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La Habanera (1937)
Nazi propaganda or pure entertainment?
26 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I found this film to be interesting to watch as a film that was produced in the Third Reich and also as an early melodrama in Sierck's oeuvre. Maybe because I saw this film with the mindset of "it's a Nazi film!" that I couldn't help but interpret it as propaganda. With its veneer as an entertainment film, one could pick out things that reflect Nazi ideology. The idea of "heimat" struck me in the beginning of the film when I saw how uncomfortable Astrée's aunt was. Already it was a sign that she does not belong in the world of Puerto Rico, thus Astrée (Leander) doesn't as well. Eventually Puerto Rico's charm fades and Astrée longs for Sweden. On top of this, her child with Don Pedro (Marian) has light blonde hair and has an affinity for things related to Sweden. Spanish guy + Swedish woman = perfect Aryan child: a bit weird, isn't it? Also note that Juan Jr. seems to get along with Dr. Nagel (Martell) more than his own father. Interesting… Everything in this film has implications that people belong where they are from and also casts a bad light on anyone who isn't Swedish. Don Pedro's death is his own fault, the Americans are mentioned consistently and seen as incompetent while the Swedish doctor comes and finds a cure for the "Puerto Rico fever" in just a few days. If this film was produced outside of Germany, would I have thought these things? Is it because I know that this film was made in Nazi Germany that I have these thoughts? I could probably find the idea of "heimat" in American films as well and give any film a Nazi slant if I wanted to thus is it right to assume that every film from Nazi Germany is propaganda? It's hard for me to come to terms with the idea that every Nazi film is propaganda, but it's also hard for me to believe that some or not all weren't. In the end, I can probably argue for either point. Perhaps watching this film as pure entertainment can bring us a little closer to what the contemporary German audiences thought of this film. I am so conflicted because on one hand, I believe that it is important to put context and history together with films but at the same time when I get attached to films like La Habanera, I want to believe that it's not Nazi propaganda as if somehow the Nazi Germany part leaves a stain on the film.

Anyway, going on… I really adore Sierck's works for some reason and La Habanera is really a gem. Not only can viewers see Sierck's beginnings in Germany, but the lush imagery that I loved about Sierck's Technicolor works is all in La Habanera just without the colour. Anyone who is interested in Sierck's works should definitely put this film on their list. I really wonder what Sierck's connection with Ufa and the Nazis were. Just how much was he in charge of the story? Nothing about the imagery shouts out "NAZI PROPAGANDA!", but each scene seduces the viewer with its beautiful scenery and the viewer becomes a part of this film thus being seduced like Astrée was with its charm. FASCIST AESTHETICS?! I don't know… Acting on Leander and Marian's part is A++. I ADORE Marian and it's such a shame that his career, in current times, is tainted by Jüd Suß. Funny that they're making a film about his role in Jüd Suß and the title of the upcoming film is also called the same name as the film. I really don't think Marian would appreciate that since he didn't want to take part in the wretched film at all. Anyway, Marian is just perfect as Don Pedro, especially in the final scenes when you can tell that he is suffering from the disease, yet he looks so delighted in the fact that Astrée is singing "La Habanera". He tells her that he loves her and while she shuns him, I think that deep down, he does love her in his own way. Leander is great from start to finish, especially when you see the difference in her demeanor in the beginning and in the middle of the film. The change is drastic and so real that I really believed that time did take its toll on Leander herself rather than this character of Astrée. And if you're really not a fan of dramas and love stories, at least watch the film up to the wedding scene; Astrée's wedding dress is to die for, in a bad way.

Overall I give this film a 7.5/10. Not too bad, not all that great, but definitely worth a watch for Leander and Marian's performance and for Sierck's work in Germany.
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Pandora's Box (1929)
Not the best film by Pabst but deserves a watch
31 May 2009
I want to start with my honest opinion that I might get shot for: I think that this film isn't exactly the best out of Pabst's silents. Die Büchse der Pandora always gets the most attention along with Die freudlose Gasse and while I think it's a film that deserves recognition, I don't see all the hype about it. Maybe I'm just bitter because this film gets so much attention, but I just don't think it lives up to its hype. Hm, maybe I should take back everything I typed. I think I have more problem with the story that I'm just really angry. The film was beautifully directed and the ending was absolutely perfect, but my sense of justice made me aggravated with it. I hated that Lulu had to die, but then again, that is probably the only way to escape her dreadful life. She died in the hands of someone who she liked whereas her relationship with her previous lover was pretty much dead. Whenever I read about this film, people always say that it's a film about a woman who brings the demise of anyone around her and that Lulu is a femme fatale, yet I do not see it that way at all. I can see the point in the argument because she is a gorgeous woman, and everyone enamored by her are like moths to a flame, and I purposefully use that idiom because while a flame can be beautiful and something that attracts you, it can also hurt you. I want to deemphasize the fact that she brings destruction to the people around her because the question is, does she really destroy the people around her? I think that she doesn't because while people put her in this box of a "femme fatale", I feel like a woman pursuing what she wants is always seen in a bad light when I don't see anything wrong with it. Is it that wrong to be selfish? Was Lulu truly trying to hurt the people around her? I do not think so and I am incredibly sympathetic of Lulu. She didn't deserve to be in prison because she didn't mean to kill her husband and it was really Alwa's fault that she had to live in a terrible state and eventually even prostitute herself. Rather than seeing Lulu as bringing ruin to everyone around her, I see her as a victim of circumstances. I believe that she was looking for love and some place where she would truly belong. In the end, she found it in Jack the Ripper (Diessl) and while it is twisted and tragic, it is as if she got her happy ending.

