Thoughts On: January 2018

31/01/2018

12 Silent Men - Purity In Cinema

Quick Thoughts: 12 Silent Men (2016)

A new look at a classic movie.


12 Silent Men is a brilliant short film that extracts and cuts together all of the moments of silence in the classic, highly verbose film, 12 Angry Men. This is quite clearly, and as the filmmakers suggest, supposed to ask a question concerning pure cinema. This is an old idea that was a response to the coming of sound films, one that suggested that sound ruined the cinematic nature of films, reducing them to stage plays. It was figures such as Hitchcock who would focus on retaining the spirit of silent cinema in his sound films who really lauded this idea. Nonetheless, talkative talking pictures have always remained and have proven themselves, certainly in my view, many times over. From His Girl Friday to Whose Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? to Before Sunrise we see a history of chatty cinema stand up for itself as, maybe not pure cinema, but a cinema nonetheless. 12 Angry Men is certainly a masterpiece in this genre. The most rewarding element of this short that disregards its chatty nature is not that it makes this a pure film, but that it highlights what is already pure within it, which proves that, as dialogue heavy as a film gets, silence is still incredibly relevant.

Before I leave you with the short, I can't say what this would appear to be if you haven't actually seen 12 Angry Men. It does seem, however, that if you've seen the original film beforehand that this all makes perfect sense. The dialogue and its role as characterisation in 12 Angry Men then remain pertinent despite that fact that they're not present here. So, as suggested, this isn't really about pure cinema alone, instead, it emphasises pure cinema in a chatty film, giving 12 Angry Men a new face and leaving you with a new appreciation of it.









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Tales From Earthsea - The Archetypal & The Cliched

Thoughts On: Tales From Earthsea (ゲド戦記, 2006)


A wizard and a prince journey to find the force of great imbalance in their land.


Tales From Earthsea is quite clearly Studio Ghibli's most contentious film. Looking at this film with both my critic and spectator hat on, I feel this contention pulling me in two directions. In such, the content of the film is quite evocative, and upon analysis (which I believe film critics overlook) it holds up incredibly. However, and this is what the critics would pick up on, the style and form of this is lesser than that of other Ghibli pictures. With the production of Tales From Earthsea having a little story of its own, it seems that, to some degree, knowing that Miyazaki's son tried to follow his father's footsteps leaves you a little biased and ready to see that archetypal story of failure play through. This is not to say that it is incorrect that Gorō Miyazaki fails to prove that he is as good of a director as his father, but, I think it is fair to assume that people also jump on this bandwagon quite readily.

Because of this contention, because I see a lot of where this film goes wrong, I'm reluctant to do a deep analysis. So, whilst I may return to this film another day to map out its intricacies, today we should discuss a very difficult topic to manage as a storyteller: the archetypal and the cliched.

As most will know, archetypes are recurrent things or people that pop up in a vast plethora of stories across all of time and from most cultures. One example of an archetypal figure is a dragon. No matter where you go in the world or in time you should be able to show someone a picture of a dragon of some kind and be able to communicate with them. Such a phenomena is profoundly intriguing if you sit and think about it; you could travel far back to 4000 B.C, to Ancient Mesopotamia, and, though you do not speak the same language, nor live in anything near the same society as the people back there, you would still have a complex tool and concept that would unite you with those people in the dragon. (I am not suggesting that it would be a particularly good idea to time travel to Ancient Mesopotamia with a picture of a dragon though - you might find yourself in some trouble).

Whilst archetypes are one of the most profound and rich elements of storytelling, they are very closely linked to cliches. A cliche is, in essence, a weak archetype. Instead of pulling complex symbols from the collective, ancient wisdom of humanity with an archetype, you can just slap down something you've seen before and expect it to work as is. The cliche is an attempt towards honing the archetype, but it is often a failed attempt, not necessarily because a storyteller doesn't understand the archetype, but because they think they do. That is to say that great stories can emerge from unconsciousness - just like archetypes, presumable, originally would have. However, though we can start to become conscious of tropes of storytelling, conventions and archetypes, it is so easy to think you get it all and try to show off that fact. Because I both write scripts and analytical posts about films, this is what I always fear I may do: wrongly assume I understand story and archetypes.

I think this is quite a common phenomena among storytellers; we all know a plethora of stories, books, plays, films, poems, etc. However, we don't just want to copy them or be a hack; we don't want to assume we fully understand and can better or equal great stories. Here, then, lies this conflict between consciously utilising archetypes and falling flat on your face with nasty cliches.

In my opinion, a film such as King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword appears much like Tales From Earthsea. Both of these films consciously use archetypes. However, I believe that, whilst people talk down upon King Arthur as cliched, muddled and stupid, it is a brilliant example of how to consciously manipulate archetypes and integrate them into a story. Tales From Earthsea, however, fails to, not necessarily construct or manipulate archetypes, but to bring them to life and integrate them into its narrative.

The archetypes of Tales From Earthsea are obvious: deceitful sons, kings, princes, princesses, wizards, dragons, shadows, demons. These archetypes are all brilliantly edited into a chronology of narrative - one that resembles other Ghibli films such as Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind. However, these archetypes have no life in them. And this is most clear with the female characters because of how focused Ghibli usually are in constructed them. In Tales Of Earthsea, however, they are not set up well at all and, though they are archetypal, are like machines and devices of a narrative. This is also true with the male characters, but, because we're dealing with Ghibli, the poor female characters stick out like a sore thumb. Most telling, however, is actually the design of the characters:


I see very little light and life in this character's eyes (I have forgotten her name, forgive me, but she is quite forgettable). In contrast, take a moment to look at Kiki:


There is something different about these two images, no? This something has much to do with the fact that we may like the narrative surrounding Kiki more. However, this also has much to do with photogénie. We have discussed this in the Ghibli series before, but this is the quality of an image that morally enhances its subjects. We feel photogénie when looking at Kiki. I don't think I can accurately say why, but I know that there is something unique and uplifting about her; we see, as the metaphor goes, her soul through her eyes. In contrast to this, the first character is a little drab, anonymous and rigid. And this is what plagues the entirety of the film around her - I could reference a plethora of characters from our protagonist down to two village women who play a minor role, but I won't exhaust you. In short, though both Kiki and Therru are archetypes, a witch and a princess, their presentation and characterisation yield different results. Why?

Some of this is a little too subjective and subconscious for me to analyse - the source of photogénie for instance - however, the fundamental problem seems to be the fact that Hayao Miyazaki doesn't make it obvious that he's playing with archetypes whereas Gorō does. Gorō then uses dialogue, dreams and plot beats in a highly emphatic way that brings attention to subtext and the fact he's telling us a story with greater intentions. I do not fully subscribe to the idea that subtext must be buried deep within a film, but, it seems clear that you should not exhaust your own subtext by making it so obvious. Gorō does this very often with clunky exposition and unreserved visual language, and though there is much of this film that we could expand upon, much of it is plain on the page. For example, we are constantly told of death giving life meaning being one of the major philosophical quandaries of the film. But, this unmasking of an archetypal story trope reduces it to a cliche because there is much more to the film than what the exposition tells us - which ultimately discourages the audience from caring about subtext because we sense a masturbatory arrogance about the film.

'Masturbatory arrogance' may be a little to harsh when describing what doesn't work so well in Gorō's film. However, with his inability to transcend the cliche, Gorō shows that he is smart, but not wise. A wise storyteller knows where the line between archetype and cliche sits.

To bring things towards a close, I have to say that I think Tales From Earthsea is a good film that I wish could have had more care and attention given to it. Gorō adopts a directorial style that is a little more dynamic, contemporary and fluid than that of his father's, but ultimately constructs a style that is not far enough removed from Hayao Miyazaki's to be viewed beyond his shadow. What's more, Gorō tries to bring something significant and profound to the table, and partially achieves this, but does so in a manner too cliched and immature. And, ultimately, all that Hayao Miyazaki does better than his son matters far more than the little that Gorō does well.

With that said, I'll end by asking what your thoughts are on everything we've covered today? Do you think Tales From Earthsea deserves a deeper look? If so tell me why below?

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29/01/2018

Secrets Of A Soul - The Psychoanalytic Film

Thoughts On: Secrets Of A Soul (Geheimnisse einer Seele, 1926)

A husband is tormented by his subconscious when a neighbour is killed.


Secrets of a Soul is an awe-inspiring silent film from G.W Pabst. Pabst, an Austrian filmmaker who worked mostly in Germany, is best known for his silent films centred on women: Diary Of A Lost Girl, Joyless Street and Pandora's Box. Through these films and more he worked with, and became historically bound to, the likes of Greta Garbo, Louise Brooks, Asta Nielson and Leni Riefenstahl - some of the biggest names of the silent and early sound era. What's more, Pabst's films are often considered to fit among the films of the New Objectivity movement. This movement was a reactionary one, one that emerged from Germany's golden age with a plethora of other movements. Opposing the manipulation and contrivance of Expressionism, New Objectivity films attempt to be spatially, emotionally, psychologically and socially realistic. A famous example of such a film would be People On Sunday, which, as the title suggests, follows three people through an anonymous Sunday.

