Friday, March 28, 2014

WINGS (1927), SUNRISE: A STORY OF TWO HUMANS (1927)THE JAZZ SINGER (1927)

     In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 12 of 12)

Clara Bow in Wings
I just finished reading Bill Bryson's book One Summer: 1927. Bryson pieces together the important events that were happening in the United States at that time: Prohibition, Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge the great Mississipi flood, the Roots of the Great Despression and at the center of it all the young pilot Charles Lindbergh, who became the most famous man on earth that summer.

Bryson also talks about the movies of that year and I realized I hadn't seen the two movies that won the first ever Academy Award that won the best picture Oscar that year. I say two because, William Wellman' Wings won the Best Picture Production Oscar and F. W. Murnau's Sunrise: the Story of Two Humans won the Best Picture, Unique and  Artistic Production. So there were essentially two Best Picture winners that year and they were very different from each other.

Wings is a high adventure thriller often set in the front of a plane doing battle during World War I. Bryson points out that "to the astonishment of everyone he (Director William Wellman) made one of the most intelligent, moving and thrilling pictures ever made." The movie was big budgeted and seemed like a big gamble, but the story of two American pilots who start as enemies and end up as best friends and battle in the air over the skies of Europe proved to be a huge hit. 

'Many people went to Wings to not thrill at the aerial acrobatics, but gaze in admiration at its female lead, Clara Bow."-Bill Bryson

The two buddies are played by Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen, but the top billed star of the production was actually the biggest female star in Hollywood, Clara Bow (Rin Tin Tin the German Shepherd was the biggest male star). You could say that Bow's part of the girlfriend of Buddy Rogers probably should have just been a supporting role. Since she's such the biggest name here, it seems like there are a couple of scenes with Bow that are just thrown in. But I really didn't mind. I found Bow so charismatic, I actually wish she had had more to do. It's easy to see why she was such a big star, even if for only a short time.

Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien in
Sunrise: A Story of Two Humans

The other Best Picture winner was Sunrise: A Story of Two Humans, a drama about a man whose mistress convinces him to murder his wife and run away with her. After initial resistance, he agrees and takes his wife out on a rowboat to strangle her and dump her body overboard. As he's about to do it, he becomes overwhelmed with guilt and decides not to do it and asks her forgiveness.. He has to win back his wife's affection, but he does. This is a plot point I had a little trouble getting past. Keep in mind the wife realizes he's about to kill her, yet she does eventually forgive him. I'm just feeling that if my spouse was clearly about to kill me, that would pretty much be the end of the relationship. He also proves to be so volatile, that he's lucky he doesn't kill his mistress towards the end of the movie. That being said, if you could overlook this plot point, the reestablishment of their relationship is very heartwarming and provides many poignant and heartfelt moments. It does devolve into a couple of odd comic interludes (an especially strange one involving a pig) that made me think I was watching a Harry Langdon comedy at times, but the movie did get back on track and the scenes featuring the rescue of the man's wife after a storm brings everything to a satisfying conclusion.

Oh, yes and speaking of Rin Tin Tin. I brought up the German Shepherd because I also finished Susan Orlean's book (hey, two book references in one blog!) Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend, where she discusses the German Shepherd's rise to be the biggest movie star in Hollywood in the 20's. So I was really knocked out when I was watching Sunrise and there is a scene where the husband is taking his wife out on the boat to do her in. His dog goes crazy at this turn of events, breaks his tether and swims out to the boat and the husband has to take his dog back to shore and start his plan over again. But thanks to the dog's diversionary action, the man has time to change his mind. The hero dog is (or course) a German Shepherd.

But which of these two films was the real winner that year?

The answer is...none of the above 

"It is a painful irony that silent movies were driven out of existence just as they were reaching a kind of glorious summit of creativity and imagination, so that some of the best silent movies were also some of the last ones."-Bill Bryson
Al Jolson sings for his Mammy in The Jazz Singer.
Yes, the real winner of the 1927 sweepstakes was The Jazz Singer, forever remembered as the first movie that talked.