The ending for this film was perfect. Pabst did such a wonderful job directing everything and the mood of the last shot evokes so many things: loneliness, the meaning (or lack of) of life, death, continuation of time… it's just so much that I can't put it in words. In my opinion, from the scene of Lulu's death to the end is probably one of the most powerful scenes in cinema. When I saw Schigolch (Goetz) eating the Christmas pudding, Alwa ignorant of Lulu's death, and the Christmas parade, it made me think about how insignificant a life can seem or even be and how life goes on despite deaths. Lulu's death seemed so insignificant especially when I saw Schigolch with the pudding because the only reason she went out to sell herself was because Schigolch guilt tripped her into it by saying how he would like a taste of pudding before he died and in the end, he got his pudding anyway. Instead, Lulu died and she could have escaped her fate if she didn't go out. Some people say she deserved her death to stop the cycle of destruction, but I don't see why. I don't think she deserved death, although it could imply that it's the only way to be happy for her. Rather than a cycle of destruction for the people around her, I felt as if Lulu was in a state of self-destruction due to the people around her. Speaking of the ending, the chemistry between Brooks and Diessl was perfect. Brooks did say that she was attracted to him and I could see why. I've seen Diessl in another Pabst film and didn't find him to be attractive, but he was kind of handsome in this film. And seeing Kortner in this film made me laugh because I just find him to be really funny looking and a terrible actor. Funny that he didn't respect Brooks as an actress when I think she was so much better. Although that can be based on what good acting was back in the 20s, Asta Nielsen was respected for her natural acting.
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Step forward in cinematic techniques
31 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Although I am no fan of psychoanalysis and Freud, this film is worth a watch for the cinematographic techniques and the visuals. The story is a bit bland, but it does give the viewer a taste of what psychoanalysis is.

My favourite scene would definitely have to be the dream scene, hands down. Every section of the dream is so well done that I wonder how Pabst filmed such things. There are some crazy things going on like a gate that grows really high, the husband (Krauss) flying and then getting shot down, a montage of his wife (Weyher) and friend/wife's cousin, and the baby coming out of the river are… surreal. I really can't come up with another word to describe the dream scene. My personal favourite out of all these has to be when the bells turn into heads. I can't really figure out who the head on left belongs to (I think it's either a nurse or someone who works in his house), but the one in the center is his wife and the one on the right is his assistant (Walther). When I first saw the scene, I almost yelped because it creeped me out and it really must have been a terrifying thing to see because apparently the laughter was something that the protagonist (the husband) couldn't get out of his head. I wish that I can supply more screencaps from this film, but then it would just crowd up the entry. Oh well. Going on, the dream really brings together events from past, present, and his unconscious because the presents he received from his wife's cousin (Trevor) are in the scene, the creepy doll/baby reflects the protagonist's want for a child but also reflects a scene from his childhood, the totally crazy wife-stabbing scene triggers the protagonist's fear of knives, his jealousy over his wife's cousin, and his odd impulse to kill his wife.

Throughout the film there are various motifs, repetitions and recreation of certain scenes, and symbolism. The very first motif in this film would be knives. The very first shot of the movie is of the husband's razor and whenever there is a knife/sharp object in the scene, it is always emphasized with an insert shot. Most of the time, the ones that usually have an insert shot are shown twice: the first time is when the husband isn't scared of them and the second time is when the husband is afraid to touch or see them. So what could this mean? It seems silly to be scared of knives, right? This is when the psychoanalytic part comes in. His fear of knives symbolize his insecurity about his masculinity. Out of all the knives, the one that the cousin gives him is the biggest and longest one and his jealousy of his wife's cousin is exposed later in the film. This could be tied into him being insecure because he still does not have a child and of course, the knife can be a phallic symbol. In Picture 3, the shadow you see is of the cousin and notice where his head is? Yes, between the wife's legs! And then it cuts to the husband's face where he look uncomfortable to see the shadow. In addition to the whole knife = masculinity argument, his fear of knives makes him even less masculine because he becomes a little kid who can't take care of himself. His mother has to cut his food for him when he isn't there and on top of that, she cuts them into little pieces! Now that I think about it, a lot of the motifs refer to the husband's want for a child and not having one, which connects to his masculinity. I can list quite a few, but I'll just discuss one more! The prison bars/gates in the dream scene prevent the husband from going to certain places, particularly places where his wife and her cousin are. Gates would prevent him from going near his wife and her cousin multiple times in the main dream scene and in his other one where his wife is part of an orgy-like scene. In a scene of the present, there is a scene when the husband returns home and the psychoanalyst says that he looks reluctant to go back to his own house. The gate is what separates him from his wife and her cousin inside the house. Maybe he doesn't want to go because he's scared that he'll see them together like he saw in his dream. Another thought I had was that the gate was also a symbol of how he will reach his cure. By meeting the psychoanalyst and having the psychoanalyst returning the key so that he can go home, the psychoanalyst is "opening the gate" to his cure. Just a thought. And talking about symbolism, see Picture 1 because the tree represents the couple's marriage and their hopes for a child, but while the tree grows, they don't have a real child.
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Wonderful film!
31 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
First of all, I think that this is the best Pabst film I've seen. I really love Die freudlose Gasse, but there is something about Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney that is so much better.