Secrets of a Soul is quite different from Pabst's most popular films as this is centred on a man and is hard to fully identity as a New Objectivity film. This is because Pabst employs impressionist camera movement throughout this film, usually with a moving POV that emphasises a character's joy or fear, and also steps outside of a classical cinematic space to deliver flashbacks of scenes we have already seen, but played out as if on a stage in a theatre (Pabst started working in theatre, so his inspiration here is clear). Whilst this manipulation and destruction of the cinematic space nullifies some of the realist elements of this film, this is most clearly done with the masterful elements of surrealism.

Because surrealism was an established movement with a manifesto constructed by its founder, André Breton, there is always a debate around what counts as a true surrealist film. The first 'true surrealist films' then form a short list comprised of the likes of The Seashell and The Clergyman, An Andalusian Dog, Blood of a Poet and The Age of Gold. Secrets of a Soul pre-dates all of these films, but not the founding of the surrealist movement. So, whilst this may not be a true surrealist film, instead one that incorporates elements of surrealism into itself, this can be thought as quite akin to the movement. Watching the dream sequences alone, which are, in some ways, more impressive than the likes of Blood of a Poet and The Age of Gold, this becomes very clear.

To frame this film objectively, however, it is probably best to not call this surrealist, rather, a psychoanalytic film. Whilst the surrealists were also inspired by Freud, whose work would still be quite new in the 20s as it gained momentum in the 1890s whilst Freud was still writing foundational works into the 1910s and 20s, the surrealists were also consciously an avant-garde movement who operated outside of mainstream cinema. Pabst's Secrets of a Soul is inspired by Freud, and is certainly experimental to a degree, but isn't completely avant-garde. This is because of the realism that encapsulates the film: whilst we get surreal dream sequences, it could be argued that they are also just a realist projection of psychology.

With that said, though there is a distinction that could be made between this as a surrealist or psychoanalytical film, this game of semantics is arguably trivial. I bring it up, however, because I believe this film is best discussed in regards to something such as Hitchcock's Spellbound as opposed to An Andalusian Dog. This is because Secrets of a Soul bears some of the most incredible dream sequences ever put to film.

I find that psychoanalytical films like Spellbound, A Clockwork Orange and Anti-Christ use the dream and Freudian theory in a way that bolsters their surrealism and allows for a deep exploration of character. In such, we do not just see strange dream-like happenings for the sake of it - at least, that is the sense given. The dreams drive deep into character psychology and their recognition of this reflects the Freudian philosophy of directly expressing complex, ambiguous truths. These films, like Secrets of a Soul, are bogged down, however, by a 'Psycho resolution'.

As we all know, Psycho ends with a rather unnecessary scene in which the whole movie is explained by a doctor. Most psychoanalytical films, whilst they may not end with such exposition, are often rife with it. This weighs a film down because there isn't a balanced achieved between ambiguity and story. After all, what's the point of showing a surreal sequence if it is only going to be broken down and explained in every detail? This, in my view, saps the fun and ingeniousness out of them entirely. But, whilst I think the likes of A Seashell and the Clergyman and An Andalusian Dog are masterful with their avant-garde experimentation, which offer no exposition at all, I also appreciate a filmmaker being able to show that there is structure and sense in their surreal sequences.

With Secrets of a Soul, we have a film that does not destroy the surreal magic of its dream sequences through exposition with thanks to some incredible visual exposition that uses a stage/theatre style. So, though this film does feature many dialogue cards that directly explain dreams, I think this is a staggering example of how to integrate surrealism into narrative without bogging a film down with a doctor's expository monologue. I then highly recommend Secrets of a Soul to anyone with interests in dreams, surrealism and Freud in the cinema. But, with that said, what are your thoughts on all we've discussed today? And, if you have seen it, what do you think about Secrets of a Soul?






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End Of The Week Shorts #42

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28/01/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #42



Today's shorts: Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988), Possession (1981), The Room (2003), Eddie Murphy: Delirious (1983), Fast Film (2003), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Good Time (2017)



Using the break up as a canvas for a splatter painting of sorts, Almodóvar brings to life an incredibly vibrant and chaotic world with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. 
Experiencing this as almost three short films, I saw this to open with powerful direction that sets you loose and then loses you in a world of confusion, transition into an absurdly convoluted network of nutty happenings before exploding with some hilarious comedy. Though these three acts appear distinct, they build into one another quite brilliantly, tearing you through their phases with break-neck pace. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is then a lot of fun, and, more importantly, tonally complete - something I didn't feel with Almodóvar's All About My Mother.



Possession is a near-impossible film to judge. The performances seem terrible, yet also appropriate, the direction is impressive, but also needlessly excessive, the writing is sometime awe-inspiring, but feels very pretentious at times, and overall this is simultaneously fascinating and mind-numbing. Everything and nothing wants to be at harmony and in conflict about this film, and the results are... I'm not sure. 
The only way I can begin to make sense of this is to see this as a film about divorce; divorce as a force that turns people into demons and welcomes chaos and fire into once peaceful realms; it is a destroyer and a saviour of the self and a place beyond time or space. In the end, I cannot say how successful Possession is at capturing this nightmare divorce, but, I do have a slight headache now.



I've finally seen this and... I don't understand too much of the hype. Yes, it's bad, but nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Presented somewhat professionally, what bogs this down is, of course, the script and the performances. That said, you can clearly see that Wiseau wanted to write a Tennessee Williams-esque drama with each and every one of his characters experiencing a constant conflict within themselves leading to explicit, truly absurd, contradictions of behaviour. As much as Wiseau wanted to capture 'human behavior', he seemingly has very little idea of what this means. There is feeling in this film, however - I actually believed Tommy as he screams "You're tearing me apart, Lisa" - so maybe he just doesn't know how to articulate the hints of humanity within his alien being. 
All in all, this is an attempt at a classical Hollywood movie that is too self-involved and masturbatory. It's bad, I chuckled once or twice, but it's certainly not the worst movie ever made.



The 80s were a nutty time for comedy. On stage and in their prime were the likes of Dice, Carlin and Kinison. Among these absolute murderers was Eddie Murphy. And he, in my opinion, was the best of the best. Murphy wasn't a particular kind of comedian; he was 'blue' and he told stories, he delved into his past and he dealt with his present, he didn't try too hard to be clever, nor change the world, he only wanted to be ridiculous and leave your insides burning. Murphy was a huge personality, and was a genius when it came to translating his comedy through body language and his voice; and all with effortless timing. 
Delirious captures some of Murphy's best with a perfectly tuned hour sprinkled with some hilarious inputs from the crowd. I almost know it by heart, but this is like a great piece of music. Play it once, play it again, play it again and play it again, then play it some more.



A work of pure ingeniousness. In Fast Film we essentially see an imaginative kid play with his action figures and train set. However, not only do we step into the kid's imagination, but we step into a world made of paper, projected onto which are characters and moments from a plethora of classic movies. Whilst many of us may have played with Star Wars or comic book action figures, it is only through Fast Film that we can see so many of our cinematic heroes and icons played with in such a manner - and the results are tremendous. 
Carrying a subtle commentary on recurrent/archetypal symbols, characters and story lines in cinema, Fast Film steps beyond entertainment as a uniquely and endlessly fascinating piece of intrinsically constructed work. This is a must-see.



Incredibly cheesy and predictable, even technically unsound at points, but none of that matters. This is a tremendous movie, quite probably a new personal favourite. 
With love as freedom and a relationship as choice, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride) conveys much-seen Bollywood tropes with incredible weight as each and every theme is anchored down by characters you cannot help fall in love with. So, though this is another story about a subversion of an arranged marriage for the sake of a love marriage, you're made to feel the bond between our two main characters, and such sees tropes overcome and the conventions of Bollywood cinema utilised masterfully. 
To me, this is simply a film that reassures me why I love movies.



Absolutely tremendous. 
Good Time is a dense film that utilises expansive set-pieces with complex plots to draw an astounding amount of character from its numerous subjects. Following constant character decisions and getting under the flesh of, especially, our main protagonist, we see a story about choice and reason emerge. In such, we quickly discover that this is a film about family and the tragic pretense of love; one person using love and a relationship as an excuse to possess and control someone who becomes their shield. The manner in which this fizzes through the screen with the often cacophonous sound design and buzzing cinematography drives deep, leaving this a pretty unforgettable film. Highly recommended.






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Get Out - What Could 'Get Out 2' Look Like?

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Get Out - What Could 'Get Out 2' Look Like?

Thoughts On: Get Out (2017)

A black man is going to meet his white girlfriend's parents, but something seems wrong.


I'm glad I just re-watched Get Out. I thought it was only mediocre the first time I saw it, but now I think it is certainly a few notches above average. However, I do think this is being oversold to some degree (less so now that I have seen it again for myself and not just heard people go on and on about it). In such, its racial/political satire is overtly present and well-constructed, but it nonetheless feels questionable and flat in some ways.

