A young boy stands like Peter Pan, hands on his hips against the pale background of his bedroom wall. A light pours through the window before him, casting him brightly despite the darkness in the room. The intersecting beams of the window pane cast a skewed cross across him, this distorted cross moving downward to the right against the wall. Suddenly, a large shadow steps into the frame, a personage of darkness that steals most of the light in the room. The boy is now cast in darkness. Here we have a filmic sequence derived from an appeal to the literature of images, a distorted religiosity beckoning the arrival of a diabolical presence. We have a moving picture demonstrating the shrouding of innocence by the waves of a harsh world, a world frustratingly characterized, as we will later learn, by abusers of power and manipulators of morality. Such flattery and gamesmanship is brought more into the light, as it were, when the light recedes into nighttime.
Welcome to October, ye aulde scavengers of doorstep candies and defacers of guileless pumpkins. This is a month unto itself in the world of film, a sort of embodied actor dictating the atmosphere and mood of its cinematic output with all the gusto of a mad composer. Where December takes us to the stereo systems, bidding us hear the crooners and choirs in their mystic wonderlands of white, October ushers us manipulatively to dark rooms with dull lights emanating from silver screens. It is a haunting force, not unlike the specters that inhabit it, simultaneously possessing us and scaring us away. October is no mere month, it is a phenomenon, beckoning us to consume fear like we would fun-size chocolates and candy corns. Trick-or-treating, costumes, haunted houses, plumes of dry ice flowing from plastic punch-bowls… none of these exorcise that possessive ghost of October quite like a scary movie. Indeed, the genre of horror film lies at the very heart of Halloween celebration. Continue reading →
*And supplementary lecture on the nature of silent film.
This blog is due for another silent film, and the one that I have selected is Battleship Potemkin (or, in Russian, Bronenosyets Potyomkin). As was recently posted, Potemkin stands at number 2 on my list of the “Most Important Films of All Time.” These are films selected strictly for aesthetic and technical innovation, with the qualification that said innovation produced radical change in the popular movie landscape, and not due to story or tertiary film elements along the lines of score, acting, or literary devices—save for those situations when one of those tertiary elements brought forth radical change (Wizard of Oz, for example). These were, quite simply, decided upon the film itself. Not the film as in “the movie,” but film as in the film, the literal celluloid collection. Embracing film as a singular art medium is a necessary facet to understanding silent films, and is unfortunately lost in much of what we consider quality film criticism today. Continue reading →