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May 30

movie log: The Wind (1928)

Posted on Saturday, May 30, 2009 in movies

Seen April 23, 2009: The Wind, a silent movie from 1928 directed by Victor Sjöström, starring Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Edward Earle, Dorothy Cumming, Montague Love.

Gish plays Letty, a woman who is moving from her home in the green eastern US to live with her cousin Beverly (Edward Earle) in dry, windy, dusty Texas. On the train she meets a man Wirt Roddy (Love) who flirts with her and warns her that the wind will drive her crazy. She arrives to find cousin Beverly’s wife Cora (Cumming) most unwelcoming. Cora is perhaps a bit touched in the head, and at any rate is hostile towards and jealous of Letty. She insists that she won’t share her house or her husband, and Letty is forced into marriage with Lige (Lars Hanson), a decent man but a man that she doesn’t love.

The main character is, as the title suggests, the wind, which blows and shifts the dry sand around through the starkness of the territory and the hard-living people trying to survive it. Into this setting Roddy shows up again, his evil lust for Letty pushing him to her as she is being driven mad by the weather and her situation.

This is a wonderful movie. I’ve seen it before, but in this instance I saw it in the theater, as part of a silent movie program of monthly showings in Manchester NH and in Wilton NH. This one was at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, with (as with all in this series) live music composed and performed by Jeff Rapsis. The film was preceded by a short interview with Gish done some decades later (as it was the other time I saw it; probably drawn from the same source DVD). Gish talked about how the production used an array of aircraft engines and propellers to generate the wind when needed, and about how the weather was so hot that at one point she burned the skin off of a hand while opening a door. Unfortunately she also talked about the ending – this featurette should be seen after watching the movie, not before.

While some of this movie is quite over the top (especially the bits about the wind having an alter ego as a wild stallion), it is highly enjoyable, one of the best silent films I know of. To some degree you have to have some experience with and get a feeling for silent movies before you can appreciate and enjoy them, especially the longer dramatic ones. But I’ve often felt that this is one that can be enjoyed without any such background.

May 30

movie log: movie bag

Posted on Saturday, May 30, 2009 in movies

Another bag o’ movies

Viewed April 8, 2009: Symbol of the Unconquered, a silent movie from 1920 directed by Oscar Micheaux. This is an odd duck of a silent film, as it (unlike most movies of its time) was directed by a black man and featured black people – it’s usually striking how one-toned most of these old silent films are, with non-whites often shown as caricatures or worse. Unfortunately some of the film (mainly a significant section towards the end) is missing and is replaced by title cards. The story concerns an African American woman who is light skinned and, posing as white, moves to an inherited plot of land somewhere in the wilderness. There’s a lot of nefarious action: land grabbing, race hatred, mother-hating, self-hating, and (in the missing section) fighting the Ku Klux Klan. With or without the missing piece, the whole thing is pretty awful, and it’s been augmented with a clangy, almost beatnik score, to boot.

Viewed April 8, 2009: N.Y., N.Y., a 1957 movie directed by Francis Thompson. TCM showed this as a companion piece to “Manhatta” which I wrote about here. In this short film, Thompson shows distorted images of NYC scenes. There’s a lot of kaleidoscopic, folded, and distorted imagery, most of which is pretty fascinating.

Next up that same night (April 8, 2009): Sherlock Jr., Buster Keaton’s masterpiece from 1924 directed by Keaton, starring Keaton and an able cast. Buster plays a film projectionist who dreams of being a detective like Sherlock Holmes. He is studying a “how to be a detective” book when he himself is accused of a crime – a rival for the hand of the woman he is attempting to woo has stolen the woman’s father’s watch partly in order to make Buster’s character look bad. He (Keaton) spends some hilarious time pursuing suspects, and then while at work dozes off and imagines that the people in his case are characters in the film he’s showing, and that he himself walks into the movie to help them out. There are many great gags, wonderful pieces of cinematic trickery, and perhaps some commentary about Keaton’s involvement in his own films. I could see this many times – and in fact have.

Viewed April 18, 2009, and filling up this bag: Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman’s 2008 film which I’ve already gushed about at length and so will just point there.