Jumping straight into things, Get Out finds many intricate ways to show prejudice manifest with a threat of ownership, of enslavement, behind it. This threat is itself a form of dehumanisation that sees an individual reduced to a collective identity; it is the kind of dehumanisation that saw millions murdered in Communist Russia and in Nazi Germany. It was the fact that the minority kulaks (peasant land owners) and Jews were perceived to have had too much money in Russia and Germany that justified their oppression, exile and genocidal decimation to the corrupt leaders and the infected subjects of the Communist and Nazi regimes. Breaking such a phenomena down to a more basic formula, we can see that when small groups are perceived to have too many privileges by spiteful masses and hateful leaders, something is inevitably going to go bad - very bad.

Such a paradigm is picked up on in Get Out. In essence, a selection of black people are seen to have certain privileges: they're cool, they have good genes, they have a perspective that money cannot buy. Though these black people are treated fairly, they are perceived to be below those with the money. As a result, they conclude that they have no right to their coolness, their genes and their 'eye', and that it shall be taken by force and put to better use. Such an idea can be seen to map onto slavery; those with money and resources do not have the means to harvest their cotton fields themselves, nor do they have the means to employ their equals to do this. The solution: slavery. From the weakness in the dominant comes the subjugation of their inferiors; power is shown to corrupt not by choice, but by necessity. After all, how long will a rich man stay rich without slaves keeping expenditures low? Such seems to be a strongly Marxist idea.

Drawing upon this line of thought from a racial angle as opposed to an entirely monetary one, we see Get Out project the enslavement of black people as a signifier of the necessary corruption in precariously privileged, limitedly endowed people. However, it is exactly this that leaves me somewhat torn when watching this film.

I don't believe Peele intentionally designs his black characters as kulaks or Jews and the white characters as Stalinists or Nazis, however, he is explicitly dealing with supremacy. With enslavement and murder being the extreme outcome of supremacy, it is difficult to not see him constructing a preemptive to a dystopian world reminiscent of Communist Russia or Nazi Germany. As a result, I can imagine a Get Out 2 featuring those who knew the Armitages selling their technology and surgery beyond their small circle of friends in the town, and to some government officials. The world that this government would then design would be one in which rich people could buy the attributes of 'donors' that they desire. This would see certain people making money by capturing and selling 'good stock'. Thus we have a slave trade constructed where poor people form gangs to capture other poor individuals that they don't like, or don't care about, to sell to the rich overseers:


These rich overseers sell the slaves again to those in need of 'help':


How would such a world come to be? It seems that there would have to be a culture of spite and hate around 'privileged' minorities...


... who, despite their inferiority, possess desirable attributes that they do not deserve...


With supremacy as it is presented by Get Out expanded upon in a bigger budget Get Out 2 (which, spoilers, would see the supremacists eventually overcome by the hero - or an elite squad of TSA agents), we would certainly see a smart, even powerful, commentary on the subject of racism constructed. However, how rational is this commentary?

This is where I think Get Out reveals itself to be limited. Get Out's narrative plays with supremacy and slavery to imply the real horrors that can emerge from racism (the last few centuries alone are rife with examples of this). However, with the open ending and with this implication merely laid bare, I'm left wondering if Peele intentionally suggests that a new, devastating form of slavery is likely to emerge from passive prejudice and a property-seeking kind of racism whereby those selling themselves as ''not-racist'' are merely admitting that their 'inferiors' have some positive attributes - which they don't really have to rights to. If this is the case, then I think this narrative is a bit too conspiratorial for me to take seriously.

The best way I can conceive of Get Out would concern seeing the racial politics subverted by the call for the recognition of individual humanity. Instead of Get Out being a premonition for slavery and genocide, this can then be seen as a document that echoes the iconic words of Martin Luther King Jr:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.

In making a call for individuality, Get Out can be seen to say that its black characters should not be judged as just black, and their character as a separate entity that they do not own the rights to, but that they should be judged by precisely this character - character which is them, which is their humanity, which transcends their endermic shell. Chris would then be a talented photographer, not a black man who, somehow, takes nice photos.

As much as I want to say that this is what Get Out encapsulates, I have to say that it only comes so far in saying this. In being a rather formulaic horror film, Get Out focuses on tragedy precursing destruction. There is then no redemption in this film as there is in something such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Whilst I don't think all endings have to be positive for a film to make a point, without redemption in an antagonist, and without a powerfully individuated protagonist, Get Out fails to use its ending effectively.

What would then interest me is a Get Out 2 that sees Rose not die of her wounds, and go after Chris. By the end of this film, and with Rose's intentions and character thoroughly analysed and questioned, we would see her redeem herself, or fail in doing so, as a mechanism through which we see Chris perceived as an individual and a real human. This narrative arc would echo the words of MLK, and thus would be saying something of substance rather than throwing out clever, but ultimately questionable and somewhat lifeless, premonitions.

These are just my thoughts on Get Out, however. I'll then end by asking you what your thoughts on everything we've covered today are. What's more, what do you think Get Out 2, which Peele has expressed some interest in making, could look like, and what maybe should it do to better the first film?








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The King Of Comedy - Corrupt Celebrity

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26/01/2018

The King Of Comedy - Corrupt Celebrity

Thoughts On: The King Of Comedy (1982)

Rupert Pupkin will be the next big thing in comedy... whatever it takes.


The King Of Comedy has got to be one of Scorsese's most overlooked pictures, but is nonetheless often regarded as one of his best by those who have seen it. This then seems to have remained, to an extent, in the position it was in when it first came out; a bomb at the box office despite critical acclaim. Nonetheless, The King Of Comedy is truly brilliant.

If we were to start with the negatives, I feel there is only one place to point: Sandra Bernhard as the psychotic fanatic who seemingly wants Jerry Lewis' Jerry Langford to be both a lover and a replacement of her father. Whilst Bernhard's performance isn't bad, the manner in which her character is written and played is a little too loud and simple to contest with De Niro as Rupert Pupkin. As a result, Masha is indeed a weak point of the movie that sometimes gets on your nerves for the wrong reasons.

The subtle weight on this film that I believe may be part of why it is a relatively obscure and unsuccessful Scorsese picture concerns its themes of fame, stardom, celebrity and idolisation. Criticising the culture around celebrity is incredibly easy, and though Scorsese voices his concerns brilliantly, this remains a difficult subject to tackle.

The mantra and philosophy of this blog is "If it affects you, it means something". As clunky as this is, I find it to be something that I am constantly returning to. After all, all that we do on this blog concerns taking the material of a film that affects us and trying to understand what it is and why it has an effect. This, in my opinion, is a core purpose of all arts and science; to treat yourself and the world around you seriously, you must investigate sparks in the darkness. These sparks for the physicist, for example, may be the universal pull that keeps us on earth. Investigation of the affect/effect of this pull on the human body and its world lead us to the theory of gravity. Though science turns from curiosity (affection) to the study of the objective world (effects), art often deals with affection alone; it is criticism, theory and analysis that study effects. After all, what science cannot answer fully, art usually tries to confront, and what spectatorship cannot articulate, analysis usually tries to grapple. But, whilst "If it affects you, it means something" may be a strong idea, there is a tension within it, and it is realising this that we can break down why The King Of Comedy's critique of celebrity may not be popular.

The philosophy of this blog essentially boils down to an idea that personal experience has meaning. However, how correct is this assumption? Does everything we feel, does everything that affects us, mean something? In my opinion, certainly. Nonetheless, there is a hierarchy of meaning with certain emotions being more trivial or less meaningful than others. The question we then come upon is, how do we distinguish what meanings matter? Moreover, how are you supposed to tell someone that their feelings are meaningless?

This is the issue that The King Of Comedy both presents and embodies. In such, with its critique of celebrity, The King Of Comedy is clearly saying that there is an insanity in a culture, and more so in individuals like Pupkin, that view celebrities as gods walking within a magical box; a magic box which captures a literal--though contrived and fake--heaven on earth. At the same time, though Pupkin's emotions and the meaning he finds in the idea of celebrity are shown to be tragic by this film, we aren't all Pupkin. So, to some degree, in criticising celebrity, Scorsese criticises the affinity people hold for T.V shows and personalities; he takes what affects most people and, again, to some degree, shows it to be meaningless. So, just as much as my saying that "I actually don't watch T.V/T.V shows" would immediately characterise me as pretentious to a lot of people, people don't like to hear the same old shit about T.V being fake and it melting minds away.

There are clear limitations to the critique of celebrity implied through the contempt and judgement you will often be met with when voicing such opinions. Though some may use this to suggest that most people are just dumb - you can imagine the likes of George Carlin suggesting this - there is more to the dismissal of this discord. Interestingly, there are many parallels (which have been drawn countless times before now) between celebrity and religion. What I find even more intriguing, however, is that there are also parallels to be seen in the way in which celebrity and religion are critiqued. As becomes quite clear in The King Of Comedy, celebrities are almost like gods that the masses worship and imitate. This is a rather basic analysis. However, just as many people describe this celebrity worship as childish and corrupt, so do others characterise religion in the same way.

