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INTOLERANCE (Griffith, 1916), Masters of Cinema Blu Ray

Speaking of Cinema-As-Puzzle (see: yesterday's post about Don't Look Now), probably the grand-daddy of them all, whether by accident or by design, is a film that is as we speak nuzzling up towards its centenniary: David Wark Griffith's Intolerance.

Made in 1916, this behemoth film was ostensibly constructed as an answer to cries of "Racist sumbitch!" which were hurled in Griffith's direction upon the release of his previous work from 1915 .  .  .  the dazzlingly constructed but narratively infuriating Birth of a Nation.

Designed to reveal Griffith as a man whose heart was not only sympathetic to the plight of the oppressed, but a man who was so perturbed by the injustices that men wreak on their brothers and sisters that he was a downright activist of fully blossomed authenticity, a man who reserved his greatest cinematic effort for a groaning, aching plea for empathy, humanism, and respect for one another. Intolerance is by far his most massive undertaking. It might in fact be the most massive undertaking in the history of cinema.

More likely an act of penitence rather than an indication of the measure of the humanist purity within Griffith's heart--there was essentially no way for Grif to undo the obvious appearance of deep sincerity and tremendous nostalgia with which he rendered his tales of the prewar South and the KKK--Intolerance grew to the size that it did not because of the size of the regret or heartache for Birth, but because of the contemporary trends in epic filmmaking surrounding him.  

As for the size of the regret or heartache for being regarded as a Klan sympathizer in Birth, Griffith famously sat down to film an introduction to the re-release version of Birth in the early 1930's with no less a leading light of the day than the legendary Walter Huston (who played Abraham Lincoln for Griffith in this era). In this intro, Grif re-emphasized the spirit of the sympathy he maintained for for the KKK, at least back during the immediate postbellum south. "The Klan was needed, back then," he said, nodding his head in self-affirmation, weaving tales of carpetbaggers and abusive occupiers from the north.

Of course, D. W. himself was a southerner--his father was a Colonel in the Confederacy; he war born roughly ten years after the close of the war, and grew up listening to grownups spin tales of the great conflagration. The war, and his family's side in the war, his very roots as a southerner--all of this was a part of his DNA.

As for the sincerity of his feelings regarding the right of all--regardless of race, creed or color--to pursue the right of liberty and happiness free from persecution, one can only speculate. We can say that after Intolerance, the plight of the oppressed and the misunderstood remained a theme in his work .  .  .  most notably Broken Blossoms (the extremely grim tale of the love affair of a tormented waif under the heel of her abusive father, with an ethnic Chinese merchant) and The Struggle, the dazzlingly brave (and equally grim) early sound era film about a regular, workaday contemporary man's struggle with alcoholism.

*       *       * 

Intolerance began as much smaller, far more intimate tale (versus the end result) about the struggles of a mother (played by the atomically bubbly Mae Marsh) and her husband (played by the tragic Robert Harron) versus the organized forces of moral puritanism. Called The Boy and The Dear One respectively, the couple are forced out of their meager but cheerful small town after a corporate magnate who runs a factory orders a 10% pay cut on his workers in order to finance his resentful, longings-filled sister who, unable to find love and cohabitation, goes all the way in the other direction of total puritanism and starts a crusader organization of "busybodies." Rather than accept the pay cut, the workers strike--a massacre on the  strikers by armed breakers sees the Dear One and the Boy fleeing to the city to find their fortunes. There they find love, crime, pregnancy, disaster and total agony, and lucky redemption in the end.

If one were to strip away the three highly ornate, costumed, set-construction-heavy historical stories intercut with the Mother And The Law tale, and leave the latter contemporary narrative unified and standing in sequence on its own .  .  .  one would be left with a rather trite contemporary reflection of its times, full of interesting camera work and locations, without question cut with a rhythm for the ages, particularly in the final thrilling conclusion of the narrative .  .  .  but in the end we would have nothing even closely resembling the awesome acclaim heaped on what this simple modern tale eventually turned into.

Griffith had been keeping a close eye on the goings on in the grandly operatic Italian cinema of the mid-teens. At this time, the Italians were at the forefront of the development of the plastic and subjective arts that comprise the substance of cinema: set construction and costume, camera movement, massive recruitment of extras, inventive camera placement, special effects including pyrotechnics and miniatures, and the introduction of grand spectacle and high operatic, historical and biblical themes into the cinema.

Obvious examples of this are Cabiria (Pastrone, 1914, and a film which should have been reassembled, restored, and rereleased by now), The Last Days of Pompeii (1913, Caserini), Quo Vadis? (Guazzoni, 1912) and others. We can only speculate about the majority of these titles and whether or not Griffith encountered them, but it is known that he did see the dazzling Cabiria--itself a longtime favorite of mine, a film screaming out for restoration and redistribution on home video, a far more pressing cinematic emergency than rereleasing the same old Chaneys, Langs, and Murnaus.

Filled with slow and elegant camera moves, incredible special effects, and outrageously grand sets (Moloch's temple, the exteriors and the interiors, remain among the four or five most incredible full scale plastic, non-superimposition sets in the history of film; this goes for originality, execution, and scale) Cabiria is a film that we know directly affected Griffith tremendously. We know it inspired him to reorganize the entire project from the ground up. The Mother & The Law was re-imagined as simply one element placed against a who series of historical dramas, interwoven like basket bamboo weaves to form a far grander whole.

It requires very little brainpower to spot the elements of Cabiria in Intolerance: in the temple festival ceremony and dance in the Babylonian episode, which incidentally contains a tracking shot for the ages, one that stumped viewers and cinematographers as to its method .  .  .  the rolling elevator, pushed by what we must consider to be early incarnations of the camera "grip", pushing the descending elevator forward until they reach a predetermined marker which sets the camera right in the midst of the exotic dance of religious celebration.  

Intolerance is a perfect example of the sum of the parts being far greater than the whole. If one isolated any of the individual threads--the hyper melodramatic French Huguenot episode (classic Griffith overwrought intertitle cards), the Jesus Christ Jerusalem episode, the Babylon episode, and the Mother and the Law sequence--one would be left with a bunch of isolated costume dramas, heavily moralizing and editorialized, with one contemporary drama with extremely exciting cutting, ditto on the moralizing and editorialization.

But in the intertwining of these four stories, and framing them with the mystical element of timeless wondering when man's inhumaity to man will cease, exemplified by the image of Lilian Gish rocking the crade of time, Griffith turned the entire film into something sublime, almost hinting at the religious and the sacred and the eternal.

There are few who can grasp how radical the concept was of splitting up four narratives and fracturing them into each other with very little hand holding was--it throws people even today, not understanding the purpose--to develop a larger thesis, to build up a metaphor, to cultivate a third eye in the viewer, to affect the heart of the viewer by packing the world entire right there in a three hour film. It is as revolutionary as Eisenstein's rapid montage, busting little moments of action into quick splits of vantage point and action; Griffith breaks the entire world down into a sequence of rapid montage: Eisensteins moments evolved out of Griffith's centuries (of course Grif evolved the groundwork for in-the-moment rapid montage especially in Way Down East, as Lilian Gish runs out into the icy wilderness and faints onto an ice floe), where time becomes compressed, and the filmmaker extracts that which is essential for the creation in the viewers mind's eye something extra, something ethereal.

Intolerance is a film that affects me like no other--although it perhaps doesn't mean to, it haunts me. The now aged images, portraying what was already then ancient history (the longshot of the crucifixion strikes me as actual footage!), the then-contemporary images, revealing a long gone world of wrought iron, cobble stones and fired brick, they carry with them a hint of the supernatural, as if there are mysteries to be revealed, secrets to be uncovered if one sifts around within the substance of the film.

It strikes me as if some oracle were successfully wrought by the assembly; it's a feeling I rarely if ever get or have gotten by any other film. There is a feeling of oracle that one gets from the sacred books of the world--the Bible, the Koran, Tao Te Ching, and Hindu scripture: because of it's containing so much of the hard and immutable DNA of the film, because of his superhistorical and almost supernatural aspirations, Intolerance strikes me in almost precisely the same way .  .  .  mysteries to be extracted with each reopening.

I urge anyone and everyone remotely interested in the film to go out and purchase the MoC edition of the Brownlow restoration of the film.

Preston Clive/Schreck

3/10/2015*** 

 

 

 


Preston Clive mar 10 15, 23:32
+2 2

T-Men & Raw Deal (Mann/Alton, 1947): A Cry Into The Void

Let's pretend for a minute that the dazzling duo of Eagle Lion titles Raw Deal and T-Men was considered lost, and only now had been rediscovered over the past say eighteen months. Let's also pretend that the reputations of Mann and Alton, based on the strength of the canon of both men independent of one another and in tandem, sat at the lofty heights that they always have been. Painting With Light by Alton, The Black Book, He Walked By Night, plus all of the raves about T-Men and Raw Deal from the past before the films were lost let's say in a nitrate fire in some small Los Angeles or midwest vault. Not to mention Mann's El Cid and Fall of the Roman Empire and all the rest.

Now let's say the films were only now just rediscovered by the current hodepodge of  filmfan generations--cineastes young and old. Imagine the dumbfounded reactions; imagine the stunned audiences as the newly recovered films went on tour through the arthouse circuit. The reviews by a bowled over Kehr, Hoberman, Silver, Ursini, Muller. 

Do you have any doubt that the blogosphere would be alight with reviews by dazzled eyeballs, that hi-caliber film reviewers in the NYTimes, the Village Voice, the Chicago Sun-Times, the LA Times, all the film journals in France and the rest of Europe as the film went overseas (where cinephiles have an insatiable hunger for authentic American noir from the late 1940's). .  . that all of these would create overlapping buzzes about the film that ultimately would join and exponentially expand the sense of impact, turning these two titles and their rediscovery by the modern generation into a cinematic global event of the first order?

