Watch out, Agent 326!

12 March 2013

Spies

From Fritz Lang’s Spies (Spione, 1928), the film Lang made immediately after Metropolis (1927) but before (1931), and which has some of the gee-whiz gadgets and terrific action that you might expect. But best of all is conflicted bad-spy Sonya Baranilkowa (Gerda Maurus), whose elegant, bejeweled hands we see here. Watch out, Agent 326!

And oh, that evil Russian’s clothes. Don’t even get me started.

Nota bene: don’t watch this streaming on Netflix, as you’ll only get part of the film. Look out for the 144-min. or 178-min. versions.

 

Beware becoming overly attached to movies you haven’t seen yet. Beware investing too much hope in the idea of those movies; the head space you imagine.

A shot from Les Vampires (1915)

When I was a kid I found a book at the Salvation Army that contained the full script of Casablanca (1942), which I read and re-read for about two years before actually getting the chance to see the film. (Ah, the olden days, when local video stores sucked.) Sometimes I even read them aloud to myself — because, naturally, as a kid I had lots of time to cultivate my eccentric persona.

Having that kind of intensive familiarity with the dialogue made me disappointed by the film — I thought the actors breezed through those great lines too quickly, whereas I had been accustomed to letting the dialogue wash over me with slow, methodical pleasure. Even now I have a hard time with some of the best exchanges between Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Renault (Claude Rains), because that expectation of a different pacing still nags in my memory:

Captain Renault: I’ve often speculated why you don’t return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Run off with a senator’s wife? I like to think you killed a man. It’s the romantic in me. 
Rick: It was a combination of all three. 

Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep, re-creating scenes from Les Vampires

(Don’t worry: it only took a few more viewings before I fell in love with Casablanca just as it is.)

I should know better. But I still catch myself fantasizing about what a movie might be, long before I’ve seen it. It’s like going back to that 12-yr-old place, in which my imagination turns out to be far more active than that of some filmmakers.

An example: a few years ago I saw Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep (1996), a film-within-a-film tale about a manic, hapless crew filming a remake of Les Vampires (1915). I’d never even heard of that latter title, but my serious disappointment in Assayas’ film made me all the more fixated on the early silent.

Now, I can watch Les Vampires any time I like — it’s streaming on archive.org — but isn’t it true that sometimes we prefer to let the idea of the film percolate in one’s mind for a while?

Sometimes I imagine that if I’m ever given the chance to create a film of my own, it will be a tribute to the films I imagined — the narratives and love stories and fantastic voyages and melodramas I constructed in my fervid imagination, just from those tidbits of trailers or stills I came across. It’ll be about phantoms, as if a mad alchemist decided to create gold from the crazy mixture of that final montage of kissing scenes from Cinema Paradiso, a healthy dose of Guy Maddin’s psycho-sexual funhouse style (see here for JB’s great interview with Maddin), those partially decayed clips from silent film so beautifully laid out in Decasia, Christian Marclay‘s dedication to subtle segues, and perhaps a Pixar screenwriter or two.

Musidora (yes, Musidora) from Les Vampires

Fantomas of movies I haven’t seen. Maybe it’s bound to be disappointing, the way the Choose Your Own Adventure books held out all that promise and, most of the time, showed an even more awful lack of imagination than ordinary novels.

But still, doesn’t it seem appropriate that film should address its own phantoms, its unrealized plots?

 

Welcome to the Hitchcock Blog-a-Thon, designed to raise the funds to stream online three reels of the recently rediscovered 1923 silent movie, The White Shadow, for which a young Alfred Hitchcock served as assistant director, wrote the title cards, edited, designed the sets, decorated the sets, and learned everything he could about how to make a film. You’ve heard me rant about access to film before; now’s your chance to put some money toward universal access. Click here to make a gift of any size toward this effort.

In addition, check out the vast outpouring of Hitchcock blogging at three sites: The Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy On Film, and This Island Rod, each of which has taken a turn as blog-meister during this May 13-18 Hitchfest.

*****

Alfred Hitchcock cast a lot of different women as leads, but oh, his blondes. He left no doubt that each was a spectacularly beautiful specimen. Perfect to a fault yet surprisingly willing to initiate sexual encounters — even aggressive. Deliciously unpredictable (and occasionally malicious) for long stretches until, suddenly, she falls in love with the hero and becomes absolutely trustworthy.

