Top Ten By Year: 1930


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From In the Picture: Production Stills from the TCM Archives

Previous Top Ten By Year Entries: 
1935, 1983, 1965, 1943, 1992, 1978, 1925, 2005

1930 Coverage:
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1930: A Love Letter
Top Ten By Year: 1930 – Poll Results 
Movie Poster Highlights: 1930 
100 Images from the Films of 1930 
Favorite Fashion in 1930 Film

Sources:
A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film – Richard Barrios
The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution: 1926-1930 – Scott Eyman
From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies – Molly Haskell

For those unaware of my Top Ten By Year project:
The majority of my viewing habits have been dictated by this project since September 2013. Jumping to a different decade each time, I pick weak years for me re: quantity of films seen and/or quality of films seen in comparison to other years from said decade. I use list-making to see more films and revisit others in a structured and project-driven way. And I always make sure to point out that my lists are based on personal ‘favorites’ not any notion of an objective ‘best’.

Reel talk: 1930, seminal touchstones notwithstanding, is seen as one of the weaker years in cinema. At the very least nobody really talks about it. I like to get feedback on what my followers are interested in seeing, so while debating my next year for this project I presented Twitter with a choice between 1930 and 1934. Only a handful chose 1930. The further 1934 pulled away with the win, the less interested I was in choosing it. And there are no regrets; I’ve learned more about film from 1930 than any other year within the Top Ten By Year Project.

Before settling into what turned out to be six months of 1930 film hibernation, I’d never truly grasped why the resistance to talkies at the time was so staunchly uniform, seen and experienced by the industry as a cultural apocalypse. I’d never fully grasped why so many couldn’t see the possibilities of a revolutionary technology in its infancy. Well, of course the transition would be rough, with many new adjustments, restrictions, and considerations in the mix. But didn’t they see it’d be worth it? Didn’t they see it was the obvious next step in the evolution of cinema?

Richard Barrios writes in his book A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film that “the face of hindsight can, quite often, wear an unpleasant sneer”(59). As I sank deeper into hibernation, the patronizing remnants afforded by that cocky over-the-shoulder perspective from the future slipped away. Now I’m quite amazed anyone had the foresight (I’m looking at you Sam Warner) to see sound’s potential and the positive ways it could and would transform product and industry.

This foresight/hindsight angle relates to books that I read about the dawn of sound period (1926-1930), legitimately rocky years that qualify as “one of the most chaotic times in American culture…a time of immense upheaval, enormous change, and a quite singular mix of uncertainty and confidence”(Eyman, 4). Uncertainty because the studios didn’t really consider what sound meant for artistic parameters regarding the technology’s initial suffocating limitations. After Warner Brothers opened the gates to a new frontier, everything was turned upside down as studios rat raced through a “brutal crude transplantation”(Eyman). The process of filmmaking was now made up of “physical claustrophobia, narrative obfuscation, and an unimaginably confusing technical nightmare of crossed cables and purposes”(Eyman). The name of the game became Dialogue, Dialogue, Dialogue. It doesn’t matter what they say, just make the stars say it!

While sound men enjoyed their short reign as set Kings, actors braced themselves for make-it-or-break-it performance reviews in the form of sound tests. It didn’t matter who you were, veteran star or bit player; your entire career was uncertain until pass/fail tested for sound by your studio. Suffice it to say, fear ran rampant. William Haines described this period as “the night of the Titanic all over again” (Barrios, 75). And this from an MGM star! MGM was the most apprehensive studio when it came to sound, and that extra time presumably provided them with a slightly less chaotic stretch than most. Star personas had to be reconfigured and reestablished. Many couldn’t successfully make the leap, most famously John Gilbert, whose catastrophic fall from grace came from being unceremoniously hung out to dry by hackneyed dialogue and poor direction (I’m looking at you Lionel Barrymore). The ever-savvy MGM may have botched Gilbert, but they also made genius publicity out of the ‘what do the stars sound like’ craze, making “Garbo Talks!” the movie event of 1930. While the star machine had a great fall, and tried to put itself back together again, countless young Broadway performers were flown out and audience tested via shorts and features, largely primed for failed movie stardom.