In Pabst's Die freudlose Gasse, I thought that Pabst did a great job experimenting with slow motion, different film stock, and lighting, with Geheimnisse einer Seele, Pabst did a terrific job with special effects/various techniques (perhaps maybe even overdoing it), but with Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney, I think he was able to really find a happy medium. He used various techniques he used in Geheimnisse einer Seele but didn't overdo it and used them to their full advantage by using them as a plot device that fit in seamlessly with the story. Whereas Die freudlose Gasse has the potential to be perfect, Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney has almost reached perfection. Maybe Die freudlose Gasse appears to be a bit rough due to missing parts and scholars/film archivists not knowing the order of the scenes, thus restored versions of the film don't guarantee that the presentation of the film is that close to the original, but Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney really was a step forward. I'm not making sense and it's a bit hard for me to try to explain my thoughts, but what I'm trying to get to is that this film was a huge improvement from his previous films.

The film is a (melo)drama, but it had me intrigued almost from the beginning. I hated that Pabst started the film with Fritz Rasp because Rasp is truly a hideous man. I noticed that he always plays the sleazy guy in films and his face is really perfect for that.Jéhanne and Helm's acting is so natural and beautiful, particularly Helm's, but Rasp overacts in almost every scene. What's the point of slowing getting closer to a girl and then all of a sudden grabbing her? Jéhanne plays the sweet, innocent, and somewhat naïve Jeanne and although I would usually be annoyed with characters like Jeanne, I couldn't help but like her. The story is of lovers who are madly in love with each other yet something happens that separates them. Then another incident occurs that could separate the lovers but a nice man comes along and patches things up. Misunderstandings happen, murder, and all other great things that probably happen in soap operas occur, but the film implies a happy ending. I really adore this film, but my biggest problem with it is the story. Although highly enjoyable, I wonder why the film leaves Gabrielle with an unhappy ending and doesn't even return to her after her father's death. Out of all the characters in the film, I think she has suffered the most and deserved a happy ending. Jeanne deserves it as well but Gabrielle was such a tragic figure that I couldn't help but almost cry when she found her father's dead body. I also didn't understand why Gabrielle first flinched from Khalibiev's (Rasp) touch but then somehow fell in love with him. I thought that she was able to see, despite being blind, behind is "friendly" exterior, but she somehow fell for him because he brought her flowers and acted as if he really loved her when all he wanted to do was seduce Jeanne. Jeanne was never comfortable around Khalibiev and I kept looking forward to a scene when she would tell Gabrielle that she is not comfortable with Gabrielle's engagement with Khalibiev but that never happened. The final shot is truly a beautiful one, but it's too simple to wrap up everything: how will Jeanne and Andreas (Henning) be together when there are political problems surrounding their relationship? One of Die freudlose Gasse's criticisms is that the melodrama overpowers the message behind the film and that applies to the film perfectly. I don't agree much with the criticism for Die freudlose Gasse, but the happy ending truly seems tacked on like it just needs to happen. But things really aren't that simple! But nonetheless, that final shot means multiple things, which is why I love it. The obvious one is that the murderer has been caught, but the diamond also can be foreshadowing Jeanne and Andreas' marriage, and perhaps maybe it is a happy ending for Gabrielle; since the diamond was found by her father's company, most likely she would be able to have the reward money.

After watching this film, I really didn't understand why Die freudlose Gasse got all the attention out of the many films Pabst directed. Is it because Die freudlose Gasse addresses the political, social, and moral problems in Germany/Austria directly whereas Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney brings forth what was going on around the time the film was made but is overshadowed by the melodramatic story? I just think that this film is one of Pabst's strongest silent œuvre because everything fits so well, but that's just my opinion.
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One of Pabst's bests!
31 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I really loved this film despite the terrible score that came with the Kino DVD. I never had a problem with any Kino films and the music scores because they were all quite good, but the one for Tagebuch einer Verlorenen didn't even fit the film. I thought that the music was too overwhelming and was depressing even during the "happy" scenes. The film was beautifully filmed and Pabst did a wonderful job directing it. I loved the staircase scene when the camera follows Louise Brooks' movements. I was reading an article in Lulu in Hollywood and Brooks actually mentions Pabst being excited about finding out a way to make the camera turn for the staircase scene. If I didn't watch the film before reading that, I would have not known which film or scene Brooks was referencing.

My favourite scene, outside of the staircase scene due to the fabulous way it was filmed, has got to be when the girls are exercising and the director's wife (Gert) orgasms as she hits the gong. The way the scene is filmed by cutting to the girls exercising, the hitting of the gong getting faster and faster, to Gert's face as she climaxes is incredibly well done. Gert's face expression says it all: her sadistic nature comes out and so does her sexual self despite her plain non-made up face and her nun-like clothes. The scene also reminded me of Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and Olympia and what Susan Sontag calls "fascist aesthetics". The lines that I thought of when I saw this scene was "a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain; they endorse two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude" and "the masses are made to take form, be design" (Sontag, "Fascist Aesthetics). Then I remembered another line from "Fascist Aesthetics": "The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure or force." As you can see, I read this essay maybe one too many times. Anyway, the girls in the film were like the masses, all doing the same movements, and Gert's character was like the dictatorial figure who had full control over the girls. They followed her orders almost mechanically, without thought. I wonder what Kracauer said about this film; I think this film would fit his teleological argument (and flawed in my opinion) perfectly.