"The Jazz Singer was by no means the first sound movie. It wasn't even the first talking picture-but that was a nicety lost on its adoring audiences. For most people, The Jazz Singer would be the picture that made talking pictures real."-Bill Bryson

The story is about Jack Robin (Al Jolson) who forsakes singing in the synagogue for his Rabbi father to embark upon a career in show business. Though much clumsier than the other two films listed above, the artistry of any silent picture simply couldn't compete with Al Jolson singing "Toot Toot Tootsie" or "My Gal Sal." It really is a silent movie (very heavy on the cue cards) with a few songs and some dialogue here and there. It's entertaining in an antiquated way and the movie's relationship between Jack and his parents does have some moving moments.

One thing for sure, movies were never the same.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

THE LAST LAUGH (1924, GERMANY)

     In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 11 of 12)

                                          
The Last Laugh

F. W. Murnau's  The Last Laugh, the story of the character disintegration of a porter/doorman after he is relieved of his job and uniform, is yet another movie I first saw in my History of Film class and watching it today there are three things that stand out to me. 

The first, and one of the reasons the movie is looked at in a film class is the point of view of the camera which is sometimes distorted and never plays it straight with its narrative point of view. We get the inebriated view of the doorman when he drinks and the distorted and overblown laughter of his neighbors when they are mocking him. The camera moves quickly and sharply when the porter is doing his job and in his element. When his gets his dismissal letter, the film slows down and the vision of the porter is blurred, not wanting to read what is on the paper.

The second way to look at this film is as a character story. The doorman/porter is relieved of his job and stripped of his duties and the whole world crumbles as he becomes a lowly (in his eyes) washroom attendant. Emil Jannings plays the porter as an overly proud man who struts around like a peacock. It's partly to Janning's credit that we nevertheless feel such sympathy for him when this once strutting peacock becomes a washing room attendant and seems to barely now possess the capability to even move.  

The third way to look at the film is the ending. The real ending of the movie has the ex-doorman at his depth of despair in the washroom, not too far from the end. But there is a tacked on epilogue that begins with a title card that says something to the effect that the ending of this movie that you are about to see is basically nonsense, but we're going to show it to you anyway. So, the doorman is given an inheritance that is given to him because he was nice to a millionaire in the washroom. We see the now rich ex-doorman eating caviar, being waited on and living a happy life.

If the movie had ended in the washroom, perhaps it would have just been too bleak for the audience to accept. But since the ending is so far-fetched, perhaps they could have cut to one final shot of the old man dying with a smile on his face, with the part with him getting rich being shown as just a happy dream and the last thought he would ever have. But who am I to re-write The Last Laugh?

Friday, March 21, 2014

BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925, SOVIET UNION)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 10 of 12)

Battleship Potemkin

Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (a film on the rebellion of of a Russian battleship and the subsequent reprisals from the czar's army) is yet another silent I first encountered in The History of Film class I took during the 80's. It makes me nostalgic for my "textbook" A Short History of the Movies by Gerald Mast.

Here are some points on Battleship Potemkin from Mr. Mast:

1. Eisenstein has the visual ability to convert huge groups of people into complex and striking geometric shapes.

2. Eisenstein's montage increases the sense of movement and tension as the individual shots collide, crash, explode into each other.

3. Eisenstein's ability to alter mood: From the peaceful idyllic sequences of the striking workers at rest and play to the vicious slaughter of vicious slaughter of the workers in their tenements.

4. Eisenstein's sense of metaphor to comment on the action: the sickening slaughter of the dumb and defenseless ox, which comments on the slaughter of the workers.

5. Eisenstein's vision that the capitalistic Czarist system is  fundamentally inhuman and inhumane, an obstacle not only to physical survival but also human fellowship, family and brotherhood.

6. The power of his cutting is unmistakable (All the various shots and points of view of the sailor breaking the plate with the biblical platitudes on them)

7. For a film with a mass protagonist, the faces of individual people are strikingly memorable.

8. The film's five parts, mirroring the five-act structure of classical drama, form a taut structural whole: from the unity the sailor's build on the ship to the unity between ship and shore, to the unity of the entire fleet.