The Movie Musical, the only genre made entirely possible by sound technology, is the industry’s key microcosm from this time. Skipping ahead to 1929, the success of The Broadway Melody spawned a riot (we’re talking endless, folks) of imitators, with little to no creative expansion, quality control, or narrative variety. Stage musicals were adapted left and right with most of the hit songs inexplicably dumped and replaced with forgettable warblings. Song and/or dance scenes remained stuffy and square. There was no frame of reference for putting song and dance on film. Within twelve months, save for a few smash successes like The Love Parade and Rio Rita, musicals went from being the genre du jour to enough already! Now, this sort of thing happens all the time. The rush for product and for more of the successful same. But with a new technology, with musicals that were “obviously conceived in panic and manufactured in ignorance”, this cash sprint re: musicals can be more broadly applied to this brief unsure era (Barrios).

All of this context is to say that 1930 is the year Hollywood shook itself off and regained its footing. By this time, film rhythm and consistency was illustrating that, for all their troubles, Hollywood was on the other side of the sound barrier. The year saw a record film attendance of 110 million (compare that to 65 million in 1928 and 60 million in 1932) (Barrios). Blimps had been developed that allowed cameras to be more mobile, free of their initial soundproof booths. The studios were well on their way towards working with sound-on-film technology as opposed to the cumbersome sync-sound. New film stocks made the monochrome spectrum wider. Formal freedom was still coming around but there was a wild sense of trial-and-error experimentation. In 1930, nearly every musical incorporated Two-color Technicolor to some degree. Some studios were trying out inventions that would live and die within 1930, such as 65-70 mm formats like Magnafilm and Grandeur. Sound films began to step out on the streets and into the wilderness. Genre was like a stacked buffet plate, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Sci-fi, horror, mystery, and gangster films (The Doorway to Hell really established this one, though the films of 1931 get the credit) were just around the corner, but they crop up in the unlikeliest of places in 1930. Pre-Code hit the salacious stride it continued until the Code’s enforcement four years later. Directors in the US and overseas, such as Hitchcock, Hawks, GrĂ©millon were already experimenting with sound in ways covert and overt. International film industries were catching up, beginning to make their transitions from silent to sound.

Sure, some films from 1930 come across as quaint and static in their awkwardness, but far less than you’d think. Editing rhythms and camera set-ups had loosened up considerably by this time, and it’s easy to see sound film finding its own groove thanks to filmmakers committed to making improvements and trying things out. I’ve learned that stilted is the misguided adjective of choice when it comes to present-day reviews of 1930 films. When films like The Bat Whispers and The Divorcee are described as such, it’s unfortunate and downright perplexing, not just for its falsehood, but because there’s a world of difference between what ‘stilted’ means to modern day cinephiles and what it actually means within the scope of 1930 releases. Watch Let Us Be Gay and then get back to me (whether you’re a fan of this one or not, it’s an excellent encapsulation of what 1930 ‘stilted’ actually looks and feels like).

Time and time again I was beside myself by visual flourishes and caution-to-the-wind spiritedness. Cinematographers were finding ways to navigate and convey exterior worlds. Directors were finding ways to communicate interior worlds. Screenwriters were figuring out how to inject nuance and quality over quantity. Actors were adjusting to the modern and getting at core truths. On their own, many of these films stand tall and proud, but collectively, they lift each other up.

With the advent of sound, many thought something had been irretrievably lost. Perhaps rightly so. Sensuality, fantasy, and the translucent magic of silent cinema needed to be redefined from the ground up. And the films of 1930 begin to show what that would look and sound like for the decades to come.

Nitrate Diva wrote a great piece on 1930, which, I’m honored to say, was inspired by this project! She also includes her 10 picks! It’s a beautifully written portrait of the undiscovered riches of the year. Her prose capabilities are far beyond mine, so please do yourself a favor and check it out!

Biggest Disappointments:
Anybody’s Woman
Her Man
Just Imagine
A Notorious Affair
Not So Dumb
Paid

The Five Worst 1930 Films I Watched:
1. Golden Dawn
2. Feet First
3. Romance
4. Free and Easy
5. A Notorious Affair

