1929: 7 movies

(Last updated 15 September 2012)

Direction, cinematography, and editing
by Ralph Steiner

   Dripping, streaming, rushing, rippling, lapping, splashing- These are only a few of the actions we witness in this PERFECT movie. In the space of twelve minutes, we focus with director Ralph Steiner solely on water in its many forms, and in doing so we can't help but begin to meditate on how vital water is, how central it is to our lives, how it makes our very bodies up. Splicing together shots of different kinds of water-bodies and their vastly different ways of moving is inspiring. This movie reminds us that creativity and beauty are bountiful and all around us. They're inexhaustible. It only takes the right artist to bring it out. Beyond that, the images end with an explosive show of reflecting light that is not to be missed.
   There are times towards the end when the image seems to be in x-ray mode, reversed light and dark, and at other times the ripples come across as so abstract the viewer might wonder whether they are hand-drawn. But even if there are some fancy tricks and animation, which I doubt, it still fits seamlessly into the rhythm and the theme doesn't change. Seriously, this movie is so beautiful that there is nothing left to do but swoon.

Melodie der Welt
Directed by Walther Ruttmann
Cinematography by Karl Brodmerkel, Paul Holzki, 
Adolf Jansen, and Reimar Kuntze
Music by Wolfgang Zeller

   What would it be like to watch Ruttmann's Berlin with sound? What would it be like if Ruttmann became even more sure of his talent and decided to make a symphony of the whole world rather than just one city? This movie answers those questions. At times, it feels like the Lumiere brothers went to even more places and looped all their movies together to create a spectrum of themes. What differentiates it is that this movie is all about rhythm. Also, it juxtaposes images of similar shapes but widely different meanings, and it builds to a unifying climax.
   The soundtrack doesn't always give us live sound for the images on the screen, sometimes it's just the pre-recorded music playing. Zeller's score follows the same rhythmic juxtapositioning and peak-building as the images. It's a decent method, especially when the sound links up occasionally. In such instances, the movie feels momentous, hyper-real. This movie was made before World War II, just before the Great Depression, and yet for as much time that separates us, this movie has the ability to make us think big, feel as one, and to remember that we come from the loud, busy planet. This movie reminds us that there is no reason we should ever be bored.
   The title translates as "Melody of the world".

Un chien andalou
Written, directed, produced, edited,
and co-starring Luis Buñuel
Starring Simone Mareuil, Pierre Batcheff, and Robert Hommet
Co-written and co-starring Salvador Dalí
Cinematography by Albert Duverger and Jimmy Berliet
Art direction by Pierre Schild

   It's the story of a love affair, from beginning to end, told in symbolic and often shocking imagery. As grotesque and nonsensical as it seems on the surface, there is a rich bittersweet poetry that lies underneath.
   The title translates as "An Andalusian dog".

Staroye i novoye
Written and directed by
Grigori Aleksandrov and Sergei M. Eisenstein
Cinematography by Eduard Tisse
Art direction by A. Burov, Vasili Kovrigin, and Vasili Rakhals
Starring Marfa Lapkina, Vasili Buzenkov,
and Konstantin Vasilyev

   Who knew farming could be so suspenseful, heroic, mystical, and sexy? This movie gives us the story after the Soviet revolution, the struggle to survive poverty and droughts, and to form collectives. It starts from dirt-poor tragedy and then moves into a momentum of two steps forward-one step back. By focusing on one town, and most specifically on one farm-woman, we get a remarkable feeling for the situation of the characters. We suffer, we laugh, we fight, sweat, and flirt, and it's all tied to the land, our animals, and our tools. This movie might be propaganda but it does contain a lot of room for reflection on our priorities and the things that will be eternally essential to our lives. Besides that, the scenes are plotted out well, constantly engaging, and feature some of the best cinematography ever.
   The title translates as "Old and new".

Die Büchse der Pandora
Directed and co-written by Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Produced by Heinz Landsmann and Seymour Nebenzal
Writing by Ladislaus Vajda and Joseph Fleisler
Cinematography by Günther Krampf
Editing by Joseph Fleisler
Art direction by Andrej Andrejew, Gottlieb Hesch,
and Ernö Metzner
Costume design by Gottlieb Hesch
Starring Louise Brooks, Carl Goetz, Fritz Kortner,
and Francis Lederer

   The slow, novel-like chapters of this movie create a slow-building dread in our stomachs because of the way we can see the plot heading. It's because of lead actress Louise Brooks that we keep watching even against our better judgement. Building on the charm-factor that Clara Bow had recently popularized, this movie also stages an entire movie around one woman with an enormous amount of appeal.
   At times, especially when Brooks is being photographed in various stylish outfits in countless photogenic settings and from every possible angle and under every possible lighting, it becomes difficult not to see the entire production as thinly-veiled pornography, or possibly as sequences from a modelling shoot, or more accurately as a filmization of a seedy dime-novel. What elevates the movie is Brooks herself. Yes, the camera does love her face and body, but if she had just been a pretty face with no acting talent, the movie surely would not be worth its time. What we fortunately have is a high-quality keeper, an epic journey through the life of a charming woman from the wrong side of the tracks. And we have it thanks to that unifying spirit with the bobbed hair. When Brooks' character Lulu is vibrant and charming, she is so not only for the other characters, but also for the people watching the movie. She redefines acting by projecting outwards through the camera to the audience. When she gestures, glances, expresses, and engages in an activity, we are aware of the extremely vivid reality of the scene, because we feel it too. Because she is so good, we are able to notice everything else good around her: the cinematography, the direction, the sets, the other actors and the editing. These all work together to transform a rich but over-long novel of a script into a sometimes snappy, sometimes profound paragon of movies. In a sense, you could say Brooks deserves a producer credit.
   The title translates as "Pandora's Box".

Plane Crazy
Produced and voiced by Walt Disney
Directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks
Original music by Carl W. Stalling

   The screen lights up onto a gentle but vibrant farm scene, which then quickly leads into an illogical but absolutely gripping, wild ride through the skies. The unpredictable flight is shown from multiple vantage points including one which puts us squarely and thrillingly in the pilot's seat. The composition is almost always deep in dimension, and also always fun-spirited. That fun comes largely from the characters, not only our leads but also the extra farm animals. Everything on screen is drawn with life, and the central love-story gives it all cohesion but does so in a way that doesn't suffocate the many enjoyable details.
   The visual component was completed and screened silently in 1928 as the first movie to feature Mickey Mouse, but after the immediate success of adding a soundtracks to movies, it was re-released with one the next year. That soundtrack adds a symphonic harmony to the visual hijinks, with its whirring propeller, barks, squeaks, and plops. It is immensely more fun than with the sound turned off. In other words, once you go sound, you don't turn around. In short, this is a trememdous work of animation not only paving the way for future cartoon movies, but also broadening the level of sensation one could expect from flickering images, animated or otherwise.

Hell's Bells
Directed and animated by Ub Iwerks
Produced by Walt Disney
Music by Carl W. Stalling

   Little demons put on a show for a big devil before feeding him. Everything runs smoothly until one of the devil's morsels refuses to be eaten. This is the story for this movie, and its a suitable one for the infernal theme. The drawings uncannily match the music's wonderful balance between fearsome and cute.

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