Tag Archives: silent

Häxan – Review

1 Feb

For this review, let’s get a little weird, and by a little weird I mean a lotta weird. I’ve recently had the odd experience of watching a movie called Häxan, a 1922 Swedish-Danish film made by Benjamin Christensen. I’m not even gonna try and think of things to say about this movie, and instead I’m just gonna write whatever jumps into my mind about it. So without further ado, let’s dive into some insanity.

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To call Häxan a documentary would be a hilarious mistake, even that’s if Christensen originally intended to make. At the beginning and throughout the films are paintings and historical tidbits about witchcraft in order to better explain the topic that is being explored. Everything in between that are fictionalized scenes of witches holding ceremonies in the woods, cooking up potions in their homes, and the church torturing and burning those who are accused of such atrocious deeds. There’s a very memorable depiction of the devil (played by Benjamin Christensen himself). While a lot of it is fictionalized, it’s important to remember that Christensen put in a lot of time for research, which means beyond all the extravagant costumes and effects is some truth.

For a movie that’s about 94 years old, a lot of what I saw really blew me away. There are certain silent movies that floor me when it comes to their special effects, and Häxan is certainly one of them. There’s one excellent scene in particular that shows witches flying over a city, which was done by filming a model of a city that was rotating and the superimposing the “witches” over what they already shot. There are also some costumes that succeeded at supremely giving me the willies. With all of these effects and costumes and outlandish sets made this the most expensive Scandinavian film to be made at the time.

There’s so much fun to have with Häxan with all of the costumes, history, and creativity that Benjamin Christensen put into it. It’s also pretty fun to know that when this movie was first released, it was banned in America for the scenes of torture and nudity. All of these scenes are so laughably tame by today’s standards, but it was clearly a very controversial movie back in 1922. Now, I can admit that Häxan certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I think the amount of people that would really like some of this tea is pretty limited. If you’re interested in silent film or film history in general, Häxan certainly is a trip down the rabbit hole.

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Modern Times – Review

28 Jul

Charlie Chaplin is a name that has become synonymous with silent comedy, and I would say comedy in general. From his beginnings at the Keystone Film Company, Chaplin has made audiences everywhere laugh, cry, and stare in bewilderment at the physical feats that he would do for his pictures. They weren’t just shallow comedies, either. Chaplin had a way of injecting searing social and political commentary in his films. One of his most famous films is his 1936 silent (?) comedy, Modern Times.

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Set in Depression-era California, Modern Times tells the story of the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin), who’s trying to survive in the industrialized world. In the beginning, he works as a factory worker who’s repetitive job becomes to much for him, and he has a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, he loses his job at the factory and meets a young Gamine (Paulette Goddard). Together, they travel the city and look for work in all the right places, but can’t seem to make any money or keep their jobs due to the world around them.

Chaplin considered this one of his most important projects, to the point where he became obsessed with making it perfect. In fact, he started sleeping at the studio and only left work with the sound recorders when Paulette Goddard begged him to. After traveling the world to promote City Lights and meeting with important friends in many different countries, Chaplin saws firsthand the conditions of the modern world and how machines seemed to be taking over.

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Visually, this movie is a masterpiece, and not just in how the aesthetic sense, but also the excellent sight gags. The outstanding set pieces all look great and larger than life. In the most famous scene of the movie, and one of the most famous images to ever come from film, shows Chaplin getting caught in giant cogs, making him literally part of the machine. Another great scene shows the Tramp trying to do some good and give a flag back to a truck driver, but is mistaken for being the leader of a protest. The exteriors all look appropriately, well, depressing.

The thing is, though, is that this is not a completely silent picture, unlike Charlie’s earlier work. Much of the sound that is heard comes from phonographs and the sound of the factory boss hollering through a television. This is to show how technology is even changing Hollywood, with the introduction of sound in its modern devices, and also how Chaplin viewed this introduction to sound as not being the correct way to go. In what should be seen as one of the most important scenes in film history, the Tramp actually gets his own time to be heard as he sings a gibberish song in a cafe and pantomimes what the story of the song is.

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Modern Times is an important statement on the conditions of the modern world, trying to keep up with it all, and the increasingly difficult life of workers. This is also a film that has stood the test of time with its comedy that never gets old and themes that still resonate all these years later. In my opinion, Modern Times is a must see and must laugh film that everyone should experience at least once in their life. Charlie Chaplin surely was something special.

The Artist – Review

8 Apr

In the beginning of cinema, film makers and the studios that backed them had the distinct challenge of telling a story without the use of dialogue, and relied on the talent of the actors and the use of montage. This was a magical time for movies that serves as the genesis for the films we know and love today. There are people who are turned off by the idea of silent films, and that’s the reason why I feel that Michel Hazanavicius’ Academy Award winning feature The Artist was a bold move that reflects his love of film and successfully captures an important and unique time in film history.

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George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the king of the silver screen. At the premier of his latest picture, a random fan, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), bumps into him leading to a front page headline. This chance encounter changes Peppy’s life as she begins rising through the Hollywood ranks, and getting bigger and better parts. Soon, the studio that Valentin works decides to start producing only “talkies” leaving Valentin in the dust. As Peppy’s career takes off, Valentin’s plummets to the lowest depths that the actor has ever experienced.

The Artist is a truly remarkable film that just goes to show that silent film still has the same power that it had 80 to 100 years ago. Like I said, this is a very magical time in the history of film, and Hazanavicius has recreated the feeling of the time and the mood of classic Hollywood films. This is a comedy, a drama, and a romance that isn’t just an homage to a simpler time, but also a great stand alone piece that is highly artistic, but never condescending. People with no prior knowledge to the time period will still have a great time, although if you’re a fan of these types of films you will probably better appreciate everything the film has to offer.

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Being a silent actor is not an easy thing to do because you have to rely on how well you can physically convey something. In this respect, every single actor in this movie knocks it out of the park. Dujardin deserves his Academy Award for Best Actor. His character is pompous, yet likable and even though he doesn’t talk, I understand his character very well and got very emotionally attached. I can say the exact same thing about Bejo’s character. While Dujardin’s character communicates to the audience with his over the top body movements, Bejo is very good with her face. What I mean by that is that she has a very broad smile and eyes that can switch the tone to sadness. Let me reiterate, this type of acting is very difficult and these two actors are absolutely superb. Oh, I almost forgot. Keep your eye on the puppy in this movie. Please.

The production design is beautiful. Shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the audience is from the very beginning thrown through time. This certainly is the farthest thing from IMAX. The title screen also completely mimics the titles of the time. I was smiling from ear to ear before the narrative even started. The sets are elegant and occasionally over the top. One great scene in particular shows a stair case from an angle that you don’t usually see in movies. Finally, what would a silent film be without its soundtrack? The soundtrack is more than appropriate. It’s almost eerie how well the music sounds in relation to the film. I loved it.

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The Artist is a magical film. I know, I know. That sounds completely corny, but as a person who has dedicated most of his life to film, it’s really a wonder to watch. In a culture that has become jaded by dialogue driven movies, it was so refreshing to see a silent film sweep all of the major awards, but also deserve every award it got. From the acting to the production design, this is a perfect movie. It’s easy to find faults in movies, but The Artist is absolutely flawless.