Critics have complained bitterly about these women being portrayed as ice queens, absurd male fantasies — which they most surely are. But come on. Remember Grace Kelly’s first appearance in Rear Window? (See here for a clip.)

She enters the dark apartment as Jeff (James Stewart) naps, and bends down to kiss him. Hitchcock filmed it as if we were the object of her desire: that extreme close-up of her perfect face, coming in straight for us. When Hitch transitions to a side view so we can watch her plant a perfect, luscious kiss on Jeff’s lips, all the neighborhood noise drops away, and the shot is almost perfectly silent. Watch it and tell me if you don’t hold your breath while she kisses him/us.

Tippi Hedren, Madeleine Carroll, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Grace Kelly — via Hitchcock’s lens, these women are transfixing, spectacular, maddening. One might go so far as to suggest that Hitch helped to cement an abiding ambivalence about blondes into our collective psyches.

Which made me wonder how early he manifested this fascination with blondes — so this blog-a-thon offered the perfect opportunity to scour the Hitchcock back catalogue for some of his earliest films. And thus I found Anny Ondra, a Polish/ Czech/ Hungarian actor who grew up in Prague and whose total English-language career consists of these two 1929 films for Hitch: The Manxman and Blackmail, two films bookended by a long career of European films that stretches almost forty years, concentrated most heavily between 1922 and 1938, when she was between the ages of 19 and 35.

She wasn’t Hitch’s first blonde, but she seems to be his first repeat-offender actress. And with her, the die was cast. At the risk of looking backward from his classic blondes of the 1950s to ask whether Ondra possesses some of the qualities that would become quintessential to the Kellys, Saints, and Hedrens, I nevertheless offer that from the very earliest scenes in these two pictures, we know how untrustworthy her character is, how duplicitous. In fact, we’re reluctant to like her at first.

Except that she’s so flighty and girlish we grow more lenient; we come to see that she knows not what she does.

The more we watch her, the more we need to watch her. These films both utilize what now appears to be a ham-fisted cinematographical technique: frequent shots in which the characters break the fourth wall and face the camera directly — at first as a means of introduction, but later on as a way to pause for emotional effect. Ondra flirts at the camera as she torments her two suitors in The Manxman, an operatic tragedy of a love triangle. Clumsy though this technique might be, we learn a lot about Ondra’s true charms in the process, and we suspect that our own growing softness for her character mirrors Hitchcock’s affection for the actress.

Look at those sweet little butterfly lips, that delicate little chin, that over-permed hair. Those large eyes, that could narrow to slits or widen in horror: in sum, she’s adorable. With all those close-ups of her lovely little face, we’re able to watch her flirt, weigh a decision, worry, or fool a man (transparently). She acts the pants off of all her male co-stars, who are negligible, forgettable figures (except perhaps Carl Brisson as the happy-go-lucky Pete in The Manxman, distinguishable primarily for being a Tom Hiddleston look-alike, albeit without perhaps such a massive forehead).

But therein lies the first major difference between Hitch’s later blondes and Ondra’s appearances for him in 1929: Ondra is truly a girl, utterly lacking the cool, elegant self-possession of his 1950s ice queens. No matter that, at 26, she was a year older than Grace Kelly had been when they filmed Rear Window — Hitchcock wanted women for his later films, whereas in these very early efforts he allows Ondra to charm in a different way. Put her in a room crowded with Manx fishermen, and she glows.

And charm she does. I mentioned above that she’s portrayed early on in each film as a deceiver — the thing is, she ultimately becomes the central protagonist in each film. In The Manxman (the earlier of the two films), she steals the film out from under her male co-stars. As she lives through a marriage to the wrong man, she quickly appears as a foolish yet sympathetic girl whose haste in marrying dooms her to unhappiness. Likewise, in Blackmail she simply wanted to have a nice time with a man who gives her more attention than her boring, busy detective boyfriend — only to find herself in a tight spot indeed.

Blackmail has a simplistic storyline, but the added attraction of being a very early talkie — in fact, it sometimes appears almost as if Hitchcock arranged to dub all the sound onto the film later on. Neither is this purely a guess on my part. Ondra’s voice is entirely dubbed by actress Joan Barry, after the filmmaker determined that her accent would distract from tale.