Along with Die Buchse der Pandora, this film succeeds in weeding out the melodrama and really hits the nail on the effects of societal norms on people. The realism of the film really hit me when I saw that Meinert (Rasp) is not punished at all but the innocent Thymiane is. It's true that there isn't always a happy ending and sometimes, bad people don't suffer. What made me a bit annoyed with Thymiane is that she gave away her inheritance rather than giving it to the people who have helped her survive, such as Erika (Meinhard) and the other hostesses/prostitutes and the madame. It made me upset that she completely forgot about the people who she was with. Thymiane writes that she wants to forget the past, but the people she was with were incredibly supportive and friendly. None of them forced her into prostitution and even protected her when a man almost raped her. In the end, she does help Erika, which I guess does redeem her previous actions, but it was frustrating nonetheless. And Meta (Kinz) was the biggest bitch EVER. Even when she receives all the money that Thymiane has, she doesn't even say a word of thanks. She is reluctant to let her child even go to Thymiane and although her letting her child go to Thymiane can be a sign of compromise, it just wasn't enough.

I'm pretty sure Pabst has meant this film to be a social critique, but I wonder if the scenes I considered to be criticisms were meant to be criticisms. I saw this film as a critique towards high society and how they shun the women for being "deviant" yet the men never suffer the consequences. Also, high society families are portrayed in a negative light with the philandering father and a family willing to cut off connections with their daughter. It is the prostitutes and lower class people who are genuinely caring and friendly. The hypocrisy of the self-righteous people are emphasized in this film, but maybe this wasn't what the film was about? I hope I'm not too off the base with Pabst's vision and the story.

Film blog: http://sachlichkeit.net
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The Women (1939)
Delightful! One of Cukor's best films.
31 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
George Cukor's The Women has got to be one of my favourite films. Not only is it highly enjoyable, but the lines, the acting, the clothes, and the pace of it is all perfect. I never watched the play version of it, but I sure do like this film! It was the film that introduced me to Norma Shearer and I absolutely fell in love with her. It was also my first Joan Crawford film and I found her to be an amazing actress. I have read complaints about Shearer's acting, but I thought she was really great and wasn't overacting at all. My favourite scene has got to be when she says, "I've had two years to grow claws mother. Jungle red!" It's such a shame that a once famous actress and the queen of MGM is now long forgotten.

Although there are some remarks that may make modern women cringe, I thought that the overall portrayal of women was incredibly accurate. Watching these women's actions were almost looking at a mirror and I could relate to almost every character. Mary Haines (Shearer) is nobel and she sure knows how to get revenge! Sylvia Fowler (Russell) has the most outrageous clothes and hats and is the biggest blabbermouth ever. She is also someone who enjoys seeing other in pain, probably due to her not-so-great relationship with her husband. And Joan Crawford as Crystal Allen… my, my! She is fabulous and whereas Crystal is quite a… for the lack of better words, a bitch, I can sympathize to a certain extent. Actually, I wish I can be like her! She is gorgeous and knows how to fend for herself using words. Her final line, "There is a name for you, ladies, but it isn't used in high society… outside of a kennel.", is a perfect way to make an exit; while she did admit defeat, she at least got to say something nasty in a calm manner and leave in a superficially classy way.

All I can really say about this film is that it is FABULOUS and a film that everyone should watch once. I have watched it multiple times and it never fails to put a smile on my face. So many of the things mentioned in this film are true to this day and it's really fun to see a glimpse into how high society women lived in those days. Seeing Rosalind Russell do all those exercises was hilarious and seeing how women got perms and facials was interesting as well.

Film blog: http://sachlichkeit.net
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8 femmes (2002)
Worth a watch
31 May 2009
8 (Huit) femmes reminded me of Clue very much and the quirkiness and oddness of Clue can be seen in this film as well. A stylized film with the clothes and furnished backgrounds, it is reminiscent of Kammerspielfilms because everything happens in one building. While I found this film to be cute, I really did not like it as a musical. I did like the musical numbers separately, but I felt like they didn't fit seamlessly into the film. When I least expected a song, someone was singing and it was so jarring that I was taken aback. The songs all reflected the character singing it, and out of all the songs, I found the song sung by Madame Chanel (Richard) to be the most poignant. Despite the film's cute exterior, I felt that the film had something to say about the role of women in various different situations.

I was surprised to find out that Ozon wanted to remake Cukor's The Women but ended up making this film. I have no idea how successful Ozon's The Women would have been (the American remake flopped although I enjoyed it), but I thought that this film had many aspects that were similar to The Women.

It was fun to see an older Catherine Deneuve and to hear her sing! I do believe that all of the actresses in the film sang their own songs and I would be highly disappointed if they didn't. I was upset to hear that Deneuve's singing voice was dubbed in Les parapluies de Cherbourg so when I watched this film, I thought, "Aha! Finally we get to hear Deneuve sing." I would put this film under the "dark comedy" section because of the mystery aspect and some of the things that happen throughout the film. If you like it the first time, I highly recommend that you watch it again; you'll find so many subtleties and foreshadows that all make sense when you know the ending. I recommend it to people who enjoy cute mysteries with a serious undertone beneath its light and cheery exterior.

Film blog: http://sachlichkeit.net
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Absolutely outrageous!
14 April 2009
I didn't find it to be that great the first time I watched it, but the second time around, I caught a lot of the subtleties, which I appreciated, such as the sign about the lemonade and what Mr. Kockenlocker (William Demarest) says about a half a dozen of kids while complaining about daughters and children in general. I absolutely loved Emmy (Diana Lynn) and she was the voice of reason throughout the film despite being only 14 years old. I thought that Demarest's acting was great and the way he portrayed Mr. Kockenlocker made the character likable that I even started admiring Demarest. I can honestly say that Demarest steals the show in every scene he is in and that I've enjoyed it whenever Mr. Kockenlocker was in the scene. Also, isn't "Kockenlocker" a great name? *winkwink* The way Trudy is introduced was brilliant and Betty Hutton's exaggerated mouth movements had me in tears because it was hilarious. I didn't find Trudy (Hutton) to be a likable character and found her to be a bit exasperating at times. I guess it's very similar with The Palm Beach Story in that Trudy cares a lot about Norval (Bracken) thus she does what she does, but at times, I wanted to slap her in the face for being selfish.

