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WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

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MichiganJ
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » February 18th, 2010, 3:31 pm

I'm in complete agreement about Severin-Mars' performance. His character is obviously the most challenging and the one that changes the most throughout the course of the film. And our attitudes about his character slowly but surely alter as well.

I still think, though, that during the actual war sequences, which are few and brief, neither François or Jean seem in any real jeopardy and Gance's primary focus is on the melodramatic plot. Once that plot is dispatched, he can get on with the pacifism. But that final sequence is only a brief part of J'Accuse, and comes pretty much out of the blue, so feels, to me, like it's from another movie.

Before the risen dead sequence, I don't recall much in J'Accuse that would make it necessarily anti-war or pacifistic. Except for Gance's sometimes heavy-handed way of having Jean "accuse" things needlessly (reminding me, a lot, of how Griffith mercilessly shoehorned the word intolerant into as many titles as he possible could in his own masterpiece), and maybe a couple of interesting dissolves and juxtapositions (and skeletons), J'Accuse is really a story about Jean, François and Edith. Which is fine. The story is solid and is told amazingly well, with, as we've mentioned, at least one fully-realized and very complicated character.

Perhaps it's because the risen dead sequence is so powerful, and I've seen it in at least two documentaries (Cinema Europe and The Great War), that I expected it to be more representative of the plot of J'Accuse than it really is.
Regardless, it's a great film.
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Ann Harding
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » February 19th, 2010, 4:21 am

MichiganJ, I have seen Hearts of the World and was really disappointed by the film. In spite of the fact that Griffith visited the front line and shot a little bit of footage there, the film felt totally artificial to me. It doesn't have any European feel to it. Both Gish sisters are superb as usual; but beyond that it's just a typical melodrama made in America.
I think all Gance's pictures have some shortcomings in terms of plot. But, I think you are repaid a thousand times visually (in his silents anyway).
But, think about it, this film is now 91 years old and we are now discussing the ambiguity of one character. How many old films can claim to arouse such interest 91 years after they were made? Not many.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » February 19th, 2010, 4:45 am

Yesterday I watched for the first time Metropolis (1927, F. Lang) in the newly restored 2009 version which now clocks 150 min.
ImageImage
While I had seen quite a few Lang silents, I had never seen this one. I cannot compare this version with the previous restorations. The new sequences are spread out all over the film. The picture quality varies from superb (from a camera negative) to horrible (the newly discovered 16 mm dupe print in Buenos Aires). They have tried their best to clean the image, but the vertical lines are part of the image itself. Nevertheless, I do understand that these new scenes helped the narrative tremendously.
The film is visually extremely impressive with its incredible sets and special effects. The script by Thea von Harbou describes a futuristic society where the population is divided between under-men working in the depths of the city and the rulers who live a life of pleasure. I was struck by the fact that the screenwriter doesn't have that much sympathy for the 'under-men'. They are described just as working and walking like robots. And when they are rebelling against their masters, they react like sheeps. They do not think but are led by a woman (or a robot at the image of a woman) who drives them towards chaos. I don't think the film was intended as an indictment of capitalism as such. To me, it looks like the future of Germany under Nazi rule of which Thea von Harbou became a supporter. The happy end is rather hard to swallow and even Lang apparently thought so. The characters in the film are more like visual sketches than real human beings. Brigitte Helm is visually beautiful and carries her double role with a lot of charisma. Gustav Froelich overacts like mad, but he certainly just followed the instructions of the director. Beyond that, it is certainly an important picture visually, even if the actual storyline makes me feel uneasy. The film was accompanied by the original score by Gottfried Huppertz which really suited every scenes of Metropolis. The score was apparently helpful in the film's restoration itself as it provided many cues for all the sequences.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby feaito » February 19th, 2010, 6:41 am

Yesterday I introduced my friend to yet another Pre-Code: "I'm No Angel" (1933). I've seen it many times, but it doesn't detract from my enjoyment of this Mae West star Vehicle supreme. She's a hoot and the whole film, and all the good for it. How hard we laughed! We forgot all our troubles for 88 minutes. West's best film (IMO). Besides, it's the first time I watch it on a big screen and it enhances the experience.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby jdb1 » February 19th, 2010, 9:51 am

I watched just a bit of A Free Soul (1931) on TCM last night, but Norma Shearer was giving me hives or something, so I turned it off. The story line sounded promising, though -- Shearer plays a sexually liberated woman who treats men the way men treated women way back then. Clark Gable is her boy toy.