Do you think there would be any question that the films would be scanned carefully in 2-4K and encoded for BD release? That there would be a drumbeat of anticipation at very least along the lines of the itchy palms aching to put their hands on the recent Caligari, Variete or any number of titles recently restored and eagerly awaited on BD?

Do you think that there would be something of a scramble for rights acquisition on these little Edward Small productions for home video release? Wouldn't the scramble be something of a rush to be the one to excitedly secure the rights to reproduce for home video consumption these phantasmagorical masterpieces of film noir, and to be the one to facilitate recovered history put straight into the hands of the public for posterity?

 

Maybe the reaction would not be precisely as above, but it sure would be a "thing" in the world of cinephilia. These two films take the foundational elements of early Wilder, Lang, Ulmer and a few others in the early Forties, they take the highly stylized exaggerated snappy patter of--for example--Raymond Chandler in his novels and in his script for Double Indemnity .  .  .   and create a visual equivalent. There's no question that the discovery of these two low budget miracles of careful and highly controlled filmmaking would constitute an event of significant import; the foundational story of Noir would have to be modified, if not quite rewritten. 

*           *           *

Is the significance of this film any less simply because the films have been (thankfully) available to us for continuous viewing since they were made? Should we be any less dazzled, should we allow ourselves to go dull over two examples of low budget B filmmaking that are as lofty as is humanly possible?

Who extracted more from a small cast of second string actors, a few thousand bucks, a camera, high contrast film stock and a few lights to pick out key elements here and there in the darkness? How many other filmmaker-cinematographer combos could so profoundly dwarf with a few stretched dollars the efforts of top tier A list studio filmmakers working with the privilege of lavish crews, sets, top casts and multimillion dollar budgets?

How many other tiny teams of impoverished B film artists could earn so much stunned, almost embarrassed awe from those colleagues way up above of them on the studio ladder of prestige?

Mann and Alton during the brief interludes of their collaboration were a rare--very rare--combo indeed .  .  .  so good they could almost be seen as low budget outsiders who were unquestionably superior to their colleagues in the tippity top of the studio crop: an awe and respect that was profound indeed.  

Yes: situations like these were very rare indeed. The are plenty of filmmaker/director-camerman combos who work within the constraints of the B budget that earn the respect of their colleagues in A level Hollywood .  .  .  but this is an affection filled, slightly condescending regard for rough-edged low budget genre work that rises above the rest of the mass of B drek yet almost never raises an authentic aesthetic challenge to the skills of top tier studio filmmakers and crew-craftsmen .  .  .  at least not during the Golden Age of the studio years ending with the 1970's. The films of Edgar Ulmer or Morris Engel are examples.

T-Men and Raw Deal probably need no heavy introduction to the kind of readership that floats through this blog. There are a good number of you, and I know where most of you come from--the vast majority of you know the kind of super-rare filmmaking resident in these two gems. Filled with authenticity of their age from location shooting in seedy urban spots amplified by John Alton's high contrast, fine art camerawork, spilling with tough guy masculinity on both the good and bad guy sides (and T-Men is a famous blurring of the line between good and bad guy, cop and villain, as two undercover Treasury Agents--the T-Men of the title--pose as low level gangsters to penetrate the underworld .  .  .  and perhaps get into their roles a little bit too deeply, getting a sympathetic character killed via their needless machinations on the side) these films represent the very top level of accomplishment in the Noir/crime drama medium, as well as a clear apotheosis of mid-century B&W cinematography--probably cinematography period, in any age.

These films ratchet up the process of psychological mise en scene to the level of high Dutch chiaroscuro blended with Gothic art, a rare cinematic delicacy available nowhere else beyond the bounds of TMen, Raw Deal, The Black Book, and He Walked By Night (on which Mann was an uncredited cleaner-upper for Werker). Nowhere else will you find this level of exaggerated, hyperreality distilled to such crystaline excellence. 

These films have been screaming out for proper treatment on home video for well over ten years. Even the VCI two disc set for T-Men and Raw Deal only just met the bare minimum requirements in terms of image presentation. These two films are cornerstone entries in mid century American filmmaking .  .  .  on any level. The fact that they sit ignored by the Blu Ray age is a crime, a sin, of the highest magnitude. They deserve fresh transfer in 4K resolution from the finest fine grains (or, heaven forfend, a camera neg) sitting out there, with uncompressed mono soundtrack. They deserve, at last, contextual extras, documentaries bringing these two men to life again, filling in the blanks and the background of the making and distribution of these two films.

Anthony Mann received his middling due in the Criterion Collection with The Furies with Walter Huston and Barbara Stanwyk presented kinda ho hum. Eh, meh. Most tuned-in cineastes regard this film as a second string player to the great work Mann did with Alton .  .  . and these two films are without doubt the tip of the towering pinnacle.

Since we've all had the opportunity to bathe in the lush, pitch black paranoia of The Black Book via the Sony On Demand DVD encoded off of telecine from a fabulous print, as well as the Werker on a nice MGM DVD, it's at last time that somebody, somewhere, somehow rescue these two incredibly important works of the cinematic art and place them into the high historical context and state of presentation that is long over due------------P L E A S E! 

I groan into the heavens.

Clive/Schreck

3/24/2015*** 

(All images Eagle Lion Films 1947-1948) 

 


Preston Clive mar 24 15, 23:23
+1 1

Nosferatu &. Destiny/Der Mude Tod (Murnau/Lang, 1921): Lest We Forget . . . .

The whole idea of a Silent Film Smackdown or kickboxing match to pronounce a "winner" in the end is an act bordering on a level of absurdity so profound its virtually without equal.

At the same time the idea of bunching these two supernatural films together just set upon me five minutes ago (approximately 12:45pm EST in NYC, 3/30/2015... we still have a little bit of time left before the planet blows up in a great fiery orgy of apocalypse because when a supermoon gets funky with a solar eclipse on the vernal equinox and god knows what-all else, being toasted down to a shivering microscopic cinder is the only possible outcome .  .  .  if you don't believe me then listen to Mystic Momma: she knows everything). I found the idea of a comparative appreciation unbearably alluring so I'm diving in without prep to close out this second calendar week of my resurrected blog.

Two foundational films from two foundational directors in Germany: Nosferatu by Murnau, and Der Mude Tod (aka Destiny) by Lang. Both made in 1921. Both the first undisputed masterpieces by either director. Both gloomy and dreary and filled with the inky charcoal of chiaroscuro. Both soaked with a cold damp wind of grey death. Both tone-setters for the way that Weimar Cinema would be perceived up to this very day. 

Both films are underpinned by awesome performances by singularly grim looking male actors portraying incarnations of death personified in worn, almost shabby costumes that have a perfectly weathered appearance, matching their heavily weathered faces.

Both films imbue the viewer with a hope that--as the narratives wend their ponderously gloomy way toward resolution--the forces of darkness can be defeated with a cipher of human innocence and genuine selflessness. And both crush that hope in conclusion with a rare power of precious, dismal poetry.

Both films harness the power of shadow in one of the earliest examples of sets bathed in shadow, soaked in broad swathes of inky darkness--aside from Evgeni Bauer, these are some of the first films to concretize the yet unspoken maxim of the great cameraman John Alton: it's not what you light, it's what you don't light.

Both films obsess over the rarest esoterica of the supernatural, a subject that was extremely rare in the cinema and would remain so for at least another ten years until the advent of the sound era in Universal Studios and the youthful risk-taking of Carl Laemmle Jr. From the birth of the full length five reeler in the teens and forward, most tales of the supernatural turned out to have rational explanations in the end: scheming relatives trying to scare an inheritor away from a fortune, a cop dressing up as a supernatural creature to scare the competition away, and on and on.

*           *           *

Not only did the two of these films concern themselves with the supernatural, they obsessed for obscurest esoterica of the supernatural. .  .  secret ciphers and glyphs of forgotten hidden societies, mysterious roots and bulbs that were believed to give off healing powers under the glow of a seasonal moon. .  .   the whirling of Muslim dervishes to celebrate the Sufist concept of God (in the much larger Earth of the early 20th Century, how many Europeans knew much about Islam beyond the Arabian Nights?), Paracelsian esoterica, the vampiric myths of eastern Europe and the legends about the foggy, hard-to-reach crumbling castles high on little-traveled passes .  .  .  ideas that in their actual form are as obscure today as they were back then almost a hundred years ago.

Through books like The Demoniac/Haunted Screen by Lotte Eisner, or From Caligari To Hitler by Siggy Kracauer, it's easy to fall into the ridiculous trap of thinking that the German screen of post-war Weimer was filled with little else but doom, gloom, death and the supernatural--but it's not true.

Like the films of Douglas Fairbanks or Llloyd or Chaplin here in the USA from the same period, these are simply the films that, because of their budget, skilled craftsmen, unusual quality and thus broad exhibition, gained great popularity with the public and thus were 1) duped and exhibited voluminously whereby 2) copies wound up surviving here and there and thus made it to the modern era in a far greater percentile versus the ordinary Westerns, adventure films, romances, serials, comedies by transitory flavor-of-the-moment actors and actresses, and newsreels that came out with far far far greater frequency. Eighty percent of the films from the silent era at very least have been lost. The number is probably greater.

Even the studio planet of UFA, known for its Pommerian universe of artifice and grand scale, was a factory grinding out typical studio fare. UFA was no more the studio of super-expensive giant sized productions any more than Universal in the 1920's was a studio that put out nothing but Stroheim and Lon Chaney million dollar super jewels. Universal Hollywood in those days was essentially a B studio--cranking out low budget westerns, serials, comedies, romances, and all the other drek that comes in between. They put out a super jewel feature complete with glossy printed magazine size programs, sheet music sold to the public, etc once a year. Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback, The Man Who Laughs, the Stroeheims, you'll notice that you will almost never find a year where a Universal film with towering, mindbendingly expensive sets is released alongside another of equal budget but of completely different pedigree and subject and art direction. The studio finances just couldn't handle it.