What I noticed about Sturges's films is that I focus on every scene. I don't lose track of what is happening and I pay attention as if every scene/aspect is important. A lot of films have a sub-plot with the romance but with Sturges's film, it is all mixed up and there really isn't a sub-plot but a main story that is told through various events. For example, with His Girl Friday, I didn't really care much about the sub-plot but with Sturges's film, the audience focuses only on what is happening in front of them. There are no distractions and I think I like it! I wasn't too impressed by this film but was more shocked watching it. I couldn't help but wonder how in the world this film even got past the Hays Code. Watch it for yourself and wonder if this film should be considered scandalous for its times! It sure made me confused and I couldn't help but wonder what Sturges was thinking while making this film. The ending is so outrageous that I wonder if it was a tactic to distract the censors. I know that Sturges used some tactics to beat around the bush so that this film could be released, but I really don't understand how the script passed.

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Worth a watch if you are into Asta Nielsen
7 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I was really excited to see one of Asta Nielsen's first films, and at that, it was my first Danish silent! Was I disappointed? Not really. It was worth a watch, but I have to say that the film was nothing special. I'm not sure if I've actually watched a film created earlier than this one or around this time, so it is hard for me to put this film in perspective in relation to what was going on at the time in Denmark and in cinema. Maybe some cinematic techniques were new, but I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't any. There were many long shots (typical of older films) and I couldn't find anything that was innovative. On top of that, it was Urban Gad's first film, thus as an "amateur", I wouldn't/don't expect much.

The acting was incredibly realistic and the only time over-acting was seen was when Rudolf dies. Nielsen is known for her subtle acting, such as a look telling it all, and I can definitely see the beginnings of this in Afgrunden; when she does the sensual dance; that look on her face is more erotic than her gyrating hips. While on the topic of the "famous" sensual/erotic dance, what I noticed to be a bit odd was that the audience is on the right of the frame, yet it seems as if both the actors acknowledge the camera as if it was the audience and not the people who are not seen on the right.

I see this film as a tale of a simple woman who has her emotions unleashed, which leads her to her ruin. Although the film starts all happy with Knud and Magda, with the intertitle to fit them "Young hearts", everything seems all lovey-dovey and nice. But at the same time, the intertitle is like a foreshadow, implying (this is COMPLETELY my interpretation by the way so I'm not getting this from any scholarly material so take it with a grain of salt) that the relationship is like the one of young people: fleeting. The intertitle can mean that the scene is of two young people meeting and falling in love, but as the rest of the film shows, Magda's love for Knud pretty much ends. Magda cannot exactly be called a rational woman, but she was probably a normal woman of the times, but she is also easily excited, as the viewer can see with her reaction to the invitation to her fiancé's home. At the fiancé's home, I saw it as a way for the viewer to see how mismatched the couple was. Magda wants to read but her fiancé wants to go for a walk; Magda wants to go to the circus and Knud goes unwillingly; Magda is interested in the circus dance and Knud is a tad disapproving of it. It already sets up for what is to happen and Rudolf sweeps her off her feet when he comes in through her window. Knud is the complete opposite of Rudolf: he is steadfast and is a "moral" person. In the beginning of the film, Magda is seen only wearing corseted dresses, and although she is seen wearing corseted dresses later on as well, Magda's emotions are completely released when she does her sensual dance and her non-corseted dress reflects this. She is letting go of everything and in that very scene, she also unleashes her emotions when she lashes out at the other female performer. Perhaps this can mean that a woman's sensuality and emotions leads to a decline in character, a moral downfall, but while this is what the viewer may first think, it is also important to remember that Rudolf is a philanderer. I would be jealous and angry too if I saw my lover flirting with every other woman. In the end, Magda kills Rudolf and although this might add to the whole "SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A WOMAN IS NOT RIGHTEOUS!" argument, it was completely out of self-defense, and I hope that contemporary audience sided with Magda. She doesn't deserve to get arrested at all, but she is taken away by the police. Knud is uneasy by what has happened and walks in and out of the room and out of the building. I interpreted his action of walking out of the room as him realizing that he could never have Magda. In the last shot, he looks at Magda and tries to reach out to her, but she is in a trance-like state and does not acknowledge him and with glazed eyes, she is led away from the building by the police. This final scene reaffirms his severed ties with Magda as she does not even look at him and perhaps he realizes that their relationship is over since he only reaches out, but never directly approaches her.

So what is this film trying to say? Well, I don't know. Is it a moral story? Maybe. Is it a tragic love story? Maybe. I'm not sure about the "message" of the film, but all I can do is speculate about what the scenes mean. For now, I see it as a story of a woman who goes with her passions that leads to her "downfall" (financially and emotionally). I would rather prefer not to attach any moral judgment on Magda, because is it a sin to run away with a man? To be angry at him for being a flirt? I don't think so. I don't see Magda as a bad person and is more upset with her staying with Rudolf.

