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A silent film for the modern viewer. Why? a) Superb visual story-telling in every aspect, from the casting, the acting, the direction to the editing makes this one a gem -- nay, a jewel -- for the ages. b) The story and theme also transcend the decades. The hopes and struggles, ambition and joy, tragedy and pathos of urban life are as relevant today as they were nearly a hundred years ago.
The narrative follows a man's life, from being orphaned in a small town, to arriving and trying to make a living in New York. Following the path of love, family, friends, and job takes up his time (sometimes to his chagrin); but the city ends up taking its toll.
I found a re-release edition, with a very clean picture and brilliant soundtrack, at a Hollywood Video in Minneapolis. I sincerely hope I was not the only one to discover it. I saw it almost a year ago, and the images, not the mention the ironies, and the entire overtone of this film, stay with me to this day.
For the historically inclined, it offers great views of old New York City, from the streets of Manhattan to the subways, to the beaches, to the tenements. It's hard to know exactly what's a set and what's not, but even if it's all a set, it's still a great look at how things used to be (or at recreations according to generally accepted notions at the time -- you know what I mean!)
And for the cinephile there are some masterful lighting and editing effects. There's nothing as kooky as in Metropolis or Dr. Caligari, but it's no less artful or effective.
Is there a message to this film, a coherent social comment about what the city means, and what it does to us? There has to be, because it hits you like a ton of bricks in the end (with a technique many "ironic" films of the last decade could only aspire to). But try to define it. You're sure to be left wondering what it's all about -- but isn't that how life is, anyway?
Summary: I could find no excuse to give this film anything less than a 10.
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