There is, of course, a huge difference between celebrity and religion. However, the function of both entities is similar. Religion affects people - it gives them answers and structure - and so they search for the meaning and truth it holds. Celebrities affects people, and there is often a search for meaning among the celebrities held in highest regard. Let us consider an example; Muhammad Ali, though he was paid to throw his bones into other mens' faces for our pleasure, also stood for much more in regards to peace and unity among minorities - the same can be said, to a lesser degree, for figures such as Bruce Lee. Muhammad Ali had his ties to religion and so would likely reject any suggestion that he was a literal prophet of anything other than a whopping in a ring. Nonetheless, Ali seems to have been revered, despised, followed and chastised like prophets and saints in various religious stories are. And though Ali is one of the most respected celebrities, maybe so much so that he is often considered to transcend the label of mere celebrity, lesser celebrities are treated with a similar regard. Consider, for instance, the likes of the Kardashians. As much as they are dismissed as meaningless nonsense, they are hugely popular, influential and even respected for what they have achieved and how they have achieved it in a business sense. Celebrities all walk the hero's path, and with their success comes a status that cannot be refuted; just consider the way in which they affect the masses.

Because the hero is a figure of meaning, celebrities, as ridiculous as they all may be, hold something of meaning whether they like it or not. They may not be religious figures, but, they are a modern day rival, most of which (actors) are figures of storytelling. In fact, celebrities could arguably be an improvement on old heroes as they are recognised as, and interacted with as, both human and idol. There is then always a possible (inevitable maybe) fall from grace with celebrities, and thus the meaning that they embody is shown to be fragile - as all meaning is. So, though the idea of celebrity has its problems, there seems to be a mechanism built into it that preserves the culture around via an embrace of a celebrities faults and, in a strange way, their humanity. Where religion then arguably fails - it can often lack openness to interpretation and critique - celebrity then seemingly prevails. Though, where celebrity fails - it often lacks truly deep and lasting meaning - religion often prevails.

It is viewing the topic at hand in such a way that may enable us to understand exactly why you must be careful in criticising celebrity; the phenomena is not as simple, nor as meaningless, as we'd like to think - and the same can be said for religion. Because of this, we can then understand that: The King Of Comedy isn't as popular as, for example, Goodfellas because it critiques the hero's journey; its subject matter is so difficult to digest, or not very attractive, because it subverts and even undermines what affects us in celebrity and the meaning that may carry; and maybe we can even understand that The King Of Comedy's narrative falls short in places where celebrity is dealt with too simply. However, though I could concede that there is a small percentage of this film that merely criticises and shows little care for understanding celebrity, it does have another side, a side that distinguishes the narrative commentary from basic analysis.

With celebrities as not just pseudo gods, but human idols of worship, Scorsese explores nihilism quite like he does in Taxi Driver within The King Of Comedy. As a result, Jerry Langford is often little more than a signifier that Pupkin is empty and desperate inside. What's more, it is Pupkin's unhealthy relationship with Jerry that is the basis of the film's commentary as Pupkin essentially uses the idea and presence of celebrity not to go on a hero's journey himself, but to avoid it. What The King Of Comedy then has us really ponder is the negative differences between celebrities and gods. Whilst there is a humanity and truth in celebrities being real, fallible humans, becoming a celebrity so often sees a person dehumanised. Jerry Langford, for example, becomes a shell which the average person projects their self into; when people meet him, they speak to him not as a stranger, but a figure they feel they know well. And when Langford doesn't meet expectations, people so often lash out at him. The core problem that Scorsese then raises with the idea of celebrities as 'gods' is that real gods cannot, and never really are, kidnapped and tied up in apartments by mere mortals.

It is this key tension between humanisation and distance that sets the celebrity apart from the god, and leaves them so vulnerable to abuse. And this abuse does not just concern the specific dehumanisation of a celebrity, rather, it is a symptom of a diseased culture. When respect for, and interest in, a celebrity turns into obsession as with Pupkin, we see the celebrity's humanity exploited to the detriment of the obsessor. As said, Langford, much like comedy, then signifies all that is broken within Pupkin; he had a terrible childhood and wants to use comedy to mask this - he wants to become a revered fool. However, the only way that Pupkin can conceive of reaching this position, of becoming the hero of his own narrative, is through arrogance; he isn't willing to be a true fool and walk the path to earn a right of passage, he only wants the easy way. And this leaves us with the iconic ending. Does Pupkin really become famous? Did his set go well? Or, did he imagine it all?

I don't think any of these questions really matter. If Pupkin only imagines that he finds success, then he has deluded himself to the nth degree; he has not changed and has instead sunk into his own emptiness. If Pupkin actually is successful, however, then does this not reflect that there are many others like him out in the world, those who will not just worship celebrities, but see their fallible humanity before dehumanising them, reducing them to a shell to revere for the sake of exploitation?

The end of The King Of Comedy is a powerful one because it essentially asks us if the negatives of celebrity culture reside within Pupkin alone, or within us all. With all of what we have talked about today in mind, I then leave you with this question: Who is the corrupted in The King Of Comedy?







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Kukurantumi, Road To Accra - The Futile Road?

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24/01/2018

Kukurantumi, Road To Accra - The Futile Road?

Thoughts On: Kukurantumi, Road To Accra (1983)


Made by King Ampaw, this is the Ghanaian film of the series.


Not too long ago, we briefly explored Ghanaian cinema and Ghallywood through a contemporary film, Sakawa Boys. Sakawa Boys is a representative of a relatively new era of African filmmaking that follows the initial rise of industries such as Nollywood. The Nigerian film industry, in the late 80s and 90s, was essentially the first national African cinema to emerge on its own and remain, by and large, self-sufficient. Numerous industries across Africa have since emerged with similar aesthetics and business models, and Ghallywood is a prime example of this. However, today we have in our hands a film that predates Ghallywood and Nollywood.

After African states began to gain their independence and African people started making films, but before the rise of strong commercial industries, was a period of African filmaking that had heavy links to countries beyond the continent. A key figure that is attached to the emergence of African film and this era is Jean Rouch, a French filmmaker who is considered one of the founding forces of the French New Wave as well as a pioneer of the ethnographic film. Rouch, in connection with colonial movements in the 1940s, arrived in Africa as an engineer. He stayed beyond this period to record ethnographic documentaries of African people/life, and later involved Africans in the making of ethnographic fictional films. He would also be involved with cine clubs and cultural centres that would train and provide equipment to African filmmakers such Oumarou Ganda, who is often considered one of the first great Nigerian directors.

Also in this period other African filmmakers were receiving education in European countries and returning to Africa to make films. One of the most pivotal and famous figures who was apart of this generation is Ousmane Sembène. Sembène is often noted as the father of African film for it was in the 1960s that he started to reflect upon what it meant to make an African film and so brought a critical lens to African cinema with Black Girl. Sembène was then not just critical of the colonialists and their impact on Africa, but would turn to who some would call an ally of African film, Jean Rouch, and famously criticise him. Sembène's famous words then were "You look at us like insects".

Along with Sembène came other African filmmakers who were trained and educated in Europe. For example, emerging from the post-independence, pre-Nollywood era are Souleymane Cissé, who made Yeelen, and Mahamat Saleh Haroun, who made Abouna. King Ampaw, director of Road To Accra, also emerged from this period and was educated in Europe. Unlike Sembène, Cissé and Haroun, however, Ampaw didn't emerge from France, instead, Germany and Vienna.

It was in Munich University that Ampaw studied alongside Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog; he would even go on to star in Herzog's 1987 film, Cobra Verde. Before working with Herzog, however, Ampaw would move back to his home country, Ghana, to make a few films through his own production company, Afromovies, the first of which was Road To Accra. So, whilst this is a German co-production, and whilst this isn't an African film in the same respect Nollywood classics or even Sakawa Boys are, this film has a strong African stamp.

Set close to where Ampaw was born - Kukurantumi - Road To Accra deals with the relationship between rural and city life (Accra being Ghana's capital). With this, as you may expect, also comes generational conflicts that all construct a question of progression. What distinguishes this narrative is its hints of comedy that play with the darker thematic elements. And in such, though this is a film about a family falling apart and a man struggling, failing and having his efforts quashed as he works for a living and for his family, Road To Accra sees its main character take punches as he moves through life and keep his chin up. Progress is then not a monstrous force in this narrative. Instead, there is a projected faith in basic principals of living: hard work, loyalty and honesty. Retaining these qualities as best as he can, we see our main character face the futility of life and walk in the shadow of progress stoically. And such may be perceived as a key African principal and characteristic: resilience. From The Crowd to The Apartment to Office Space, there have been a plethora of American films that see characters search for meaning outside of their constant, futile journey from work to home. But, where these films see no meaning on this road, Ampaw constructs a character who inherently understands the meaning that transcends this road. And thus, the road is our main character's greatest enemy and best friend, which is one of the most expressive and powerful elements of this film.

It is now then that we'll bring things to an end. However, before I link to this film I'll ask what are your thoughts on all we've covered today and Road To Accra as an African film?



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23/01/2018

Hex - The Zone

Quick Thoughts: Hex (2017)

Two soldiers on opposing sides of a civil war are trapped in a forest.