As far as UFA was concerned, it was the stretch from 24-27 where they attempted to ratchet up the studio superproductions to simultaneity (Faust/Nibelungen/Metropolis) that saw the studio stumble right into financial trouble and right into Alfred Hugenberg's mitts.

The point is this: even in the hallowed halls of the old UFA in the first half of the twenties, just pre and post acquisition of Decla Bioskop, the vast majority of cinematic fare in Germany was the same boring fluff made for as little as possible that plagues any era of film. At least when it comes to the connoisseur, with a taste for something different and somewhat more substantial.

How miraculous are both of these films--how so are both of these men. What different temperaments, yet how similar are both of these breakthroughs for both of them. Nosferatu's influence over the years has been endless, although upon its initial release its success was staggered by the Stoker family suit. Der Mude Tod--we know it floored Luis Bunuel; we know it bowled Hitchcock over and remained his favorite film. We know--speaking of the American swashbuckler-- Douglas Fairbanks freaked for the Lang film and bought its rights so he could cruelly shove it in a closet and first copy, then release a flying carpet sequence lifted straight out of the Oriental sequence first, before the appearance of Der Mude Tod in the states. Uncool.

It's very easy in this age of all manner of films everywhere, our senses dulled by porn and CGI and terrorism and apps and all manner of strange information available at the click of a mouse, to miss the impact of Nosferatu and Der Mude Tod

In a field of endless homogeneity and unspectacular, average, mindless prattle as far as the eyes can see--an occasional decent mind here and there, okay, it's true--suddenly two men walk in out of nowhere with completely overwhelming talent and brains, and demonstrate at the same time the strangest taste and aesthetic inclinations. People stop, stunned, staring at the screen, jaws agape. 

How is it that this happens? Just a few times every century? Men arrive almost as if they landed from Saturn, with minds concerned with subject matter that baffle ordinary folks .  .  .  strange men who scare people .  .  .and nonetheless awe the chilled common man to the marrow with the hitherto unseen level of talent that hurls all that originality flowing naturally through their veins direct into the beholding viewer as if by injection?

Almost above all other films from the era--there are others of course--savor these films. Never allow yourself to become numb to their meaning and what they say about the young, barely experienced men who made them and dazzled the planet .  .  .  still to this day. Generation after generation.

Schreck/Clive

3/20/2015***

    

 

 


Preston Clive mar 20 15, 23:09
+1 1

Critical Restoration Releases: The Slow Drip . . .

Versus the manic pace that the world of silent cinema once presented to the collector via the endless number of releases in the period running roughly 2000-2009--I want to point out that I am specifically talking about the realm of home video on digital disc--the present market is very slender indeed.

For example, back in these years, we had a large number of companies releasing silent films on DVD at a relatively regular clip: Kino International (pre Lorber days) and Image Entertainment were without question the market leaders. Adventurous titles like Warning Shadows (Robeson 1925), Waxworks (Leni 1924) The Love of Jeanne Ney (Pabst 1927, and one of his best films and my personal favorite by him, even beyond the Brooks films), The Golem (Wegener, 1920), Caligari and Orlac (Weine), A Fool There Was (Powell, 1915, and one very grim picture), Cabiria (Pastrone 1914), Asphalt (May, 1928), A Cottage On Dartmoor (Asquith 1928),  the Stillers, the Sjostroms, the Fairbanks titles, the Griffith titles, the Stroheims, Eisensteins, Valentinos, Langs, Murnaus, and many other one-offs (Gay themed films, odd one-off's like ALIBI, the Jacques Tourneurs) constitute titles that Kino released during the heyday of the DVD age.

Image Entertainment which also included Milestone Films back in those days released their own fabulous litany of titles: the Joe May Indian Tomb two parter, the first DVD of Dr Mabuse der Spieler, the three Eisenstein silents, plus their own releases of some of the Fairbanks classics as well as classic German titles like Nosferatu, Caligari--many of which Kino had released but Image released with David Shepard's Film Preservation Associates, their own one-off's like Lang's Destiny, Chaney's Universal classic Hunchback and Phantom, plus double packages like Shadows/Outside the Law, Nomads of the North/The Shock, along with the DeMille silents, a couple of key Carl Dreyer silents such as The Parson's Widow and Leaves From Satan's Book (both roughly 1920), Louise Brooks double The Show Off/The Plastic Age, The Lost World, the Dziga Vertovs, the Pudovkins (The End of St Petersberg being one of my favorite silents ever), the Dovzhenkos (Earth, Arsenal ditto) .  .  .  and I haven't even moved over to Milestone or Flicker Alley yet.

What has happened?

Well, for one thing, the Eclectic Video Store has perished as a retail species in the life of our big cities. I can't speak to small cities because I don't live in one. But I can only assume that the situation is the same elsewhere as it is here: the street level physical video store is virtually nonexistent.

For one reason or another, the world has changed: art product is rarely if ever purchased from stores any longer. Whether this is because the present generation doesn't perceive artworks or pieces of entertainment to be viable products to be paid for any longer, or they simply have no interest in visiting physical stores for the instant gratification of grabbing a product and taking it immediately home to watch it--or perhaps the online retailer can always beat the price of the brick and mortar retailer .  .  .  or perhaps lastly, the world of online file sharing/torrenting/p2p/general piracy has sucked the viability right out of the concept of storefront retailing of video and audio entertainment. People do not merely wish to pay less--they don't wish to pay at all.

Book stores will be kept for a separate conversation.

An example of the rare and the sublime. (Image courtesy Potemkine)

The tempo mentioned above was a positively manic one. For every title mentioned above, there are probably five to ten not mentioned. I haven't mentioned any Masters of Cinema, any Danish Film Institute, British Film Institute, Transit Films, Divisa Red, or any of the often rather interesting albeit poorly transferred/awful source element products put out by bottom of the barrel distributor Alpha .  .  .  who nonetheless put out some interesting titles--without which we would have no idea what (for example) Roland West's The Bat (1925) would look like. 

Don't get me wrong--titles do come out. As evinced by yesterday's article focusing on E.A. DuPont's Variete (1925), in all of it's bad-score glory. Not long before this we had a revisiting of classic titles from Lang and Murnau from Masters of Cinema and Kino/FWMS, plus the fabulous restoration of Caligari which made it to Blu Ray recently.

But more critically--and more relevant to this article-- is the set put together by French label Potemkine which gathers up the titles of now only-somewhat-obscure French Impressionist master Jean Epstein into a full Coffret Set. Epstein is a man I've been championing relentlessly for almost a decade now. Occasionally by Criterion's Eclipse label we will get some silent Japanese titles by Naruse or Ozu. Or even Carl Dreyer's Master of the House on the main CC label.

And of course, we have Masters of Cinema seeing to it that the classics, when scanned in hi-def by the primary rights holders, will be put out for distribution in their region with wonderful presentations and extras. 

But in the overall, we must admit, the world has changed in a way that makes the tempo of restorations-to-HD scan-to-disc (dvd or BD) extremely slow versus what it once was. The industry has ratcheted back to a virtual creaking crawl. The days of Rupert Murdoch's Fox releasing gigantic boxes appreciating John Ford from the silent era and forward, or Frank Borzage and FW Murnau at Fox, are long gone and likely to not be seen again. Sad for us.

Things often do go in waves, but it is rare to see an industry--once dead-- resurrect itself. The changes that take root in the psyche of a generation often get nailed down for long term posterity.

Will we see video stores start opening up again with tons of DVD's and Blu Ray's up for retail on shelves again? Will all the fabulous titles waiting to be put out on home video after well known restorations--or simple screenings of very good prints--are confirmed as being in existence, will these start suddenly coming out again in a second golden age? Will the Lupu Picks, the Arthur von Gerlach's, the Wegeners, the Karl Grunes, the Lamprechts, the Jutzis, and so many more .  .  .  will these find their way out to the light of day in digital format?

We may as well ask--will we see a day when popular music returns to the qualitative levels of the immortals of yore, ie acts on the level of the Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, Cream, The Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, David Bowie, Velvet Underground, Dylan, Aretha, the Doors, King Crimson, the Fifth Dimension, Johnny Cash, Zeppelin, all the jazz greats of yore like Miles Davis, Mingus, Archie Shepp, Coltrane, Dolphy, Sinatra, etc.

Just think that there was a period where all of these acts were out and about and performing all at the same time. And tickets were five to ten bucks, if even that.

It's a rapidly morphing world, my friends. 

Ciao until next time.


Preston Clive mar 6 15, 23:08
+1 5

Nosferatu; General Blogging Update 3/19/2015

I've made a general decision to migrate the sum total of all my blogging, audio commentary included, over to this Olanola platform for the time being--it's essentially the same blogging framework as Wordpress, and as I have access to marketing and promotion tools here via the management and inner connections to our network of sites, there's no reason not to simplify and streamline.

As one of my favorite commentators David Kalat released a commentary on Nosferatu just as I was in preparation of my own back in 2013, I simply backed off and allowed his to shine; I don't want to be compared to David ;@}

Now that a year plus has gone by since the release of the German BD (and the Kino disc; I've acquired the MoC) and I've refired the ol' synapses, I'm going to resurrect the audio commentary component of my blog, but at a slower pace than I did previously .  .  .  they are a lot of work. I write them, time them, record and engineer them, compress them to mp3, get them hosted with a share link, and create a blog post to link them. It's a lot of work that makes my long blog entries of the current day look like a Sunday nap in late May.

I love doing them, and nothing would be more retarded than complaining about something I took upon myself--but if there's anything that makes me cringe, it's announcing something as forthcoming, and then not following through.

But since I've already begun the planning stage of organization and note taking, I should have the Nosferatu commentary up within the next (approximately) ten to fourteen days. I'll attach the commentary audio mp3 link right here to the announce when ready.