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The Lady Eve (1941)
Probably Sturges' best
7 April 2009
The Lady Eve is the first film I watched that Sturges directed, and can I say that I adore this film? Really. While watching it the first time around, I was a bit bored in the beginning, but it was the little things that kept me going and the second half of the film was great beyond words. In retrospect, I think the pace of the film in the first half and then the second half reflects what is going on. I HIGHLY recommend this film to anyone! Barbara Stanwyck is as lovable as she could be in this film and is intelligent and beautiful, and Henry Fonda plays the role of naïve Charles "Hopsie" Pike perfectly. I'm not going to give away much of the story and I'm not going to analyze this film because it's so enjoyable that I want people to watch it for at least that one reason. I am definitely in the boat with The Lady Eve fans.

It's the little things that make the film great and I'm going to just point out some of my favourite parts of this film. Starting with the credits, can you deny the cuteness of that? I've never seen an animation for credits in old films and I did read that it was because the real snake in the film was uncooperative thus Sturges settled for the cartoon. I thought it was a cute and whimsical touch to the film, especially at the end of the credits when the snake weaves through the O in Preston Sturges' name and then gets stuck. I wondered why the snake had a maraca on its tail, but maybe it is to reflect Charles studying at the Amazon? I have no idea. When Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) is using her mirror to spy on Charles, the way she talks, the way the whole scene is filmed, and how her monologue fits in with the scene is, for the lack of better words, perfect. The whole scene was incredibly amusing to watch and it was one of the moments in the beginning of the film that made me keep watching it. I can say that without a doubt, it is one of my favourite scenes in this film. It is scenes like these that make me love old films because the lines she says are great. If you get to watch this film, look forward to the section of the scene when she makes up a dialogue, which made me giggle because it worked with what the viewer was seeing. How can I ever forget that look on Henry Fonda's face when Barbara Stanwyck is on her chair, stroking his hair and face? Oh Barbara, if you were doing that to me, I would be all hot and bothered too! I have to say that I was on the verge of fanning myself because it sure was getting steamy between the two character. While watching this scene, I was completely falling for Jean/Barbara. The chemistry between the two characters and actors was perfect; it was overwhelming to just watch them together! The way Jean was toying with Charles and wrapping him under her finger, just like she was twirling/playing with his hair, was unbelievable, and when she is done with him, his response to the moment they had had me burst out laughing. I am surprised how these scenes were able to pass the Hays Code. The ending also shocked me, but then I understood why they were able to do what they did in the end. I'm sorry for the ambiguous sentences, but you must watch it! The lines about marriage made me chuckle and explained their final action.

And as a fan of classical music, I have to note the wonderful use of Suppé's Poet and Peasant Overture when Jean is telling her adventures to Charles in the train scene. You just HAVE to watch the film to see how great the train scene is when they are off to their honeymoon because the editing, sound, and the visuals work well together to fit the mood and feel of what is going on between Charles and Jean.

I will leave you with this (as if I didn't say so already), The Lady Eve is a film that is worth a watch whether you will like it or not. There are so many parts that are cute and the script is so well-written that even if you end up disliking the film, I'm sure that you will at least say, "Well, I did like that one incident when…" or something along those lines. Any film with the line "And I hope he's got a big, fat wife so I don't have to dance in the moonlight with him" is good in my books.

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Hilarious film that deserves a watch!
7 April 2009
Rather than posting a bit of the synopsis, although I might reference some scenes and such, I just want to say: ANYONE WHO ADORES COMEDIES, PARTICULARLY SCREWBALLS SHOULD WATCH THIS. I really loved it although I'm not sure if there was much chemistry between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Like most screwballs I've watched, this one also sets place in a newspaper publisher (The Morning Post), which already sets up the stage for people talking over each other and quick dialogue. Russell is Hildegaard (Hildy), the ex-wife of Grant, who is Walter Burns the editor of The Morning Post, and of course, it's obvious that Walter is going to try to get Hildy back. And like most screwballs, Hildy already has another man! While the story is quite predictable, it's the acting on Russell's end and sometimes Grant's that makes this film great. I knew what was going to happen, but the quick dialogue is what kept me watching. I could have cared less about the whole newspaper story, but I couldn't keep my eyes off of Russell. Grant had some great moments when he would make these weird groaning/moaning noises that were perfect for the scene. Ralph Bellamy plays Bruce, and of course, he is the guy Hildy is going to marry, but if you've watched some screwballs, you probably know what happens to Bruce in the end. There was a great line when Walter tells one of his assistants to find Bruce and when he describes Bruce, he says, "He looks like that fellow in the movies - Ralph Bellamy." I should be on the look out for more movie references in screwballs since I noticed one in Bringing Up Baby as well. It was nice to see Ralph Bellamy again since I saw him in The Awful Truth as well and he pretty much played the same character, which made me chuckle a bit. And how could I not mention Howard Hawks in this post, right? For those who don't know, Hawks is a well-known director by film buffs and has directed numerous famous films. Maybe you know him as the director of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (you know, the film with Marilyn Monroe singing "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend"!) but let me tell you, he has never disappointed me with any of his films. I loved how he used some subtleties like in a scene when Hildy, Bruce, and Walter are at a restaurant and with the things they ordered and their actions, it was as if it was foreshadowing the ending of this film. First it starts with Walter deciding what he'll get and Hildy simply saying that she'll get the same, and Bruce kind of goes with it as well. Then both Hildy and Walter take out cigarettes and when Hildy lights a match, Walter simply drags Hildy's match over to his cigarette and Hildy gives him a look of annoyance and then lights her own cigarette. I noticed that Bruce didn't smoke in the scene and then Walter orders coffee with rum and Hildy gets the same thing, but Bruce says that he doesn't want it. After watching the film, I realized that the scene (the one I just mentioned) was the film in a nutshell. At the beginning, it all appears to be that the three characters are on an equal plane, yet it is Walter who orders first in a forceful voice and when Hildy orders the same in a simple manner, it was as if ordering the roast beef sandwich was something they usually did and was nothing new to her. Then when they both start smoking and Walter doing the thing he does with the match, it's like bringing Walter and Hildy together and finally with the coffee, it is solidifying the bond between Walter and Hildy while Bruce is in the outskirts. Well, that's just my interpretations of things, but I thought that Hawks directed that scene and the rest of the film incredibly well. I highly suggest that you watch this film if you're up for a good laugh.