9. The most dazzling editorial sequence of all in the film is the slaughter of the innocent Odessans on the Steps.

10. The film time for the sequence on the Odessa Steps is longer than the actual time it would take a group of people to run down a flight of steps. Subjective time, the way it felt to be there, replaces natural time.

The most famous sequence in this film is definitely the murder of the innocent on the steps of Odessa by the czarist army. This has been called by many one of the most influential scenes in film history (obvious example-Brian De Palma in The Untouchables). One thing is for sure, you can't get through The History of Film class without it.




Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE EAGLE (1925)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 9 of 12)

The Eagle

What I know about Rudolph Valentino:

1. They made a lot of biopics of the Italian screen hearthrob over the years. I remember seeing one starring Franco Nero during the 70's.

2. He was know for being the Latin lover during the twenties

3. He was tremendously popular with his adoring female fans.

4. His overblown acting style was often mocked.

5. He died prematurely and his New York City funeral was a mass of hysteria.

6. I know the names of his most famous movies: The Sheik, The Son of the Sheik, Blood and Sand and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

So if I'm ever on Jeopardy! and get Valentino as a category, I might do all right. The problem is that I have never actually seen a movie with Valentino in it before. I was surprised when the new edition of the 1001 book listed the silent film The Eagle and I realized this was a Valentino movie I hadn't even heard of.

The Eagle turned out to be a fun adventure film. Valentino plays a Russian soldier who has to go on the run after he spurns a Czarina's advances. He also has to battle the evil nobleman who steals his families land. Valentino begins wearing a mask and takes on the avenging Robin Hoodesque persona of The Black Eagle. Of course, he falls in love with the evil nobleman's daughter which complicates matters.

My verdict is that Valentino is actually pretty good in this heroic role. If there was much overacting or exasperated mugging, I didn't really catch it. He even shows a flair for comedy. There is a scene where Valentino keeps putting pepper in his soup while admiring his great love that is almost Keatonesque.

The movie is also noted for a tracking shot at a dinner party that is  very impressive.

Pretty silly title card moment: Valentino as the Black Eagle kidnaps the woman he loves, but then decides to release her and adds: "You are as free as you are beautiful, and that is very, very free."

Clarence Brown appreciation society: If you had told me there was a motion picture director that had been nominated for six Academy Awards that I could never remember hearing of before, I would have thought that you were certainly mistaken. That was before I saw Clarence Brown's resume: (Annie Christie, Romance, A Free Soul, The Human Comedy, National Velvet, and The Yearling, all nominated for Academy Awards) But he also made his mark in silents, including The Eagle
So note to self: See more Clarence Brown films.




Monday, March 17, 2014

NOSFERATU, A SYMPHONY OF TERROR (1922, GERMANY)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 8 of 12)

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror

You can't say the 1001 movie book doesn't have enough versions of Dracula.
Of course we have Bela Lugosi's Dracula (suave, if not a little campy) and Christopher Lee's Hammer films Dracula (Suave, but deadly).

Most Dracula's throughout filmdom had a suave air to them, (George Hamilton, Frank Langella, et al) to contrast their more deadly nature. I mention this because there is no pretension of suaveness in F. W. Murnau's famous silent rendering of the Dracula legend, Noserferatu.

Before watching the entire film for the first time, my main image of the film were clips of the creepy image of the vampire emerging from the hull of a ship to make victims of all its inhabitants. Nosferatu, as played by the wonderfully named Max Schreck, could never pass for anything in the real world other than a sideshow attraction. Nosferatu resembles more of a hobgoblin, with pointy ears, jagged teeth, impossibly bushy eyebrows and sharp claws for hands. No innocent young girl is going to fall under any romantic spell with this Dracula.

Nosferatu can't even be subtle with his dialogue in his initial scene with Jonathan Harker. When Harker cuts his hand cutting bread-no subtle Lugosi stare here. Schreck yells out (through title cards, of course) "Your blood! Your precious blood!" He leaps and starts sucking on Harker's cut finger, before Harker can pull it away.