Hex is a pretty good film. Whilst the action scenes are a little clunky and all of the performances aren't solid, this is a truly impressive micro-budget film. Set in England during the 17th century Civil War, this utilises some gleaming cinematography to further bring to life a twisted, breathing forest and illuminate what turns out to be a supernatural drama. Luckily, I had the chance to engage in an insightful Q and A with some of the cast and crew of Hex, and this highlighted how key the score was in building a strong cinematic space and an engrossing atmosphere. All of these components come together to create film that is, among other things, quite clearly inspired by Tarkovsky. In such, there is a sense of expanded Tarkovsky-time within Hex, as well as an attempt to use space as a representative of the landscape of the inner being. Across this landscape runs fanatics loyal to higher powers at war, which leads to deadly conflicts between men, the abstract and the transcendent.

I would not want to spoil any of Hex, but, approached knowing that this is a micro-budget feature and a slow, contemplative film, I think this is well worth the watch and a bit of thought. That said, if you've not seen this, you can check it out on Amazon Prime. If you have seen Hex, however, what are your thoughts?






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The Cat Returns - At Your Own Pace

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22/01/2018

The Cat Returns - At Your Own Pace

Thoughts On: The Cat Returns (猫の恩返し, 2002)


A girl is pulled into a world of cats when she saves one from being run over.


The Cat Returns is Studio Ghibli's spin-off of their 1995 film, Whisper Of The Heart, which essentially brings to life a story set in the world of a book that the main character of that film writes. Whilst you are constantly aware of this fact, which means there is a hint of cheapness or weightlessness about this film, it is truly fantastic and a joy to watch.

The main issue with The Cat Returns is that it doesn't feel as rounded and full as other Ghibli films. This is probably because the film started out as a short meant for a theme park. It transformed into what was called the "Cat Project" as the story was developed by the Ghibli team and to-be director, Hiroyuki Morita - who had previously worked on the likes of My Neighbours The Yamadas. Because Morita's work on the story boarding of this short was so expansive and the characterisation was so rich, Ghibli decided to produce the Cat Project as a feature-length film which, of course, became The Cat Returns.

With short stories, there is a sense of structure and rhythm which drives to the heart of scenes, themes and beats and moves through them rather briskly. On paper this often works wonders as a writer can describe something such as a huge battle or the building of a romance with a few prosaic sentences or paragraphs; there is no real obligation, as there is in the cinema, to bring to life these tough set-pieces with detail. Anyone who has written a screenplay or made a film would be quite familiar with this fact; instead of saying two characters engage in a bloody battle on the page or in V.O, you are obliged to detail and construct an actual fight scene, punch-by-punch (this may not be the case in all screenplays, but it certainly is when shooting a film). The same could be said for a love sequence; it's difficult to visually communicate such a complex phenomena in a few moments. This is why most cinematic techniques, and most films, are built and structured around the gradual and detailed building of stories. When building a short film, or a film out of a short story, we can then imagine that the classical structure of narrative film is thrown out of the window - or, at the least, it is confused to a great degree.

This is what you sense when watching The Cat Returns; there is a lack of detail that would work if read in a book, but leaves things feeling a little too sparse in a film. Nonetheless, Morita does a tremendous job of managing this conflict between the short and feature length film. And he does this mainly by drawing upon the beats of tales we have heard many times before, which allows him to skip certain sequences and assume we intuitively understand certain characters. In essence, The Cat Returns is then a medieval/fantastical rescue the princess film such as Robin Hood colliding with a teen drama such as Whisper Of The Heart. This interface between classical and contemporary storytelling has been done many times before, and with very similar devices that The Cat Returns employs. In such, there are many films that see a story device fallen into and come to life. Think of Tron, Jumanji, The Neverending Story, Alice In Wonderland, Inkheart, Space Jam, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, etc. All of these films feature a character going into, and a world coming out of, a book, game, film, movie or fictional world of some sort. And whilst The Cat Returns feels a little like these films, the one it shares the most with, in my view, is Labyrinth.


The degree to which Labyrinth and The Cat Returns are similar is sometimes a little uncanny. Consider the fact that both feature a story about a growing girl finding herself and figuring out who she is by being pulled into a fantastical world in which a king tries to court her, but that she eventually overcomes with help from her friends and by making it through a maze (which represents her inner-self).

I would not suggest that The Cat Returns is a rip-off of Labyrinth, however, as the beats, characters and symbols they share are pretty archetypal whilst all that differentiates them is hugely significant. Nonetheless, there is this expressive thematic connection between these films films, as well as the likes of The Neverending Story and Alice In Wonderland, based on this idea of finding out who you are and where you stand as the right of passage and the coming of age. The end result for most of these characters is then a revelation which details the ways in which they could be a better person. For Haru, this revelation concerns recognising the good she has already done, and the degree to which she should be comfortable with where she is in life. This translates to the idea that she needn't be jealous of a boy already in a relationship, nor let her life revolve around him.

The core of The Cat Returns is somewhat antithetical to many of the other coming-of-age films that Ghibli have made. Whilst the likes of Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service and Whisper Of The Heart are about kids growing up through change and hard work, The Cat Returns asks its character to pump the brakes a little. In such, all that changes about Haru is that she learns to wake up on time for school. That's it. Her huge adventure teaches her that maybe love isn't what she should be concentrating on in her life right now. This may sound like criticism, but, it is quite the opposite. The Cat Returns ultimately revises some of what is said in Whisper Of The Heart and revives some of the statements made in Spirited Away with a huge burst of character and joy.

Interestingly, like Chihiro from Spirited Away, Haru falls in love, not with a boy her age, but a creature. And this creature symbolises her own childhood; Baron reminds Haru of her love of cats as a child, and Haku reminds Chihiro of her brush with death when she almost drowned. Both of these creatures, whilst they are characterised as male, teach the protagonist about herself rather than a women she could grow up to be; they see her character strengthen, but they do not make a girl a young woman. What then fuels both of these stories is characters figuring out how to go at life at their own pace. And so it is this that revises some of what we see in Whisper Of The Heart as this features a young girl trying to catch up with a life she wants, to be better than she is, and to start on a road towards adulthood. With The Cat Returns opposing this message somewhat, it is not necessarily suggested that kids should just remain kids. However, considering the wider body of Ghibli films, there is a mediation between teaching kids about growing up through change and growing up through realisation. This relationship between the outer and inner journey is crucial as, as we grow up, we are forced to transform and must instigate some of our own personal transformations. As our bodies change, so then does the way we act, dress and operate; we are not in control of one form of change, but we are in control of the other. However, changing as such without thought is a recipe for disaster. As a result, as our appearances change, so must our conception of the world and of ourselves: our bodies must evolve with our minds. And such is the overarching point made by both Whisper Of The Heart and The Cat Returns; whilst one film sees a character physically transform as her life does, the other sees its character mentally transform. Both character journeys catalyse physical and mental changes, but there is a clear focus on either or in each film, which is why seeing them in relationship is pretty key.

In the end, though The Cat Returns feels as if it could be filled out a little, this is not just a joy to watch, but a film that, to a good degree, manages to capture a short film story structure and expand it quite well. I then highly recommend that anyone who hasn't seen this film give it a go. But, if you have seen The Cat Returns, what are your thoughts on it and everything we've discussed today?

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End Of The Week Shorts #41

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21/01/2018

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:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5mjU3_vuvM



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?
www.youtube.com/watch?v=PduxpGsIGnY



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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19/01/2018

Every Year In Film #33 - The Defect

Thoughts On: The Defect (La Tare, 1911) and other silent film serials


Today we explore the serial film through Louis Feuillade.

  

Today for the Every Year series we will be talking about film art, film serials and Louis Feuillade. These three entities are bound together in a conflict of direction, and so the questions we will be asking today are: What was film art around 1910? What are film serials, and are they art? What did Louis Feuillade do with the film serial, and where is his place in film history?

To open this rather large and complex discussion, we should attempt to make a transition from the previous few posts of the series. Recently, we marked the movement away from a more basic cinema of attractions era that has much to do with the normalisation of the feature-length and narrative film. This movement towards a narrative cinema that resembles cinema as we have known it for decades implied that we are also moving closer to film becoming an art. However, previously, we explored the idea that cinema was always art; that its artistry was a precedent contrived by those before cinema, Muybridge and Marey, and inherited by who we consider to be the first, official filmmakers: Edison's team, the Lumières, Méliès, Guy-Blaché, etc.

Whilst I believe that there are definitions of art that validate such a claim, there is a difference between this fundamental film art and the film art that is still emerging in the 1910s; a narrative film art and a film art that could tell stories. There is then a strong argument that, following the generation of the first filmmakers - or at least, emerging and rising to prominence in the tail end of those first few years around 1900 - came the likes of Zecca and Porter. These filmmakers where among the first to begin to tell more complex stories, building upon the foundations that Guy-Blaché, for example, set. Continuing this development, filmmakers in Pathé, Gaumont, Biograph, Nordisk Film, etc., would then start to make longer, more complex films as the world transitioned into the 1910s. He who has almost always been the face of this movement ever since he emerged is, of course, Griffith.