Anyhow -- even those few minutes I saw were most definitely pre-code: Shearer standing naked in the bathroom (you see her silouhette) waving her bra around, with her father on the other side of the partially open door. And a character saying the word "constipated." I have never heard any actor, in any classic movie, ever use that word before. Wow.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » February 19th, 2010, 11:19 am

Ann Harding wrote:MichiganJ, I have seen Hearts of the World and was really disappointed by the film. In spite of the fact that Griffith visited the front line and shot a little bit of footage there, the film felt totally artificial to me. It doesn't have any European feel to it. Both Gish sisters are superb as usual; but beyond that it's just a typical melodrama made in America.
I think all Gance's pictures have some shortcomings in terms of plot. But, I think you are repaid a thousand times visually (in his silents anyway).

I'm not sure if this means that Griffith's films are typical American melodramas, or that American films in general are typically melodramatic, but either way, I humbly disagree.
But even if true, it's interesting that Gance is given a pass in his shortcomings of plot in exchange for his visualization, but Griffith--at least for some a director also known for his visuals--is taken to task for his melodrama.

For me, I see a lot of Griffith in Gance's films, especially J'Accuse
Ann Harding wrote:But, think about it, this film is now 91 years old and we are now discussing the ambiguity of one character. How many old films can claim to arouse such interest 91 years after they were made? Not many
.
Actually I think there are plenty and that's why I like silent films so much. They often leave room for various interpretations and at the very least require active participation from the viewer.

As I've said before, J'Accuse is a great film. I still don't see it as a pacifistic film or even as an indictment of war. Even with the dead risen sequence, what exactly are the dead accusing? They aren't accusing or denouncing warfare at all. Instead, they are accusing the villagers of such things as profiteering, and, quite hypocritically, infidelity. (Remember, for the entire movie Jean has been sleeping with Edith, François' wife.) If J'Accuse is such a pacifistic film, surely warfare itself would be what the dead abhor, no? It is not until the final moments in the film, where Jean actually accuses the Sun of being a horrible witness to the war, that J'Accuse finally indicts war itself.
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » February 20th, 2010, 3:56 am

MichiganJ, I think I wasn't clear enough when I said 'typical American melodrama'. I meant only that the film was supposed to take place in Europe, but its locations looked too American. That said I have a great admiration for many Griffith pictures; it's only this one that didn't convince me. :wink:

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » February 20th, 2010, 4:54 am

Yesterday I watched the documentary Universal Horror (1998, K. Brownlow). Not being a expert in the matter, it was fascinating to discover so many great pictures. As usual, there is an excellent editing throughout the documentary where meaningful interviews are intercut with film clips providing the perfect illustration for the spoken word. (It sounds trivial, but look at most modern featurettes and you will be hard pressed to find such quality!) On the silent front, I was really caught by an unfamiliar Rex Ingram called The Magician which looks really superb visually. The clip from Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1920) with John Barrymore is of super quality unlike most DVDs available on the market. And the interviews are a treasure trove: I was so happy to recognise Rose Hobart who played in Mamoulian's Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1931). You will learn how Karl Struss used colored filters to alter Fredric March's features as he did it in Niblo's Ben Hur (1925). I was totally fascinated by the Spanish version of Dracula (1931) shot at the same time as the American version. This is really a film I want to discover ASAP: the camera movements look staggering. This is how documentaries should be made and seldom are....alas.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » February 20th, 2010, 8:25 am

Ann Harding wrote:I was totally fascinated by the Spanish version of Dracula (1931) shot at the same time as the American version. This is really a film I want to discover ASAP: the camera movements look staggering.