Nosferatu also looks at a picture of Harker's fiance, where he says,"Is this your wife? What a lovely throat!" Couldn't he just comment on how pretty she is without bringing up her throat? He really is laying his cards all on the table at once here. But you got to appreciate a demon who actually acts like a demon.

The Murnau Nosferatu was remade by Werner Herzog in 1979. The 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, starring Willem Dafoe as Max Shreck and John Malkovich as Murnau about the making of Nosferatu speculates that Shreck might really be a vampire!

He wasn't, was he?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921, SWEDEN)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 7 of 12)

The Phantom Carriage
The only thing I knew about The Phantom Carriage coming into this is that it was an influential Swedish film directed by Victor Sjostrom, who much later would star in Ingmar Bergman's classic Wild Strawberries.

A young charity worker is about to die (of TB, or course). She wishes to have a man named David visit her deathbed. We then come to David who we see is a drunk and conveys to his friends a story about the title's phantom carriage that at the end of the year seeks someone recently deceased to become the carriage's new coachman. A person that knows the charity worker and David finds him and tries to convince him to see her. He refuses, but his other friends also try to get him to see her. A scuffle ensues and David is killed. The clock strikes midnight and a new year begins and the carriage comes into view for David to become the new coachman.

The rest of the film shows flashbacks of David and how he was abusive toward his family and what led him into a life of drunkenness. David can see the past through the old coachman. He finally wants to make amends when his wife and children are about to die and  is finally restored to them and vows to live a righteous life.

The use of flashbacks int The Phantom Carriage to tell the story was probably quite novel for 1921, as were the special effects during the scenes where the ghosts appear transparent in the frame. These scenes are still a little unsettling even today. Overall I liked The Phantom Carriage, though I admit, that with some silent dramas like this one, I respect it more for its historical importance than anything else.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

WITHIN OUR GATES (1920)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 6 of 12)

Within Our Gates

I knew nothing about the Oscar Micheaux story before I heard a piece on the African-American filmmaker on NPR a few years ago. Oscar worked as a homesteader, a Pullman porter and owned his own business before becoming a novelist and eventually starting his own movie production company. He made forty films between 1919 and 1948. Very few survive.

Within Our Gates is one that we are lucky to have. The plot starts off with the feel of cheap melodrama, but as the story unfolds in a series of flashbacks, we see there is a lot of substance here dealing with racism, poverty, justice and the search for basic human dignity. 

It is also telling that Micheaux always had very little budget to work with, so there were basically no retakes. It's pretty remarkable under those circumstances it works as well as it does. There are a lot of scenes of note that I could point out in Within Our Gates, but the one that really sticks in my mind is of the preacher who plays the part of an idiot in front of the white businessmen and as soon as he leaves them, feels consumed with self-loathing.

Any student of the history of film should definitely check this out!






Tuesday, March 11, 2014

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919, GERMANY)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 5 of 12)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Warm...Rohrig...Weinmann...Weine

The alliteration of those names helped me to remember them all for my History of Film class I took in the 80's when we went over silent films, expressionism and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in particular. But what are the importance of these names? Herman Warm designed the delightfully expressionistic sets for the movie. Rohrig and Weinmann painted these sets. And Robert Weine was the director of this tale of madness...exploitation...and SONAMBULISM!!

But the film offers more than it's unusual design. It is the forerunner of films that try to throw the viewer narrative curve balls. Is the story we think we are seeing, the real story? Is the narrator reliable? Is the one we see as evil, really good? Or is the narrator the only one who sees that he isn't good? What are the hints that what we are seeing isn't what we may think it is at first?

I think of Caligari when I see films like A Beautiful Mind, The Sixth Sense and most recently Shutter Island (I'm sure Martin Scorcese is a student of Caligari). Even if you've seen variations on the themes of Caligari done many times since, any student of film should see the original. 

And don't forget those names...Warm...Rohrig...Weinmann...Weine...Warm...Rohrig...Weinmann...Weine...I am calling you...I am your master...awaken for a moment from your dark night!


