Monday, April 27, 2009

32. The General - 1927

Synopsis: Buster Keaton is a southern train conductor during the civil war. His girlfriend is kidnapped by nothern soldiers causing him to follow her into enemy territory. He saves her and returns home to battle the union. It is loosely based on a real life train chase.

Review: This movie feels like a compromise to me. It's bigger and grander than anything Keaton has done previously. It has a better narrative. It lost the danger and absurdity that I enjoyed most in Keaton's earlier works. I miss that off the wall, from out of nowhere humor.

I think this sets a future for bigger comedy though. It isn't just a set of gags unrelated gags based purely on Keaton's ability to endanger himself without having a facial reaction. There is even a bit that made me laugh based purely on an intertitle:
I could easily see someone like every Steve Carell character ever saying it. Unfortunately, it's one of the few genuine laughs I had in the movie. The other big one for me was a pine cone bonking Keaton on the head. The two examples give a pretty good approximation of my sense of humor: non-jokes and infantile jokes. Nothing in between the two.

The length of the movie is an issue. While the movie is still short, it would have helped to edit it some more. I've enjoyed the shorter Buster Keaton films more because they didn't leave room for anything that didn't work. The General on the other hand leaves plenty of moments waiting for the next joke to happen instead of laughing until the next joke happens.

Something that's been bothering me about these movies is the soundtracks. I can't imagine that the musical accompaniment is accurate on some of these films. There is a song that either is, or is very close to being, Sabre Dance. There is zither music which makes me think of The Third Man immediately. The music fits but is this what Buster Keaton intended? Maybe so but there has been some inconsistency throughout this list on the musical choices.

I don't have much else to say about the film. It didn't work on me like previous Buster Keaton movies. Because I can't avoid mentioning hilarious facial hair, here is the best from the film:
And, since I am a giant nerd, I want to include this picture because it makes me think of the tank levels in world 8 of Super Mario Bros. 3
Final Score: 7/10

Sunday, April 19, 2009

31. Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans - 1927

Synopsis: A woman from the city suggests a man drown his wife. The man flies into a rage and starts to choke the woman from the city. He then changes his mind and decides to drown his wife. He starts to drown his wife but is overcome with guilt. They reconcile in the city even though he tried to murder her. They have a great day and realize why they fell in love even though he planned on murdering her. They return home and storms cause their boat to capsize drowning the wife (irony!). The woman meets the man thinking he purposefully drowned his wife but he goes tries to choke her again. The villagers find the wife alive, floating in the water. The man and wife meet as the sun rises even though he planned on murdering her.

Basically, why you always got to be murderin the women in yo life?

Review: The first best picture winner at the Oscars is usually cited as some film called Wings that no one ever talks about except when discussing Oscar history (ie - is boring everyone). If the source you happen to be reading is dedicated exclusively to Wings, the story typically stops there. If the source is not dedicated exclusively to Wings, Sunrise is usually mentioned as kind of also being best picture winner. Why this confusion?

There was no best picture nomination in 1927. Wings won "outstanding picture"--listed occasionally as "best production"--and Sunrise won a little award for "unique and outstanding production." So the Academy Awards officially list Wings as the "best picture" winner but says "two films were singled out for top honors."

I have not personally seen Wings outside of some bootleg Paul McCartney DVDs but I know which movie has a legacy of any kind (hint: it is Sunrise). Wings isn't even available on DVD in North America but Sunrise barely qualifies as being available (only as a limited time mail in with proofs of purchase for other Fox DVDs and part of huge box sets).


I watched the "Movietone" version of this film. The disc Netflix has features a "Silent European" version which, as far as I can tell, is the exact same movie but shortened by half an hour. Neither version is silent though. Quite the opposite.

This movie is the first with dialogue. It's only a a brief scene with mostly indiscriminate yelling but it is recorded dialogue. Move over Jazz Singer. Sunrise is also the first Fox movie with a recorded score. So, I'm not sure from where the "Silent European" distinction comes. Other than preparing a print for projectors unable to play films with sound, I can't see the purpose when a film features actual human voices for the first time.

Beyond it's huge step forward sonicly, this is innovative with its special effects. Some of the things stick out big time to a modern audience but they had to be amazing at the time. What amazed me most about the film visually was that this was shot on a massive set. It's not a real city and I wouldn't have known otherwise had I not read it.

Most striking of all is that this film shouldn't work but does. A man cheats on his wife, almost murders his mistress twice and his wife once over the course of a couple days. Despite that, I want the man and wife back together. Why am I worried about their relationship when I should want the wife out of there? It's a bizarre reaction. Instead of focusing on his murderin' ways, I get swept up in the love story. I guess that is the power of Murnau's directing skills and the actors; it is certainly not a testament to the story which plays like a fable.