I'm actually flirting with a massive undertaking, doing a full commentary for Die Nibelungen; if I relent I'll likely do Destiny/Der Mude Tod instead.

*           *           *

In our expansion of the blogging platform, I'm getting them to dump some irrelevant content and bring in some new stuff including some flagship bloggers with an existing audience.

This aside, we're looking to open the rolls to two or three new voices--new bloggers that we'll actively promote. It can be on cinema of any stripe, it could be on engineering, it could be on anything--as long as you have a quality about you. If you've flirted with launching something, and you think you can carry it at least weekly and hold an audience, hit me up anywhere you'd like.

I'm working directly with a web magnate estimated by Fortune to have $650 mil, and we'll promote those couple of voices that rise to the challenge to grow a following for them.

As for the traffic from you guys it's been beyond expectations, so thank you all--especially since I had disappeared for so long, nearly two years. I'm such a retard at times it amazes me an audience sticks with me. Thanks all.

Preston Clive AKA HerrSchreck

3/19/2015***

 


Preston Clive mar 19 15, 22:19
+1 1

Coming Soon (FOR REAL): Nosferatu, (Murnau, 1921)

When approaching any project, this whether medium you are working in is film, music, writing, painting, whatever, there is one basic thing that you begin with, and there is one essential thing that you end with.

You begin with your vision for the project--that is, what you would like the end product to look like. This is motored by the energy of inspiration, ratcheted up or down via the level of motivation the material actually injects into your artistic heart and soul.

And you end with the output product itself, what the energies and labor on yours and-- in the case of the cooperative arts-- your collaborators' parts ultimately and finally produced.

An extremely inspired artist often begins with an interior sensation, an inner disposition of emotion, of atmosphere, of statement, of excitement, something sublime .  .  .  that he dreams of getting across to his audience. A feeling that the material stimulates in his inner life, which is rarefied in the world, that he wishes to inject direct into the hearts of his audience. Depending on his sensibility, certain situations or juxtapositions excite him because of the way they make him feel. Certain combinations set off interior responses that are very precious .  .  .  the reasons that these sensations are set off, and why they are very precious are part of the essential mystery of life. Who knows why bare twisted branches against a grey sky and falling leaves on a damp foggy day in November were very precious and pleasurable to the French and Russian Impressionists of the Twenties and Thirties. 

Who knows why some people endlessly gravitate towards trouble in their lives and grow very uncomfortable when life is on a regular, positive keel? Who knows why certain depressive people gravitate to a certain type of sadness, and crash and burn and drink and grow erratically aggrieved during moments that typically trigger supreme happiness in most others? Who knows what emotions are in the first place, the function that they serve, and why they modulate so profoundly from person to person? All in the end are chemical reactions in the brain, set off to certain combinations of stimuli; why one person should experience one chemical reaction to a certain stimuli while another experiences secretions of an entirely opposite nature--this is the essential mystery of life. It's the kind of thing that challenges the marketing departments of large corporations around the world, and will continue to do so for time immemorial .  .  .  and large scale purveyors of product for sale would like the responses to stimuli and thus the buying habits of the general public to be simple, neat and predictable. Politicians wouldn't mind that sort of streamlining either. . it would make elections a hell of a lot more simple.

I single out the depth and the strength of the impressions of a person's inner life because the difference between the intentions for the inner life of an artwork, versus the end result, can be extraordinary. One can enter into a project with great excitement for the idea of injecting this or that Stuff of Life into the minds of the viewer, and complete the project completely crushed for the difficulty of transmitting this essential substance of the life process. Some things get across easier than others--often times a narrative element that once was easy here, is almost impossible there.

*           *           *

One of the most difficult things to transmit from the inner gates of the human soul over the life of a complete artwork are those things we find "chilling." Not "BOO!" scary, not gory, not shocking .  .  . but eerie .  .  .  creepy .  .  .  frightening down at the true level of the ancient and the human and the supernatural as pertains to the mass of human substance throughout time. One might set down into a work of art, souped up with ambition and energy, feeling--because the creative individual is so familiar with those flashes of ancient shadows that flicker in and out of the soul down through the ages, has sifted between his mental fingers that decayed remnant of human civilization that sits off to its side and haunts it through every age--that he can master these elements on the medium of his art. .  .  seeking to render the feeling behind flashes of the Long Dead sensed on dirt roads of an old town at night, of not being alone on deserted staircases, in forests, in abandoned amusement parks in dark winter night.

Most horror films are fun. They're fun in the same way that the Fun House and Coney Island or Rye Playland are fun. Most people enjoy being scared--scared in a way that reminds of the innocence of childhood, irrational fear of those things we don't understand--then we grow up and no longer feel those fears of Under The Bed, or Down In The Dark Cellar. Fun in the way that a rollercoaster is fun for an adult: your body tells you you're going to die during the loop, but your mind overrides the sensation and knows all will be well, and the excitement translates as rarified exhilaration.

*           *           *

On the other hand, there is a fear that is eternal in that it stretches through the sum of an individual's life: there are some fears that remain in the hypothalamus no matter how rational or old one becomes. They're also eternal in that they remain frightening to humans in 2015 just as they were in 15 BC. No amount of sophistication and advancement in human learning can completely erase these things--the human soul is apparently neverendingly capable of being chilled when confronted with certain combinations of stimuli that evoke a sense of the shadows of the supernatural and the ancient, when a sense of the past seems to push unnaturally into the present, and this past image is warped with something subtly unnatural, subtly warped or deformed or decayed .  .  .  something unseen but strongly sensed. The hairs on the back of the neck go right up.

This is the stuff that--because so much of it must be felt rather than directly seen--is enormously difficult to translate into an artwork.

F. W. Murnau had been working in the medium of the cinema for little more than two years when he shot and assembled Nosferatu; he had virtually no precedent for this kind of genuinely supernatural material shot in a largely naturalistic style, shunning the manipulation of exaggerated sets and choosing to shoot outdoors in nature. Yet somehow this eternal freight of the unseen supernatural soaks through the frames of this film.

The conception and the execution--clearly Murnau, Galeen, and Grau (and Fritz Wagner, the highly skilled cameraman) came to this material all on the same page .  .  .  and we miraculously (I say this confidently owing to the vast acclaim for this film) get out of this film to this day what the makers in large part likely intended to put into it. There is virtually no disconnect between intention and output--no diminution from concept to execution.

That, my dears, is a rare miracle, to this day. 

Clive/Schreck

3/27/2015***

 

 

 

 


Preston Clive mar 27 15, 22:06
+1 1

The Conversation (Coppola, 1974); A Nasty One From the Heart

When considering the astonishing run of acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola's work in the 1970's, most minds tune in to those films that have become touchstones of popular culture: The Godfather Parts I & II, and Apocalypse Now. Neither film requires much introduction here.

Some, but not all fans of these three legendary films and this director are aware of a quietly strange little film that Coppola made, squeezed between the first two Godfathers, made on a relative shoestring budget and presented with very little glitz or arty fanfare. Nonetheless, the film is an atomic sock in the gut for filmgoers, and this quiet little film did indeed win Coppola the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and it is not only Coppola's personal favorite in his canon but is Gene Hackman's favorite role.  .  .  beloved even over his blistering turn as Popeye Doyle in William Friedkin's preceding The French Connection.

This film had a great little ball of synchronicity and providence surrounding it, helping it along. The tale of a surveillance expert/professional wiretapper named Harry Caul, the film is based on a scenario written by Coppola in the late 1960's .  .  .   but he never had the bread to make the film until the smash hit of The Godfather made him a bankable man whose work was suddenly seen in a new light by studio heads. The film came out for general release in April of 1974 .  .  .  just a month after the Watergate Seven were formally charged in court for the break in and wiretapping of Democratic National Headquarters--coincidentally using the precise same methods of technology for the bugging / surveillance that is illustrated in Coppola's film.

The film then profited hugely at the time, then, from its lucky confluence with the entire length and breadth of the Watergate scandal and final resignation of President Richard Nixon afterwards. The myth persists in the minds of the general public to this day that the film was designed to capitalize specifically on the scandal and spin off a film from simple current events.

The Conversation is nothing of the sort; written years before, it is a stinging, quiet film about the disease of work infecting the guts of a repressed man, a man with little to no outlet to valve out the stresses of the day, the months, the years. In particular it's a story about how much louder silence can scream versus a cacophony of noise, how life often becomes more complex as you peel back its layers, rather than simpler. The quieter grows the world, the louder grows the mind. Self examination and an attempt to purge one's demons can lead only to madness, for certain doomed souls .  .  .  certain cyclic, head-trapped, over-restrained souls that are tormented.

A brief encapsulation: Gene Hackman's Harry Caul (likely his most atypical role) is assigned a task of surveilling a young couple; we begin in media res amidst the surveillance operation in San Francisco's Union Square where we slowly, bit by bit, see how Harry has effectively boxed in the couple in (unbeknownst to them) from all four sides fore and aft, left and right, and even from above via a high power unidirectional mic on a sniper's mount.

With this scene we begin hearing snippets of conversation that repeat themselves henceforth through out the film (as Harry reviews them over and over again in his lab and in his head), slowly gaining clarity as the film unfolds in the same way that we catch snippets of visuals in Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now: we, through the eyes of a protagonist, are presented with an almost impenetrable data string which repeats and repeats and repeats until at last the mystery of the senses is unraveled at the conclusion. 

Clearly the couple have traveled here to avoid detection; we hear, through the little snippets of conversation (which are rendered on the audio track with bits of noise and analog interference as though we are listening in with the surveillance agents on their highly sensitive equipment) the clear fact that the two are afraid. Afraid of someone. We sense danger, we sense paranoia, we see that the couple are constantly observing those pedestrians and park-goers that are around them, suspicious of being followed. 

