gus’ attempted rape of Flora, and the KKK rescues of Elsie from Lynch and of Ben’s sister Margaret)
  • extensive use of color tinting for dramatic or psychological effect in sequences
  • moving, traveling or “panning” camera tracking shots
  • the effective use of total-screen close-ups to reveal intimate expressions
  • beautifully crafted, intimate family exchanges
  • the use of vignettes seen in “balloons” or “iris-shots” in one portion of a darkened screen
  • the use of fade-outs and cameo-profiles (a medium closeup in front of a blurry background)
  • the use of lap dissolves to blend or switch from one image to another
  • high-angle shots and the abundant use of panoramic long shots
  • the dramatization of history in a moving story – an example of an early spectacle or epic film with historical costuming and many historical references (e.g., Mathew Brady’s Civil War photographs)
  • impressive, splendidly-staged battle scenes with hundreds of extras (made to appear as thousands)
  • extensive cross-cutting between two scenes to create a montage-effect and generate excitement and suspense (e.g., the scene of the gathering of the Klan)
  • expert story-telling, with the cumulative building of the film to a dramatic climax

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#2

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, 1919)

Caligari is a hypnotist, who from fair to fair, shows off his attraction: a somnambulist named Cesare who blindly obeys him. When night falls, Cesare leaves the casket that shelters him for deadly sprees in the sleeping village.

This German Expressionist film is truly a work of art…

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#1

Intolerance (Griffith, 1916)

A work of a true genius and visionary man, Intolerance is still one of my favorites films of all time, since my English is so limited to make the deserved analysis to this masterpiece, I took the liberty of plagiarizing the following article:

After the widespread controversy surrounding his racist masterpiece The Birth of a Nation , Griffith attempted to defensively answer his critics with this work. He took a smaller feature film that he was working on about the contemporary, Progressive Era struggle between capital and labor [titled “The Mother and the Law”] and the theme of social injustice and combined it with three new stories to create a more spectacular, monumental, dramatic epic. All of the stories, spanning several hundreds of years and cultures, are held together by themes of intolerance, man’s inhumanity to man, hypocrisy, bigotry, religious hatred, persecution, discrimination and injustice achieved in all eras by entrenched political, social and religious systems.
The four widely separate, yet paralleled stories are set in different ages – and in the original print, each story was tinted with a different color. Three of the four are based on factual history:

  • THE ‘MODERN’ STORY (A.D. 1914): (Amber Tint) In early 20th century America during a time of labor unrest, strikes, and social change in California and ruthless employers and reformers – a young Irish Catholic boy, an exploited worker, is wrongly imprisoned for murder and sentenced to be hung on a gallows. The boy is saved from execution in a last-minute rescue by his wife’s arrival with the governor’s pardon.
  • THE JUDAEAN STORY (A.D. 27): (Blue Tint) The Nazarene’s (Christ’s) Judaea at the time of his struggles with the Pharisees, his betrayal and crucifixion (told as a Passion Play in his last days) – it is the shortest of the four stories.
  • THE FRENCH STORY (A.D. 1572): (Sepia Tint) Renaissance, 16th century medieval France at the time of the persecution and slaughter of the Huguenots during the regime of Catholic Catherine de Medici and her son King Charles IX of France, and the notorious atrocities of St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (including its effects upon the planned wedding of a young innocent Huguenot couple – Brown Eyes and Prosper Latour).
  • THE BABYLONIAN STORY (539 B.C.): (Gray-Green Tint) peace-loving Prince Belshazzar’s Babylon at the time of its Siege and Fall by King Cyrus the Persian, due to the treacherous High Priests – and the Mountain Girl’s vain efforts to avert the tragedy. The outdoor set for the Babylonian sequences was the largest ever created for a Hollywood film up to its time, and its crowd shots with 16,000 extras were also some of the greatest in cinematic history.

In his radically non-linear, hybrid film, Griffith simultaneously cross-cuts back and forth and interweaves the segments over great gaps of space and time – there are over 50 transitions between the segments. The villains of the four stories are mill owner Jenkins and his intolerant social reformers, the hypocritical Pharisees – opponents of Christ, the evil regime of the cunning Queen Catherine, and the treacherous High Priest of Babylon. Their powerful actions set in motion disturbing consequences for a modern-day working-class couple, for an average French Huguenot family and its soon-to-be-betrothed daughter Brown Eyes, for the Nazarene/Christ, and for the enlightened, revolutionary and benevolent Prince Belshazzar.

The symbolic bridging device that interconnects and links together the various stories is the recurring cameo shot of Lillian Gish, his greatest star, as Eternal Motherhood. She endlessly and eternally rocks a cradle, accompanied by the title from Walt Whitman’s poem Leaves of Grass: “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking. Uniter of Here and Hereafter – Chanter of Sorrows and Joys.” Her iconic image, rocking the cradle of humanity, serves as a symbol of continuity for the entire history of the human race, and a representation of the cycle of life and death.

The film was the most expensive film of its time, costing about two million dollars (a third of which was used for the Babylonian segments), but it was commercially unsuccessful in the US, partially due to the financial burden of having full orchestration accompany the film. Its complex, sometimes baffling, unwieldy construction and its pacifist themes may have contributed to its unpopular reception just prior to the US entrance into World War I. Using cinematic methods ahead of their time and influencing a whole generation of future film-makers, he included a crane shot and spectacular crowd scenes and exterior sets (and live elephants!) for the fantastic Babylonian sequence. The innovative finale is an overwhelming, rhythmic, conglomerate sequence which weaves all four stories into a stirring, fast-moving and exciting climax – as the suspenseful drama begins to conclude, the cross-cutting increases in tempo and rapidity with shorter and shorter segments of each tale flowing together.

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