I am not quite sure this qualifies as "the Citizen Kane of silent films" as it has been labeled it is not a misguided classification. "The greatest silent film" title is kind of crazy though. It's good but not that good.

Score: 9/10

Friday, April 3, 2009

30. Metropolis - 1927

Synopsis: Freder Frederson is a rich guy extraordinaire and son of Joh who is mayor or king or something of Metropolis. One day Maria travels to the well to do section of the city and Freder falls for her. He heads to the depths of Metropolis to Maria and sees the work conditions of the lower class (explosions).

Freder tells his father of this and goes to join the workers. He gets caught up in the revolution Maria is leading against the upper class. Freder, being upper class and sympathetic to the workers, is THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN THE HEAD AND HANDS IS THE HEART!

Joh and mad scientist Rotwang spy on Freder and discover his plan. They decide to disrupt the idea of class unification and equality by making an evil doppleganger Machine-Man of Maria undermine her plans. Maria-bot dances naked by John Mellencamp and incites the workers to violence.

Joh wants the violent revolt so that he can retaliate with violence. He allows the workers to the heart machine where they destroy it causing a flood. Real Maria and Freder save the children while Joh realizes his mistake. Rotwang comes back to kidnap Maria to probably make sweet love to her or some such. He is stopped by Freder who then becomes THE MEDIATOR!

There is also a bunch of religious stuff thrown in for no reason about the Tower of Babel.

Review: I watched the restored version that everyone has seen that runs about two hours. The uncut version found in Argentina (maybe? I don't remember) probably won't be available for a long time while restoration takes place.

Big budget, special effects laden, blockbusters enter the list. It feels insulting to compare Metropolis to the modern day blockbuster but it must be done. The similarities are too prevalent. From bad acting and huge special effects to a reliance on robots and explosions , this is as much a summer blockbuster precursor as Jaws.

The difference between Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Michael Bay's _________ is that Metropolis is worth your time. The other big difference is that people are still talking about Metropolis while most blockbusters last only until the next summer. So, enough of this Armageddon to Metropolis blasphemy.

The highlight of Metropolis, as with most blockbusters (sorry) is it's visuals which more than make up for the overacting and somewhat weak story. The special effects are the main reason this is being discussed as an important film. This is the best looking film thus far on the list. The visuals are much more removed from theater than anything previous. Seeing this
is mind boggling in its complexity for the time. All of those cars are moving. Yes, it's nothing but miniatures and matte paintings for this shot. It's striking as it's the first establishing shot that isn't a camera set up on a street somewhere. It's striking enough that blockbusters (sorry) such as The Fifth Element and the Star Wars prequels clearly owe this one shot. Visually, a lot of movies owe Metropolis quite a bit and I could easily make a post with nothing but comparison pictures (I say easily but I'm not about to go through the trouble of looking for all of the relevant screen captures when I couldn't find a good enough Fifth Element shot online).

The other lasting impression, which predates Metropolis, is the plight of the worker in the future compared to the luxury of the wealthy. For example, the wealthy get to dance around in a garden straight from A Trip To The Moon with their tie tucked into their pants all freaking movie:
Workers spend their days pointing arrows at shifting lights in a more serious take on Modern Times until they pass out from exhaustian:
I know dystopian future, timely as ever and all that. There apparently hasn't been hope for the distant future since the dawn of man but it's especially hopeless here. A shot of the worker's conditions: followed by how it's viewed by the main character:

Again, the visuals make this movie better than its standard--by now anyway--everything else.

Continuing an idea put forth in Mabuse, Lang decided to put a little bit of everything into this movie for no discernable reason other than he could do it. Metropolis feels this way in a truncated form and I can't imagine how much bigger, more epic, it will feel when the general public gets to see the original cut. It's big enough now with thousands of extras and massive sets that I wonder if a shortened version may beneficial.

So, Metropolis is pretty great from a visual standpoint. There is stuff that I had to look up just to figure out how it was done. The influence is still felt today and that's what frightens me. If Metropolis is a worthy addition to this list based primarily on being a special effects, what will people think of Michael Bay and Trasnformers in 80 years?

Final note: This is getting remade and Mario Kassar is producing. That means we'll probably get Roland Emmerich, Paul Verhoeven or Renny Harlin directing. I must admit that, should I suffer through this, Verhoeven's would be the most hilarious and therefore most enjoyable.

Final Score: 10/10