film: Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

Golem, wie er in die Welt kam was far longer than I hoped it’d be. This is because I got confused and watched the wrong Golem film. I’d have been much less eager to watch it if I’d known beforehand that the director was Paul Wegener, whose 40 minute feature Der Student Von Prag was a bore to sit through, and as if watching Wegener lumber about the stage in that one wasn’t bad enough, he lumbered about in this one too, showing the only two expressions he’s capable of: boredom and murderous. What makes this film all worthwhile is the last scene, which bears a striking resemblance (I figured this one out all by my very self) to a scene from the Godfather. The scene I mean is the one in which Marlon Brando is playing with his toddler grandson, when he takes a heart attack, falls over dead, and the kid runs over laughs at him, squirts his water and runs off continuing to play. It’s haunting–because it forces us to wonder how children perceive death, if they do at all, and then we wonder, well, is death or life worth anything at all if I child cannot see it? And then we see all the bodies scattered throughout the film. In this, the Golem is supposed to run amok, having been created by a magician/rabbi who for some odd reason calls for the power of a rival Canaanite deity to help the Jews. Apparently the magic is beginning to run out, at which point Golem will disobey and kill his master. Instead, that is, after destroying most of the ghetto (we Are discussing Jews here), he breaks open the city gates, runs outside, and meets a little girl. They have a Frankenstein moment, during which he seems enthralled and she hands him a flower. He takes her in his arms, and the image of this is very sweet. And playfully she tugs off his magic star attached over his heart–which is essentially is on/off switch–and his body becomes a lifeless mound of clay again. He falls over, she thinks this is great fun, bends over and laughs at him, and then runs off. Next we see, she’s convinced all her girl friends to come over and sit on him and play. Seeing the whole thing in black and white, Golem looks as much like a human as the next person, so the whole ordeal is rather disturbing. Quite reminiscent of Godfather, you’ll see.

As for importance goes, this is clear a work of German expressionism–its twisted sets remind me of a more organic version of Cabinet des Dr Caligari–however, I’ll also note that the expressionistic sets are demarcated by the ghetto walls. Immediately outside them, the world loses its gothic-turned-claustrophobic intensity and regains something much more romantic and natural. The conclusion, thus, is that the expressionistic elements are confined to an illustration of Judaism. While the Jews live in this strange city, persecuted for practicing black magic and causing public havoc, they Do practice black magic and cause public havoc! Caligari, as I recall, made the whole world not as twisted, but with the same shadowy texture over much sharper sets.

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film: Feuillade: Les Vampires, Le Cryptogramme rouge (e3, 1915)

Finally, the first evidence of burning sexuality in film. 1915. The gang sits backstage, and one of the men walks across the room, looking like Marlon Brando, very self-assured, he turns around and whistles, and a woman follows his path and right as she reaches him he roughly grabs her the hair atop head and pulls her down, toward him, spinning her and she throws her head back as she pulls into his arms, and then; and then, clutching her neck with one arm, they step across the room and begin dancing to a waltz, violently he spins her, grabs her, pulls her down and back up, and when she puts closes her hands behind his neck, he grabs hold of her hair, and they dance in circles, heads pressed close together, more dips, and then she jumps, he holds her waist, and spins her round and round, her knees bent, her body as if its lying on a bed, and then when she lands he spins her and lets go, and it looks like he has just struck the winning blow, and shakes his hand outward, free of the dance, and then quickly walks away. Now I can say a silent film has held me captive.

film: Mankiewicz: Guys and Dolls (1955)

2 may 07

I’ve began to wonder if the Good old films are as witty as they are because the people who made them built themselves up from roles in the production of silent films, from writing the stories to the intertitles, perhaps even the unheard dialogue, these are people who understand an element of film the past few generations have taken for granted. I do not know if the music to Fantomas was its original, but it worked on me to create nausea, great dis-ease, in the same way that The Game does so with its golden-tinted film. Sound has importance–and Guys and Dolls, although adapted from someone’s book (of stories, I think), is written by one of these people who built themselves up from the silents. The dialogue mostly goes past me unnoticed, and I enjoy watching the acting, especially of the big stars, Sinatra, Brando, Jean Simmons, even the smallest expressions, you know why they enjoy their names. Simmons and Brando especially made me want to fall in love, the way they fought it quietly, and give in passively. The womens dance numbers are mostly confined to a New York nightclub show, which means a few high kicks and some fucking obnoxious accents. The mens more than make up for this–being fascinating to watch, both individuals and group–reminds me that only in singing and dancing can anyone truly make full use of their body. The other delights are the scenes in Havana, not only because of the love, but because there’s finally some good dancing from the women, (I mean, this is a movie about men who gamble), and also a killer fight scene. Oh, and Simmons and Brando are also so damn attractive I can’t take my eyes off them; there’s a good reason why I did miss an expression. But some of those lines in this film…brilliant. What I can’t stand, oh, what I sometimes could not even look at, are the colors, being everything rich and gooey you’d come to expect from a 1950s cookbook, and I have a hard time keeping my stomach under those conditions. When I saw this live, in which Matthew Hunt plays Sinatra’s role, his performance having burned its way to my heart, even eight years later, the colors were strong, but in a modern “let’s play 1950s” way–not a technicolor way, but emphasis on deep greens, purples, oranges, and I seem to recall much zoot-suits where this film seems to have everyone in much cleaner cut…okay, breakfast is getting cold, i’m being yelled at.