Corner in Wheat is the first film on the Film: Ab Initio list to tackle a contemporary political issue on film.
The film portrays three different elements of the corn industry: the growers, the speculators and the eventual buyers of wheat. The ease with which Griffith moves between the three different worlds is impressive. In particular, he makes the most of the technique first seen in The Great Train Robbery, crosscutting. This allows him to juxtapose the plight of the working men struggling to afford the bread with the lavish opulence of the successful speculator who attends a dinner with his society friend
Rob: The film as a whole (unlike Milton's superbly tragic verbal characterisation of Satan, say) operates in a purely visual way - the opening juxtaposing the dignified vertical plough lines of the farmers with the buzzing shirt cuffs of the owners; the second sequence mirroring left/right two tables: opulent feast and barren bread. This makes the choice of such a visual 'downfall' perfect, and brilliantly symbolic.
It is not an over-exaggeration to state that Panorama from the Times Building, New York provides the audience with a new way of seeing. Panorama is similar to some of the Lumiere Brothers’ ‘actualities’, except that it provides us with a breathtaking view of New York from the top of the Times Building. Within the space of a decade, film has gone from a still shot of workers outside the Lumiere Brothers’ factory to a daring aerial shot of a substantial part of New York.
Christian Hayes: Writers online don't write often about non-fiction but it's a major part of silent film production, there is so much of it, and this is a great example. There is something about the design of New York, the rigid shapes of the buildings, the layers of corners in the background and foreground, and the puncture-holes of windows that dot every building - that is endlessly fascinating, and it's in this period that modern New York we know was born.
The tone of Nerone is different to any film that we have observed so far, it is the first tragedy that we have encountered...
The most imaginative moment of the film comes towards the denouement of the film, as we see Nero lying on a chair, with his imaginative thoughts unfolding in the background; a pastoral scene gives way to what appears to be Rome on fire, causing Nero to collapse in fear of his own thoughts.
It is as powerful a scene as we have witnessed in any film so far, and makes great use of the medium of film to explore the apocalyptic visions the film’s protagonist.
There is a lot more to Edwin S. Porter’s oeuvre than just The Great Train Robbery. Dream of a Rarebit Fiend may well have been another forerunner for the surrealist movement.
In the latter moments of the film, such as where the protagonist’ bed is flying through the city, it is clear that the protagonist is dreaming. But at the moment where he approaches the lamppost, the two worlds amalgamate with one another, and it is at this moment that the initial defamiliarisation occurs. This is also the film’s most exhilarating moment. The energy of the protagonist combines with the dizzying whirling of his surroundings to draw the audience into his drunken revelry and subsequent dreaming.
In , we have the great comic of this era attempting to expand on the slapstick humour he perfected in films such as Début d'un patineur, thus allowing him to take advantage of film’s rapidly increasing length.
Rob: What a sublime opening shot. Taking up a quarter of the screen time of the entire piece with that gliding river scene suggests a deliberate artistic consciousness that was harder to spot in some of the earlier Linder films... Again, it seems that film is entering its first mini-maturity here.
The moment that camera dips under the tree branch, in particular, is stikingly ahead of its time. A similarly mobile camera still takes the viewer by surprise in Murnau's 'Sunrise', 18 years later!
Cohl’s film did manage to lift ‘cartoons out of the realm of trick films and started them on the path toward animated features’. In Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, we are presented with separate vignettes of various characters. In Fantasmagorie, there is a remarkable fluidity throughout the entire film; each scene effortlessly interweaves with the next.
Fantasmagorie confirms the notion which Humorous Phases of Funny Phases suggested: animation is a distinctive branch of film that differs significantly to the moving picture. The films’ rapidity and ability to shape-shift demonstrates that animated film can perform different, and on a certain level, more impressive, visual tricks that those found in Méliès’ or Porter’s films.