Part of the film runs on the thrill of peeking into the (especially back when it was made) genuinely rarefied world of high tech wiretappers and agents. The gadgets, the operations, the techniques--most people love the romance of spying and are fascinated with authentic looks at the highly protected and carefully hidden world in which they orbit. This is a cinematic obsession with espionage which runs riot across the screens yet today--it was extremely rare to see such an authentic portrayal of this professional strata rendered on the public movie screens for all to see. It was so unique back then it felt like a true, privileged peek into that world.

Harry Caul is a guy who never gets involved with his work--he reads as a highly repressed, blankly overloaded slate, carefully watching every word, catching every revealing syllable before one accidentally stumbles irrevocably from his lips towards an errant reveal.  .  . he is a man who knows how easy it is to listen in to somebody else if you would really like to. Aware what he could be subject to at any moment from a bout of counter-surveillance, he never reveals a thing about himself to anybody at any time .  .  . and this includes his innocent would-be girlfriend (played by an incredibly young Teri Garr).

This is a stinging film that burns the eyes like noxious aerosol accidentally thrown over by an errant wind. Studded with an incredible cast--some of whom, like Robert Duvall, and the astonishing John Cazale had already appeared in the first Godfather (not to mention an almost teenaged looking but still somehow menacing Harrison Ford, pre-Apocalypse)--the film is nonetheless not as much about blazing performances as it is a well constructed, poisonous whole universe of of self-imposed, but somehow unavoidable isolation.

Unavoidable because the habits and the job are too deeply ingrained for Caul for the tendency to be reversed--especially in a world filled with cohorts who are likewise infected with constant deception. Everyone is deceiving someone else in this film: Ford's Stett is deceiving Caul, Cazale's Stanley is deceiving his boss Harry; the young couple is deceiving the Director; Caul is deceiving his young girlfriend; Elizabeth Macrae's blond fling Meredith is deceiving Caul; Stett wound up deceiving the director; Alan Garfield's Bernie Moran is deceiving Caul with his little pen gadget--everybody is filled with lies, and the truth, often times the most obvious thing in the world, is missed because warped minds are expecting to be thrown out into the distant weeds by professional liars and clever agents.

When the simple truth sits unnoticed for so long, owing to the mind having to outfox layer after layer of false realities deliberately piled one on top of the other, over and over again by opponents and by routine, the human loss becomes irrevocable in certain cases of great skill blended with stunted emotional development. This film tells that quietly blistering story in razor-sharp spades.  

Schreck/Clive

3/31/2015**


Preston Clive mar 31 15, 22:15
+1 2

FW Murnau: Twice As Bright, Half As Long

A rare peek at the lighter side of the man. (IMG: Fox films)

Cinema to me will always be embodied by the DNA of the output of two men:

James Whale in the sound era, and F.W. Murnau in the silent era.

This isn't necessarily because I claim historical supremacy of these two particular men above all other directors (though for the latter I do). Rather, it's because--in my head--these were the two men who laid down the first cinematic images apprehended by my prepubescent mind: these were the first directors whose films set off a serious reaction, a chase, a pursuit, a longing, an obsession.

I can't emphasize how important library books were to a young child's mind back then in the mid-1970s when a was a kid forming an identity by responding to those things that he found he had a natural magnetic pull to. Back then there was no home theater: no VHS, no DVD, no BD .  .  .  no not even cable television. Youtube for silents and old horror itches needing a scratch? 

Forget about it.

If you wanted to see a movie, you had to wait half a year, a year. Sometimes more. I recall The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919, Weine) coming on a grand total of once, on PBS throughout the entirety of my boyhood.

And I was very thorough--my mother subscribed to the TV Guide throughout my entire youth, and as soon as it came in our mailbox, I would run immediately over to the living room couch and flip instantly to the movie section. Ordered by day of the week, it would instantly tell me what movies would be on television the upcoming week--what days and what times. I never missed a week because the subscription never was interrupted. Caligari came on once, and there probably wasn't a single time that I opened that TV guide from the age of roughly 9 or 10 forward, that I didn't hungrily peel page off of page through that section hoping to see the words Cabinet and Caligari in the same title.

I saw it once--and nearly blasted up through the ceiling up into the third floor of the house, through that ceiling and up through that roof to go sailing across the north Bronx, leaving behind me a rocket contrail of ecstasy.

While these movies actually came on, you pinched yourself. Heaven. Couldn't believe it. Major event. God forbid your brother or parents wanted to watch something else. We had a big black and white TV down in our first floor play room so if I got squeezed out, I had another TV to default to.

Which is why books at the public library were so important. They helped you--a kid in fourth grade without no job couldn't pick up Famous Monsters of Filmland--remember what these films looked like in the first place. There was a large coffee table sized book on the horror film that my local Bronx library had back in those days which outlined the history of the horror film from the beginning of the silent era up to that point in time, meaning it probably cut off in the late sixties. I remember gazing even at films from the fifties and early sixties that I never got to see until many years later: young Michael Landon in I Was A Teenaged Werewolf, plus Carnival of Souls, and many others.

But it was the films from the silent era and the initial run of Universal sound-era classics from the early to mid 1930's which exerted the biggest pull on me. Those faded images of Paul Wegener's Golem, the terrifyingly eerie persona of Max Schreck's Count Orlok standing in his "salt warehouse" doorway with his fingers extended into impossibly long claws in faded scratchy black and white; the impossibly warped phantasms of Caligari, rendered in strange Expressionist sets my young mind failed to completely comprehend but loved; the grim, solemn seriousness of Karloff's face in the first Frankenstein, the terrifyingly somber mountebanks played by Chaney--these all carried a stern, stoical, sinister quality that was somehow different from anything and everything else on the earth. These weren't just movies, to my young mind--they carried the aroma of something extra that wasn't injected in other movies. Something frightening, something unfriendly, something demonic. Something that was very very different from my family and I; that dark, forbidding atmosphere exerted a pull on me. I would take the book out from the library, then have to return it. Each week searching the new issue of the TV guide, mostly only getting lucky with Son of Frankenstein, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Son of Kong, and Japanese Monster Week on the 4:30 movie on ABC TV after school. Godzilla for days.

But as too much time would go by without ever getting to see any of the movies I just mentioned from the silent and early sound era with Chaney, Karloff, etc, the distance I felt from those images that haunted my mind would need to be closed again, and I would go and take the book out once again so I could stare at those loaded images all over again, and give the whole era of the 20's and 30's a refresh in my young brain. The difficulty of finally getting to see these films only added to their ominous quality in my impressionable head; the more time went on without finally getting to tick a title off the Sacred List, the more important the list became, and the greater the import of the titles. Somebody was trying to keep something from me about these films--maybe they were truly evil! Maybe they were Just That Scary!

*         *         *

As for James Whale, we can leave him for another column--but FW Murnau for me has personally been a cornerstone of what constitutes the cinema, for years. This quiet, reserved German from the earth of Westphalia, this solidly middle class Plumpe, this determined obsessive, this in a certain sense stereotypically Teutonic hard worker, seeker of impact, chaser of dreams, this private homosexual, this sailor and admirer of Crux the Southern Cross, this tragic loss at far too young an age, this epitome of all the cinema strived to be back during the age of his professional output and during the present age--this single man was this and so much more, all during the briefest of cinematic careers .  .  .  a career which, when measuring impact against number of years as craftsman, may be the most concentrated in the whole of the cinema.

As a youth, young Murnau (a name he took from a period spent with an artists colony around Murnau am Staffelsee in the southernmost region of Bavaria) gravitated instantly to the world of acting and the stage; during his schooling he attracted the attention--during an acting performance-- of the legendary Max Reinhardt of the critically acclaimed and aesthetically vital Deutsches Theater in Berlin, were he mixed with future collaborators like Alexander Granach (a close friend), Lothar Muthel (ditto) Conrad Veidt. For an insight into Murnau's character we listen to the memoirs of Granach--who played Knock for Murnau in the director's legendary Nosferatu--who remembers the tall, handsome Murnau defending the short, squat Granach from the antisemitic attacks of their cohorts and especially those of a (Jewish, no less) professor, called Held. He also recalls episodes of the two of them slithering into private theater boxes and laying on their bellies to peer down and watch and listen to the great Reinhardt give his private lessons in the theater, which he insisted remain private and unattended by general classes.

This phase of his life was, like many others, interrupted by the coming of WW1. During the Great War Murnau served as an officer on the Russian side of the war, maintaining a life of strict regimentation and order in the miserable surroundings of the trenches. He passed the time writing letters to his close friend and probably romantic companion, Hans Ehrenbaum-Degele, as well as the young man's family--particularly after suffering the loss of young Hans early on during the war.

During the latter phase of his war service he enrolled in the air corps, and served on the European/French front near Verdun, where his meticulously maintained (some say obsessively labored over) plane went down numerous times (between 7 and 9 crashes/unplanned landings by some counts), until he finally took his plane down in fog one fateful last unplanned time into neutral Swiss territory--this ended the war for him.

It was during his internship in Switzerland, riding out the rest of the war on the Swiss side of the border, Murnau re-involved himself with the world of the stage while interned at Andernatt. During this period a production of a renowned Swiss national drama was being put together, and solicitations for production were put out. As internees were allowed to submit, Murnau assembled his own version of the drama, and won first prize and even won himself a modicum of national acclaim in Switzerland when the play was mounted in Berne.

*         *         *

As the war ended and Murnau returned to Berlin, he set himself to the business of the burgeoning world of the cinema. From the war experience, the green eyed young suburbaner had become hardened, learning loss, witnessing endless death, facing his own mortality over and over again on a fantastically industrial scale. He had come home with a highly educated, deeply learned mind set free to a degree by the tutelage of Reinhardt, abstracted by the experience of flight, darkened by death and crashes .  .  .  and yet, rather than succumbing to indulgence or an overwrought disposition, these grimmer elements of humanity were absorbed by an already hyperactive mind obsessed with the world of dreams, flights of fantasy, aches and pains for a lost loved one. One can only wonder--reading the endless ciphers of personal heartbreak in Murnau's films, whether or not he knew real love beyond the loss of the ideal of Hans Degele.