TOTAL LIST OF FILMS SEEN IN 1930
(bold = first-time viewing, italic =  re-watch)
10 Minuten Mozart (short) Aimless Walk (short),
All Quiet on the Western Front, Animal Crackers, A Notorious Affair, Anybody’s Woman, Au bonheur des dames, The Bat Whispers, The Big House, The Big Trail, Blood of a Poet, The Blue Angel, Borderline, City Girl, Dance of Her Hands (short), The Dawn Patrol, The Divorcee, Die drei von der Tankstelle, The Doorway to Hell, Fast and Loose, Feet First, Follow Thru, For the Defense, Free and Easy, Golden Dawn, Hell’s Angels, Her Man, Just Imagine, King of Jazz, L’age d’Or, Ladies of Leisure, Laughter, Let Us Be Gay, Light Rhythms (short), Liliom, Madam Satan, Mechanical Principles (short), Min and Bill, Monte Carlo, Morocco, Murder!, Mysterious Mose (short), Not So Dumb, Our Blushing Brides, Outward Bound, Paid, La petite Lise, People on Sunday, Prix de beaute, Romance, Street of Chance, Swing You Sinners! (short), The Tale of the Fox, Tomatoes Another Day (short), Under the Roofs of Paris, Way for a Sailor

Honorable Mentions: The Big House, Blood of a Poet, Animal Crackers, Monte Carlo, The Divorcee, Follow Thru, The Dawn Patrol, Morocco, Our Blushing Brides (I have such a fondness for each of these films, it must be said)

KEY:
RW = Rewatch
FTV = First-time Viewing

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10. Au bonheur des dames (France/Le Film d’Art/Duvivier) (FTV)
With its go-for-broke commitment to evoking the rhythms of modern Paris, watching Au bonheur des dames feels a little like skydiving without a parachute. Silent film is nearly extinct, the bottom has dropped out, and Julien Duvivier is using everything in his arsenal to send it off in style. I watched this after consuming nearly three dozen 1930 talkies. Though sound films of the year are far less collectively creaky than history gives them credit for, it was still a considerable jolt to be unclipped from the technological constraints of fuzzy sounds and rational worlds.

A minute into ‘Au bonheur’, Denise (Dita Parlo), an orphan arriving in Paris to work for her uncle, is immediately swallowed up by Capital-C Capitalism. A train rushes into the station while feet scurry in all directions, a symphony of urban life’s hurried routine. Denise’s eyes dart everywhere, trying to take it all in as she’s shuffled to and fro, smothered by the crowd of people and superimposed images. The second she exits the station, she notices a plane flying overhead. Flyers are dropped like confetti. She grabs one out of the sky, reads it, and smiles as if she’s just found one of Wonka’s Golden Tickets. It says “Everything You Want at ‘Au bonheur des dames'”. It’s an advertisement for the behemoth department store across the street from her uncle’s failing dilapidated shop. Capitalism is relentless, and giving in makes you feel good.

Lively Soviet montage and overt expressionism coincide with blinking electric lights and aggressive razzmatazz to show “progress” as pervasive. Duvivier utilizes the accumulation of silent cinema stylings for an inadvertent send-off to the now obsolete era. ‘Au bonheur’ is alive and immediate, building to an impossible-to-shake feverish crescendo that thankfully obscures the cop-out ending to follow.

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9. Liliom (US/Fox/Borzage) (FTV)
Available on youtube

There are two kinds of spaces in Liliom. The first is inside the carnival. That mockup hallucinatory carnival made of miniatures, dazzling lights, and bustling sounds. It’s a magical space where anything can happen, but only if you keep up. The second is anything outside the carnival, most notably domestic spaces. The carnival is always visible from the outside but the outside is never visible from within. The interiors are spacious, barren, minimalist, surrounded by gaps of frustrated silence. There is a clear delineation between the two. All this to say that Frank Borzage and his collaborators at Fox go to great length to make theatricality modern, presenting a weird vision of fantastical artificiality that easily transitions into the equally weird metaphysical final act. (Let me also take this moment to say that I am a huge fan of early cinematic depictions of the afterlife. By far the most alluring period for this kind of story.)

At the end of Liliom, the Chief Magistrate (H.B. Warner) says this of what he has witnessed: “It’s touching. It’s mysterious”. Simply and succinctly, that’s also Liliom. This is a story about two people who should not be together, but can’t not be together. This is a film that ends with a speech about, to put it bluntly and without context, domestic abuse being okay if it comes from the person you love. But the tragedy of that, and it, are so genuinely and oddly moving. Because this decree of sorts is true for Julie. Liliom is told through a romantically fatalistic lens. Fatalism in the apparent wrongness of the couple. Julie’s (Rose Hobart) only other romantic option is a carpenter named Carpenter who speaks in monosyllabic monotone. He is seemingly alive for the sole purpose of asking Julie (for years and years mind you) if she is free and interested (“No, Carpenter”). This is also a film that resolves with this statement; “The memory of you makes them much happier than you ever could”. Talk about brutal. But Liliom is about the messy complexities of individual truths. The unchangable and unswayable.

