Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Greeting


I'm looking to produce one or maybe two reviews a week (depending on the length of film), and I'd really like to get your feedback on both the review and the film itself. I'm going to be moving through the '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die' (Octopus) so you can keep up with me if you want. My next review will be on 'Les Vampires' and should be coming this weekend.

Thanks for your attention, following me would be much appreciated and I won't let you down.
Oscar North

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Birth of A Nation

The Birth of A Nation (1915) 2 Stars

U.S. (D.W. Griffith & Epoch) 190m Silent BW
Director: D.W. Griffith
Producer: D.W. Griffith
Screenplay: Frank E. Woods, D.W. Griffith, from the novel The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, the novel The Leopard’s Spots, and the play The Clansman by Thomas F. Dixon Jr.
Photography: G.W. Bitzer
Music: Joseph Carl Breil, D.W. Griffith
Cast: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, Miriam Cooper, Mary Alden, Ralph Lewis, George Siegmann, Walter Long, Robert Harron, Wallace Reid, Joseph Henabery, Elmer Clifton, Josephine Crowell, Spottiswoode Aitken, George Beranger

To describe ‘The Birth of A Nation’ in one word would be simple: racist. Especially in the second half of the three hour KKK glorifying monster, black people are depicted as animalistic, lazy, violent and as a blight to be dealt with. This is done through scenes such as the attempted rape and eventual manslaughter of a young white girl (for which the perpetrator the ‘evil Gus’ is hunted down and lynched), or a courtroom made up of black people who seem to be eating drinking and generally embodying the seven deadly sins. The film seemingly strives to make the viewer side with the white supremacists through any means necessary, so that at the climax of the film we are rooting for the KKK to come and ‘save the day’. Certain cinemas and cities banned the film due to its racist content, yet some people reacted in the opposite way: such as a spate of white on black murders, and potentially the sparking of the 2nd KKK era.

However, one must attempt to look past the racism of the film and discuss its other elements. I would argue that, unlike many of its predecessors who took their inspiration from theatre, this film seems to draw from, mainly Russian, novels; namely ‘War and Peace’. This is more true of the first half of the film than the second (in which it descends into racist propaganda), yet even the fact that it is divided into parts alludes greatly to ‘The Novel’. A fault with the film is its silence: with a number of films of the era the lack of speech isn’t a problem, unfortunately this film fails in that respect. We are subjected to long scenes of dialogue, often little expressive movement and few to no title screens to aid us.

This film has been credited by many as ‘the greatest film of all time’: the only reasons I could find for saying this would be firstly if I was a racist, and secondly for how influential this film has been within the industry; this, being one of the few good features of the film I have found, is potentially rather important and is the sole reason for it not getting 0 stars. If one were to strip this film down purely to its cinematography and general plot development, then it would be easily relatable to many successful films which followed it. The malicious presentation of John Wilkes Booth given through masterful camerawork and lighting; furthermore the tension created throughout the second part climaxing when the ‘good guys’ save the day and the lovers unite, is one of the most widely used storylines of all time.

To conclude, if it weren’t for the films severely racial tendencies and lack of speech; it would in fact be one of the greatest films of all time due to its massive influence over cinema since in both plot development and cinematography. It is simply a shame that its subject matter also inspired such abuse and hatred of the racial manner. 

The Great Train Robbery

The Great Train Robbery (1903) 3.5 Stars

U.S. (Edison) 12m Silent BW (hand-coloured)
Director: Edwin S. Porter
Screenplay: Scott Marble, Edwin S. Porter
Photography: Edwin S. Porter, Blair Smith
Cast: A.C Abadie, Gilbert M. “Bronco Billy” Anderson, George Barnes, Walter Cameron, Frank Hanaway, Morgan Jones, Tom London, Marie Murray, Mary Snow

The most commercially successful film in America from the pre Griffith era, The Great Train Robbery is generally regarded as the first of the ‘western’ genre. This title is definitely well earned: the simple yet exciting plot of crime, getaway, chase and the eventual prevailing of good over evil, is an idea continued through westerns right into the 21st century.  On the topic of evil, the ‘bad guys’ of this film epitomise it fantastically, through actions such as the murder of hostages, stealing bags of money, and an iconic close up at the end of one of the robbers firing directly at the camera.

In terms of cinematography a lot can be said, for the time the sets are quite advanced; with a number of different scenes and locations including a moving train and a river. Similarly the special effects are rather advanced: with believable use of dummies, explosions and gunshots which would have stunned the audiences of the time. Despite being a traditional silent film the somewhat complex plot is made clear through very descriptive acting and good use of props and costume. This serves to successfully portray actions such as sending false messages, opening safes, and heckling newcomers.

To conclude The Great Train Robbery is undoubtedly one of the most influential, successful, and advanced films of its time, with a plotline which can be seen in the biggest films today; it is rightfully remembered.

Le Voyage Dans La Lune

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902) 3 Stars
A Trip To The Moon
France (Star) 14m Silent BW
Director + Producer: George Méliès
Screenplay: George Méliès, from the novel De la Terre à la Lune by Jules Verne
Photography: Michaut, Lucien Tainguy
Cast: Victor André, Bleuette Bernon, Brunnet, Jeanne d’Alcy, Henri Delannoy, Depierre, Farjaut, Kelm, George Méliès

This short film is reminiscent more of a pantomime than any modern film; this is most likely due to the only basis for films of the time being plays. Furthermore Méliès began his career as a theatre actor and magician – a clear theme from the film visible from the star robes and pointed hats of the cast.
Cinema techniques used include superimpositions, dissolves, and many other editing practices that would still be used deep into the twentieth century; in this way the film is regarded as ground-breaking. In addition, the storyline – one of extra-terrestrial adventure and discovery – is seen as one of the first of its time to define fictional cinema, in a time when most films portrayed daily life; such as the films of the Lumière brothers at the end of the 19th century.
The film includes many iconic images such as one of the moon, represented by a man’s face covered in some form of white paste – an image to be alluded to even in modern comedies such as ‘The Mighty Boosh’. However, I believe that the film (despite its comical tendencies) has a deeply satirical message for its time regarding colonialisation. This is shown by the headstrong scientists who move to the Moon’s beautiful and amazing world and defile it by murdering its king and people – they then ‘escape’ and return to Paris to be hailed as heroes in a set which seems almost identical to the courtroom in which they murdered the ‘Selenite’ king.
To conclude this film is an absurd, bumbling, comical play, which has been put to camera. Its experimentation with visual effects and costume is highly influential in cinema and there is an argument for a satirical point on colonialisation and imperialism present.