Today, we will be talking about a contemporary to Griffith, who is arguable a giant of similar magnitude - however, maybe also a giant of a different realm. This giant is Louis Feuillade. Not too much is written or known about Feuillade. He, as you may already know, is famous for his film serials Fantômas, Les Vampires and Judex. The amount of literature written on, in particular, Fantômas and Les Vampires would lead you to think that Feuillade is a well documented figure. However, whilst there is much said about some of his work, the scope of this body of literature isn't too vast. Also, though Feuillade's works are often sold in as high a regard as Griffith's, his films are, in my belief, seen nowhere near as widely as Griffith's. This probably has much to do with the fact that, even though The Birth Of A Nation is 3 hours long and rife with racism, Fantômas is over five hours long, is dense and rife with senseless crime. Because Feuillade didn't/doesn't have the marketing power of Griffith, and because his works are considerably longer, his work isn't as widely viewed or noted. Moreover, the work of his that is viewed and noted is often only a few of his serials - even just an episode of two of them. And for all the film nerd points that you can relish in earning by watching Feuillade's films, it is very easily understood why this is the case.

But, before we continue to talk about Feuillade, we should take a step back to first ask what film serials are. Popular up until the 1950s, film serials existed in some place between television (before television existed) and the likes of The Lord Of The Rings: films with multiple sequels or prequels. The film serials were designed as, in essence, really long movies presented in chapters. One of the very first film serials, which is often overlooked because of how short it is, is a selection of films we have talked about before: Méliès' The Dreyfus Affair. This was a compilation of 11 one-minute docu-dramas depicting the controversial trial of Alfred Dreyfus that was still ongoing as the serial was beginning to be made. These 11 episodes were sold separately, or as a package, to exhibitors and could be shown as such, too: separately across many days or weeks, or all at once. Though this serial in its entirety could fit onto one reel, this was released in 1899 when the majority of films were between 40 seconds and 3 minutes long. Compare this to the 1910s and we have a period where the average film ran between 15 minutes and an hour long; in this time, each episode of serials would fit within this range. Serials of this kind began to be consistently made around 1908. One example of such a serial would be the French Nick Carter films. Serials were fully established and incredibly popular by 1913-1916, however. This 3 year time-span saw the most famous silent film serials emerge. In America there was then the Hazards of Helen, The Perils of Pauline and many Western serials, in Germany, there was Homunculus and in France there were the serials of Louis Feuillade.

Whilst these were the most famous silent film serials, the golden age of the serial is considered to be between the late 1930s and mid 40s. It took some time for serials to re-emerge and find their footing again after cinema's movement into the sound era because sound films were expensive and difficult to make whilst the film serial relied quite heavily on lower budgets and (arguably) simpler filmmaking. This era then saw the release of Flash Gordon and The Adventures Of Captain Marvel, two of the most iconic serials. However, in the 1950s, cinema saw the rise of television, and so the film serial, for very obvious reasons, took a hit. The film serial didn't die off immediately, but, by the 1970s, they were pretty much gone. In the modern day, however, there is an argument for film serials re-emerging on T.V. Consider, for instance, mini-series such as Band Of Brothers. These seem to mark television, in terms of quality and length, becoming more like cinema by inheriting the film serial. Such can even be seen to be true with the likes of Game Of Thrones. Is each episode a television show, or a small movie that comes together to form a grand film serial? I would suggest that Game Of Thrones merely marks an evolution in television. The most intriguing entity to emerge from the modern day, however, has to be the 'cinematic universe'. Following on from the likes of Flash Gordon and The Adventures of Captain Marvel, the Marvel and DC cinematic universes seem to be a cousin to the film serial.

However, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. There is and always has been a question mark above the film serial as cinema. The questions that we may ask of the film serial would be much like those we could ask of television, animated cartoons that would play before films and short films. Do these not make for a separate form of cinema that has greater internal similarity than they share a similarity with feature films?

This is a question we must hold onto. But, we should also ask, what was the state of film and its perception as art around the emergence of the film serial?

Around the turn of the 20th century, philosophers were questioning reality, time and motion - and this, of course, preempted the emergence of Einsteinian physics, a science of spacetime, quantum mechanics and relativity. Among these philosophers was Henry Bergson, and he would sometimes talk about time and motion with reference to cinema. With this, he coined the term 'movement-image' - which would be adapted by Deleuze many decades later - and he also took cinema seriously as a potential art and invention of importance. Around the same time, filmmakers such as the Lumières and Bolesław Matuszewski saw cinema as an important tool for capturing history, and Matuszewski wrote about the founding of an archive that the Lumières, a few years later, would go onto found (an archive that still exists to this day as one of the most complete and highly preserved archives of film from the silent era).

Around the 1910s, however, there were movements of audience members and filmmakers who essentially wanted cinema to be of better quality and it to be perceived with higher regard. As we have picked up on, in Japan, there was the expression of this through the Pure Film Movement projected through film magazines. In Europe around this time (1913) Italian writer and theorist Ricciotto Canudo was fascinated by cinema and considered it the sixth, later, seventh, art. As a result, he saw film to fit amongst and be in communication with 1) painting, 2) sculpture, 3) music, 4) poetry, 5) architecture, and as he later included, 6) dance, or performing arts in general. It was then common to hear of cinema as the sixth or seventh art in certain circles that cared for such things around the 1910s. There were then movements and film studios that emerged in response to this. Interestingly, however, much of the theory and thought of the 1910s concerning cinema was largely undermined in the 1920s by filmmakers and theorist who would emphasise the fact that cinema was not just another art, but an individual art far removed from the likes of painting and theatre. Thus, we have the cinema and the theories of the French Impressionists, Soviet Constructivists, German Expressionists, etc., that showed what film could do and what no other art could contend with. As a result, the 1920s are seen as an important, foundational time for film as art.

Let us not overlook the earlier period, however. In France, Film D'Art was a movement, a way of thinking about film and a film studio that, as said, expressed the idea that cinema was a seventh or sixth art. As a result, those in the film d'art movement took cinema seriously and attempted to lift it from a more adolescent and primitive era - that being the cinema of attractions era. We have in fact talked about the studio, Film D'Art, before - indirectly, however, and through the first film to have a screenplay written for it by a noted and paid professional writer: The Assassination of the Duke of Guise (1908). The Film D'Art studio would have made this film as a gesture to show that they were attempting to take film seriously, to make a higher quality movie, and to join cinema with other arts (writing in this instance). Following the Film D'Art studio was Pathé, who established their Société Cinématographique des Auteurs et des Gens de Lettres (Film Society of Auteurs and of Men of Letters) in 1908. The films that this society made were for who they perceived to be elite audiences, and were intentionally Film D'Art. In parallel to Pathé's new series, Gaumont, their competitor, also established a Le Film Esthétique (Aesthetic Film) series that was overseen by Louise Feuillade.

Before Feuillade ran the aesthetic art film series, and before he was even hired at Gaumont, he was a writer, a poet and, before even that, a child and young man deeply interested in poetry. It then seems that Feuillade had something of an artistic temperament, or an affinity for art, that saw him transition into film in a way that many of his contemporaries didn't; whilst many people before his time were inventors and entrepreneurs, and many of his time were less inventors and more businessmen, showmen and entertainers, he was a writer and, to some degree, an artist. When he started to write scenarios and screenplays for Gaumont in 1905, he was submitting them to Alice Guy-Blaché - who, a few years after Feuillade hesitantly became a director of his own scripts, would leave her position open to him. As a director and the Art Director of Gaumont, Feuillade earned his stripes as many of the names we still know of this era did by directing hundreds of films of various kinds. By the end of his career, it is estimated that he made around 800 films.

As said, and as was common, Feuillade made every and anything in his first few years of pumping out shorts. It is trying to read about and watch the films of Feuillad from this time that you realise how little is written about him that doesn't concern Fantômas or Les Vampires. However, one of the earliest shorts of Feuillade's that you can find online comes from 1907, and he co-directed this with Guy-Blaché. This is called A 4-Year-Old Heroine:


This early short of Feuillade's is a possible signifier of the ways in which Alice Guy-Blaché would have influenced him and his filmmaking. Here, we see an example of a film focused on narrative and character - which is what Guy always meant to strive for, and is also what we see present in Feuillade's filmmaking. We also see Guy's eye for strong mise en scène that she probably best demonstrated with her biblical adaptations. This strength of composition certainly finds its way into Feuillade's filmmaking, and to see such striking, well-composed shots from so early in his career, it seems that Blaché's hand - which would have been making films for a decade by now - is at play.

Feuillade would continue to work at his craft for 3 years before beginning to take significant steps in his career. In 1910, we then see Feuillade start his first serial and the aesthetic film series. Unfortunately, there seems to be no available episodes - even though 70 were made - of his first serial, the Baby Serial. Made between 1910 and 1913, this was a selection of comedic shorts that see a young child go on a selection of adventures.


The Baby series would have been Feuillade's first experiment with The Infinite Story. And this is in fact what all serials were. As we have talked about on the blog before, The Infinite Story is a simple recognition that stories can start and end anywhere whilst an infinite set of things can happen in between the beginning and conclusion. All stories can be infinitely long, the task of storytelling is finding out what parts of an infinitely long story are worth telling. With the feature film, it is suggested that cinematic stories need roughly two hours to be told. With the serial, however, the infinite story is embraced - and to a degree that allows filmmakers to see a premise and extract 70 episodes and multiple, dozens, sometimes hundreds, of hours out of it. T.V knows The Infinite Story very well.

