Silent Feature Sunday: Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

Coming two years after the release of Berlin: Portrait of a Great City, Man with a Movie Camera is a more kaleidoscopic and dizzyingly, intoxicating piece of early Cinéma vérité, or as the director of this film, and true forerunner of the movement; Dziga Vertov called it Kino-Pravda. The idea is the same: a portrait of a city (this time Moscow) from day-to-night, sure there’s a more Stalinist slant here, but while the politics may be dépassé or objectionable but the cinema is eternal.

61 Days of Halloween: The Last Exorcism

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Last Exorcism

I thought of a (American) football analogy as I was watching The Last Exorcism as the most apt description of the film. This film reminds me of a team driving down the field to win the game and taking the ball to the opposing one-yard line and then throwing an interception, or to put it otherwise, it’s a film that comes real close to doing something special but ruins it at the end.

The first thing that absolutely has to be said is that the cast of this film is just absolutely outstanding, pretty much pick a cast member and you weren’t likely to find a better fit for the part. Everyone knows who they are what the role demands and how to deliver it in spades, and this goes down to the smallest roles. It is indeed a rare treat to see acting of this caliber in a horror movie and it is most of what propels this film to the edge of greatness before it plummets of a cliff terribly. It is worth viewing for the performances alone.

The second thing this film does very well is that is convincingly portrays its story in a documentary/cinéma vérité style. It opens with a lot of exposition through questions and the thoughts of our protagonist Rev. Cotton Marcus. Then it morphs from Q & A mode to recording things as they happen.

The cinematography throughout manages to be rather good and economical in its movement, despite the ever-present handheld images. It is only on the rare occasion that things get wild and visual information is hard to interpret.

It’s like the metaphor above implies, the film does a lot right but it really botches it with its ending and in truth most if not all the weaknesses that drag it down are story-related.

While it is very effective, at times, for horror films to have their protagonists be non-believers this one takes it a bit too far and has Rev. Marcus steadfastly disbelieve what his eyes are seeing for far too long such that it’s out of character because a man that smart can’t be that stubborn for that long.

He believes there is no possession and continues to even though they have recordings of Nell (Ashley Bell) having a conversation with a person unknown in Latin, a language they have established she cannot speak. Nell also picks up the camera at one point and tapes herself attacking livestock. It’s never made clear whether they watched the footage, the ways the characters act towards the end make you think they did not. Yet the camera is found damaged and bloodied, they know she used it but they didn’t check the footage? It’s the first thing a cameraman would do.

Then there is the end where there are a few twists one of which is major and we see coming the other which we really don’t. The second of which is truly the extraneous, one in which the film is trying to be a little too clever for its own good. Also, the end does raise up a few more questions and is a bit frantic and the one place where things can be lost and that’s where you can’t afford to.

This is a film that has so much going for it on the technical end, but it was all in service to a story that could’ve been more tautly rendered and more well-told. Such a shame.

5/10