No matter. Even without hearing her true voice in that film, we have preserved via the ever-magical YouTube this delicious little moment: a sound test for Blackmail, in which Hitchcock and Ondra engage in a delightful little bit of dirty verbal sparring. You can see immediately that Ondra is a charismatic little number — and that Hitch didn’t miss an opportunity to tell a dirty joke, and run his eyes up and down his lead actress:

Now, isn’t that enough reason to donate to the Hitchcock Blog-A-Thon — the possibility of being able to see, at your leisure, a gem like this one online? Please consider making a donation to the NPFF, and visit my colleagues’ sites to enjoy the wide-ranging conversation about the many sides of Alfred Hitchcock!

Film historians often estimate that 83% of all silent film has been lost, but that’s just a guess-stimate. No wonder we all cheer when we hear good news for a change. Back in August 2011, the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) announced that it had discovered the first three reels of The White Shadow (1923), a film long assumed to have been lost. Even better that this was the first film Alfred Hitchcock played a major role in creating — as assistant director, screenwriter, film editor, production designer, art director, and set decorator, all under director Graham Cutts.

Thanks to the NFPF, the film was restored and given a new score by composer Michael Mortilla. But unless you were lucky enough to see the premier of the restored film in Los Angeles in September, the film might as well be lost all over again. And you know how I rant about access.

That’s where the Film Preservation Blog-A-Thon comes in. Classic film bloggers FerdyOnFilm, the Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod are urging all of us to contribute posts on Hitchcock during a May Blog-A-Thon to raise awareness as well as the approximately $15,000 to stream The White Shadow for four months, thus making it available to anyone with access to a computer and high-speed internet. Our combined posts on Hitchcock’s films will further help raise awareness of the fragility of film and the need to make rare films available to all.

Plus, what a great excuse to dive into Alfred Hitchcock’s back catalogue and think about his talents for one intense week.

Want to know how The White Shadow was rediscovered? There’s often a great tale involved when presumed-lost films are found. In 1989 a man named Jack Murtagh discovered a pile of classic film moldering in his garden shed in Hastings, New Zealand and donated them to the New Zealand Film Archive. These three reels were misidentified until recently.

That’s not the only bizarre instance of rediscovery. In 1978, a bulldozer uncovered buried reels of nitrate film during excavation of a landfill in a small town in the Yukon, Canada. This town, Dawson City, sat at the very end of the distribution line for film during the silent era, so when the films completed their runs at the local theater, the reels were shifted to the local library — at least until 1929, when worries about the flammable nitrate film led to their being used as landfill. Stored for 50 years under the permafrost of the Yukon proved to be an extremely effective means of (accidentally) preserving classic film.

How about the time the full-length copy of Metropolis was discovered in Argentina?

Want to participate? Join the Blog-A-Thon by signing up at the three aforementioned blog sites; you can donate at any time by clicking on the DONATE button. In the meantime, happy Hitchcocking!

I’m going to enjoy watching those few, rare, Hitchcock silent films and thinking about their portrayals of women, gender, and sexuality — you’ll be seeing more of this in May, friends.

From Dimitri Kirsanoff’s Ménilmontant (1925), a silent film told entirely with images — it doesn’t have the intertitles that most possess. It’s remarkable — and only 40-something minutes long. You can watch the entire thing on YouTube:

Photography grew more creative at the same time the movies did in the 1910s and 1920s, creating amazing images like this. This post is inspired by Unexplained Cinema, where Greg simply offers striking images, stills, screen caps, and movie posters virtually absent of comment; I look at it all the time and envy his idea. I found the image above, however, at the blog Seraphic Secret where Robert Avrech has a lovely description of this Jewish actress, Alla Nazimova, who at the time (1921) was a major Hollywood power. This still is from Camille, which I’ve never seen — but it’s all in the looking, isn’t it?

Turner Classic Movies — that stalwart throwback of basic cable TV, the channel that still doesn’t have commercials or flashy series, is doing us all a public service this month:  they’re showing a new seven-part documentary on the history of Hollywood and moviemaking in America called “Moguls and Movie Stars.”  Tonight starting at 7pm EST/6pm CST they’ll show two one-hour episodes back-to-back:  “Peepshow Pioneers,” about the earliest days of film in the twentieth century, and “The Birth of Hollywood.”  Subsequent episodes will premier each Monday night until mid-December.  Best of all, tonight’s installments will be followed by a series of early silents that discuss race in film, starting with “Traffic in Souls” (1913) and “The Indian Massacre” (1912).