For such an incredibly hyperactive and emotional--and yet severely reserved, occasionally icy but always decent--individual, his monstrous amount of devotion to the new world of the Berlin cinema seems as much a result of his severe work ethic as it does his probably requirement for an outlet for all of that churning, deeply responsive interior life. Without the outlet of the cinema, it's likely that Murnau would have had to do battle with temptation towards some form of indulgence.

*         *         *

Flights in physical space and flights of fancy; the lawless world of dreams, where the hard rules of reality are battered by the escaping mind; smooth movements in space and time; the expressive quality of nature, architecture, weather for narrative punctuation, speaking for character and speaking for a situational mood; clashes between the sensibilities between good and evil, between commerce and the dreamer, between the uncorrupted innocent and the functioning-in-the-world pragmatist, between the city and the country, between civilization and between the instinctual, between man and woman, natural and supernatural, truth and little white lies, between religious hypocrisy and human decency without a congregation, between great fun with the devil and deprivation with the angels, between parent and child: all these elements are very rich in the world of F. W. Murnau. All of these things can be picked speculatively out of his life like an apple picker sifting through a tree for ripened granny smiths. 

The war, his sexual proclivity versus his family's bourgeois inclinations, the tragedy of Degele's untimely death, the repression of an overly severe and perhaps personally unforgiving disposition--all of these things are there in Murnau's life to speculate about, to pick apart if one is so inclined.

But there is little profit there: the joy is in the beholding of the end product of this assembly line of elements that overtook Murnau's mind, and which Murnau's mind overtook when he was making a film--the expressive joy of the artist achieving, venting in code, pointing someone else's fictional finger at this or that personal torment .  .  .  director as worker of puppets, of grand theatrics, of playing god in a universe created all on his own.

The fascinating thing about Murnau, as much as we might be inclined to consider him (and rightly so) an auteur, is that he wrote very very little of his canon: this was left to men and women like Carl Mayer, Thea von Harbou, Galeen, Hauptmann, and others.

But what makes Murnau's film so essentially Murnau is the power of the images, as well as their assembly; and what makes their images and their assembly so powerful is exactly what makes the cinema as a medium so powerful when the cinema does what it does best: tell a story in pictures.

A script is a script indeed--but a silent film scenario generally does not exert quite the power of the proceedings of the final product as does a sound film script. Poorly spoken lines and bad acting can sink a sound film. Poorly spoken lines are not noticed in a silent film, which blimps towards the heavens when a man like Murnau is at the helm because of the power of its images to absorb the viewer, to trigger unspecific poetry quietly in the mind of the viewer--unspecific poetry that is different every time the same viewer beholds the same film. This unlike sound film, which can be-- subconsciously or on purpose--memorized by the viewer, and repeats precisely at each time.

Murnau took the silent film--with other directors, undoubtedly--away from the proscenium, away from the tens and teens concept of a filmed play where the blank camera lens was merely a General Eye of Generic Audience Member. Murnau turned the cinema into a world that viewers simply couldn't believe then, and still marvel incredulously at today: the world of legitimate dreams .  .   . good dreams, bad dreams, phantasms of the everyday, iconic dream images of country, of urban jungle, of supernatural castle. Murnau was the first to consistently bring into the image that thing that the human mind adds to its surroundings-- the glistening sheen of our desires, our love for a mate, our dark and damp and chilly terrors, the dark shadows of our sins, the idealized longings for fame, for home.

Why does the town we live in or were raised in as a child hold such a special quality? Why do we relive in our minds the place and time of good memories? Because what our mind has done to those affairs: Murnau was the first man to consistently take this mysterious human freight of the mind, of life, and put it up onscreen consistently, film after film after film.

Murnau could find the humanity in a script handed to him, find the netherworld side of the mind in a certain tension or conflict, and stamp it with his visual vocabulary--a foundational point in the development of film grammar.

How extraordinary that a man could walk out of WW1 and walk right into Berlin and start making films and in two years, by 1921, start rattling off masterpiece after masterpiece, soaring cinematic towers, one after the other. Walk out of Berlin by 1925 and enter the alien world of Hollywood and make masterwork after masterwork, and leave your stamp on the greatest filmmakers that country would ever produce. Exit that country at the end of the decade and pick up the tatters of a disbanded collboration with Robert Flaherty, and make one of the most unusual, most original, and most heartbreaking (and also, for Murnau, atypical) films ever made.

And exit the making of that final film and enter at last into the netherworld, the ethereal world that haunted all of his films... the intangible and the eternal, where his name and his films will forever reside. He's been my favorite director since I--at last, long after my childhood spent laboring over library books and TV Guides, looking for his most famous film Nosferatu, which I craved manically--had the chance to explore the rest of his canon, little by little during the VHS age, during the 1980's.

They say that the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long--that's surely FW Murnau.

Here's to you, sir.

Preston Clive/HSchreck

3/11/2015***


Preston Clive mar 11 15, 23:34
+1 2

HANGMEN ALSO DIE (FRITZ LANG, 1943), PART THE SECOND

Reinhard Heydrich--the man whose name sounds suitably like a Germanic adjective for Hydra-like, inasmuch as the man's specialty in his creation of the German Sicherheitsdeinst, or Security Service, the dreaded SD within the SS that made Canaris' Abwehr look positively warm and kissy--might be one of the most emblematic Germans when it comes to, in retrospect, personifying all that constituted the worst excesses of the Nazi period in Germany. He made Heinrich Himmler look like a fresh daisy by comparison. He made Hitler on one hand smile, squirm, fidget and go boyishly shy and blushy when in his leather trenched presence--and he also made Hitler get all pumped, throw on his own leather trench without a belt, and stalk and strut like the cock of the walk, Heydrich trailing consciously behind.

Hitler loved loyal but hard and vicious, creatively heartless tough guys like Otto "Sepp" Deitrich, Otto Skorzeny, and of course Heydrich. 

Only with Heydrich, there was very little of the two sided coin that Hitler proposed to maintain, at least at first: love-of-Germany and its people/menace of all who threatened Germany. Beyond the bounds of his wife and blindingly blonde kids, Heydrich never seemed to like people very much. Even those who worked closely with him and maintained daily contact and thus were a part of Heydrich's regular life, dreaded the episodes of drunken cavorting with the man. These interludes were full of menace, shcadenfreude, bizarre behavior, rampant philandering that all were terrified to not participate in, and thus made everyone uncomfortable.

Heydrich's life was full of strangeness--a violin player booted from the navy for disgracing himself with a woman, a surface egoist who maintained a private hatred of his own strange, hyper-vertical, large-schnozzed face (he, supposedly, was famously so suspicious of his odd face that he was apparently observed spitting at a mirror after staring at himself disgustedly and hissing "Fucking jew,"); loved to visit whorehouses with his SS comrades, yet presented a crackling hearth of a wholesome Teutonic family man sprung from the blonde sprouting earth, posing for incredibly incongruous and kitschy photos with his family .  .  . laying on the grass, leapfrogging, picnicing with breeches and lederhosen, playing football with weinerschnitzel smeared with wurstfabrik and the like (just kidding on the last one).

Czechoslovokia--or "The Protectorate"--Prague more than any other--came close to spiritually keeling over and croaking under the boot of Heydrich's leadership. Unlike the men who succeeded him after his assassination--the miserable hawknosed ape Hans Frank in Czechoslovakia, and to some degree in the latter years, scarfaced Ernst Kaltenbrunner .  .  .  latterly head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Heydrich's old slot, where the conglomerate of security and various police apparatus were bundled up for an oversight entity) and a man who was known to tie Heinrich Himmler's stomach in gassy knots--Heydrich did indeed have a subtle side beyond a love of murder as incentivization. For all of his legendary brutality and appearance of tossing off scorched earth with a yawn as a hobby on a lazy spring afternoon, Heydrich didn't ascend to his lofty mantle of RHSA/SD head and Reichsprotektor in Czechoslovakia purely through that Special Menacing Something; the man could be clever, super-subtle, excelled at deception, and knew how to reward people who gave him what he wanted and needed to achieve his goals. Like Fritz Lang's film, Heydrich knew how to layer false realities on top of and to the side of one another in space and in time; he knew how to create the impression of randomness in the carefully engineered; and he was outrageously attentive and invisibly but effectively probing even outside of his professional mandate. His safe, it is said, held the secrets not only of his enemies but all of his allies and closest associates. He was a man who was ready for a confrontation at any time with anybody. He seemed to have seen the world (and particularly the world of appearances in the military and politics) as a nasty chessboard, which he lost at early on too many times, and decided he would never allow such humiliation into his life ever again if he could help it, and actively armed himself against those possibilities through active pre-emption. Those around him knew and felt that they had passed too often under his keen observational apparatus, and trembled thenceforth, knowing that their sins had been carefully recorded with loving care by this thin, oddly feminine-hipped, strange man moving purposely through the lives of all those around him, sniffing out foibles. 

Again--he knew the power of reward. It kept your adversaries close to you and easy to watch. It's for these reasons he succeeded both in the RHSA and as Protektor:human assets require taking care of in espionage. Workers require winning over during an occupation. Heydrich made the exile government and the Allies very nervous during his years sitting in his Prague castle dishing out orders to maximize productivity, owing to the introduction--after brutally weeding out the saboteurs who were disturbing the war production tempo under von Neurath's leadership--of a reward system of increased wages, days off, unemployment insurance and other methods often referred to as "carrot and stick" measures.

