At a tramcar in Copenhagen the piano teacher Magda Vang meets the young man Knud Svane, who falls in love with her. She is invited to spend the summer with him and his parents at the ... See full summary »
The story of this film is particularly interesting, because our old friend Max has recently undergone a very serious operation, and this is his first reappearance. He plays this little ... See full summary »
Professor Stock and his wife Mizzi are always bickering. Mizzi tries to seduce Dr. Franz Braun, the new husband of her good friend Charlotte. Dr. Braun's colleague, Dr. Mueller, who has had... See full summary »
Coke Ennyday, the scientific detective, divides his own time in periods for "Sleep", "Eat", "Dope" and "Drink". In fact he's used to overcome every situation with drugs: consuming it to ... See full summary »
An account of the life of Jesus Christ, based on the books of the New Testament: After Jesus' birth is foretold to his parents, he is born in Bethlehem, and is visited by shepherds and wise... See full summary »
R. Henderson Bland,
The old-fashioned critical notion that there was aUS-centric straight line of cinematic development whereby D. W. Griffith "discovered" the principlae of cross-cutting and created "the grammar" of cinema to which eventually everybody would conform to the greater glory of Hollywood and the US "classic" realist style. It was the cinematographic equivalent of "manifest destiny" and went in practice pretty much hand in hand with the political programme to which it is analogous.
With the renascence in interest in early film and the much greater availability of a wide variety of films from the silent era, that falsely simplistic version of cinema history has become untenable. Cross-cutting, whether between shots from different distances or angles or more elaborate parallel editing, developed steadily everywhere at around the same time between about 1905 and 1912 and was by this date common currency. Although lateral camera movement (panning) was well-known, it was used only sparingly in photoplays while movement towards and away from the action only begins to be used in around 1913-1914 in the films of Yevgeny Bauer and, most famously, in Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria.
But what differs significantly is the extent to which "editing" is used and the purpose for which it is used (something conveniently ignored by the US formalist critics). And here there are clearly two quite different "grammars" that emerge 1) the US film (the emerging "classic"with it heavy and virtually reliance on editing - even when camera movement became more common, it remained rare and remains rare to this day in mainstream US film. The use of cross-cutting is primarily for continuity and/or suspense 2) the European film (and in fact the Japanese film) which made sparing use of editing, which gradually incorporated camera movement and which, at a later stage, would develop techniques of montage (cross-cutting not for continuity nor really for suspense but to create significant juxtapositions of images).
This European style has sometimes been referred to somewhat sneeringly by US critics as the "tableau" style, suggesting that it was a) old-fashioned and b) theatre-based - in other words simply a more "primitive" state than the US 'realist" style. This is false in almost every respect. The sparing use of cross-cutting and of close-up in European films is a question of choice not of ignorance. In this film for instance, when he regards it as important to do so, Blom will make us of cutting from one plan to another (as when the camera "leaps back" like a guilty thing when the mother interrupts her son's cosey soirée with his girl) and in other more "action-based" films made at around the same time Blom would use cross-cutting much more. So the decision not to cut or not to use close-up is conscious and important and is designed to avoid the banalisation of both which becomes the bane of US film.
Then again, the style is not really derived from theatre (it is actually closer to art - print sequences like 'The Rake's Progress" or "genre" art with its typical use of perspective - and has nothing to do with "tableau vivant" (of the sort one finds for instance in Birth of a Nation) which was an old-fashioned theatre practice. The principle in the theatre is dirigiste; lighting is used to direct the audience's attention; characters who are not speaking freeze. This is reproduced in films precisely by "editing" culminating in the sort of ping-pong effect (backwards and forwards between two speakers, over the shoulder shots) that become typical of the classic US style. As in the theatre too, back-lighting is used to obliterate background and further direct the attention of the audience.
Rather than talk of "tableau" films, I have preferred to describe the European film style as "a contextual style" because this more correctly identifies its attention, which is one entirely proper to cinema and quite the opposite of theatrical dirigisme. This meant keeping the camera at a reasonable distance to provide greater context and where possible increasing the depth of the focus (a principle that the US would only rediscover in 1942 and even then make little use of). This is why you have the use of mirrors in this film (a little gimmicky and obviously set up but very effective) as well as perspectives involving "flanking" of the screen and opening up to areas beyond (the theatre-stage as seen from the box, the character seen approaching from a distance up the drive as in a typical Dutch genre painting). Quite unlike the theatre, this allows the possibility of action going on simultaneously in more than one area of the screen and also highlights the importance of "off-screen (the scene for instance where you see the maid reflected in the mirror and she then enters onto the scene from behind the camera, breaking the illusion of a fourth wall).
The other important element of the European "contextual" film, often lacking in US films, is the emphasis placed on mise en scène. This is a continuation of the photographic techniques already apparent in the work of the Lumière operators, strengthened by both the naturalistic and non-naturalist (expressionism, surrealism etc) movements beginning to have their effect in. the cinema. It is also a precursor of "the Kuleshov effect" which, properly understood, has as much to do with mise en scène as it does with montage before it was rather hi-jacked by Pudovkin (and by the Russian and US formalist critics). It was Yevgeny Bauer, with whom Kuleshov stared his career, who uses editing sparingly and montage in its later sense not at all, who became famous for the principle that film-actors should not "act" - again quite exactly the exact opposite of the theatre ethic - but leave the creation of cinematic meaning to the camera and the mise en scène, a technique very apparent in his own films just as it is in this film by Blom..
This little film is almost like manifesto for the European "contextual style" which, one may note has remained an important alternative to "classic realism" ever since (very much renewed for instance by the "new wave", by the "slow film" and by almost every important development in modern cinema one can think of). One notes that even David Bordwell (in his time the guru of formalist criticism and clarion of the "manifest destiny" of US realist style) has in his more recent writings - see his website and discussions of the work of Bauer, Sjöström or Af Klercker - come to appreciate that what he still calls the "tableau" style was an important alternative "grammar" (and alternative philosophy of cinema) and not simply a "primitive" leftover. Since he has also now worked on modern supposedly "avant-garde" European film-makers, he has only now to put the two together to appreciate that he is actually looking at an important and different cinematic tradition that has been continuous from that day to this.
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