I’ve never had the luck to see “Traffic in Souls” before, but I’ve read about it — it played a big role in the early 20th-c. hysteria over white slavery.  White slavery had worked right-thinking members of the public into a lather since the mid-1880s, but had peaked in the 1910s with the passage of the famous Mann Act, or the White Slave Traffic Act, that forbade the interstate traffic of women “for immoral purposes.”  Like many public hysterias, this one got a good deal of its oomph from racist fantasies that nice white girls were being captured for sexual slavery by dastardly dark men (mostly Chinese and Jews); movies like “Traffic in Souls” and others were intended to keep fear alive, a la Stephen Colbert, so the public wouldn’t forget how terrible such crimes were.  Reputedly, however, film studios gradually cottoned on to the fact that audiences saw these films as titillating, so they got pulled from release.  No wonder that by the time Rudolph Valentino played “The Sheik” in the 1920s, women were well-primed to find his masterful quasi-rape of white women to be so wonderful as to be damn near pornographic.

TCM is following these two films up with D. W. Griffith’s classic “Birth of a Nation” (1915), that histrionically racist portrayal of the South and the KKK — one of those films that can only point out how much the 1910s were a foreign country.  But don’t despair, for immediately afterward will be shown one of the earliest films by a prolific black director, Oscar Micheaux, whose “Within Our Gates” (1920) exposes the nation’s history of lynching and mixed-race blending only loosely covered up by extreme white racism.  (I’m also glad to see, with this opening intertitle, that he challenges Northern fantasies of being altogether superior to those hicks in the South.)  I’ve never seen any of Micheaux’s films, and I’m looking forward to it.  It’s always good to know that there were prominent Hollywood directors who talked back to the movies’ racism even at one of the darkest points in American history. 

I know, after posts on “Buffy” and Julie Taymor this stuff is hopelessly geeky — and with that, I hope you’re as excited as I am.

I’ve been in transit between research locales (and across time zones) and find myself inspired as a result to write about “Wings,” which is still so impressive for its amazing portrayal of World War I dogfights between American and German pilots.  It was so vivid — such a head-spinning documentation of improbably tiny planes whizzing around one another and hurtling down from the heavens — that it roused my fear of heights; I actually had to shut my eyes and grab onto the armrests.  !!  If you have the chance to see a silent film on the big screen with live music accompaniment, just go.  Don’t miss it, no matter how cheesy the film.  Silent films simply do things that later films don’t — and risking the lives of their actors was one of them.

Aside from its gee-whiz plane antics, watching this film reminds you of everything that has changed in the 80-some intervening years.  Let me name the three most prominent:  1) the prominent tale of love between its two male leads; 2) its portrayal of mother love; and 3) its odd ambivalence toward war.  First, on the love between its middle-class hero Jack (Charles “Buddy” Rogers, on the left above) and the wealthy David (Richard Arlen, right).  Mary (Clara Bow, looking a bit wise to the situation here) loves Jack but knows he hasn’t got eyes for her; the two men start out ostensibly fighting over another girl.  Their animosity comes to blows during flight training camp in a vicious boxing match between the two men, during which Jack knocks David to the ground several times.  But seeing David covered in blood yet still getting up for the last time changes something in Jack’s heart.  “Boy, you’re game!” he cries, and they’re best buddies.  This sounds hopelessly corny — and much of the movie is corny — yet this scene is oddly touching, perhaps because Arlen shows himself in these scenes to be less serious and angular, as he seemed at first, than surprisingly slight and tremendously beautiful.

But then the always-too-beautiful David is injured, and they share a tender moment in each other’s arms.  I remember seeing this scene near the end of “The Celluloid Closet” as an example of queer moments onscreen in Hollywood’s early years and wondering if it had been cherry-picked out of the film.  It wasn’t:  it’s not going too far to say that women are always secondary to the story of these men’s love for one another.  While Mary waits for Jack to come around, the bulk of the film displays his true love for David and their love for one another that goes beyond being buddies.

The audience had been warned that there would be a kiss between the two male leads, but they weren’t ready for the sentimental scene as David bids goodbye to his parents.  As they gaze at him with sorrowful, worrying faces, David kisses his mother on the lips — prompting audible gasps and nervous giggles from some audience members.  It’s a great example of that era’s remaining, uncomplicated belief that a mother’s love was the purest of all human loves — and that a son ought to feel a lifelong debt to his mother for the sacrifice she performed in giving birth to him, as Rebecca Plant shows in her elegant new book, Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America.  It’s so interesting that men kissing one another reads as so much less transgressive than his kissing his mother.  The story of that transformation is fascinating and will change how you feel about your mother.

