Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #41


End Of The Week Shorts #41

Today's shorts: Metropolis (1927), The Blue Angel (1930), Umberto D. (1952), Living In A Reversed World (1958), Visual Training (1969), All About My Mother (1999), The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), Shutter Island (2010)

Upon simple analysis, this seems to be a simple film about industrialisation. More complex than this, Metropolis explores industrialisation through a corrupt patriarchal figure who sits atop the Tower of Babel and his son who searches to recover the lost matriarch - the archetypal mother of the land who will instill socialism into society (which resonates with political thinking in late 20s Germany). Threatening socialism, however, is the false female archetype, Hel (the Norse giant and ruler of the underworld who understands the dead for she is half-disfigured). This corrupt 'mother' is a poisoned, contrived heart to a wandering and lost hand (the capitalist king) who must be torn out and replaced by the pure motherly figure, Maria (clear biblical reference), and a more mindful king, Freder (Frederick meaning 'peaceful ruler'). 
As iconic as it is a perfect embodiment of traditional storytelling, Metropolis is a silent film masterpiece that everyone needs to see.

The Blue Angel is one of the first talking pictures to come out of Germany and also one of the last great films from the Weimar period (an era of huge development after WWI that came before Hitler's definitive rise to power in 1933). This epoch is Germany's cinematic Golden Era which saw incredible experimentation in the avant-garde and epic feats achieved in genre cinema. 
The Blue Angel as a product of these times deals, as many of the Expressionist films do, with naivety and emasculation - which can be thought of as a reaction to the first World War and an interaction with the significant chip it left on Germany's shoulder. This is then a deeply sad film that, despite hints of comedy and sexual liberation, really dwells upon themes of repression and naivety, and then regret and remorse before exploding with violence and futility. This itself says a lot about 1930s Germany, and so history bolsters the powerful melancholic tragicomedy that this is, which has left me utterly stunned.

How do you hold your head up when everyone is trying to strip you of your dignity? This is the question that Umberto D. proposes with utmost simplicity and an astounding amount of poignancy. 
Though Bicycler Thieves overshadows Umberto D. in my view for the fact that I've seen it so many times and can even see many of its intricacies mapped directly onto this narrative, this is a flawless picture. With the direction in particular embracing the 'rules' of Italian neorealism through long-takes, character-motivated movement and, when is appropriate, as wide a mise en scène as possible, this constantly exudes a very specific sense of time and place - this is a post-war Italian film - and such is this film's greatest strength; it seemingly knows that it is a historical document that, though it wouldn't be popular in Italy upon release, is an essential voicing of a devastating time in history. Undeniably powerful and significant, Umberto D. is a must-see.

Humorous and quite fascinating, though, not as a cinematic achievement. The content and form of this film all fall subservient to explaining strange effects concerning perception, and so explore what happens when you wear glasses that make you view the world upside side, or with left as right. Whilst you could question what this all means for the human perception of reality, the credit for the construction of these questions must go to science, not this film. Ultimately, this is then appropriately inventive, not much more, and a short film that is worth the 10 minutes:

Employing a powerful use of zooms and jump cuts that build a violent, cyclical rhythm, Visual Training seems to be a short film about a Freudian disaster; the ego distorts the world and the id feasts upon it. 
With eyes that bleed as a symbol of the self, we see our main character deteriorate from the inside out, his desire destroying him. With body language as a signifier of the ego, we see our main character disengage from the world and forfeit its sensations. With action as a force of the id, we see our main character sacrifice morality and consume all that he cannot process. The figure of this film is then the archetypal zombie: a brain dead consumer, who, in this specific tale, feeds on sexuality and the bodies of women. The question this poses is quite direct: Are we, an audience that consumes cinema, this man?

Truly one of the most absurd melodramas I've ever seen, I wasn't sure whether to scoff, laugh or just scratch my head throughout the entirety of All About My Mother. 
In essence, this is a re-imagining of All About Eve with the theme of facade looked at in a more positive light, and also with a lot more transvestites. The end result is somewhat pleasant, but, equally so, absurd - and in a manner that refuses to accept much of its own absurdity. I can't tell whether or not this is a virtue, but I do know that this is an ok movie. I can't say I cared for the characters or story, and I think there are a plethora of questions left unexplored, but this is well constructed and, to say the least, quite original.

An ok picture. The writing, direction and acting of The 40 Year Old Virgin all come together to form some strong comedic sequences splattered with some ridiculous lines. And such is this film's strongest aspect; it uses absurdity with the assumption that the truth is pretty obvious, though hard to access, and so builds a story around genuine courage. The greater narrative holds no profound revelation, but this subtext fuels the characterisation and the comedy quite expressively. 
The downfalls of this film concern the fact that it gets less funny each time you watch it, and that we're constantly made to feel that someone is trying to make us laugh. This cheapens the absurdity quite a bit. But, this nonetheless remains a solid comedy.

I've always thought this was a good movie, but rewatching this yet again, I have been struck tremendously. Yes, Taxi Driver is a masterpiece, yes, Goodfelllas is basically a perfect movie, yes, Scorsese has a plethora of classics under his belt. Nonetheless, in my view, Shutter Island is his magnum opus. 
Embodying the surreal-impressionist-expressionist spirit of post-war cinema - that is, the cinema of film noir, Welles, Buñel and more - Scorseses constructs something more than a film: a psychologicallying transcendent document of cinematic art. There are so many more words I can say, but I will save them for another time. Suffice to say, the more I think about this film, the more sure I am in suggesting that it is Scorsese's best.

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