D.W. Griffith – Way Down East

Way Down East (Griffith 1920) will be summed up with three words, tragedy, ice, and jokes. A far cry from his earlier epic film, The Birth of a Nation (1915), this movie is toned down in terms of over the top everything. It is like he turned his hyperbole meter back to ten, instead of eleven. Truly and honestly, I found most of the movie boring, however, there are definitely some aspects of this film that intrigue me. Griffith’s use of close-ups on Anna (Lillian Gish), interesting editing for the time period, and use of sound effects, kept me interested enough to sit through the 2+ hours of the film.

From beginning to end Lillian Gish has many close-ups emphasizing a wide range of emotions. Actually, I think every emotion that she felt got a close-up, but I like that. Way Down East is a silent, black and white movie so facial expressions are important. Gish does an great job showing exactly how she feels in key scenes just with her face. When she is happy, elated, torn apart, dejected, suicidal, etc… I could tell just from the close-ups. Of course the film had other cues as to which emotion she would be feeling, but they were forgettable where her face was not. Without question, watching Lillian Gish in this film made me sit through the whole thing.

Now, on to the odd part of the film. It has only been a week since I watched an earlier Griffith film, however, I do not recall any sound effects at all. In this Griffith production there were some sound effects. Now, prior (and during) posting this I tried to do some research to see if that was a part of the original production or some added-on snippet in a remastering. As of now, I have no answer, therefore I will continue to write as if it belongs there. To me, the few sound effects that were in the film were oddly placed and too minimal. If Griffith intended for sound effects to be a part of the film, they should have been more prevalent. Obviously, any sound heard during a silent film, today, is a researched score that was played at the actual theater, and then placed on top of the film, giving today’s audience a feel of what it would be like in sight and sound in 1920. With that said, I do not think it too far fetched that they would include sound effects, silly maybe, but not improbable. But, I restate my opinion on this, if sound effects were intended then Griffith should have used more, or only used them during the final scene. There is knocking randomly, a plate breaking, and then the rushing river. These were the main parts that I noticed the sound. Scratch it all and keep the end sound only, that’s what I say.

(Spoiler)

Now that I have brought up the ending, let’s talk about that. Great scene, a classic. Lillian as Anna has fainted on an ice patch that is rushing down the river towards the falls as David (Richard Barthelmess) pounces to her rescue. The quick editing between Lillian being swept away and David literally jumping from ice patch to ice patch is suspenseful, clever, and actually fun to watch. Griffith’s editing here is fantastic, rushing the scene as the river runs. Glorious.

Finally, the last two aspects of the film that I want to bring up are the overuse of comedy for a melodrama, and to simply state it, the classic comedy structure of the film. As they say, It’s a comedy if it ends in a wedding, and this had three. The use of humor in this film was everywhere. There were more jokes than actual storyline here. The film switches from stricken Lillian over her predicament, to the goofy townsfolk of Bartlett. Even though a classic comedy is not a comedy as we know it today, Griffith sort of blended the two ideas, in the classical and contemporary sense, to give us this film. Therefore as I finish this post, I will change my stance (as usual), watch it, get some laughs, enjoy Lillian Gish and the ending scene. Oh, and tell me, did you find it weird that the movie ended with Lillian kissing her mother-in-law and not her new husband?

 

 

Next Week: Josef von Sternberg – Der Blaue Engel “The Blue Angel”

Georges Melies – Le Voyage dans la Lune

The first thing that I need to say about this film is ‘wow.’ Only 14 minutes long, Le Voyage dans la Lune (Melies 1902) is highly enthralling. Keep in mind that this film was made in 1902 and the special effects are astonishing. During the time when film is just being discovered, Melies is already playing with camera tricks, dissolves, cuts, and it’s all a story. There were not a lot of fictional films in the beginning of cinema. If I’m not mistaken, early cinema was just real life on camera, like the Lumiere Brothers and their shot of a train coming into a station. The settings are awesome, even by today’s standards I’d say. The sets are obviously fabrications, part interactive and part painted backdrop, however, there are times when they seamlessly flow together. There is a scene in which the “wizards” are standing on a balcony in front of an industrial complex. There is smoke coming out of the stacks, and if you look close enough, they have rigged real flowing water. The fact that these effects were accomplished all through construction is mind-blowing. The storyline itself is fun. Scientists, or “wizards” by the look of them, decide to travel to the moon. They shoot a bullet straight into the eye of the man on the moon. Once there, they encounter moon-people, and finally drop off of the moon into the earth’s ocean. The version I watched is a recently restored edition that comes in a combo pack with Air’s soundtrack inspired by this film. Although the album itself is great, I disliked pieces of it played on top of the film. This film is a masterwork of visuals, and originally it was in black and white with hand painted frames to add color. Le Voyage dans la Lune is all about the look, and it does not disappoint. Find it, watch it.

Next week: D.W. Griffith – The Birth of a Nation (yikes…)

The Preliminaries

Hello all, this is the first post where I reveal why I started this blog, right. Sure. I got bored, simple, and I happen to like movies and music (shocker). So one day I thought, hey why not talk about them. There are plenty of forums among the cats in the tubes to do this, but I want my own. I am not a film or music student/major nor do I work in any field related to either, but who cares. So, feel free to read my unpolished thoughts on each category as I attempt to post about one movie and one album, once a week (maybe more). I am basing this on two books, mainly. Both part of the same series, I will be using the lists provided by 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (Link) and 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (Another Link). I am just going to go through the lists of each book and discuss each movie or album here. I will also try to end each post with the name of the next film and album I will be watching or listening to, respectively. Thanks for dropping by. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, one film and one album a week for 1001 weeks will take almost 20 years. “Never give up, never surrender.”

Next Week: Georges Melies – Le Voyage dans la Lune, Frank Sinatra – “In the Wee Small Hours”