The technical achievement and formal ambition of Liliom are two of its defining characteristics. This was the first film to use rear projection, and its use of miniatures is woozily magical. Borzage uses space so well, in part by utilizing blocking and emphasizing body language. The camera has the mobility of a sophisticated silent. Take the feverish moment where Julie and Marie (Mildred Van Dorn) first enter the carnival. The camera actually deserts them, so eager it is to explore the place itself.

Full review here

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8. Laughter (US/Paramount/d’Arrast) (FTV)
Very poor quality version available on youtube

Halfway through Laughter, pals Paul (Fredric March) and Peggy (Nancy Carroll) (the newly married ‘one-that-got-away’) are out and about on a daytime drive (in this scene, Paul impulsively kisses the back of Peggy’s neck while driving and it’s one of the sexiest gestures ever committed to film). Their car suddenly breaks down and, of course, an impromptu rainstorm follows. They seek shelter by breaking and entering, where they promptly begin to roleplay marriage as the ‘Smiths’ (Why? Because why not?). They trade traditional gender roles, with ‘Mr. Smith’ dutifully offering ‘Mrs. Smith’ her slippers and pipe, adding that he baked a strawberry pie for dinner. The pair is oh-so-pleased with their flirtation-as-evasion repartee, but somehow it’s not cloying. Instead, it’s goddamn charming. Eventually, the sequence takes a turn for the weird as Peggy puts on a black bearskin rug from the living room floor (Why? Because why not?), crawling and growling around in circles. Paul, highly amused, quickly joins in by putting on the other bearskin rug (this one white) across the room. Our romantic leads have gone from one kind of pretend to another. This is all part of what is perhaps Laughter‘s most memorable sequence, and it’s indicative of how the film operates as a whole.

Laughter is made up of characters vibing off each other, transforming and controlling (or failing to control) the interior spaces around them. The sequence described above illustrates this. Paul and Peggy take over a foreign space and use it for their make-believes, becoming spouses and wild animals. They drape their wet clothes all over the furniture, and drink coffee in the kitchen while they lounge in their bearskins.

Long-shot dependence tends to indicate stagnancy by 1930 film standards, but in Laughter they are critical, used to establish the importance of spaces in relation to character. Towering Art Deco rooms threaten to isolate characters with lonely wonder until Paul comes in and livens up the joint. Sterile business offices echo with the dependable sound of typewriters. A spacious apartment above a club is overrun with clutter, accompanied by the far-off boozy drawl of horn instruments.

There is an uncommonly natural touch to everything in Laughter. Plot shows its face when summoned, but the characters refuse to be tethered to it. They lead the way, sometimes with spunk, sometimes with somber resignation.

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7. Prix de Beauté (France/Sofar-Film/Genina) (RW)
I simply cannot deny Louise. Prix de Beauté is the last European hurrah for my all-time favorite screen presence. After this she’d return to Hollywood, land of bit parts and bankruptcy. She led a long life post-Prix de BeautĂ©, but this is the film that siphons off her celluloid legend. If Louise fills the frame, if the film knows how to showcase her effortless and unaffected mythic energy, down-to-earth and beyond us all with that irrepressible glow, does the film itself matter?

I happen to enjoy the by-turns awkward and arresting Prix de Beauté very much. One of the first sound films made in France (it also has a 1929 silent version), it resembles a rough cut in that, though there’s vision in its organic images, nothing, except Brooks, is completely locked into place. It’s a talkie with an entirely silent sensibility, made possible by the fact that the sound, including dialogue, took place during post-production. This frees up the camera for rambunctious mobility at every turn, and it’s supported by the zeal that drives Lucienne toward her dreams. She wants to participate in a beauty contest, but her boyfriend won’t allow it. With a choice of being owned by her beau or worshiped by the public, she deserves more than both but achieves neither. The famous final sequence, dizzying in its flickering destruction, strikes Lucienne down just as her (screen) life begins. As sound ushers in, Louise Brooks is ushered out, her physical body left behind for something incorporeal, an eerily fitting finale to her immortal image.

