Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Just Pals (USA, 1920)

With naturalistic acting of children, similar to what the audiences would see years later in Our Gang films, this film deals with the theme of friendship that crosses social statuses and social rules. Behind the Western scenery there is a rather universal plot. The tender relationship between a boy and an adult man would also be brilliantly shown in another famous film, launched by Charlie Chaplin on the following year, The Kid (USA, 1921).
A recurrent character is classic westerns is of the rude cowboy with a heart of gold and strong sense of ethics and loyalty despite the lack of a formal education and such character is also shown in this film. A kid who was not liked by the adults of his place because he was considered too indisciplined. A man (Bim), who was as marginalized at the town as the boy, develop a solid friendship after Bim defended the boy of being beaten up. At first, they were just colleagues who got along well regardless of the difference of age. Time passes, the mutual affection between them develop until it becomes a virtually fatherly connection, especially after the boy risked his life in a moving train so he could get a uniform, as Bim would only be offered a job as a porter if he had a uniform. So, the boy tried to get a uniform to Bim.
Their mutual bonds of affection have deeply positive effects on both Bim and boy. Bim managed to persuade the boy to attend the school and Bim realized he had to be more responsible and find a job so he could provide for the boy. But the boy got injured after falling off the train in an attempt to get the uniform. Bim got desolated and took the boy the house of the city’s doctor. The doctor and his wife tried to separate Bim from the boy by saying to Bim that he should cut off contact with the boy and afterwards by telling to the boy that Bim had abandoned him. 
A dishonest accountant persuaded the town’s elementary school teacher to deliver him the school’s fund to compensate a loss he had while making business and claimed he would return her the money as soon as the school needed it. The school suddenly needed the funds, the teacher asked the accountant to return the money, but he did not do it. In desperation and afraid of having her reputation misjudged, the teacher attempted suicide by drowning herself in the local river, but she survived. Bim took the blame of the money deviation to protect the teacher’s reputation. He did it out of love, as it had been previously shown in the film that he loved her, but he was embarrassed of saying it to her, as he was the bum of the town and not socially respected.
A gang of robbers threatened to rob the city, Bim tried to stop the criminals from doing so but he was misjudged as a member of the gang by the town’s sheriff. There was an attempted lynching of Bim and chaos happened. He is about to be hanged on a tree by furious dwellers of the city, but the boy appeared on the scene and told the adults that the man who really planned to robbery of the town was inside of the school. While the lynching was taking place, the crooked accountant showed up at the school and demanded the teacher to hide him and that he was running away from the city and the teacher had to go with him.  
The boy’s plead took the desired effect. Bim is released and the furious mob enters the school in time to find the accountant fighting with the teacher. The accountant tried to run away, but he is caught by the police and the money of the school’s fund was with him. The teacher was very touched by the sacrifice Bim made for her sake and both him and the boy became the heroes of the town. Bim was almost separated from the boy again when a man arrived in town saying he was the boy’s father, but it turned out his son was actually another kid.
After a while, after enjoying respectability for a while, both Bim and the boy arrive at the school, in socially accepted clothing and looking a bit awkward. It is clear from the beginning that Bim wanted to ask the teacher if she would date him and she apparently gladly accepted it. And the film ended happily, with Bim keeping the boy, both of them leading straight lives, and Bim also had the girl he had always loved.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Show People (USA, 1928)

Hollywood making fun of itself, already a magical place at late 1920s, full of stars and lively parties, this film even included the cameos of real Hollywood stars as themselves, like Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert. This film also shows the traps of fame and pride and how fast things could change to the best or the worst. A delicious comedy, with impeccable comedy timing, showing that MGM was not only good with dramas and epic movies, but also with comedies.
Marion Davies became infamous by her long-term relationship with millionaire William Randolph Hearst and by the negative impact It had over her career. But, in reality, Davies had an innate talent as a comedian and in the few films where she could show such talents she never disappointed the audiences. Ironically, the film shows the dichotomy between drama x comedy and that some people thought that dramatic films and plays were superior to comedies, specially slapstick comedies.  The irony is that it was exactly the opinion Hearst had about Davies career, which would be unworthy of her dignity to act in comedies, and Hearst’s interference in her films did more harm than good to Davies in the long run.
A colonel from Georgia takes his young daughter (Peggy Pepper) to Hollywood in the hopes of showing the studios she is a good actress. Peggy gets immediately enchanted with Hollywood and upon her arrival she bumps into John Gilbert on the street. Yes, the man himself, already a mega star and famous all over the world. She seemed to be a rather naïve girl, not used with the bright lights of the big city and unaware of how competitive things were in Hollywood but she would soon realize it.
Peggy is befriended by a guy (Billy Boone) who helped her get into films in a small studio by acting in slapstick comedies. At first, Peggy was not happy with that because she expected to be into high-class dramatic films rather than in custard pie, physical comedies. But it turned out that her comedic talents were acknowledged and the audiences really liked Peggy’s films.
After a while, Peggy is “discovered” by a bigger studio, where she could act in the high-class dramas she had always dreamed about making.  At first, she hesitated to leave Billy behind, but, as time passed, she was induced by her new leading man to acquire a completely new personality and hanged out with new friends, ignoring Billy.  Meanwhile, Billy was still struggling in the same way he did before. Billy even tried to see Peggy, but she did not care very much. As her career progressed, she even pretended she did not know Billy.
Eventually, Peggy became so full of herself that her behavior even started interfering with her work in films, especially because she started to act like a royalty member rather than an actress who owed obedience to her bosses and had responsibilities to handle. And Billy would not let Peggy forgetting him easily, especially after knowing she was about to marry her new leading man. He tried to make Peggy come to her senses, but there was a fight involving a custard pie. The clash eventually had a good result and Peggy started to see things in a more reasonable way. She cancelled her convenience marriage and recommended Billy for a role in one of her films and, even more importantly, she was finally grateful for everything Billy had done for her in the old days. Then, they both realized their old good connection and love flourished between Peggy and Billy again. 

