Schneider Project I

 

  • Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
    • Ah, who doesn’t love an allegorical film about the human struggle between good and evil? Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans ranks “first” in many things. For one, it’s the first American movie the director, German F.W. Murnau, had directed. It was the first and only film to be awarded ‘Best Picture’ by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And it’s even the first feature to have a recorded soundtrack. So in a way, Sunrise is a small stepping stone for the revolutionary transition from silent to sound. The story centers on a couple living in the country (George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor) whose lives are changed by a visiting Woman from the City (Margaret Livingston). The husband is seduced by the loose, wild-spirited Woman, who tells him the only way they can be together is if he kills his young and innocent wife. The husband tortures himself over the idea, and nearly goes through with it. This situation only takes up half of the film. The rest is basically a 1920s date movie, with the couple reconciling amidst the fantastical city backdrop. And you know what? I thought it was very charming. After the darker dramatic stuff had passed, I found myself really liking the couple. Their adorable naivety of the city life just felt so sweet and natural. The story is obviously dealing with the idea of temptation, with the notion of the stereotypical amorality of city life corrupting the human soul and people realizing the beauty of what they already have. Then again, the city landscape isn’t entirely demonized. It eventually serves as a fun, romantic backdrop for the characters. All in all, I really love this movie. If you ever get the rare opportunity to see it, do so.
  • Final Verdict: Things go from sour to sweet when symbolic murder plot becomes a date flick. 

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  • The General (Clyde Buckman, 1926)
    • Set at the start of the Civil War, Buster Keaton stars as Johnnie Gray, a railroad engineer who enlists at the request of his love, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). Or at least, he tries to. He’s rejected on the spot, and Annabelle refuses to be with him unless he’s in uniform. Fast forward to one year later, and a group of Union spies hijack the Gray’s train- The General- and kidnap his precious Annabelle. So it’s up to the straight-faced clutz, Johhnie, to save the day. Once again, Buster Keaton shines. He is the brightest spot in this movie. Not to say the rest of it isn’t bad. It’s just something I’ve seen before. At its core, the story has a lot of similarities to that of another one of Keaton’s films, Sherlock Jr. He plays a dweebish character who tries to tries to impress the woman he loves but gets overshadowed or falls short of expectations, and then gets roped up in a series of shenanigans in the effort to prove himself. The only real difference is the time period. It was interesting to see which path the film took in order to reach it’s inevitable happy ending, but in terms of the narrative, it isn’t something I’ll remember after a week or two. The only thing that’ll really stick with me is Keaton’s performance. His comedic choreography, his timing, and his level of physicality is always entertaining as it is fascinating.
    • Final Verdict: Keaton’s cool, and….Keaton’s cool. 

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  • The Unknown (Tod Browning, 1927)
    • With this and The Phantom of the Opera, it’s clear to me that actor/director Lon Chaney liked to delve into darker subject matter. First he plays a grotesquely deformed manipulator, and in The Unknown he plays a supposedly deformed manipulator. Kind of funny how that happened. Chaney plays Alonzo, a serial criminal posing as an armless circus performer as a means to hide from the authorities. He falls hard for the ringmaster’s daughter, Nanon (Joan Crawford), who has an extreme phobia of men’s hands. Accompanied by his only friend Cojo (John George), a midget who knows his secret, Alonzo goes to extremes to get what he wants. As I was watching this film I kept thinking to myself, “Eh, this is pretty decent. Nothing great, but decent.” But afterwards, when I really thought about it, this is a really sinister movie. The film has disturbing ideas, mostly centered around the extent to which Chaney’s character is willing to go to get what he wants. Browning suggests the physical horror and shows the psychological horror, which I found very fascinating. Chaney once again does well at playing a creepy guy. Joan Crawford- who I hadn’t realized was Joan Crawford- does a decent job as well. There’s not a lot of build up to overall situation. It feels like the film opens in the middle, with Chaney’s character already assimilate into the circus scene. This is definitely a film that didn’t impress me upon initial viewing, though it did get better the longer it lingered in my mind.
    • Final Verdict: Meh—> Good

 

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  • The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927)
    • Sound! Actual sound! Oh, how long I’ve waited for this movie! Don’t get me wrong, getting through this series so far has given me a greater appreciation for silent cinema and the significance of physical performance. But after having to listen to nothing but orchestra, it’s refreshing to actually hear a human voice. And it’s cool to see the movie every professor, scholar and historian has gone on and on about since its release- the introduction of sound in cinema. The Jazz Singer stars Al Josten as Jakie, the son of a Jewish cantor who goes against his father’s traditional wishes in favor of being a jazz entertainer. Time passes and Jakie becomes a successful menstral showman. When his father falls ill, he’s compelled to return to his roots and confront his past. This film is primarily known for two things- sound and blackface. It’s an odd combo, I know. But Al Josten does perform in blackface, a style of makeup worn during a wildly racist form of entertainment called menstral shows. They were quite popular in the mid-to-late 19th century and were still pretty common in the 1920s. The idea alone is pretty uncomfortable, but when you see it in the movie, you’d swear it you were watching a horror movie. Besides that, I’ll admit, I kind of liked this movie. The story is one you’ve seen plenty of times- the child who goes against tradition to follow their dreams. And because you’ve seen it so many times, it’s easy to see where it’s going. But to be fair, I think this is one of originators of it. The drama is rich, and it managed to keep my interest. Recorded sound is reserved for singing scenes and a few lines of dialogue. The rest remains silent. I wish I could see the look on audiences faces when they heard the film for the first time. Must have been mind-blowing. Overall, it was nice to see a slice of history. I don’t plan on seeing it ever again, but it was nice to see- and hear- what everyone has been talking about.
    • Final Verdict: One and done, but in a good way. 

 

 

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