There is a slight contradiction about Feuillade's Baby series, especially when we take into account that he made this in parallel to his aesthetic art films. The Baby series seems to align itself with a more basic cinema, maybe not a cinema of attractions, but also maybe not art. Feuillade, by the time he started making art films, was very well versed in making films for entertainment's sake. And this is a conflict that we will continue to see throughout his career.

Without jumping too far ahead, let us watch and discuss one of Feuillade's only available films from his aesthetic film series titled Life As It Is. This episode or chapter is called La Tare, or, The Defect:


The Defect is one of Louis Feuillade's earliest surviving art films, and is signified as such through its attempts at realism. This realism is manifested with higher quality sets, better costumes and, for the times, naturalistic acting. So, despite the sometimes flat and unrealistic mise en scène, this brings to life a story with clear social commentary and emotional weight without embellishment, instead, verisimilitude and serious themes.

With The Defect, we are seeing one of the most basic arguments for film art presented. This argument is predicated on realism and film's ability to show the world as we see it in every day life and as no other art form can capture; the play is confined to the stage, the photo cannot move and the word has no image. Such an idea will bind itself to cinema and be constantly expressed throughout the ages with French Impressionism, Poetic Realism, Kino Pravda, Cinema Verite, Direct Cinema, Kitchen Sink Dramas, Italian Neorealism, etc. All of these movements and forms appeal to and question the 'truth' that cinema can provide, and such seems to encompass what Feuillade's idea of art was.

The Defect, as said, is apart of a by-and-large lost serial/series. So, if we want to explore the serial, we must move forward in Feuillade's career to explore one of his most iconic works, Fantômas. Approaching Fantômas after exploring Feuillade's art films, we will see realism present and forgotten. In such, whilst some aspects of Fantômas bear verisimilitude, much of this film is incredibly fantastical, almost ridiculous. More important than this, we will see Feuillade's idea of art conflict with the novel entertainment he has learnt from his contemporaries and through his hundreds of short films. Most pertinently, we will see this conflict played out within the topic of run-time, story and plot.

If we were to begin to establish Feuillade's place of importance in film history, it concerns his innovations with plot and The Infinite Story. In essence, Feuillade developed and refined a plethora of cinematic techniques that kept an audience invested in a film for hours upon hours and over many weeks. He thus capitalised on devices such as the cliff hanger, the mysterious archetype and the cyclical plot. Ultimately, however, Feuillade's work with these devices also defines the grounds upon which we can criticise him.

To delve into this, let us actually start exploring Fantômas itself. Fantômas is, in some respects, the anti-Sherlock Holmes of France; his stories have been recycled countless times, but, instead of solving crimes, Fantômas commits them. A key element of Fantômas, the master criminal, is mystery as we get to know nothing of his past or his character motivations at any point throughout the serial (in the books, there is deeper characterisation, but not much of it). One of the key defining attributes of Fantômas is then expressed in the somewhat iconic opening to each episode:




With the opening, we are shown the various forms that Fantômas will appear in during the episode. This helps the viewer keep track of the story, but it also emphasises the fact that Fantômas is an enigma and a chameleon before he is anything else. The power that Fantômas bears, and this is what we can assume draws audiences to him, is his ability to be whoever he wants and get away with it. It is only when he is dressed in black, completely covered, that Fantômas is then known to be Fantômas. And such is, of course, ironic, as what defines the arch criminal is a dark facade.

This anchoring of mystery in Fantômas' characterisation reduces him to a caricature or an archetype. With Fantômas seen as an archetype, he is chaos manifest in a society of facades. Fantômas may then be seen as a commentary on the class system in French society around 1910, for when he invades the upper class, he does so by fitting in and pretending to be something he is not as to conceal a darker malevolence. And such reflects a criticism of the rich: they are shallow and contrive illusive personas to deceive and cheat people. Fantômas was more than just this, however, as he sometimes (not often, however) invaded the lower classes and was always leading them on a wild goose chase. In such, Fantômas would not only have police officers - Juve and Fandor - chase him, but would also exploit crews of criminals. He would even deceive and try to kill (often successfully when it came to his gangs) all of these figures. And in such, nobody is safe with Fantômas, not if you're rich, poor, guilty or innocence.

This fact, as it manifests in the serial, arguably cheapens Fantômas as a character. As a result, as much as you could call him an archetype of chaos and a commentary on society through its fear of persona and inner shadows, there is a strong argument that suggests that Fantômas was merely an evil dick.



Violence and senseless murder were Fantômas' game. However, for the fact that he is not just a mysterious character, but one who shows no motivation whilst lacking an archetypal counterbalance, Fantômas becomes a weak caricature. In essence, he becomes a Joker without a Batman chasing him around. After all, Juve, the officer that relentlessly chases him, hasn't got much of a voice throughout the entirety of the serial. Without depth given to any of the characters' actions or words despite the numerous hours we spend with them, it is hard to praise Feuillade's character construction. That said, the most expressive element of Fantômas comes in the best episode by far, the final fifth one. This episode opens with Fantômas having been captured in Belgium - as we are told with a title card. After four hours of watching Fantômas escape again and again and again, this comes as a bit of an anti-climactic shock, but, also a relief. However, Juve cannot settle for Fantômas' imprisonment in Belgium because there is no death penalty in that country. So, Juve helps Fantômas escape so that he can capture him again in France and then sentence him to death. As you could imagine, Juve fails in doing this.

This part of the Fantômas story is its most expressive element as we see real characterisation emerge from Juve and the officer become a narcissistic vigilante archetype (a vain Batman), which turns out to be a fatal mistake. If we were to then reprise the idea that Fantômas is chaos manifest and a commentary on French society and facade, this ending may suggest that chaos is there to be controlled and managed, never eradicated. And we see such an idea emerge in a plethora of other stories. As mentioned, we see this in Batman with a constant cat and mouse chase that does not allow for murder. In mythology, for example, Greek mythology, there is also this crucial balance between chaos and order.

In Greek myths, we often see Zeus, who is married to his sister Hera (which itself says a lot about chaos conflicting with order), constantly cheat on her. Zeus' infamous affairs see the birth of a plethora of gods, goddesses and demi-gods, some of which Hera despises - and sometimes so much that she relentless tries to have them killed. Hercules is one of such children. However, Hera doesn't divorce Zeus, and Zeus doesn't definitely stop Hera from trying to kill his children. Thus, we see a powerful hero archetype emerge: the bastard, hated child of the Gods. This archetype is given great power, but is also forced to live a life of misery and pain - something that clearly resonates with humanity. Such an archetype is prevalent, understood and accepted because we know that we do not control the Gods, that sometimes we are infected with chaos and evil, yet are tasked to be orderly and do great goods. These stories then say that we cannot destroy chaos, we can only combat it with order; such is a lesson in Greek mythology, and such is a lesson that Juve learns in the end of Fantômas.

This is the art of Feuillade's serial, in my opinion. He constructs powerful archetypes and has them conflict in a classical cat and mouse, chaos and order fashion. However, it cannot be overlooked that there is no need for this story to be told in over five hours.

The way in which Feuillade communicates the story of Fantômas is undeniably bloated and far too plot-centric. This means that things are just happening and not enough meaning is being manifested. Fantômas is then a little like Warhol's Empire...


There is certainly something to be said about an 8 hour shot of the Empire State building. This is of course extreme realism and an approach to cinema that accepts real time. Embodying the utmost pretence, you could wax lyrical about Empire for thousands of words on end. The truth is, however, this is not a watchable film; it exists, which is of course a novel nicety, but the grand meaning of this film can be realised after 5 minutes. Some might suggest that it is only by sitting through all 8 hours of this that you will understand its revelations. This may be true, but, at the same time, no thanks.

Fantômas is not as extreme as Empire, but, it is made up of a lot of hot air and supported by a serious lack of substance. And such draws upon the downfalls of plot in the cinema. Whilst Feuillade's great contribution to the cinema concerned the embrace of The Infinite Story, he did experiment through somewhat pointless entertainment and not art - and he did this to a degree that has us see his work move further and further away from cinema as we know it. Feuillade's work subsequently makes clear that cinema still has many steps to make in 1913, and that the realisation and experimentation with plot was a dead-end. Let it be noted that the experimentation with plot through the serial wasn't a complete dead-end. However, it says an awful lot that the serial and its plot-centric storytelling was always seen as separate from cinema. T.V embraced this mode of storytelling, and there have been numerous attempts to revive it with cinematic universes and film series made up of prequels and sequels. Nonetheless, cinema has a relationship with story, character and theme that de-prioritises plot, relegating it to the realm of entertainment, and not necessarily art.

With this argument outlined, if we are to learn as much as we can from a close analysis of Fantômas, we should explore its form and Feuillade's cinematic language as this is where we come to see the serial's greatest attributes. Take this scene for instance...