Saturday, March 8, 2014

INTOLERANCE (1916)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 4 of 12)


Intolerance

The 1997 American Film Institute list of top American movies of the century had D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation ranked at number #44. But in the 2007 updated list, that controversial film was taken off the list all together. In its place, jumping from no ranking in 1997 to number #49 for the new list is another D. W. Griffith film, Intolerance.

Like Birth of a NationIntolerance (Griffith's attempt to link four stories throughout history by showing episodes featuring examples of intolerant behavior) seems to divide people on its merits, too. It's detractors tend to call it an overblown mess, where Griffith's stories basically run amok without the cohesion it needs. And they say it's boring...and real long. It even got it's own chapter in Harry and Michael Medved's book The Hollywood Hall of Shame (gasp!).

But it's supporters (and there are many) see it as a remarkable example of storytelling. The epic nature of the stories (The Fall of Bablylon, the story of Christ, the French St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and a contermporary crime story) come together as one all linked through the continuing shot of eternal motherhood (Lillian Gish) rocking the cradle of life.

I admit, that with a three and a half hour running time that seems a lot longer than that, I tend to side more with the camp that isn't that enthralled with Mr. Griffith's presentation. The best of the sections is the contemporary one and the film seems to wander off course whenever it veers away from this story. There are parts of the Babylon story that are pretty interesting and the set for that section is really amazing. And I must admit, that as the four stories were winding down, I began to like what I was seeing on the screen. Everything seemed to be finally be fitting together finally. The problem was that it took me over three hours to get to that point. If I hadn't been watching this because I wanted to finally be able to say I've seen Intolerance, I'm not so sure I would have gotten through it. But by God, I've seen Intolerance!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1914)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 3 of 12)

The Birth of a Nation


Opinions and Reviews on The Birth of a Nation from 1915

A pernicious caricature of the Negro race.
-Jane Addams, New York Evening Post, March 13, 1915

The very name of The Birth of a Nation is an insult to Washington, who believed that a nation, not merely a congeries of independent states, was born during the common struggles of the Revolutionary War, and devoted himself to cementing the union. It is an insult to Lincoln and the great motives inspiring him when he was called on to resist the attempt to denationalize a nation. The nation of ours was not born between 1861 and 1865, and no one will profit from trying to pervert history.
-New York Globe, April 6, 1915.

They declare in substance that the play in its final impression on the audience does six things: (1) It reunites common sympathy and love in all sections of our country. (2) It teaches our boys the history of our nation in a way that makes them know the priceless inheritance our fathers gave us through the sacrifice of war and reconstruction. (3) It tends to prevent the lowering of the standard of our citizenship by its mixture with Negro blood. (4) It shows the horror and futility of war as a method of settling civic principles. (5) It reaffirms Lincoln's solution of the Negro problem as a possible guide to our future and glorifies his character as the noblest example of American democracy. (6) It gives to Daniel Webster for the first time his true place in American history as the inspiring creator of the modern nation we know today.
-Thomas Dixon, Reply to The New York Globe, April 10, 1915.

We have received letters of the heartiest commendation from statesmen, writers, clergymen, artists, educators, and laymen. I have in my possession applications for reservations from the principals of ten schools, who having seen the picture, are desirous of bringing their pupils to view it for historic truths...In every walk of life there are men and women of this city (New York) who have expressed their appreciation of this picture. Do you dare to intimate that these voluntary expressions of approval were voiced for "purely sordid reasons?"
-D. W. Griffith, Reply to The New York Globe, April 10, 1915.

Griffith struck it right when he adapted the Dixon story for the film. He knew the South and he knew just what kind of picture would please all white classes. Some places the censors are going to find fault. That's a persistent way some censors have. The scene of the "black congress" and the negro removing his shoe may be censured, but it's drawn from reported facts. But no matter what the censors censor there will be plenty of film action and interest left to make it the biggest demanded film production of the present century. It's worth seeing anywhere. Many will see it twice, yea thrice and still obtain much satisfaction and entertainment.
- Mark Vance, Variety, March 12, 1915.

