Archive for September, 2006

Burning Soil (1922) & City Girl (1930)

I saw two tonight (on a nightshift), both by F.W. Murnau.
The first one was Der Brennende Acker (1922) aka Burning Soil. It was made just before Nosferatu. I bought my copy at ebay (from bill2001). The picture quality was like something from a bad, old VHS tape, and it really made it difficult to watch the film (it is also only 78 min. long so it looks like some of the scenes are missing).

I loved the film, even in this bad condition. It is really the story of the prodigal son, mostly with out the father. The interpretation is actually quite interesting, but I can’t explain why with out giving away the end. So you just have to trust me on that one.

The film is quite dramatic and dark, even surprisingly dark at times. An superb film from one of the best directors of all time 8/10 (might even get a higher score with better transfer and in full length). Here’s hoping that this film will get the treatment it deserves.
The other Murnau film I saw was City Girl (1930). This film came as a complete surprise. What a masterpiece!!! It may very well be Murnau’s second best film (after Sunrise). It is extremely well made and the acting is superb. I can’t for the life of me understand why this film is not better known. And why it has not got the DVD treatment it deserves.

I bought my copy at ebay (from emoviez). The transfer is actually quite good, considering that this is a private seller. The music was how ever quite tiring and repetitive, most likely just put there to have something playing, for the ones that can’t stand the silence.

Murnau plays with some of the same motives as in Sunrise, but with a totally different approach. It is especially interesting to compare the City girl in Sunrise and the one in this film. I also wonder if he was not also dealing with his own past, but the father in the film really resembles what we know about Murnau’s own father.

A must see!!! 10/10

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Three silent films: A Woman of Paris & La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc & Autumn Fire

I saw three silent films today.

A Woman of Paris (Charles Chaplin: 1923) for the first time. It was quite good. Not his best but surprisingly good. I would give it 8/10.

Then I saw La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer: 1928) for the hundredth time. I just love this film. My favorite scene is the torture chamber. Amazing editing! I also love the connections to the life of Christ. There was one thing that I noticed that I had not noticed before. There are two scenes when there is a fly in Jeanne face and they are trying to trap her in both cases. Look for it next time you see the film.

Then I saw Autumn Fire (Herman G. Weinberg: 1931) again, the 15 min. version. I really like this film, especially the time factor. It looks like they are thinking about each other at the same time but in the end we see that he was in present but she was in the past. Just live it.

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Unseen Cinema – Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941

Unseen Cinema is a fascinating collection of films, that shows the development of (and the experiment with) the film language in
America from its beginning there and half a century onward.  It’s title is a little misleading. Many of the films are not really Avant Garde, unless sound testing and family films showing children opening Christmas gifts is Avant Garde. The goal of the collectors is to prove that there was an Avant Garde film making from the beginning of cinema in America (America meaning films made by Americans anywhere in the world and films made by foreigners in  America). They say that this was a needle-in-a-haystack search and I have to admit that sometimes I felt that they mistook the hay for a needle.

So if you want to get to know early Avant Garde film making (in general) then I rather recommend ”Avant Garde – Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s”. It has many of the best bits from this collections plus others not found here. But if you are interested in film history and it’s language then this is your thing. There are many fantastic films here, some of them not available anywhere else (to the best of my knowledge), such as The Telltale Heart (Charles Klein: 1928), Portrait of a Young Man in Three Movements (Henwar Rodakiewicz: 1931) and Footnote to Fact (1933: Lewis Jacobs). Portrait of a Young Man in Three Movements (54 min) is one of the greatest cinema poems I have ever seen, a must see. 

There are also some great classics, here, like:
Autumn Fire (1930-33)-Herman Weinberg (a 22 min. version!).
The Fall of the House of Usher (1926-27)-J.S. Watson, Jr. & Melville Webber
The Life and Death of 9413: A
Hollywood Extra (1927)- Robert Florey & Slavko Vorkapich
The Love of Zero (1928)-Robert Florey & William Cameron Menzies
H20 (1929)-Ralph Steiner 
 

The collection is on 7 disks, some of them more interesting than others. My personal favorite where the first four of them. The New York disc is probably interesting to people who live there or have been there. It did little for me and I think that the Amateur disk was a waste of time.  The transfer is quite good, often surprisingly good. The music varies. Some of it is quite fitting while others are just tiring. I for one liked the music on ”Avant Garde – Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s” better (comparing the films that both of the collections share). The real downside to this collection is the extra material. The notes at the beginning of the films are way to short and the extra information on the PDF files are not so great ether. I would like to see a better bio with filmography, and some commentaries would have been nice. 

So this is a great collection for anyone seriously interested in film history and it’s language. Others might want to stay away.

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Asphalt (Joe May: 1929)

I just saw Asphalt. A brilliant film with beautiful use of film language. Almost everything is said visually, and inter titles only used when absolutely necessary. One more proof that cinema was at it’s peak at the end of the silent era.

Gustav Fröhlich is amazing in his role as Wachtmeister Albert Holk and Betty Amann is fascinating as Elsa Kramer the seductive Jewel Thief.

I liked the way cigars and cigarettes where used in the film. Elsa has in a way emasculated Albert when she jumps at him and makes love to him, making him lose the umbrella (phallus symbol) and his police cap (masculinity and authority). Albert can’t smoke a cigar (phallus symbol) after that (very Freudian, to say the least). I love the scene where Albert is at Elsa’s feet and she has a cigarette in her hand. She is the man in the relationship, not Albert, who has been emasculated!

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Avant Garde – Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s

I just saw Avant Garde – Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s and I have to say that this is one of the best film collection ever put together. All the films are extremely interesting and most of them excellent. Ménilmontant alone justifies buying this collection, one of the best films ever made.

The New scores are great and the notes on the films are fairly good. The picture quality varies (from bad to good) and it would have been nice to have a little more extra material. But still, this collection is a must have for anyone interested in film. One of my favorite DVDs.

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Spione (Fritz Lang: 1928)

Spione is a mixture of brilliance and stupidity. The camera-work was amazing and the same goes for the set. And the film has one of the greatest finale of all time.

Spoilers Ahead!!! But then there are some really stupid scenes like when Haghi (the bad guy) shoots him self in the head but still talks and stands on his own to feet. And if Haghi was so powerful why didn’t he just have No. 326 shot in the beginning in stead of waiting it out? And why should a spy working for the government help a women who has just shot a man, like he does for Sonya? And I have to say that the love story between No. 326 and Sonya was way too much over the top.

Spoilers Finished!!! But don’t misunderstand me. I think it was an fantastic film (8/10), better than Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler – Ein Bild der Zeit (1922). It was also interesting to see how much Bond has borrowed from it. It also reminded me of North by Northwest (1959) by Hitch. Not to mention Dr. Mabuse. I really felt like I was watching Dr. Mabuse no. II.

I saw the Masters Of Cinema edition of the film (R2). The transfer is amazing. Extremely well done. I didn’t care so much for the music though.

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