You'll love the Spanish version of Dracula. It is much more cinematic, sexier and even has more atmosphere than the Browning version. (Of course Lugosi is still the Count, and Frye…well he's Renfield and some!)
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby charliechaplinfan » February 20th, 2010, 3:32 pm

Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching Ingeborg Holm and Terje Vigen.

Ingeborg Holm is the best early silent film I have ever seen, one year before BOAN and 3 years before Intolerance, there is not a wasted moment in this drama. It packs a real emotional wallop, the silent film is often used to depict social conditions the time. Ingeborg Holm is a mother of three children, with her husband they open a shop using their life savings but the assistant is fiddling and giving too much produce away to some and ignoring other customers. The husband dies and Ingeborg develops a stomach ulcer, she cannot work and has to go to the committee for social assistance, they grant her only a meagre amount, too little to subsist on, her alternative is to enter the workhouse. Form there all her children are fostered out, each child leaving one by one, leaving the mother to her jail, which is what the workhouse is for her. One day she sees a letter on the desk of the workhouse doctor, it concerns her eldest daughter who needs an operation or else she will die. The money cannot be found for the operation and Ingeborg, now tormented breaks out of the workhouse to find her daughter. She finds shelter at the home of a young family (I'm not sure here if it is the family who have her youngest son) as the police approach the house trying to track her down she is led out of the cellar by the father. At last she reaches her eldest daughter's side only to be recaptured, her daughter not even knowing she has been there. A little later the youngest son, who is about 2 is brought to the workhouse to visit his birth mother but he no longer recognises her and as she tries to embrace him he pulls away from her. Hilda Borgstrom gaves such a strong performance, as ther mother. Tormented, when the foster mother takes the child away she goes mad, picking up a rag she's fashioned into a doll for the boy and loving and carressing it as if it were one of her lost children. Years later her eldest son comes to visit her, he's returned from a few years in the Navy. His mother is brought to him, mad and has been for years but left alone with her, finally he gains some recognition as his mother finally sees one of her long lost children.
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby charliechaplinfan » February 20th, 2010, 3:42 pm

I watched Ingeborg Holm whilst my young children were having an afternoon at my mother's. I felt like I needed them with me immediately, such was the power of the acting and storytelling. As a piece of social commentary, it's stunning, that women were allowed to be striped of their children for no greater crime than being poor. No crime indeed, a misfortune and one that strips away the very essence and reason for a mother's life and leaves her absolutely nothing in return. Thank heaven's she went mad, for I was sure she would die from the grief.

Ingenorg Holm is different from the other Sjostrom films I've watched in that it is studiobound. It does occasionally leave the studio and then it feels like it has wings. The studio setting makes the film more claustrophobic and oppresive.

On the other hand Terje Vigen/A Man There Was makes the most of the outdoor setting. It's the story of a fisherman during the Napoleonic wars who gets captured when trying to bring food to his family by breaking through the blockade. He manages to capture the harsh reality of the sea and the unpredictability of nature, this film made in 1917 has some amazing shots for it's time. Victor Sjostrom himself takes the title role.
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby myrnaloyisdope » February 21st, 2010, 1:16 pm

Ingeborg Holm is indeed a masterpiece. I think you could argue at the time of its completion is was the greatest film ever made.

All the J'Accuse talk made me check it out, and although it took me 3 days, I finished it up yesterday afternoon. It's wildly uneven to be sure, but always compelling and of course the final sequence is astonishing. Jean Diaz holding court and ranting about the risen dead is one of the most harrowing sequences in all of slent cinema right up there with the suicide sequence in The Phantom Carriage. Absolutely captivating stuff. I too was very impressed with the Severin-Mars performance, it's an incredibly difficult transition and he handles it beautifully particularly in light of how unsympathetically he is introduced. I actually liked his character the best, Jean Diaz kind of gets annoying at times. Kudos to Flicker Alley for putting it out in a fine edition, I'll be sure to grab it in the near future.