And then there’s war.  It’s a film about WWI made in 1927, so we can forgive it for its Ameri-centrism — according to this film, the United States won the war singlehandedly — but it genuinely doesn’t know what to do with the philosophical question of war.  At times, it seems to offer the usual kind of critique of war, particularly when faced with death.  The film kills off vast numbers of fliers and shows unhesitatingly the grief of the “gold star” families who lose their sons.  Yet it’s hard to believe that these scenes appeared as anything other than stock in comparison to its gung-ho, glamorous and exciting scenes of darting about the clouds in planes, killing enemies.  Taken together, the bonhomie of the pilots and their heroism in the air seem so appealing that it must have given the Army a huge uptick in recruits.  In fact, the threat of death only serves to enhance the appeal of the pilots’ lives.  1927 America was so far away from postwar Europe, and 1938 or 1939 loomed so far ahead in the future, that Hollywood could indulge briefly in a love affair with war heroism with few qualms.  It’s fantastically productive of thinking to imagine what happens between wars, as culture re-imagines the past and helps to anticipate the future.

Overall, “Wings” engages in familiar narratives that talking pictures would utilize later on — much more so than some of the other silents I’ve seen recently, like the wonderful “Sunrise” (1927) that won Most Artistic Production at the first Academy Awards ceremony.  But it’s still a surprising and wonderful film that shows why we should be watching silents now.  They help remind us of the jaw-dropping capacity film has — in an era without CGI.  In contrast. “Avatar” looks lame.

I’m not going to recommend that anyone hunt down “Diary of a Lost Girl” (“Tagebuch einer Verlorenen”), the 1929 German silent shot by G. W. Pabst.  It’s preposterous soap — an innocent middle-class girl is raped by her father’s employee, bears a child and is kicked out of the house, enters a reformatory headed by a sadistic nun and a Lurch-like assistant who specializes in grabbing the lost girls by their necks.  She becomes a prostitute, marries a count, inherits all her father’s money after all, gives it all away to her evil stepmother … and so on; it’s like “The Perils of Pauline,” except she gets to have a teeny bit of agency in the end.  (The film is, however, available on YouTube for those of us cut off from Netflix.)  But it has Louise Brooks in it.  After stumbling across a library book full of beautiful stills of her, I knew I had to finally see one of her films.

The hair was absolutely brilliant — but everyone talks about that, so let’s focus on her eyes.  No one could use that scowl — a scowl that just hinted at a cry for help — better than Brooks.  She used heavy eyeliner to make them appear even bigger and wider than they already were; no wonder Liza Minnelli lifted a bit of this look for “Cabaret” in the 70s.  Unlike Minnelli, Brooks liked to hide her smile from us most of the time (“Diary of a Lost Girl” doesn’t give her much happiness), but when she did flash it, you see the most beautiful white, straight teeth and wide smile, none of which could be expected in the 20s, even for Hollywood.  I’m not sure whether her eyebrows were really so straight and far apart or if she plucked them to enhance her slightly helpless little-girl visage; either way, they were effective.  The fact that she keeps her smile from us so frequently makes us want her more.

She also had a knack for underplaying her roles, making her stand in sharp contrast to the other screen vamps of the 20s so effectively satirized by Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard.”  (“I am big.  It’s the pictures that got small.”)  That naturalism suited Pabst, who was part of the New Objectivity movement to alert the public to the social ills surrounding them.  But while it’s hard to take seriously Pabst’s silly script at this remove, what does come through is that Brooks was working against his social consciousness when she displayed her gradual descent into sexual excess.  The campy melodrama actually seems to enhance our enjoyment of her sexual appeal, none of which she hid.  She held nothing back when she danced; she let her male escort know perfectly well she might be available for something more.  In fact, she apparently cultivated a reputation for a stunningly open sexuality, having numerous affairs with both men and women throughout her life.

She was in Germany because she also had a tendency to burn all her bridges.  Affairs, marriages, and film contracts invariably ended when Brooks ran out on them.  But you can see why they chased her.  Even now, there’s a Louise Brooks Society that keeps a terrific blog and posts surprisingly regular updates about screenings, memorabilia for sale, and other background info about her.    