Here we have Fantômas impersonating someone whom a rich lady, Lady Beltham, has fallen fall. Her husband has disappeared, as we are told with the shot of the newspaper, and her and Fantômas' relationship is shown to be an empathetic one with the second shot.



When Juve is announced via a butler bringing his card, we begin to realise that there is something unsettled in Fantômas' and Lady Beltham's relationship. Is Lady Beltham hiding Fantômas from Juve, or is she being fooled by him as he makes his excuses to leave through the back?



Whilst we're left to ponder this, Juve enters and finds Fantômas' hat with an initial on the inner brim. Thus, he starts on the trail towards finding the alter-ego and the criminal himself, but, all without considering the relationship that Lady Beltham may have with him (which turns out to be key later on in the episode with her helping Fantômas escape imprisonment).

This pattern of scene construction is seen all across Fantômas. In such, we see information introduced, often through a letter of some kind, which establishes complex relationships and opens up a conflict between characters within a scene and across multiple spaces. There is then a constant network of things happening, characters relating and trails of information being followed. And such leads to the building of a dense plot that invests an audience and keeps them locked to the screen for hours on end; this is the groundbreaking achievement of Fantômas.

Feuillade's deployment of cinematic language is almost always focused on ensuring the clear unfolding of plot. But, whilst this is one of his greatest directorial achievements, there are elements of direction that are lacking. Starting off light, there are a few sequences in the serial that occur in the streets of Paris. And whilst this gives the film a realist aesthetic, there are a handful of moments like this...


... in which members of the public stop to stare at the camera. This implies that the budget and shooting schedule for Fantômas was quite restricted as the film crew seemingly didn't have the time or means to keep people out of shot or to hire extras. We see the speed of shooting/post-production made evident with small moments like this too:


If you look closely at Juve's right knee you can see that he is about to bump into the furniture... and he does. This shot should have made its way to the cutting room floor, but Feuillade either didn't have footage to cover this up, or didn't catch it in the edit. And it's small moments like these that give insight into the rapid production schedule that would have been designed by producers at Gaumont to keep nearest to the release of the books (they started to come out in 1911).

On the note of the Fantômas books, it is important to mention that original audiences in France would have not gone into the serial without knowing the story as a whole. Thus, this wasn't really about suspense, but the re-representation and visualisation of a story audiences would have read not so long ago. Fantômas must then be understood within the frame of something such as Harry Potter; most people who have seen the movies have read the books. Knowing what is in the books doesn't necessarily devalue the film, it does, however, change the approach and experience.

One of the most telling ways in which Feuillade and his crew embraced this was with the complex plot that, seeing the film by itself, is sometimes too muddled. Take this scene for instance...


Juve and Fandor show up to spy on a meeting, but are ambushed by Fantômas' men...


This spring attack isn't given clear causality. What's more, the construction of this action scene isn't given much logic...




After shooting at Fandor and Juve, Fantômas' crew set everything on fire. But, the pair jump in a barrel and roll down a hill into a nearby river, and we're left to assume they escaped unscathed. This sequence of events is directed and edited quite poorly, and is difficult to understand without knowing the story beforehand - and such a problem arises many times throughout the series.

Whilst some sequences are badly shot and require prior knowledge of what's going on to comprehend, some sequences are, however, just dumb. For example, one of Fantômas' diabolical plans is to kill Juve as he sleeps. By luck, Fandor overhears this scheme for assassination and that it will be occurring that night. The plan that the two then formulate together is that Juve will wear a protective jacket (a corset with nails sticking out of it - which I'm sure is a very comfortable and practical piece of body armour) whilst Fandor hides in the basket at the bottom of his bed. The two will wait for Fantômas to make a move, and then hopefully catch him. The diabolical mastermind, however, doesn't show up. Instead, he sends a giant python into Juve's window...



And as the blue tinting suggest, it is dark in the room. So, when the snake attacks and Juve starts shouting, Fandor is left to flail about blindly, not knowing what to do.



The snake wrestling shot followed by Juve throwing the thing out the window whilst Fandor rolls about on the floor is then very easily criticised - even laughed at. Moreover, it is a signfier that Feuillade wasn't good at handling all kinds of plots and scenes, especially those linked to action.

Whilst Feuillade's weakness are made evident early on, his directorial strengths emerge as we move deeper into the serial. In such, there are many brilliant examples of cinematography and framing both on location and in the studio...



In this sequence here, we also get some nice cinematic language with this shot-reverse-shot:



This shot-reverse-shot is a technique that was born more than a decade before this in trick films such as As Seen Through A Telescope. However, its integration into narrative was not too common until this era. What's more, neither were clever bits of cinematic language like that seen here...



Without an introduction to these characters, just a jump into the first shot, we're made to know their intent and what the man falling over means without an explicitly violent shot - one that would have landed Feuillade in even more controversy. After all, Fantômas (just like Les Vampires) was and always has been criticised for its senseless violence. This is not to say that the serials weren't popular, but, they did come under heavy criticism.

However, whilst Feuillade's cinematic language is sometimes clever, the shot of the newspapers does become tedious and lazy...


On a slight sidenote, there is an American character (Fantômas in disguise) who emerges late in the serial called Tom Bob. This is either a nice bit of satire or horrible writing. Either way, it's quite amusing.

As has already been alluded to, much of Fantômas merges into one long stream of things happening. However, episode five, by virtue of the strong direction, sticks out as the best. It is in this final episode that we see examples of camera movement which are very rare in the previous episodes. Check out, for example, this tracking shot:




What's more, we get some of the best cinematography of the serial in this episode. Look, for example, at this shot here where light is not only manipulated to create a brilliant, expressionist shot, but to tell the story...




Here we see lighting used to show that the character (who, I believe, is Juve on the way to prison) is trapped - the bars shadowing his face symbolise this - and is on a train that moves - the lights turning on and off suggest this. Here the lighting is then building a space, setting a tone and informing the narrative; a brilliant signifier of developing film language.

Staying with cinematography and direction, consider the improved exterior photography in this scene here...




In these shots, we have great texture, lighting, tinting and strong mise en scène. What's more, there aren't many bystanders stopping in the frame to stare at the camera.

One of the best scenes in the final episode concerns Fantômas gassing someone to death (which he has tried before). This scene is then nothing too new, but it is edited and shot perfectly.


With this establishing shot, we see Fantômas look at someone and reach for the gas meter.


With this close-up, we see him turn the handle down and the gas off.


In this wide shot, the fireplace is shown to be next to a person sleeping - a delayed POV shot that shows what Fantômas was looking at.


With this medium close-up we see the fire that is warming the room as fuelled by the gas. This fire goes out.


Back to the wide shot, we see that the man remains asleep.


In the close-up, however, Fantômas turns the gas back on without lighting the fire.


With this brilliant medium shot capturing Fantômas' smug smile, we then know that gas is seeping into the room and will asphyxiate the sleeper to death. Needless to say, but this is textbook direction unassisted by dialogue, V.O or any explanation; pure cinema.

One of the most impressive moments from episode five sees a man climb up into a bell in the top of a church. This would be a difficult scene to shoot considering the volume of the room. However, let us take a look at how Feuillade handles it...







Here we see a tremendous establishing wide shot that is cut into its own frame (a unique silent film aesthetic and cinematic device), before a long track up the ladder with the character. Is there a more impressive way Feuillade could have shot this scene? Not only is the camera movement brilliant, but this sequence captures tension as the man climbing is abandoned in the bell to dangle until it is rang and he falls to his death.

My favourite shot in the entirety of, not just the last episode, but the whole series, is this one:



Fantômas steals a suitcase he thinks has money in, but it turns out to be empty. We see this on his face, but then he shows us the empty suitcase, breaking the fourth wall. This ingenious moment captures the essence of Fantômas as a serial that is not necessarily about story and character, but the movement of a plot. Fantômas showing us the empty suitcase is a sneaky nod to the audience that acknowledges their presence and their interest in how we will be guided through a labyrinthine story.

Seeing these select details, it is clear that Feuillade had his limitations, but was nonetheless making huge steps in the cinematic world of 1913. These steps, as we have already discussed, were in a direction that the likes of Griffith weren't headed. This saw Feuillade develop a form of cinema that never became cinema, instead, remained a cousin to it. Nonetheless, narrative cinema as we have known it for decades would have learnt a lot through experiments in the serial film, and with some of the best and most popular coming from Feuillade. Feuillade and the serial then ultimately saw the exploration of plot and the devices which can keep an engaging story running for many hours on end.

To bring things towards the end, we can conclude that Feuillade's place in cinematic history is intriguing and disputable all at once. He brought art as well as entertainment to the form, but more so entertainment. Moreover, this is what his serials represented; they held the artistry of structure and cinematic language, but were clearly constructed to entertain, little more. But, if you would like to know more about this figure and his films, I recommend further reading. A good starting place to get to know Feuillade better would be this BFI article, but for a wider look at his whole career, this website is also useful. What's more, I cannot overstate how helpful this website on the Fantômas books, films and more was in familiarising myself with the films as and before I watched them. And with that said, I urge you to check out more early silent film serials to discover more for yourself, and to question their place in film.

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