The audience which saw the play at the private exhibition in the Liberty Theater was a most friendly one. It was significant that on more than one occasion during the showing of the films, there were hisses mingled with applause. These hisses were not, of course, directed against the artistic quality of the film. They were evoked by the undisguised appeals to race prejudices. The tendency of the second part is to inflame race hatred. The negroes are shown as horrible brutes, given over to beastly excesses, defiant and criminal in their attitude toward the whites, and lusting after white women. Some of the details are plainly morbid and repulsive. The film having roused the hatred and disgust of the white against the black to the highest pitch, suggest as a remedy to the racial question the transportation of the Negroes to Liberia, which Griffith assures us was Lincoln's idea.
-W. Stephen Bush, Moving Picture World , March 13, 1915.

The story of the creation was told in eight words, but should the pen of another Moses be raised today he would need ten times that number of pages to do credit to The Birth of a Nation.

There has been nothing to equal it-nothing. Not a motion picture, not a play, nor a book does it come to you; but as the soul and spirit and flesh of the heart of your country's history, ripped from the past and brought quivering with all human emotions before your eyes.

It swept the audience at the Atlanta Theater on Monday night like a tidal wave. A youth in the gallery leapt to his feet and yelled and yelled. A little boy downstairs pounded the man's back in front of him and shrieked. The man did not know it. He was a middle-aged hard-lipped citizen; but his face twitched and his throat gulped up and down. Here a young girl kept dabbing and dabbing at her eyes and there an old lady just sat and let the tears stream down her face unchecked.

And if you haven't seen it, spend the money, borrow it, beg it, get it any old way. But see The Birth of a Nation.
-Ward Greene, The Atlanta Journal, December 7, 1915.

____

Since the time of its release, D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, based on Thomas Dixon's book The Clansman, has been a lightning rod of controversy (like writing history with lightning in fact, or so said Woodrow Wilson). But there had never been anything on the screen before quite like this narrative action piece on The Civil War and its aftermath.

But is The Birth of a Nation an historically significant film?  The answer is yes.

Is it great epic storytelling? Yes, most definitely.

Is it an accurate history of the time? At times it gets it right. At times it gets it wrong to tragic proportions.

Should it be seen? Absolutely.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 2 of 12)


THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (MY PROPOSED ALTERNATE ENDING)

(Bronco Billy, Justus and Frank ride into a clearing and clumsily dismount from their horses. Justus and Frank begin dancing in celebration of their successful gold theft.)

Bronco Billy: HEY! You boys need to simmer down. We got big problems here!

(Justus and Frank stop their dance and stare at him)

Justus: What you mean? We got the gold!

(Justus throws a handful of gold pieces at Bronco Billy)

Bronco Billy: The gold? And what is it you’re planning to do with all that gold?

(Justus and Frank give each other a confused stare.)

Bronco Billy: That’s right. You have no idea! And do you know why?

(Justus and Frank shake their heads)

Bronco Billy: Cause we was s'pose to be killed by a posse and that was gonna be the end! That’s why! Your fellas ain’t even real.

Justus: Ain’t real? You been smokin’ some of that Injun loco weed? And how is it you know so dang much? And whar is this here posse?

Bronco Billy: They was gonna ambush us in our reg'lar hidin’ spot. That’s why I made you fellas come here instead.

Frank: I don’t get it.

Bronco Billy: Think about our reg'lar hiding spot that we was going to. Do you ever remember bein’ thar before?

(Justus and Frank shake their heads)

Bronco Billy: That’s cause we AIN’T never been thar before. It’s just our reg'lar hiding place cause the script says so.

Justus: Cause the what says so?

Bronco Billy: Look. You know when we ride or rob...when you look out to the side? You know, the black space? Don’t you wonder what’s in the black space?

Justus: (Scratching his head) Never thunk about it.

Bronco Billy: That’s cause you’re thinly written. But I thunk about it. And while we was riding a ways back, I slipped my hand into the black space and came up with this.

(Bronco Billy shows his associates a movie script.)

Frank: What’s this? We can’t read!