One of the best scenes in “Diary of a Lost Girl” comes in the middle of the film, when she’s taken in by a kindly madam and her houseful of prostitutes.  Here they dress her in a beautiful new dress; later, in equally hypnotic images, she dances with men and drinks a little too much champagne.  This is a small clip from it.  In the meantime, I’ll recommend that all of you with proper movie rental capability get the Pabst-made classic, “Pandora’s Box” — clips from that film show many more of the same kinds of scenes of her dancing, reclining on fainting sofas, wearing revealing dresses, and seducing the hell out of all of us.

 I never know where I’m going with silent films.  Their unpredictability transforms me into an open-mouthed viewer, wondrous in a way I rarely experience with films made later.  Was it the Code that made things more predictable, dictating moralistic and uplifting tales?  After seeing “Sunrise,” I think it was the reliance on dialogue at the expense of pure visual experimentation.

There’s nothing more indulgent than going out for the evening to see “Sunrise” in the theater with a live band at a point in the semester when I really should be grading papers and preparing a lecture.  Directed by F. W. Murnau, who’d filmed the Expressionist classics “Nosferatu” (1922) and “Faust” (1926) in Germany before coming to Hollywood, “Sunrise” is pure fable.  The story seems slight, even dull in synopsis form:  The Man (George O’Brien) is having an affair with a glamorous Woman From The City, who urges him to murder his Wife (Janet Gaynor) by taking her out on his boat and drowning her.  After he finds he can’t do it, O’Brien and Gaynor run off to The City where they find themselves falling back in love while partaking of urban wonders — having their photo taken, visiting an amusement park, dancing the “Peasant Dance” to the delight of the spectators.  They become like newlyweds again — childlike, happy like they used to be.

But if it sounds predictable, there’s nothing easy about it:  it’s Freudian, archetypal, essential, surprisingly raw.  Janet Gaynor has the tiniest little face with a helmet of blonde hair pulled back into a bun, like a doll; hulking George O’Brien’s head and hands appear at least three times as big as hers.  Shots of him protecting her or tossing her as if she’s weightless show us his potential brute power over her; yet her purity and her enormous black eyes seem to hold true power over him.  In the end, “Sunrise” is a fable about love and reconciliation the way that Charles Laughton’s “Night of the Hunter” (1955) is fable about childhood terrors and motherly protection.  The film could melt even a cynic’s heart, but it also leaves you feeling as if you’ve had an unexpected and somewhat painful breakthrough in therapy. 

With a couple like this showing up in The City, you anticipate some kind of city mouse/country mouse narrative — decrying the dangers and corruptions of the city and celebrating the country’s simple virtues.  But that’s some other movie.  In fact, they rediscover their love and childlike innocence in the city.  (And who wouldn’t, with that awesome amusement park — let me just say that I want to play a game in which you throw a ball through a hoop and a real little pig comes rolling down a slide.)  As a viewer you find yourself bewildered by all of this — pleasure in Gaynor and O’Brien’s newfound love, confusion about where the story is going, wonder at urban delights — such that you start to feel like a child again yourself, and you find buried in you a deep, dark fear that somehow their happiness might have to be ruined. 

Murnau made great use of camera trickery — from composite shots to double-exposure.  When The Woman From The City seduces O’Brien with tales of the city, the sky above their reclining bodies transforms into shadowy scenes of decadent pleasure.  When he thinks of her later and thinks about murdering his wife, he is grasped by a ghostly version of her, surrounded by images of her face. 

But, then, “trickery” is the wrong word.  This isn’t a film that delights in the camera for the camera’s sake, or that privileges style over substance.  Rather, Murnau’s eery understanding of what made for a good, memorable shot — and his ability to mix action scenes and moving cameras with quiet, magical closeups of Gaynor and O’Brien — demonstrate an unbreakable focus on conveying meanings through images that transcend words.

Magic.  Seeing “Sunrise” took me out of myself, away from the papers and email and PowerPoint slides.  Oh, that we had more chances to see silent films on the big screen, with live accompaniment, with rapt audiences that whoop at the end.  It’s not just that their narratives are unpredictable (though that would be enjoyable enough).  Silent filmmakers created visual images that tapped into one’s psyche, doing far more than the thin storyline purported to accomplish.