The DVD I had was by some company called D3K or something and the transfer was HORRIBLE so if you plan to buy the DVD, don't buy the one from them.

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Disappointing
7 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I am getting a bit skeptical of Danish silents, but I suppose I am being quick to judge since I've only watched two. I should look for early Carl Theodor Dreyer works and see if they are in a similar style as the ones I'm watching, but sadly Dreyer directed after the films I'm watching, so maybe his films won't be a good way to compare. Anyway, Balletdanserinden, I found out, is directed by a famous director during the Danish golden age in cinema, and despite all this, I was disappointed. This film felt so trivial and that it was a film that wasn't worth my time. That was a bit harsh and maybe I do take that back, but this film was something that one could POSSIBLY call cute (seeing Asta Nielsen in a tutu of sorts was adorable), maybe this film can be called a (melo)drama, and well, in the end I was like, "Well now! That's that?!" To me, the whole film was rather confusing. Camille falls in love with Jean and Jean supposedly loves only her yet he cheats on her with Mrs. Simon (who I assume is a very wealthy woman). Mr. Simon finds out about his cheating wife and is about to beat her with a whip when Mrs. Simon, I assume, says that she'll stop and all is forgiven. Alas, Mrs. Simon can't help her urges and Camille finds out that Jean is still cheating on her with Mrs. Simon, thus Camille, in a fit of jealousy, tells Mr. Simon about everything and when Mr. Simon decides to either kill Jean or Mrs. Simon (it's a bit unclear), Camille regrets telling Mr. Simon about the whole affair and finds Jean and Mrs. Simon, who are not-so surprisingly together, and warns them about Mr. Simon. Camille exchange clothes with Mrs. Simon so that when Mr. Simon sees Camille walk out of the house with Jean in Mrs. Simon's clothes, he'll think that he caught her in the act, but it's really another woman. Camille covers her face with a veil so that her identity is not discovered by Mr. Simon. Mrs. Simon walks out when her husband is still outside and when Mr. Simon sees his wife, he chases her and kills her with a gun. When Camille finds out about this, she becomes ill, but her friend, Paul (Valdemar Psilander) takes her away to his house and all is good since Camille gets along with his parents. The final scene confused me at first because the two male characters looked the same, but I figured it all out thanks to the BFI website. Camille is alone when she sees Jean. Jean is glad to see her and he kisses her hand when Paul sees them, but Camille all too easily leaves Jean for Paul and the film ends.

Nielsen's performance was below-par and I thought she over-acted in some scenes. I felt as if she was nothing special especially since the other actors were pretty naturalistic in their performance. The death scene with Mrs. Simon wasn't as bad as the one in Afgrunden and overall, nothing too spectacular in the acting department.

The final scene disappointed me the most. There wasn't even a moment when Camille thought for a second before she made a choice with which man she'll be with, but she just went from one guy to another.

I was happy that it shows Camille in a positive light since she got over her jealously and "for the sake of love" (I think that is what the intertitle said.), she tried to save Mrs. Simon and Jean and she stayed with the nicer guy.

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I prefer Lang's German films
7 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I adore Fritz Lang's work in Germany such as Metropolis, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse), and M, thus I was excited to watch one of his Hollywood films. I could definitely see why Lang is considered to be one of the biggest contributors of film noir because the story, lighting and editing were very much like one. I adore Barbara Stanwyck and was happy to see her as a femme fatale in this film, but I am just really unsure about how I feel about her character, the story, etc. What I am sure about is that I thought the cinematography, for the most part, was pretty good, but I would say that it isn't as great as M. The film set the mood of the film pretty well for the most part and the cinematography and acting went hand-in-hand. I sometimes didn't understand the point of some shots, such as the shots of seals and fish, and there were parts of the story that I didn't understand. Maybe it's because I am watching this film through modern day glasses, because I could not understand why Peggy (Marilyn Monroe) stayed with her boyfriend or why Mae (Barbara Stanwyck) would even want to be with Earl (Robert Ryan). So here is the gist of the film: Mae comes back from New York after leaving her hometown for years to find a rich man to marry. She ended up falling in love with a married man, who died and left Mae some money, but her lover's family took her to court and she ended up poor thus she returns home. Mae wants a man who makes her feel confident, and she seems like a woman who has her own thoughts and cares about herself. She marries Jerry (Paul Douglas) because she knows that she'll have security in her life, but she isn't happy with her plain life as a mother and housewife. Jerry's best friend is Earl and Earl is pretty much a misogynist due to suspecting his wife, who is in show business, of cheating on him. Earl has a temper, isn't nice to Mae at all and even insults her. Despite all this, Mae and Earl fall in love, which is what I don't get. I'm assuming that Mae likes adventure in her life and security is something she considers drab. In the end, she realizes that she can't be with Earl because he does not want to have Mae's child with them, thus she goes back to Jerry. I'm assuming that the film is saying not to trust women since even Peggy has a wandering eye for a bit, but in the end comes back to her boyfriend, Joe (Keith Andes). Joe is abusive to her, even getting to the point of strangling her, but she stays with him anyway. Mae also returns to her boring life and stays with her husband and child. There are so many mixed messages because Mae leaves a child and adoring husband because of her own wants, yet maybe her actions are excusable since she does tell Jerry that she is not the woman for him. But then both women in the film come back to their husband/fiancé, thus I wonder if the point of the story is that women are meant to be wives and never live the life they want. It was upsetting that Peggy decides to be with a man who is willing to beat her and that Mae returns to her husband. At the beginning of the movie, there are hints that she isn't a "moral" woman since she did have an affair with a married man, but she seemed like someone who could think on her own. When Earl does an imitation of a Chinese man, Mae seems to be genuinely repulsed by it and it seems like she doesn't mind being single. But then she ends up with Earl, probably for some fun in her life, but in the end, she returns. I guess it's nice that she returns since I did feel bad for her husband, but why did she have to marry him anyway? Probably to get the story going. So I guess I ended up ranting since I'm not too sure what to think about the film in general. I felt that the cinematography wasn't all that bad and the acting was pretty good by all characters, particularly Barbara Stanwyck, but I felt like something was missing. Maybe I was just irked about some parts of the film, but it had nothing to do with any technical aspects. Maybe I'm just nostalgic for the Thea von Harbou x Fritz Lang films, but something was just weak about this film. I should watch more of Lang's American films and then decide if I favour towards his earlier works or his later works, but that might not be a good idea either since I should accept that things change due to various reasons. Social reasons, artistic movements of that time, and political reasons could affect films and of course, Lang's tastes could change based on what is going on in his surroundings. But of course, I'm someone who likes to live in the past, thus most likely, I'll be partial to Lang's earlier films (boo on my part). Conclusion: I have mixed feelings about this work! Nonetheless, I believe that Lang remained a good director, but the script was a tad weak (and had some really bad lines). But then again… WHY DID HE HAVE TO DIRECT THIS FILM?! Maybe under contract? Maybe he wanted to? I don't know.