I also watched Lois Weber's Where Are My Children? from 1916. It's a rather cynical but quite moving anti-abortion drama that is quite nicely directed. Tyrone Power Sr. plays a pro-birth control lawyer who wants a child, but who believes his wife (Helen Riaume) is unable to give birth. It turns out that his wife along with her socialite friends regularly get abortions from a shady doctor suspiciously named Dr. Malfit (!). Of course the big secret comes out, and Power is devastated, which leads to an astonishing closing shot, that features Power and Riaume sitting and looking forlorn as they both age decades while their aborted children appear superimposed undergoing a similar aging. It's a really haunting and perfectly executed sequence that indicates how great Weber was. I'm excited to check out Suspense and some of her other features.
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby charliechaplinfan » February 21st, 2010, 3:31 pm

I liked Where Are My Children? In terms of social commentary the films of the teens are the most forthright and direct. It's something I really like about them.

I watched a TCM programmer called Heat Lightining starring Aline Macmahon as a business woman running a cafe, garage and motel in the heat of the desert. Anne Dvorak starred as her sister, supprting cast included Lyle Talbot, George Brent, Jane Darwell, Glenda Farrell and Ruth Donnelly. I like the way these old films manage to get so much told in so short a time and still tell a good story.
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby knitwit45 » February 21st, 2010, 4:16 pm

Was this the basis for Bagdad Cafe (1987)? I just looked it up at IMDB, it's also known as Out of Rosenheim

CCH Pounder stars, along with Marianne Sägebrecht & Jack Palance. CCHP runs a cafe, motel and gas station, in the desert..

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » February 21st, 2010, 4:35 pm

myrnaloyisdope wrote:I also watched Lois Weber's Where Are My Children? from 1916. It's a rather cynical but quite moving anti-abortion drama that is quite nicely directed. Tyrone Power Sr. plays a pro-birth control lawyer who wants a child, but who believes his wife (Helen Riaume) is unable to give birth. It turns out that his wife along with her socialite friends regularly get abortions from a shady doctor suspiciously named Dr. Malfit (!). Of course the big secret comes out, and Power is devastated, which leads to an astonishing closing shot, that features Power and Riaume sitting and looking forlorn as they both age decades while their aborted children appear superimposed undergoing a similar aging. It's a really haunting and perfectly executed sequence that indicates how great Weber was. I'm excited to check out Suspense and some of her other features.

While I applaud Weber tackling difficult subject matters, to me , as a film maker, she has the subtly of dropping an anvil on your head. In Where Are the Children (there's no question mark on the title card of the print in the Treasures Vol. III collection), Weber is all over the place in regards to her views on women's reproductive rights and responsibilities. Decidedly for eugenics, which in itself is problematic, but apparently an accepted idea for the time, Weber seems to be undecided as to the merits of birth control.  Sure, she has the sympathetic Doctor relating all of the horrendous events that befall the lower-class when they reproduce, which reinforces D.A. Walton’s (and Weber’s) pro-eugenic position, but Weber is decidedly unsympathetic to the upper-class women’s decisions to actually practice birth control.  Of course, Weber equates abortion with birth control, which simply muddles her position even more.  As opposed as she is to abortion (and that is made “anvil-dropping-on-the-head” clear), Weber seems to suggest that lower-class women have no means of birth control, including abortions, whereas upper-class women only use abortions as a means of birth control.  This message is, of course, backwards:  lower-class women were the ones subjected to the back room abortions, not the rich society women of Weber’s film.

This push-me pull-you aspect of Weber’s film, pro-birth control while anti-abortion (which, again, for Weber, is solely a form of birth control) is not only difficult to follow but ultimately makes no sense.  Even when applying the eugenics argument, Weber still seems to be saying that lower-class women should practice birth control (including abortion?  Weber equates birth control with abortion, so apparently, yes), while the upper-class women should not practice birth control at all.  The film’s message is a muddled mess.

And while I agree the ending is very moving, when one sees all of the children that shameful Mrs. Walton never gave her husband, and how sad and lonely they are in their old age, one does wonder why they didn't simply adopt?

Weber is best in her shorts, Suspense is good as is How Men Propose. The Blot, while unrelenting, is probably my favorite of her features (with a very nice print in the Milestone edition) and Hypocrites is equally interesting but still has her lack of subtlety. Her comedy Too Wise Wives, well all I can say is I had to read a review to learn it was a comedy.
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