Atlantis (Denmark, 1913)

A typical 1910s melodrama, with provides some of greatest imageries of early cinema and reveals the high quality of Danish films of the decade, including the special effects. Denmark had a quite vibrant production of films prior to WW1, and the most famous actors of this generation were Asta Nielsen and Valdemar Psilander (By the way, both of them were NOT part of the cast of this film). 
It is impossible not to compare the plot of this film with the infamous sinking of the Titanic in the previous year. Although the film is slow-paced, the plot has a plenty of action all along. Showing the calm days of Danish aristocracy prior to WW1, the acting is very stagy, even stationary compared with the naturalistic acting that had started been adopted by Hollywood, this film also has a touch of modernity. It shows Angèle, the wife of Dr. Friedrich Kammacher, a scientist (a bacteriologist), suffering from mental disease. All those scientific matters being still new and highly researched back to 1910s, an echo of XIX century progressist ideas that had science in high esteem. We can also see by the professions of main characters and scenery that the film is portraying lives of members upper classes.
Dr. Kammacher had the disappointment of having his research papers rejected by the academy and when Angéle is finally brought to a mental hospital, her husband kissed his children goodbye and decided to go on a journey in other to recover. When he arrived in Berlin he met a erotic dancer called Ingigerd, and got immediately fascinated by her. After hearing she was going to the United States, he left his past life behind and followed her on board the ocean liner “Atlantis”. Things were going fine until it happened a shipwreck. A drifting lifeboat with the people who survived the tragedy was rescued and they were taken aboard another ship. Ingigerd was one of survivors. They all eventually managed to arrive in New York and this part of film included some very beautiful takes of New York, which provides a lovely glimpse of how the landscape of the city looked like back to the 1910s.
Dr. Friedrich Kammacher also survived the shipwreck and was welcomed by his friends in NYC and he got together with Ingigerd there. However, time passes and their relationship has problems, mostly because  Dr. Friedrich Kammacher is annoyed by Ingigerd’s artistic career and her personality, and they become estranged. Disheartened and suffering from depression since the shipwreck happened, he goes to a distant cabin in the mountains. Perhaps, considering nowadays’ medicine, Dr. Kammacher might even had post traumatic syndrome due to the shock of the tragic event. Dr. Kammacher got very ill while in the cabin after knowing his wife had passed away, but he is taken care of and cured. He has an affair with Miss Burns, who even promised Dr. Friedrich Kammacher to be a good mother for his children, and they both return to Denmark in order to reunite with Kammacher’s family and start a new life.
Although many people consider the shipwreck scenes the highlight of the film, this is not really fair. Atlantis has some of most beautiful imagery shown in a silent film, the elegant wardrobe of the cast is also a noteworthy aspect, together with the scenery.  The landscape scenes are breathtaking and the using of coloring was brief, but very proper. It is also interesting to see the mix of modernity in the approached subjects (science, medicine, arts) and an acting that would soon become old fashioned. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Wedding March (USA, 1928)