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Ball of Fire (1941)
Not exactly entertaining
7 April 2009
I expected this film to be really good and had high expectations since I adore films written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and films directed by Howard Hawks, but I was a tad bored with this film. Something about it felt really dry and even in scenes that I would have usually been amused by, such as the scene when the professors are trying to figure out the conga, I wasn't. I was almost amused, but in the end, I felt indifferent about it just like I felt with the rest of the film. The gangster sub-plot was not interesting to me at all, and on top of that, the main story between Sugarpuss (Stanwyck) and Professor Bertram Potts/"Pottsie" (Cooper) was… well… boring! I watch old comedies even if I know how it's going to end because they're fun and the dialogue is good, but I didn't think there was anything redeemable about Ball of Fire. I admit that I was extremely tired when I watched it (and still am), and when I was looking forward to a good laugh and didn't get any, I was disappointed. I thought Stanwyck was a great actress like always , but there was something just lacking. I felt that the film had potential when I read the intertitle that introduces the film, but in the film, there wasn't that extra "oomph" that made it funny or anything special. The dialogue was good at times, but I felt as if Cooper just didn't match up to Stanwyck's caliber, which is probably why I felt that something was missing.

Perhaps I just need to rewatch it when I'm not tired, but when I finished the film, my response was, "Oh… okay." and just drank a cup of tea without much thought about it.

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Not the best as a comedy, but great as a metafilm
3 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
As much as I liked The Lady Eve, I didn't have any expectations for my second Sturges' film. So what do I think about Sullivan's Travels? Nothing much. I feel very neutral about this film and don't see what's so special about it and I didn't find it to be that funny as well. It was also my first Veronica Lake film and as gorgeous as she is, her voice grated on my nerves in the beginning.

When I see this film as a comedy, I don't like it that much since I didn't find it to be particularly funny at times, but then again, I wouldn't really label it as a drama. Oh whatever! Phooey with labels! This film just stands on its own for me. I'm digressing, so what I really wanted to say was that I liked many aspects of this film, but in the end, I felt indifferent. I can say I enjoyed it at times and I definitely do not think it's a waste of time to watch it, thus I think people who haven't watched it should give it a go if they are curious. What I liked the most was its metafilmic aspects and how the director becomes somewhat like a method actor and becomes a hobo (and fails miserably). Through the story, I thought Sturges made some great commentary on the film industry. Starting with the beginning, Sullivan (McCrea) says he wants to make a serious film, but the producers say "with a little sex in it" and Sullivan says that it won't be the focus. Ironically, despite Veronica Lake's sort of small role, her sex appeal had much to do with the advertising of the film. Sturges knew that "sex" was needed for films to be successful because there is another line when Sullivan says, "There's always a girl in the picture. What's the matter, don't you go to the movies?" Also, Sullivan says that film should be used as a "sociological artistic medium with a little bit of sex in it", which reflects this film. The sex bit could also be a nod towards Lubitsch films and that Sullivan's producers want him to continue making trivial films. I also wondered if the line about that musical Sullivan made, Ants in Your Plants in 1939 and how one of his producers says that he should make another one with a different date is a reference to The Gold Diggers of ((insert year)) musicals. There is commentary on the poor, which I don't want to delve into, but what I found to be particularly interesting was the take of comedies during the time period the film was set. The film was set in contemporary times, so there is World War II going on and Sullivan says, "I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man!" I was amused that he said this because in Germany, they already made films like this during the Weimar Republic. Not only does Sullivan's Travels mention the escapist quality of comedies, but Sturges addresses that despite the trivial veneer of comedies, they also give us something when we have nothing: laughter.

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