Of course, Heydrich, despite his use of generous rewards (in the relative terms of a hard occupation, anyhow) had no love for the Czech people, who he called "scum," and his roundups, executions, use of torture and more earned him the nickname "butcher of Prague." He was despised at atomic levels, and feared equally. And this goes for Germans as well as enemies of the Reich. Like Hitler, he seemed a solitary figure; failed artist, surrounded by yes-men terrified to disagree with him; moody, with virtually no close friends to speak of.

 

Fritz Lang began production on Hangmen Also Die in the latter part of 1942 when the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague was still fresh news, but the truth about the killing was still not known.

Knowing nothing about Operation Anthropoid and the parachutists being dropped in waves by the exile government in London working directly with the military of the Allies who wanted Heydrich removed as a matter of emergency, the film wove an entirely fictional tale.

The film was extrapolated from a story written by Bertholt Brecht--his sole Hollywood contribution--and Fritz Lang, and turned into a script by Lang and a writer called John Wexley (a writer with not a lot of credits but the credits are quite interesting. Check this out.. source TCM):

1. The Long Night (1947) as Screenwriter.

2. Cornered (1945) as Story and adpt.

3. Hangmen Also Die! (1943) as Screenwriter.

4. Footsteps in the Dark (1941) as Screenwriter.

5 City for Conquest (1940) as Screenwriter.7.

6. Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) as Screenwriter.

7. The Roaring Twenties (1939) as Contr to trmt.

8. The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse (1938) as Screenwriter.

9. Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) as Screenwriter.

10. Eight Bells (1935) as Contr to trmt.

Brecht and Land begin their tale with an opening scene with Reinhard Heydrich--played by Hans Heinz von Twardowski (who played Alan, murdered by Cesare in his room after getting his fortune told in Caligari's circus tent,  24 years before this film)--holding court in Hradceny Castle and ordering executions to scare more productivity out of the Skoda defense contractor factories, who have slowed down their work tempo at the behest of the resistance.

The prologue out of the way, the narrative begins in earnest--the tale of a single assassin who wounds Reinhard Heydrich offscreen in the urban center of a well-rendered studio reimagining of the city of Prague. Donlevy, playing the assassin, a doctor by the name of Svoboda, enters into an en media res shot of the city going about its business under the boot of Nazi occupation. Before meeting him however, we get an immediate sense of tension, of something simmering tensely beneath the surface... police arrest a cab driver for idling in one spot for wasting gas illegally. A man looks at his watch, carefully taking note of the police taking the cabbie away, and subtly rounds the corner and shoes away a hansom carriage driver, telling him "GO! Vanya's arrested."

Clearly, we see, something is going on under the boot of these occupying Germans and their steel helmets, and it concerns the civilian public. Our answer is quickly answered as into the film walks lead Anna Lee, then known for her work with John Ford. Her character, Masha Nowotny, approaches her local fruit and vegetable hawker, looking for some basics despite the wartime scarcity. As she discovers to her disappointment that there are no potatos (or POTATEOZ as the handwritten vendor's sign says) Brian Donlevy suddenly comes jogging out of the shadows and into the film, the second principal character. 

Not finding what he is looking for, he asks Masha if she has seen a cabbie sitting there on the street; having witnessed with the fruit vendor the troubles the cabbie had with the police, the young girl relates his arrest to the nameless stranger. He tips his hat and hurriedly jogs offscreen.

In his wake, upon his disappearance, comes the sound of stomping boots, and a crowd of blackshirt SS men, clearly chasing somebody. Coming to the crossroads of the little platz where the vendor and Anna Lee's Masha have resumed their commerce, ("The cabbage is nice") a German extra playing their group leader asks if they have seen a man running from the direction they came. Cut to Donlevy's character hiding in a dark arched atrium down the block and a bit around a corner, but still within the line of sight of the nearby interlude between the ladies and the SS men.

"Yes," says Masha.

He removes a pistol from his breast jacket pocket, now expecting to be given up and fully ready to fight to the death.

"Which way did he run?"

Carefully weighing her answer against her conscience, her hatred of the Occupation, and her fear of getting into trouble with the Germans, the film now takes its first step towards its narrative identity.

"That way," says Masha, pointing away from where she knows Brian Donlevy's still nameless character just fled. And with that, the crowd of SS/SD security police disappear in the wrong direction, chasing a phantasm.

*        *        *

Soon it becomes clear, as we further follow the meanderings of Donlevy's character--who we clearly see is completely stranded in the city collapsing into a tighter and tighter police grip of emergency decree with nowhere to go--that he has caused this upheaval: he has assassinated Reinhard Heydrich. He dips into a movie theater; a restaurant, tries to go to a prearranged safe house and has a door slammed in his face by the spooked (she has heard of his driver--the cabbie's--arrest while being ordered to close the house down as a refuge to protect the underground, until, the Prague State of Emergency is complete and he has no place to go: time to scramble.

Coincidence: after a time of stressed wanderings, he catches the reflection of Anna Lee's Masha, and marks her home and apartment by tailing her.

The film runs on the tension of complexity and the novelty of weaving such an intriguing tale, sandwiching the viewer between the machinations of the underground and those of the Gestapo-SD in their hunt for the assassin. Donlevy's character, Dr. Franticek Svoboda shows up at the door of Anna Lee's Masha's apartment with a bunch of flowers in his hand, importuning her to save his life and allow him to crash with them during curfew under the lie of his posing as an admirer from a night at the opera.

Masha, the daughter of an old revolutionary clearly has honorable blood running through her veins--she cannot help but acquiesce. The next morning, after an evening of SD/gestapo strategizing to flush out the assassin by taking masses of Czech citizens hostage, the blackshirts knock on her apartment door--the assassin right under their noses. Reason? Masha's father, in the midst that morning of teaching an American history class in his dwelling, is on the hostage list and is to be taken right away to a camp.

Played by the venerable but here-slightly-incongruous Walter Brennan, Mr. Nowotny wishes the assassin (he has figured out overnight through sixth sense who he is without being told) luck before being hauled off, choosing not to give him up to the police and damn his whole family.

 

It's this tension--the agonized dilemma of the family's inability to give the doctor up (an announcement has come on the radio proclaiming that any family known to harbor the assassin will be immediately shot) to gain their father's release-- that drives the film, along with its tremendously expressive style. If they don't turn in the assassin, only her father will be shot. If they do turn in the assassin, the whole family be shot. Vilified by Masha for getting her and her family into this horrible position for doing nothing but helping him, Svoboda and the resistance ponder this conundrum, trying to concoct a way of getting her and her father off of the hook while at the same time not revealing Svoboda's guilt.

It's here that an incredible series of false plants, woven tapestries of deception and fraud, labyrinthine half-truths, incredibly sly, black humor (much of which flows from the mouth of Getsapo Inspector Gruber played by the unbelievably charismatic and hilariously loose Alexander Granach, as wild here as he is as Knock in Nosferatu and as the Shadowmaster in Schatten), ominous menace and danger and outrageous cinematographic-editorial skill.

The film was photographed by the then already legendary cameraman James Wong Howe who is here laying down the closest cinematographic correspondence to the conceit of the Expressionism of the early twenties in Germany. Howe and Lang, during moments of extreme danger and tension, ratchet of the contrast and stretch the angles of the shots to some of the most dramatic black and white images you'll ever see. These interludes come and go as danger closes in on the characters: when an execution is imminent, when an interrogation at the Gestapo approaches a deadly climax, when we descend down to the legendary torture vaults down in the police HQ, during the meetings of the resistance.

The tale is a hyper-complex web of intrigue, incredibly grim and complex for the time it was released--grim and complex even today, especially in its original cut with the original ending, which I won't give away. I saw this film when I was in my twenties and first digesting all of the cornerstones of film history; the first thing I said to my female companion watching it with me was "Citizen Kane is considered better than this??"

I find this film to be the height of Lang's narrative sophistication, and yet the film still unfolds with that easy, flowing quality that makes Lang so easy and pleasurable to watch. Even his lesser films like While The City Sleeps and House By The River unfold with such an ease and pleasure, they're almost addicting. I can watch House By The River 4 times a month for the rest of my live and probably not get bored with it. Ditto so many of the other "mediocre" Langs. One of my cinematic compadres, David Hare, I know feels the same vibe from Lang.

Hangmen is an incredible accomplishment--to me easily his best Hollywood films: most narratively skilled example of total command during his US phase. The dense script, the deft implementation, the extremely "cool" narrative sensibility (Like Sternberg, Lang had a consistent element of "cool" to his films), the menace and the humor bouncing back and forth like a tennis ball--see the ever moving wart on the Gestapo officer's face.

To those who haven't seen it, I would suggest something unusual--skip the weak BD, and try your best to hunt down the PAL edition DVD of the e-m-s version. It restores the "downer" ending, and looks much more filmic and less flat.

Preston Clive/HSchreck

3/13/2015***

 


Preston Clive mar 13 15, 23:44
0 4

Atentát (1965) Vs. Hangmen (1943) Vs. Operation Daybreak (1975)--The Mirror of Murder Has Three Faces

On the advice of my dear friend and cinematic colleague Serdar202, I've taken in the--now-- third film that I've seen dealing with the subject of Reinhard Heydrich, Obergruppenfuhrer SS/SD and Reichsprotektor of Bohemia/Moravia (Czechoslovakia) .  .  .  the film called Atentat (1965) was made by a Czech named Jiri Sequens. This, combined with of course the Lang film and also the very well made and reasonably faithful Operation Daybreak by Lewis Gilbert (1975) make three.

I must say that in terms of telling the tale of the historical event of the assassination and its aftermath in simple human terms of death, fear, porting into the viewer the dark and dismal days of World War Two yesteryear, Operation Daybreak with its simple, straightforward assembly of character with very light and subtle aesthetic cinematographic touches affects me the most profoundly of the three.