Eric von Stroheim does earn his reputation as a director. Despite the lavish production of his films, the narrative is quite often fluid and smooth, without tiring the audiences. Even the background music gives an impression to the audiences that they are indulging in a ballet dancing, where the characters are always portrayed with all their human faults, but with a pinch of sarcasm and humor too.
At the same time, he deals with love in a romantic way, but not forgetting about realism. Another noteworthy point of Stroheim’s films is that they always look modern, no matter if the setting is in a distant era. This is probably because the audiences can still relate to the feelings portrayed on screen and also due to beautiful wardrobe and scenery, that are still a feast for the eyes and stood up the test of time very well.
As an Austrian, Stroheim wanted to show the end of nobility days and of gentleman values in Vienna, all of those things coming to a brutal end with the beginning of WW1.
The setting of this film is Vienna, 1914 in the eve of WW1. Stroheim also takes part in this film as an actor, where he plays the role of Nikki, a noble man in financial crisis due to his spendthrift and the solution for him to recover financial power is marrying a rich woman for her money. He is willing to do so, but things change a little after the Corpus Christi procession, an important religious and military celebration. The nobleman meets a girl (Mitzi) in the middle of the crowd and it was love at first sight, even though the woman had a quite obnoxious fiancé, a butcher called Schani.
Unfortunately, there is an accident with Mitzi and the nobleman visits her at the hospital.  Later, they meet again in the restaurant where she works as a harpist. Love flourishes, but Schani is threatening towards Nikki all along, which scares Mitzi and, in exchange for Nikki’s safety, she ends up leaving him and the two lovers move on to their previous love commitments, Nikki marries a rich woman and Mitzi and Schani remain committed.
After the two lovers having enjoyed bliss and fulfillment through true love, their happiness is disrupted by social obligations, a situation quite similar to the disruption of happiness in dear old Austria before the horrors of WW1 reached the country. An entire lifestyle was lost forever, but the memory of the happy days would remain forever in the hearts of those who lived it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ingeborg Holm (Sweden, 1913)

Failmaker Victor Seastrom was still completely unknown in Hollywood back to 1913, but when he finally reached fame in the United States in the 1920s he already had a solid cinematic career in his native Sweden and made films good enough to still be appreciated by nowadays’ audiences, as this film shows. 
Making a good use of Swedish countryside landscapes and portraying family life of 1910s, this film is the witness of a lifestyle that has been gone for a long time, even in Scandinavian countries. Manual labor might have been strenous, but the bigger families seemed more united and life simpler. Or perhaps it is just modern audiences romanticizing the lives of Northern Europe peasants, but it is quite interesting to see how they lived, considering how urbanized most of the world has become. 
At that era, in many countries, the passing of the husband/father of the family represented a big social and financial loss to the family, specially if the wife was left with small children to be raised. 
Ingeborg Holm lived a happy and prosperous life with her husband and children, but it all comes to a end when her husband gets sick and passes away with what looks like tuberculosis, a rather deadly disease at that era. 
She tried to keep the grocery market, but the business eventually bankrupted. She was broke, ended up under poverty relief and separated from her children, who were taken to foster parents.
Unfortunately one of Ingeborg’s children gets ill and needs to undergo a operation and she run away from the shelter where she lived to see her child. After a while, the policemen managed to find Ingeborg and arrest her. The toll of all suffering of being widow and without her kids took a huge toll on Ingeborg and she was permanently mentally impaired. 
Fifteen years pass and it shows one of Ingeborg’s children visiting her after spending some time at the sea. Her mental health did not really progress and she could not even recognize her grown up son at first. After a while, he explained to his mother who he was and Ingeborg realized it was her son. 
The transition of time between the time when Ingeborg got hopelessly mentally impaired and the visit of her adult son was a little bit abrupt, though. And it could have been shown what happened with the other Ingebor’g kids. What about the sick kid? Was the operation successful or did the kid pass away? It was not mentioned and perhaps it would help the time transition being a bit more natural. 
Although the acting of main actors was a bit over the top and stagey, considering the naturalistic Hollywoodian-like acting, which would soon become the standard in cinema, the film stood well the test of time. It showed a fairly realistic situation in the society of the era, rural life was also still relatively common. The camera work was nice and the imagery of film was very pleasant to the eyes, good lighting and characterization too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Big Parade (USA,1925)