Bronco Billy: Written here is all that we are. All we’re suppose to do. We did just what it said to the last part when I took us a detour to here.

Justus: This is crazy talk! You’ve been drinking some kinda moonshine!

Bronco Billy: All right smart boys. Tell me what is it you are plannin’ to do with all that gold?

Frank: I don’t reckon I know. What was we gonna do Justus?

Justus: (Thinking for a moment) I got it! Women!

Bronco Billy: And what is it an outlaw is suppose to do with a woman? Tell me.

(Justus and Frank think for a moment.)

Justus: I got it again! Virginia Reel!

(Frank and Justus throw down their guns and begin hooting as they grab each other by the arms spinning as if doing the Virginia Reel.)

Bronco Billy: Stop It! The only thing you know about women is doin’ the Virgina Reel with ‘em cause that’s all that’s in this here script! Us cowboys won’t get fully developed for more until later through the films of Ford, Hawks, Mann and Leone.

(As the outlaws quit dancing they look at Bronco Billy in silent confusion.)

Bronco Billy: Never mind. I’m not sure whar that thought came from myself. Anyway, remember when you shot that guy at the station, how he flailed around like a chicken with his head cut off, grabbed his heart and plopped to the ground?

Justus: Yeah! Got him good.

Bronco Bill: NO! People don’t react that way when they's shot. And there was no blood! Nary a drop. And when you threw that guy off the train. That was no man! It was just a stuffed dummy.

Frank: Come to think about it Justus, He did feel kinda light.

Bronco Billy: And didn’t you notice how the scenery kept changin’ so fast behind us while we was up on the train?

Frank: (Scratching his head) That’s why I got so dizzy!

Bronco Billy: (Slapping the script in his hand) We is in something called a movin’ picture.

Justus: I’ve seen pictures o' course. But how does they move?

Bronco Billy: Don’t rightly know. Guess if you run them together fast enough, they kinda tell a story.

(The other two outlaws look at each other and begin to laugh. When Bronco Billy doesn't return their laughter, they stop. The three outlaws begin to contemplate in uncomfortable silence.)

Justus: So what happens now?

Bronco Billy: I don’t know. I think we have to do things on our own now.

Justus: (rubbing his chin) Hmmm. Interestin'.

(Justus raises his gun and points it at Bronco Billy)

Bronco Billy: What in tarnation do you think you’re doing?

Justus: Seems to me like we was doin’ fine til’ you brought up that big lump of paper. Maybe that thar’ script jus’ needs a new endin’.

(Justus fires at Bronco Billy who grabs at his bloodstained chest and drops to the ground.)

Bronco Billy: (from the ground) You fool! The posse will for sure come for you now.

Justus: You was right Billy. That’s real blood this time.

(Bronco Billy dies. The posse hears the shots and comes riding toward the outlaws. Frank runs to pick up his guns. Before he can reach them, he is dropped to the ground by a rifle shot coming from one of the posse. Justus manages to get to a pistol and fires into the black space before forever disappearing from view.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902, FRANCE)

In the beginning...She Blinded Me With Silents (Post 1 of 12)

A Trip to the Moon

Certainly any list like the one from 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die (as well as any academic history of film class) has to begin with George Melies’ 1902 short film, A Trip to the Moon.

The basics of this fourteen minute landmark film can be summarized as "a group of professors/wizards confer to send an space expedition to the moon. A group of space travelers is organized and proceed to land on the moon where they encounter hostiles who take them to their leader. After finding a method of disposing of the moon men by an umbrella touch that makes them explode, they successfully return to earth."

How many movie firsts are in this film? Science fiction, surrealism, a narrative story line, special effects and other innovations often list A Trip to the Moon as its oldest ancestor. Who could possibly say anything bad about a Trip to the Moon? I’ll bet even curmudgeonly film critic David Thompson can’t think of anything bad to say about Melies. In his Biographical Dictionary of American Film, he says,

“Melies needs to be restored to his role as stage conjurer who designed so many of the illusions available to the filmmaker-no longer regarded as the father figure of cinema of the imagination.”

OK, everyone except David Thompson agrees.