1. Aerograd (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1935)
2. Entuziazm (Simfoniya Donbassa) / Enthusiasm (Dziga Vertov, 1931)
3. Matinee (Joe Dante, 1993) (re-watch)
4. Ivan (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1932)
(Josef von Sternberg, 1931)
(Josef von sternberg, 1929)
I'm pretty much on board with JR when it comes to seeing Dishonored
as unfairly neglected - at least up until now, when we have the nice new Criterion box set with all of their American collaborations - though I wouldn't after one viewing pick it as the best, or even second best (those are probably The Devil is a Woman
and The Scarlet Empress
at the moment). In a recent update to his comments on it, in an article on great 30s movies he argues that it may be that it has the most to say about the real world, and that it's more morally serious than the others - less a baroque fantasy. Maybe - I'd suggest that it may be also a matter of it's relative lack of visual splendor compared to many of the others, though it's certainly beautiful enough if gauged against the work of lesser mortals than Sternberg. Also - no Dietrich singing, and I can't offhand think of another starring role that she had where she didn't sing at least one song, though she does play piano a few times (no idea if it's really her playing that we hear). It's a pretty standard story in some respects, a Mata Hari-like hooker who becomes a spy for her country and ultimately has to pay for it, and for love, and while I enjoyed it all the way through it really wasn't until quite near the end that everything clicked for me and the emotional power of the thing worked. Also notable for Victor McLaglen in a much more restrained role than usual as the Russian officer who is the catalyst for Marlene's ultimate decision.
What a difference a great cast can make, eh? While the earlier Thunderbolt
has a lot of great qualities, including some of the usual visual tropes that we see in other films of the director, like his focus on animals - a dog here that attaches itself to the title character, even more a main character itself than Dietrich's cat is in Dishonored
, it fails to hold up, at least for me, due in large part to the relatively dull and stagy acting of the principals, Fay Wray (the woman caught between virtuous and innocent Bob and perpetual felon Thunderbolt), Richard Arlen (Bob) and especially George Bancroft as Thunderbolt. Bancroft got an Oscar nom, so either the Academy was as out of it in those days as it is now, or I am, because this is as artificial a leading man performance as I've seen in a long time. The basic storyline of the bad guy getting the good guy framed, and both being sentenced to death, is a good one, and there are lots of good individual scenes including one which tracks the lovable mutt as it determinedly follows Thunderbolt, but it's really undermined by much of the acting, though the humorous Warden (Tully Marshall) enlivens things quite a bit. Still very much worth seeing IMO but not for me one of the director's best.
7. Velikiy uteshitel / The Great Consoler
(Lev Kuleshov, 1933)
This wild story of O. Henry in jail, trying to help out a fellow inmate, then imagining that inmate going free and leading a totally different life, intertwined with another story about a reader of O. Henry and her relationship with the cop who is responsible for the inmate's travails, is one of the best early examples I've seen of a complex, interlocking narrative that combines "fantasy" and "reality" to the point where they are indivisible or at least equally unreal and unreliable. It's also very funny and very poignant, satirical and more seriously outraged at the horrors of capitalism in equal measures, and offers something of an early look at and critique of the American western. Absolutely brilliant and one of those films that seems almost sui generis
, certainly I can't think of many films from the 30s that are so narratively inventive. My favorite film of the challenges this month so far, easily.
8. SHORTS 36 + 10 + 15 = 61 minutes
a) The Metaphor
(King Vidor, 1980) - an enjoyable examination of where art comes from, and the influences of the visual arts on film and vice versa, in the form of an extended conversation between Vidor and the painter Andrew Wyeth, who was hugely influenced by Vidor's 1925 The Big Parade
(Robert Breer, 1978) - I like the half dozen Breer films I've seen so far and this is certainly fits into the same patterns, with abstractions interacting with (primitive) figures in unusual ways; overall my favorite at the moment is probably Fuji
but I really ought to sit down and watch a bunch at once sometime, and maybe I can come up with a more articulate way of dealing with them.
c) Essai d'ouverture
(Luc Moullet, 1988) - the director, and occasionally other people, make many attempts to open bottles and cans of Coke, mostly 1-liter glass bottles with theoretically twist-off caps. Very funny and "minimalist" though I think there are larger implications about capitalism and consumer culture at work here also.
9. Vesyolye rebyata / Jolly Fellows / Moscow Laughs
(Grigoriy Aleksandrov, 1934)
At the beginning of this first Soviet musical comedy we are treated to portraits of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, and then told they're not going to be here - clearly a reference to both the popularity of American films at the time, and to the kind of slapstick we're going to be treated with - though to my mind the comedy, at least in the first half, owes more to Laurel and Hardy than to the pictured clowns. This is a hugely enjoyable and often over-the-top mix of broad humor and romantic musical longing, with a put-upon shepherd who wants to be a great musician being mistaken for one, falling for the rich girl, but in turn being loved by the poor girl that he initially ignores. You can guess how it will all turn out, and if there's a fault here it's probably that after having a very inventive opening - with a wonderful long tracking shot as the shepherd sings a song about smiling and being happy, and then a riotous party sequence involving lots of farm animals who just have to follow their master everywhere he goes - it's a bit more prosaic, even dare I saw it, too Hollywood in it's ending. But it's still pretty cool and another example of just how creative musicals could be in this decade, wherever they were from.