Fitting that an examination of witchcraft takes on qualities of both fiction and non-fiction. Haxan begins as a mere pictorial representation of its subtitle and then segues into sequences that dramatize its macabre subject, always with startling images and a slippery tone, at once playfully tongue-in cheek and creepily startling.
The movie presents the use and origins of witchcraft as mostly made-up nonsense used by religious organizations to validate their own existence, a fascinating self-fulfilling prophecy in a sense —- by fabricating evil you create evil. The images presented here have not only been found in myth and culture for thousands of years but they’ve been referenced in cinema since Haxan was released. The movie is looking backward through the ages and forward into the future at the same time, indebted to the fascinating history that helps make it so compulsively watchable while bringing a chillingly playful liveliness to that history so that it takes on a life of its own (and has been reflected in countless movies since).
Watching Dziga Vertov’s masterpiece, the thought that kept running through my head over and over again is “you don’t see this anymore.” I hate to be cliche and say “they don’t make them like the used to,” but, well, they don’t! Neither documentary nor narrative, The Man With A Movie Camera presents a natural world in an experimental way —- but not experimental in a surrealist way, far from it. This is an inventive, playful, creative movie that finds meaning in the mundane and power in the work and play of the common man.
It reminded me of one of my favorite novels, Nicholson Bakers’ The Mezzanine, where Baker writes joyfully detailed descriptions of activities like sweeping or doing inane office work. The camerawork is so fresh and playful you can feel the enthusiasm that went into each set-up, even though most of what gets shot is deceptively simple. Vertov invents a futuristic city using realistic ones, depending on clever editing (thanks to his wife), extreme close-ups and other inventive shots to take Soviet cities and cast them in mystery.
The whole time, I kept thinking that Antonioni must have been a fan.This seems right up his alley.
Safety Last: (2 out of 100). The image above is how Harold Lloyd pulled off that incredible clock stunt. (Source).
This does not disappoint, to say the least.
What impresses me most is how tight it is —- both as a story and thematically. From the first shot we get faked out and that playful sense of cinematic trickery continues throughout the film, both with the characters and the audience. The film telegraphs danger, death, prison, execution in its opening moment only to reverse it almost instantly —- the prison bars are actually part of an iron fence in front of the train station, the guards are actually train conductors, the noose is actually part of the rail system, death, the end, is actually the beginning, both of the film and the adventure “the Boy” is about to go on.
That sense of trickery continues throughout and seems to be key to Lloyd’s aesthetic. Even clothes can’t be trusted. There are multiple examples of Lloyd using coats to hide or to confuse patrons (when he hides with his roommate in their coats is a prime example, and also hysterical). As incredible as the last sequence was, I was prepared for it —- the stuff in Lloyd’s textile shop was what I enjoyed the most, especially the angry, hungry mob of women demanding samples and sizes. When Lloyd escapes from two of them who are pulling his coat in an instant, I guffawed. When he swashbuckles with a demanding customer who keeps poking him while he’s dealing with another one, I got tears in my eyes.
But that last sequence is the best because the entire movie Lloyd is fooling others; his girl back home, Stubbs his manager, the general manager, the cops —- and then finally the joke is on him. He’s promised a spectacle in the form of his construction worker buddy who can scale tall buildings, but now Lloyd has to deliver. The time for fooling is over (or, it’s just beginning).
The story is tight for a silent film, too —- less episodic than some of Chaplin’s or Keaton’s features. Everything happens for a reason, everything comes together in the end, it’s not just a series of stunts (although there ARE a series of stunts). The characters we meet, (like, say the cop, for example) all come back in surprising ways that add to the story. Everyone who gets tricked comes back at the end looking for what they were promised (the girl: Lloyd, the Cop: his buddy, the manager: his crowd, the crowd: their high-rise climbing spectacle).
The last sequence is breath taking, even though I know it’s not real (I’ve seen a documentary on the stunts) it’s still stunning how real it seems, and that’s all part of the trickery and the mastery that is this movie. It’s a celebration of the imagination and magic of cinema itself and a real examination of just what cinema is capable of.
Inspired by a friend, I’m picking 100 movies to watch in 2014, movies I “shoulda seen” by now. I’m trying to choose at least two from each year possible to get a nice spread, but the emphasis will be on classics (old and modern alike) that I’m long overdue on. This is different than my movie-a-day project I did in 2011 in that I’m only doing 100 (we’re having a baby next year, cut me some slack) and that I’m choosing them ahead of time (although I can watch them out of order). Would love some suggestions as I fillâ¦
When I started this blog in 2011, my goal was to watch a movie a day for that year. I did it. It was fun. Then I got more than a little sick of movies.
But it’s important to me to keep up with my passions, so this year I’m doing something similar, if a little less ambitious.
I plan to watch 100 movies, mostly classics or movies I “shoulda seen” by now. Click the link to check out the list, and check back throughout the year to see me review these.