There are not enough words to write about a such film. Its theme is more alive than ever, although it portrays a war back to an era when going to the war still had a somewhat romantic aura of dying for a cause in the name of your country. Although the horrors of WW2 could not even be predicted back then, WW1 brought enough tragedies and disrupted millions of lives. 
Some of the best war films show the lives of unknown people, their dreams, ambitions, their normal pace of life being completely engulfed in a war and changed forever. Common people, whose names are not in history books, but who borne most of toll of war. Families separated, love stories brutally interrupted, entire youths torn apart forever for reasons that were completely out of their control. People who either perished or had to carry on despite a huge amount of pain. It’s impossible not feeling overwhelmed. 
Back to late 1920s, the biggest Hollywood studios were already big and gave a plenty of examples of the sophistication that could be achieved with a high investment in both technology and human skills. John Gilbert and Renee Adoree provided beautiful pieces of acting without ever being over the top or stereotypical. Adoree is always a pleasant screen presence, showing lots of feelings in a restrained way, but really convincing, a type of acting that could resemble Lillian Gish in her heyday. 
This film can perhaps be considered the best work of John Gilbert on screen. Although he is perhaps more famous today for his films with Greta Garbo (where he also worked quite well, by the way), the character Gilbert played in The Big Parade was full of complexities and dramatic nuances that gave him full room to show off his passionate, energetic, emotional acting. And Gilbert really did not disappoint. A complex role, which he ran smoothly, in such realistic way that he could say we are seeing a friend or a relative right in front of us, as if the audience was just taking a look at a situation from real life portrayed in a documentary. 
Without focusing too much whether war was something justifiable or not, the film portrays the influence of facts out of ordinary people’s control into their lives. Although the plot could be quite sad there is a good balance between light comedy, fine irony, romance and drama. Although it is not uncommon to portray on screen the maturity of a young and careless young man into adulthood by suffering the horrors of war, this film shows it under a nice perspective. James Apperson (John Gilbert) not only endures terrible moments at war, but he also had a good time with his friends, found out true love in the arms of a French girl (Melisande, played by actress Renee Adoree), even though they both couldn’t speak each other’s language, for instance. 
The end might have been relatively happy, but until a balance is accomplished, it is portrayed how much James struggled to handle the death and suffering of his friends, but also his own physical wounds. The lives of everyone involved in war, either directly or indirectly, was changed forever. Love might have been unexpectedly found, but the mental scars would have to be handled. 
The “war to end all wars” turned out to be, both on screen and in real life, much more tragic and longer than expected. And many other wars would come. The Big Parade has the distinction of being the first great pacifist war film in the United States, even prior to famous All Quiet on the Western Front (USA,1930). Something that also unites both Adoree and Gilbert is not only the fact that this film brought them to stardom, but also that both of them would die young not too long after this film was released. It was also the first noteworthy picture of filmmaker King Vidor, who would have a successful directorial career ahead of him. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

City Girl (USA, 1930)

German filmmaker F. W. Murnau made a very good work in this film showing the clash between two worlds. Urbanization was already a undeniable reality in many countries of Northern hemisphere back to 1920s, including the United States. Although farms still existed in America and kept their original country lifestyle, the existence of big cities around them could no longer be denied. The stereotypes of innocence related to the countryside and excitement around city life are also challenged. At the same time, Murnau managed to keep his typical romantic style of showing two lonely souls falling in love despite all chaos, poverty and uncertainty around them.
Lem is a relatively naive son of a farmer from Minnesota, who went to Chicago in order to try to sell the wheat crop of his father’s farm for the best price possible. He met a sweet waitress in the big city called Kate and decided to marry her and take her to the farm with him. But things would not be easy. 
In addition to arrive back home as a married man, Lem could not sell the wheat for a good price and he ended up losing money. That was disastrous news to his father, as his family desperately needed the money of that transaction. They were facing financial difficulties in the farm and struggled to make ends meet. The timing of this film was also interesting, considering it was made at around the time of The Wall Street Crash of 1929. 
When Lem arrived back home with Kate, she was accepted and welcomed by his mother and sister, but not by his father. In addition of having his authority challenged by a marriage he had no idea about, he also resented Lem about the low price of wheat and instinctively blamed Lem’s bad transaction to his marriage with Kate. 
In addition to have a hard time to handling her dictatorial, even physically abusive father in law, Kate also had a problem to adjust to the lifestyle of a farm. Things went from bad to worse when she became a object of curiosity of other men of the country and one of them even made some advancements towards her. It led to a misunderstanding of Lem’s father thinking it was Kate who was encouraging those advancements. Even Lem started having doubts about his wife’s faithfulness. One night, after a particularly heated arguments, Kate decides to leave Lem. Lem got to find her and bring her back home, but not without running the risk of being involved in a huge tragedy.
A particularly interesting thing is that Kate’s difficulties in handling her marriage did not come from out of the countryside, but they all came from that apparently calm and idyllic environment. The country could also be a threatening environment, where people could no longer be trusted and safety could not be taken for granted.
Although the plot of this film is related to the loss of overall excitement in American society at the end of so-called roaring twenties, this film stood well the test of time. It shows with accuracy the difficulties of a recently-married couple in adjusting to each other and circumstances around them. In addition to lots of love, it is required a sense of commitment, faith in your partner’s character and responsibility in dealing with that relationship in the context of both family and labor routine. Actor Charles Farrell’s acting as Lem was pretty convincing as a simple, hard-working man with a heart of gold.