As I continue my #SummerWithHitchcock, yesterday I watched two films that influenced the Master.
Battleship Potemkin (1925) Set in 1905, the film is a partially fictionalized account of the mutiny aboard the titular ship. As the sailors aboard get tired of the mistreatment from the officers, one sailor called Vakulinchuk encourages them to fight back. This results in a mutiny and the death of Vakulinchuk himself. The sailors take his body to the Port of Odessa, where they are received as heroes. However, the forces of the Tsar might not allow them to continue.
Battleship Potemkin achieves several remarkable feats during its course. First, to present an engaging story without any protagonist. Although Vakulinchuk (Aleksandr Antonov) plays an important role in the first two acts, I wouldn't even say he is a protagonist. The film relies on the events and the visuals to carry the story, instead of specific characters. The story is engaging enough to keep you in on it, rooting for the sailors all the way, even if you can't put a name to them, while the visuals of the civilians marching through Odessa to see their hero are great.
The second thing the film achieves, is an epic sequence known as the Odessa Steps. This scene, even if done today, would probably be impressive (although probably done by CGI). But to think that such a breathtaking scene was done in times when cinema was still growing, it's just remarkable from any cinematic, story-wise, or technical point of view you look at it. Again, director Sergei Eisenstein relies on visuals, fast cuts, and a swift, sweeping direction to present the scene. The way the camera moves through the steps, the effectiveness of the editing, the harrowing visuals, the staging and choreography... so impressive. Easily one of the most impressive scenes I've seen on any film.
Unfortunately, the film loses a bit of steam in its last act, which was to be expected after that scene. There is tension, but it never reaches those heights again. Still, Battleship Potemkin remains a unique feat for cinema, and a kick-ass film overall. Grade: A
The Last Laugh (1924) Directed by F.W. Murnau, this film follows an aging doorman (Emil Jannings) at a prestigious hotel, who is demoted and replaced by a younger man. This is yet another film that Hitchcock mentions as an inspiration, and is notable for not using title-cards for any dialogue.
IMO, the film has two stars: first, acting-wise, Jannings carries the film beautifully. The way he portrays the nameless doorman and his evolution (or de-evolution) through the film is amazing, especially when you consider he's doing it all through body language and facial expressions. He succeeds in transmitting first the pride of the character, and then the frustration and despair at his fate.
The second star would be Murnau, who brings up a unique style of direction to it. As I was watching the film, I remarked (and tweeted) how much I loved the camera movement, how fluid it was. Then I read that Murnau used some innovative techniques to carry the camera around, and it's perfect! Murnau knows when to use swift camera movements, and when to be patient and focus on Jannings.
I'm still trying to make-up my mind about the epilogue, and the reasoning behind it; but as it is, the film is a tragic reminder of how society ruthlessly discards the elderly. A really amazing film. Grade: A