Unfortunately, Hangmen Also Die is nothing but pure speculation and thus fiction, despite its constituting my favorite American Lang--this admiration rests on the fabulously paranoid assembly of the cramped and claustrophobic world of blackhearted underground agents and police cracking wise with one another. Hangmen runs on the bleak fuel of the end-of-the-world humor and camaraderie that props up men existing in a world where nothing is out of bounds, nothing is sacred, and anything, no matter how abysmally wrong, is permitted .  .  .  a world shrugging at common murder tossed off like gum spit from a kids mouth. "Your mother's life is over George I'm sorry--what's next on the agenda for today?"

The film is thick with double cross colliding with false realities laying one on top of the other like toppings on a sub sandwich, punctuated with strangely surreal shadows slanting in from unexpected corners--the chiaroscuro of a nation afflicted with incipient political dementia.

Atentat by Sequens is another film altogether, benefiting from what Fritz Lang never had--hindsight knowledge of the true event. By this time the war was over--it was made twenty years after the fall of Nazi Germany and the occupation of his country--and the filmmakers knew relatively fully what happened .  .  .  who carried out the assassination, where the assassins came from, who trained them, and who preceded and followed them.

As has already been mentioned in an earlier blog entry on the Lang film, Operation Anthropoid was carried out by the Free Czech forces living in England with Benes in exile--trained in the UK with English special forces elements, Anthropoid was a paratroop insertion of assassins flown in by English planes, whose ultimate goal was the liquidation of Heydrich. The tale is incredibly nerve wracking as one has the historical vantage point of placing one's self speculatively in the paratroop agents' shoes .  .  .  flying in with such a fatal assignment, passing over the deadly anti-aircraft barriers in the air over Germany, and ultimately parachuting with a limited number of supplies to land with false papers and pure wits--hoping to successfully contact the Czech Resistance, assimilate into the population, slither into Prague, observe Heydrich, and successfully carry out the assassination in a city locked down by the German Sicherheitsdienst / Gestapo.

Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš were the two officers that made up the Anthropoid team. They were flown in in December of 1941 with another set of soldiers inserted into Czech territory under the codes Silver A and Silver B (the Silver operations were not charged with carrying out the assassination). The initial plan was for the two boys to be dropped into Pilsen where friendly elements were waiting for them to make contact--the RAF pilots however missed their waypoints and the two agents wound up dropped to the east and into the zone of Nehvizdy. Eventually both men finally slithered into Pilsen to make contact with their hosts, and then forward on to Prague. 

Atentát by Jiri Sequens is an ambitious, often powerful film that however allows its ambition to run away with itself--and thus its ultimate mission. Its tones are suitably grey and cloudy--it seems as if Sequens never shot on a day when the sun was out; it's a tone which suits the bleak events of the film.

A temporary aside which I'll shortly explain:

I'll never forget a book of poetry I read by a police officer in NYC called Catching Bodies by Philip Mahony--I remember in a little bookstore on Mercer Street in the early Nineties the little paperback had a photo of little kids from a Bronx ghetto standing on a chessboard in a vacant lot, and I opened it--then bought the book after scanning a few lines. In it there is a poem entitled "Complaint #13485, 77 Pct., 10/23/81" where he recounts a murder of an old man walking home in Brooklyn in the late night hours, shot at close range with the killer going through his pockets and running. BOOM, "Whah??" and you fall, you lay there dying and gasping, with some creep going through your pockets for a couple of bucks.

The officer recounts his coming to the scene and reliving this horrible scene leading up to his arrival, and writes something along the lines of (paraphrasing, the book is buried in my apt and I haven't looked at it for years) "Imagine! You are walking home one night; from your miserable job; suddenly; someone walks behind you; shoots you; Brooklyn late at night; as you lay there dying, coughing on your own blood; somebody goes through your pockets; taking your small amount of cash? THE WHOLE WORLD SHOULD SCREAM ABOUT THIS! People should throw up their windows and bang pots and pans because of this!" And goes on to underline the ordinary world and the silence.

This is the way I feel about Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, men who at their age should have been raising their children, dancing, working hard, fucking, kissing, loving their wives, and dreaming of their future with an extended family. Instead they are forced by the horror of the age into a nervewracking camaraderie with death, violent premature death, perhaps by torture, death who sleeps with them in their beds and whispering into their dreams, walks with them down every street, whispers into their ear from the moment of their assignment to the moment of their being sold out and their death by suicide and gunfire in the end. 

Atentat suffers a bit from its ambition, attempting to render the horror and claustrophobia of being boxed in by stress and death, trying to build character, render a sense of anticipation and manly adventure .  .  . while at the same time hyperextending its cast of characters and rendering a hypothetical thesis of critical suggestion: the film opens with the operational and competitive tensions between Reinhard Heydrich who created and headed the SD/RSHA and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris who headed the Abwehr. The difference between these two spy organizations is technical, but philosophically broad: Heydrich's SD was the intelligence gathering arm of the SS/internal police, which spread its hooks across the continent and out into the rest of the world as the war demanded. The Abwehr was the military's classical intelligence organization, initially having a gigantic head start on the far newer SD and thus with agents planted across the globe at least wherever a German embassy or diplomatic office existed, and almost certainly beyond.

However, the differences were far more severe: the SD was headed by the maniacally ambitious Heydrich, who spied obsessively on the Abwehr. It's methods were cunning and often, as resolution approached, often brutal. The Abwehr was more of a gentlemanly, military minded group, with the officer's code underwriting much of the operation's ethics. It was somewhat the equivalent of our DIA combined with a bit of the CIA. But Admiral Canaris was ultimately a decent man of the old school, with none of the ambitious, wretched and cunning bile of Heydrich--or Hitler .  .  .  who he ultimately turned on in the end, when it was revealed that he was party to and underwrote the assassination attempt on Hitler's life.

Sequens' film posits a theory that Canaris underwrote the assassination of Heydrich, which is a very long shot indeed. Heydrich and Canaris had a long history together in the Navy, and their families were intertwined through music and military service, and there is not a shred of evidence to back up the thesis that Canaris provided any support or looked the other way--stepping back and allowing the plot to happen. The film suggests this by the inclusion of the power play between the two, beginning the narrative with Heydrich arresting an Abwehr agent of Canaris', and with our beholding of unspecified machinations on Canaris' part, filled with schadenfreude and withering sarcasm when Heydrich is at last assassinated.

By wheedling down these needless roads the film misses out on the tighter human drama of the simple tale of Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš. We never get to know the two men--we never learn anything about them as individuals .  .  .  they're rendered as simple, steely-eyed masculine ciphers of Czech determination which completely misses the point of Czech heroism. Bravery is nonexistent if fear is not resident.

Although Atentat is a well made film with a certain authenticity to it--with lovely examples of here graceful and there manic camera movement, action set pieces, widescreen framing, dark and grey atmosphere, and with one of the best casting decisions I've ever seen to render the person of Heydrich--I nonetheless felt that the larger tale of two human beings with nervous systems forced into a grisly waltz with the phantom of death by the misery of the age .  .  .  this was missed.

Operation Daybreak by Lewis Gilbert, on the other hand, benefits from the hindsight of the errors of both films. Like Atentat, Daybreak was shot almost entirely on location in Prague. Unlike the Sequens film however, Daybreak tells the simple story of two simple men forced into extraordinary circumstance. There is no question that these two films were shot on many of the same locations/recreations rendered with precise exactitude; events play out with the only possible functional shooting angles in certain locations/studio recreations; the cramped environs simply allowed no other choice. Some scenes are almost point to point exact.

Starring Timothy Bottoms (who would shoot Apocalypse Now with Coppola almost simultaneously, playing Lance the surfer) and Martin Shaw (a well known English actor currently famous for playing Inspector George Gently), this film scrapes away all extraneous material and distills the events down with little--though there are moments of occasional divergence from actual history--distraction. There is no larger political frame story or hypothesizing; for this the film benefits enormously. The film rides high the restrained style of color film-making prevalent in the 1970's: careful yet easy, brilliantly acted yet completely unobtrusive and absolutely lifelike, utterly unpretentious of style yet rampantly affecting.

Lewis Gilbert, whose biggest claim to fame among the general public was the direction of a few James Bond films which were so popular running up to that point, handles the material (along with legendary European cinematographer Henri Dacae) with a sensitivity and an intuition that never loses sight of the driving goal of the material .  .   . he steps back and simply allows the circumstances of plot and performance--and nonfictional backdrop--to work its magic.

Of the three films, in terms of the bar of history, Operation Daybreak by Lewis Gilbert must rise highest here. However, that's merely my opinion--and these are three fabulous films that all deserve to be seen.

Clive/Schreck

3/23/2015*** 


Preston Clive mar 23 15, 23:12
0 3
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Owen Stone
I'm sad to see you go, because I enjoyed the art and having those really classic movies that you su…
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serdar202
I recently rewatched the Schmidlin restoration of Touch of Evil, Mr. Clive knows why, then I listen…
serdar202 The Conversation (Coppola, 1974); A Nasty One From the Heart
Owen Stone
I always like to check out the artworks for these classic movies.
Owen Stone The Conversation (Coppola, 1974); A Nasty One From the Heart
Owen Stone
Do you find these movies in public domain or how do you get access to these old classics?
Owen Stone Coming Soon (FOR REAL): Nosferatu, (Murnau, 1921)
Owen Stone
I still come back to read these blogs daily, just to get a glimpse of these awesome artworks.
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This is a cool looking movie.
Owen Stone T-Men & Raw Deal (Mann/Alton, 1947): A Cry Into The Void
Owen Stone
Preston Clive
serdar202
I guess I must watch Operation Daybreak now ;)
serdar202 Atentát (1965) Vs. Hangmen (1943) Vs. Operation Daybreak (1975)--The Mirror of Murder Has Three Faces
Owen Stone
The artwork in these pieces are really amazing. The cover photo just reeks of communism tension, it…
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