Living in an age of twenty four hour news media, we have become somewhat anaesthetised to the impact of the moving image (Of course I do not mean that we are not moved by terrible events such as the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I simply mean that we do not fully appreciate the fact that we have access to such images) in regards to natural disasters. But before this earthquake, all we had to rely on were eyewitness accounts of such terrifying events. Film would allow such events to be captured as they were, rather than how they were experienced by a limited group of people.
Rob - Amazing film...
"The latter half of the post-earthquake film feels as though we are watching the first zombie film. A mass hoard of people walk by the camera and appear listless and lifeless. The moving image not only created a new art, but also managed to alter the eye of history."
That is the most haunting thing I've read on this blog.
There are certain films that only make a notable impression on their audience after the film has concluded. They do not radiate brilliance throughout as many of the great films do, but their appreciation greatly increases when they considered in their entirety: Louis Feuillade’s The Fairy of the Surf is one of these films.
Another reading of the film is that it is an allegory for the battle between reality and the imagination. The Prince represents reality and the fairy represents the imagination. As the Prince captures the fairy and marries her, it appears that reality is harnessing and taking control of the imagination. Yet as the imagination has a violent reaction against reality and realises that it cannot exist on this plain so must return to her river of imagination, reality secedes its attempt to control the imagination and enters the world of the imagination. It is on this plain that the two are able to happily coexist (see image below); the allegory serves as an excellent lesson for any artist, and may also function as Feuillade’s mission statement for what will be an extremely successful decade for him.
Rob: I'd have never guessed that 7 minutes of such strangeness and beauty were just sitting there on YouTube. Thanks for bringing this one ashore.
The two worlds in this film - the land castle, and the sea - are both handled with visual flair, aren't they?
The blazing light surrounding their little boat is unnerving, too. The strange 'grain' seems almost prophetic of the Trinity test, 36 years later....
Le Voyage dans la Lune is often considered Méliès most important film; I would argue however, that Le Voyage à travers l'Impossible is of equal importance...
There is a sense that Le Voyage à travers l'Impossible is very much about the second wave of the Industrial Revolution and its limitations. Led by an engineer called Mabouloff (which translates as ‘Scatterbrains'), a group of travellers embark on an ‘impossible’ journey, which manages to entail a trip to the Swiss Alps as well as the sun (see above). You can draw parallels with their trip to the sun and Icarus flying too close to the sun. Perhaps Méliès is suggesting that man’s flirtation with technology will see it share Icarus’ fate.
The climax of the film is the most thrilling we have witnessed of any film thus far; unfortunately, it also one of the most damaged sections of the film. However, the distortion of the damaged reel seems to enhance the dramatic denouement of the film. In this climactic scene, Ned Kelly makes his last stand, wearing metal armour (see picture below) to protect his face as he is finally captured by the police. The scene can be seen to symbolise the shift from a semi-anarchic, chivalrous period to the more functional, bureaucratic (and sometimes totalitarian) modus operandi of the 20th century. The armoured plating is an outdated, futile yet heroic method for Ned Kelly to make his last stand. His tale will endure, but the ways of the outlaw bushranger ended with him. This aspect of the film may have resonated greatly with the audience, as the film was shown around the country for close to a decade.
By focusing on the sections of the film that have endured, I would argue that even in its current state, The Story of The Kelly Gang is a seminal film which must be brought to the forefront of debate of the early silent era. In terms of both importance and enjoyment, it stands alongside any film we have witnessed so far.
Rob: Well, all hail Charles Tait!
This is the most impressive find I've come across on this blog so far -- a really powerful film, dating back 104 years, that I have NEVER heard mention of anywhere before.
The celluloid image has a unique power over reality, and I think that even the (slower) first half of these fragments are worthwhile in 2010, offering the strange sensation of a sepia Civil War photograph hobbling into life... In my opinion, there is always a case to be made for abandoning the Quest for Authenticity, and reveling in the 'weirdness' of an Inauthentic vision of the past such as this. I might even be tempted to speculate that this 15 minutes of distorted footage on YouTube is greater than the c.70 minute film that spawned it.