There is a strange conflict between the elements of Murnau’s Tabu that seems to be simultaneously on and under the surface. The film symbolizes an escape for Murnau – from Hollywood’s artistic control that went in the way of his previous two films, 4 Devils and City Girl; from the strict traditionalism of German and American cultures; and into a care-free world of perfect weather, simple economics and amplified creative freedom. But this is not what is shown in Tabu.
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was a director of universal stories; simple stories, with not too many characters, that reached for the skies in their straightforward plots and elaborate camerawork. He called his Nosferatu a Symphony of Horror, his Faust a German Folktale, and later he would travel across the world to make of his Tabu a Story of the South Seas. He made films about city girls and countrymen, angels and demons, good and evil. But it’s in his Song of Two Humans, about a man and a woman who love each other, that Murnau has his supreme achievement, a masterpiece in emotional and visual heights that is considered by some the Great American Film.
Throughout most of the silent era, cinema behaved within the constraints of a strict two-dimensional approach to composition and editing, submissive to the notion of the proscenium arch of the theaters. Some directors explored cinematic tricks like double exposure, stop-motion, and altered frame rates, like Victor Sjöström and George Méliès; others gave a shot or two at moving the camera, like D.W. Griffith and Giovanni Pastrone; still, cinema was a mostly theatrical art. Which is why F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh is one of the most influential movies in film history: it blew that proscenium arch away, and with an unprecedented use of the camera, gave movies another dimension.
Before vampires were elegant, flamboyant characters; before they were werewolf hunters; before they glew under the sun, or burned violently at the sight of it; before they came in all shapes, sizes and genders; before Buffy, Blacula and Vampire’s Kiss; and even before the first Dracula movie, vampires in film were ugly, crawling, rat-like humanoids, whose voice we never got to hear, whose movements were too deliberate and unrealistic, and whose cursed nature made them too unlikable to feel properly modern. F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is unlike most other iterations of history’s most iconic modern monster, and perhaps for this reason it is also one of the best. Continue reading
Three Kings (David O. Russell, 1999)
Three Kings is many good and necessary things at once. It’s a film that really understands action, not only making an oddly satisfying mixture of art-house anti-war movie with a blockbuster adventure flick but also excelling at depicting said action with precision and grace – the way it cuts and uses slow motion is probably one of the finest examples of modern action film-making that compensates for much of the stylish action of recent years that doesn’t really add up to anything; it’s modern action done right. It’s a thought-provoking film, and a very accessible one, that kind of brings an entirely new solution to the age-old difficulty that directors have with bringing a message to the right people with the right vehicle. And it’s a really good movie, and the kind of good movie that pushes you to revisit the filmography of a director you didn’t regard all that highly. Continue reading
Chi-Raq (Spike Lee, 2015)
Based, on the Greek comedy Lysistrata, where Athenian and Spartan women go on a sex strike to stop the ongoing war, Chi-Raq is a very necessary 2015 movie that was criminally overlooked, despite being politically relevant, stylish, beautifully acted and very topical. Guess that happens when Amazon takes hold of your movie and you get criticized for what you did before they even get a look at it. Continue reading
Hello! It’s been a while, again. At this point I question myself whether I’ll make anything other than these monthly summaries in the near future, since I was sure I was going to move forward with my Great Directors series, finishing Eisenstein and going all the way to Godard (I even have practically finished reviews of October and Alexander Nesvky!) But for quite a few reasons, I have decided to push the series to January so that I can spend some time working on Werner Herzog’s new Masterclass (yes), among other things.
June was a lot of the same: many revisits to the local art-house theaters and to increasing DVD collection (I have about 90 movies of my own at this point including some beautiful Criterion boxes). Continue reading