Ernst Lubitsch – Ich möchte kein Mann sein AKA I Don’t Want to Be a Man (1918)

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A teenaged tomboy, tired of being bossed around by her strict guardian, impersonates a man so she can have more fun, but discovers that being the opposite sex isn’t as easy as she had hoped.

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I Don’t Want To Be A Man is like The Oyster Princess an early example of Ernst Lubitsch’s comic skills, and it also shares The Oyster Princess’ star, the irrepressible comedienne Ossi Oswalda, who in both films lends her name to the characters she plays. Here she plays a wild, rambunctious late teen barely under the control of her guardian/uncle and governess. (In reality it takes a while to work out that this middle-aged couple glaring disapprovingly out the window at Ossi’s mild antics outside are not her parents; they seemed rather coded as such.) Continue reading

Segundo de Chomón & Giovanni Pastrone – La guerra ed il sogno di Momi (1917)

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Little Momi’s father has left to be a soldier and his letters are eagerly anticipated by his family at home. In one of them he recounts the adventure of little highlander Berto, who saved his mother from an attack by the Austrians by running to warn the Italian troops. Momi is impressed by the tale and falls asleep on the sofa, hugging his favourite toys, agile Trick and violent Track; as soon as the child is sleeping Trick, Track and their troops unleash a battle with a vengeance, featuring heavy artillery, chemical weapons and air attacks. Finally, in the vehemence of their clash, Momi is involved as well and prodded with bayonets. Nevertheless… it is only a rose thorn and the battle was only a dream. Momi confidently keeps looking forward to the return of his father from the front, together with his mother and grandfather. This masterpiece by the wizard of “special effects” Segundo de Chomón is a war story, divided into a first live-action part and a second animated one in stop-motion, with a skill that still leaves one gaping even today. Visual inventions and sophisticated technical solutions follow each other: from the bellows sucking in the fumes of the chemical attack to the soda bottle used to extinguish fires in the city of Lilliput after the air incursion. Continue reading

Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid Trauberg – Novyy Vavilon AKA The New Babylon (1929)

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The Paris Commune was an epic phenomenon in the early history of the socialist movement. The Commune was located in the workers quarters within the centre of Paris. An important location was the emporium LA NOUVELLE BABYLONE, still existing at Metro Babylone. The main character in the film is Louise, a salesgirl in the shop. She is a communard. Her counterpart is a soldier that helps to wipe out the Commune. Thus, the enormous social and dialectic complications and contrasts between the workers on one side, and bourgeoisie and army on the other side, are projected on two characters. And of course they fall in love. Louise is a fierce heroine. Jean a naïve soldier, a farmer who is ordered and abused. In the end they meet not in bed but on the barricades. Jean is a conscript in the army that defeats the Commune fighters in the bloody week in June 1871. Thousands of the Communards were killed in action or shot at Père Lachaise cemetery. Continue reading

Marshall Neilan – The Little Princess (1917)

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Synopsis:Captain Richard Carewe, a wealthy British officer stationed in India, sends his daughter Sara to Miss Minchin’s school in London to be educated. Dubbed “the Little Princess,” because of her father’s vast wealth, Sara soon plunges to the position of scullery maid when news arrives of the captain’s death and the loss of her fortune. Mistreated by Miss Minchin, Sara comforts fellow slavey Becky with fairy stories. John Carrisford, an old friend of the captain’s, comes to live in the house next door. Unaware that Sara is there, Carrisford sympathizes with the lonely waifs and decides to provide them with a merry Christmas. Carrisford and his servant Ram Dass set a sumptuous feast for the girls in the attic, and Sara and Becky are about to dig in when Miss Minchin enters and punishes them. Carrisford interferes, and it develops that Crewe’s alleged worthless investment has become successful, and Sara is again an heiress. Carrisford takes charge of Sara and Becky and all ends happily. Continue reading

Robert Reinert – Nerven aka Nerves (1919)

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In Nerven, writer-director-producer Robert Reinert tried to capture the “nervous epidemic” caused by war and misery which “drives people mad”. This unique portrait of the life in 1919 Germany, filmed on location in Munich, describes the cases of different people from all levels of society: Factory owner Roloff who looses his mind in view of catastrophies and social disturbances, teacher John who is the hero of the masses and Marja who turns into a radical revolutionary. Using different fragments the Munich Film Museum could reconstruct this forgotten German classic which is a historic document and anticipates already elements of the Expressionist cinema of the 1920s. Continue reading

Giovanni Pastrone – Cabiria (1914)

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Standing out from all the stumbling efforts toward a new expression of cinema, Giovanni Pastrone’s story of the Second Punic War, Cabiria , demands special attention. Compared to the other colossal Italian spectacles of its time, it had an integrity and sense of purpose. From the beginning it was regarded as something special, and its premiere at the Teatro Vittorio Emmanuele, Turin, on 18 April 1914 was a great occasion. The film’s accompanying score by Ildebrando Pizzetti, performed by an orchestra of 80 and a choir of 70, added to the excitement. Viewed today, the film has lost little of its epic poetry to the zeitgeist, though the acting performances may seem dated. Continue reading

Carl Theodor Dreyer – Præsidenten AKA The President (1919)

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It perhaps comes as no surprise, given Carl Theodor Dreyer’s lifelong, idealized melancholy over his own unresolved parentage, that the scenario selected for his first film, The President would involve three generations of children conceived out of wedlock, and thematically crystallize on the legacy of their unreconciled paternity in the resolution of their own disparate lives. For Dreyer, this expurgation of such deep-seated trauma was not only manifested in the naïve idea of restoring the virtue and honor of a “fallen” woman (an archetypal surrogate for his own idealized, unwed, biological mother) through transcendence, but also in confronting the innate cruelty of the very institutions that socially (and inequitably) stigmatized such human transgressions through codified notions of morality and class division. It is within this framework that the film’s preface of the aging aristocrat, Franz Victor von Sendlinger (Elith Pio) offering a promissory relationship advice to his son Karl Victor (Halvard Hoff) on the folly of marrying outside (or more specifically, beneath) one’s social class while walking along the grounds of their forbiddingly isolated, dilapidated estate seems especially conducive to the figurative idea of empty, superficial, crumbling institutions and Dreyer’s own symbolic attempts to dismantle them. Continue reading