Now comes the sudden realization that I’ve actually watched quite a few films from where we left off last week, which brings me to a key point: This list of 1000 films is inclusive of a film for a variety of reasons, it’s a cross-referenced list which includes multiple other rankings and ratings etc. so it’s the best of the best, and the most influential of the most influential. So what does that really mean? Well, as you saw with the first film on the list, it means that films are included for the very fact they invented a technique, or improved upon a technicality…not necessarily because they’re considered good. That’s not to say I’m going to just start smashing through these at the rate of 3 a day etc., no, only that…many are not worth commenting on. They are so of their time that it is now nigh impossible, if not simply a tiresome act to draw from them something of unique merit. Or, in short: There’s only so much Keaton and Chaplin one can watch before they begin to dissolve into a slapstick-mess, some funnier, some technically better etc. I am however, now taking a quick glance at the list, only a few films from exiting what I’d call cinema’s teething period. From 1927 onwards there’s enough of a foundation in technique, sound, material, etc. for a film to have at least some criteria to begin a trajectory from. The problem herein is the fact that I have an extremely saturated mind when it comes to media and film, and thus much of what is technically incredible about these early films is for me akin to the background panels of cartoons, there only for need of a background. With all that said and done:
The Last Laugh (1924), honestly…I remember very little from this other than that it was a clear Hitchcock inspiration, I’m not going to attempt to drag water from a black and white stone.
The same applies to Seven Chances (1925), so apologies to any film students who’ve scrawled out 10000 words on either of these, but admittedly they’re alike to say Avatar, of-their-time and middle ground of their directors corpus, that which they wont be remembered for…
However, Battleship Potemkin (1925) is very good, and in only the space of 1 year Eisenstein moves leaps and bounds beyonds the visuals of Strike, it’s as if he had that moment which every artist aspires to find, wherein they recognize their own style amidst the relics, rubble and remnants of a thousand artistic memories and inspirations. That which once before was a little off or not as extreme has now been tuned into the most specific frequency.
Eisenstein’s clear use of a pot of boiling water about to boil over may seem obvious, yet interspersed with cuts of animals and animalistic ritual, chaotic collectives and artillery guns, there’s something temporal about the rippling of the water, the irreversible nature of a revolt, an inherent destruction and the radical disillusionment of the present time, for these men nothing else matters except the survival of the here and now. In fact, the entire film is shot and cut in such a way as to destroy the past, to allow the anonymity of particulars to guide the scene. For there is a porthole within the ship and the other side is obviously where the food is stored, behind this small window, yet all we – and the sailors – are allowed to see is the extending hand brandishing your meagre portion, this anonymous window of supply, it is that which brings the anger aboard. There’s another peculiar scene wherein the sailors debate the quality of some meat they are to fed, two hanging joints of a cow are assessed and found to have some form of worm or larvae infecting them, and so the captain analyizes them and simply states: “It’s good meat. End of discussion.” The beauty of the silent film rings true here, for it would take an incredible actor to deliver that line with much gravitas, yet written in simple black and white we understand, simply, that this man’s authority is final and that is the end of the discussion, quite literally.
The Odessa Steps scene is worth watching even when take by itself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JecXKK2rmCc
Maybe I’m watching Chaplin ‘wrong’ but The Gold Rush (1925) – which is ranked 63rd on this list – I found to be unsurprising, and actually quite tiresome at times. I will almost always do a quick check for historical merit of these films…in case there’s a subtlety I’ve missed, yet to no avail, this is how it comes…perhaps dear Chaplin, you are just not for me, or perhaps the even bleaker statement would be: Perhaps dear Chaplin, you and your optimism have no place in 21st century, it is not that you’re not allowed in, no, only that the puzzle piece you created then fits not the piece we need now.
The General (1926) is your usual Keaton narrative so I shall not bother extrapolating. One thing I will quickly comment on however is Keaton’s performance, the man is not an actor nor a thespian, but a real performer, he makes it clear from merely his persona that his wish is for you to be entertained, an admirable trait. This, alongside his intense, albeit semi-insane stunts have thus far pushed Keaton far ahead of Chaplin for me. There’s something I don’t quite like about Chaplin, I hope I work it out…if I’m honest, at the moment it is because he reminds me so much of a ‘nice guy’, a liberal entertainer who wants not to entertain but to please.
More than likely will return to Faust (1926) as I’ve yet to read it (shame on me) and I don’t want to do it a disservice.
And finally Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) is a must for anyone interested in German history, or the history of cities.