A minister is malevolent and sinister behind his righteous facade. He consorts with, and later extorts from, the owner of a gambling house, and betrays an honest girl, eventually driving ... See full summary »
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A minister is malevolent and sinister behind his righteous facade. He consorts with, and later extorts from, the owner of a gambling house, and betrays an honest girl, eventually driving them both to ruin. Written by
Martin H. Booda <email@example.com>
The board censors initially had strong objections to the dark and sinister portrayal of a man of the cloth. But with no money left for reshoots, producer Oscar Micheaux shot a quick ending which makes most of the film's action a dream of the heroine's. See more »
The problem with this movie is that it isn't very good.
Some very good films have been made which could be described as talky. I'm a huge fan of Woody Allen, for example, and most of his films are quite talky. And that works for Woody, largely because his films feature sound. But in a silent film like Body and Soul, long static scenes of characters sitting and chatting tend to be a bit dull.
The acting, with a couple of female exceptions, is quite good and quite understated for the era. Paul Robeson, in particular, is very effective as the menacing preacher man--that is, his facial expressions are effective, but his body language is stiff and constricted, as though a chalk X had been drawn on the floor and he'd been directed to stand on it and not move, probably to save the cameraman the effort of moving.
A handful of creaky pans are all the camera movement we get in Body and Soul. The camera seems absolutely bolted to the floor. The compositions are crude, with the subject of interest generally being dead-center in the frame. It's all very reminiscent of those old tableaux-style films from two decades earlier, except for the editing.
As if to compensate for the lame camera work, Micheaux edited the crap out of this film. I didn't do the count, but I'd guess there were about 2-3 times as many cuts as in a typical non-Russian film from 1925, and that would be great if there were some rhythm to it, some reason for it, but it seemed like Micheaux was cutting for the sake of cutting--awkward pointless jump cuts galore. Some of his choices were downright bizarre, most particularly his rampaging, out-of-control use of cross-cutting. He'd cut away repeatedly from some dramatic scene to show us one of his other characters sitting in a chair someplace completely else, staring, or combing his hair, for no reason I could determine. Perhaps he just wanted to keep a handle on his characters in time, check in and see how everyone was doing.
Another thing that annoyed me was that the Yello-Curly character was introduced very early in the film as if he was going to have some important function. He was developed a bit, and then suddenly disappeared without a trace. Disappointing, because he was one of the most interesting characters in the film--and one of the ugliest and oddest-looking humans I've ever seen.
Despite the many flaws, this story still could have been interesting. An evil manipulative preacher. A mother who probably subconsciously realizes that her daughter is being raped and abused, but who refuses to acknowledge it, or to even listen to her daughter on the subject of the preacher. Although the preacher and the daughter were not blood-related, there were incestuous overtones. In a way, it kinda reminded me of Laura Palmer's story in Twin Peaks. And then just when the story was becoming gripping and tragic, and I was getting into it, Micheaux pulled the rug out from under me. He ended with the worst kind of hackneyed cliche, the kind of ending that was probably boring and stupid even in 1925.
Body and Soul is of some interest, probably, as an historical document, but it's not a good watch, and I can't rate it any higher than a 4/10.
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