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6. Ladies of Leisure (US/Columbia/Capra) (FTV)
Available on youtube

Ladies of Leisure features Barbara Stanwyck in her star-making role, the first of several collaborations with Frank Capra. It also happens to be some of her best work and in one of her best films. I’m not used to seeing her this vulnerable, yet this is how the country at large became acquainted with her. Barbara Stanwyck is down-to-earth glamour. Relatable glamour. Even at this very early stage it’s impossible to miss that she is in stark contrast with other actors from her time. This is a woman performing in the ‘now’. Her body language isn’t practiced. She breaks through the conventional with seeming spontaneity. She’s the perfect person for Frank Capra to direct, because in Ladies of Leisure he not only gives her plenty of backlit close-ups defying audiences not to fall in love with her, but devotes an uncommon (for 1930) length of time lingering on confidential and intimate moments that map out Kay’s internal longing.

Despite being based on a play, Frank Capra already shows an adept hand at visual storytelling in addition to fluid pacing. Bypassing sluggishness, even as the film nosedives into the saccharine, there is a clarity and distinct visual perspective supporting Kay’s story.

Take the erotically charged rainy night sleepover that comes mid-film. It’s erotically charged in the silences, in what isn’t happening, in what Kay wants to happen, in what could happen. The pace of this sequence is different than the rest. The situation slowly develops, as Kay gradually allows herself to believe in the possible. It builds to a simple act of kindness that produces the film’s most telling and heartfelt moment. A lone doorknob turns. Footsteps reveal that Jerry the painter (Ralph Graves) has left his room in the middle of the night. He slowly approaches Kay’s bed. In another film the scene would be eerie, bad intentions assumed. Kay is sleeping. Jerry lays a blanket over her and heads back to bed. Close-up on Kay. She wasn’t asleep at all. The camera lingers on her face and closes in further, tears glistening. She pulls the blanket to her mouth. Everything we need to know about Kay occurs in this moment. This simple act of kindness means the world to her, and it has left her shaking and crying with joy.

Critically, Capra foregrounds Kay’s (Stanwyck) love as a character-driven arc rooted in class, lifelong struggle, and hope. You don’t have to buy into Kay and Jerry (and you won’t) to buy into the film. Forget the lame egg basket in whom Kay places said hopes and dreams. Just focus on witnessing a downtrodden woman who, for the first time in her life, experiences what happiness is, what it can mean, and its potential in her own life. The fortuitous union of Barbara Stanwyck’s startling modernism (I still can’t imagine how jarring her vivid physicality must have played for 1930 audiences) and Frank Capra’s intuitive prioritization of the inner life.

citygirl

5. City Girl (US/Fox/Murnau) (FTV)
Available on youtube 

I’m going to let a couple of paragraphs from Daniel Kasman’s MUBI piece speak for my love of City Girl. Suffice it to say that it is every bit as great as Sunrise, and may just be my personal preference:

“Murnau is realism + poetry, and slimming down his materials to such a leanness as inCity Girl lets his hand water, flower, and blossom every element at his disposal.  You have never seen a city diner in American film, felt its heat, its hubbub, its routine, its turnover, its charm, its tedium and its spunk until you have seen City Girl and you see how Farrel casually meets and unconsciously courts Duncan at the diner counter.  You have never seen the loneliness of life in the city until you see the light of a passing elevated train sputter across Duncan’s face and her tiny potted plant in her cramped apartment. The enchantment of a farm has never been put on film—and perhaps has never been found again—until Ernest Palmer’s camera follows with expressionist joy the gleeful run of the young married couple across the family’s wheatfield upon their arrival.”

king of jazz 84. King of Jazz (US/Universal/Anderson) (FTV)
Since seeing King of Jazz four months ago, it has been restored and has screened at MOMA for their series Universal Pictures: Restorations and Rediscoveries: 1928-1937. There even a book coming out!

King of Jazz was the first of the revue craze of 1929-mid 1930 to enter the planning stage, and the last of the major efforts to be released. It went hugely over-budget (which is abundantly clear while watching), and was released at the wrong time. By the time it finally hit theaters, audiences were thoroughly ‘revued’ out. I hardly have anything to compare it to, but it is said that King of Jazz stands out from others of its kind in every way. Paul Whiteman and his orchestra are the center from which a series of musical numbers and skits revolve. His nickname, the title of the film, seems ridiculous because it is, but also keep in mind that jazz in this time period has a much broader implication. Think of how ‘pop’ is applied today.

Universal threw everything, and I mean everything, into this project. Surely one of the weirdest movies to come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, it’s also the most elaborate and audacious spectacle film I’ve seen from the early 30’s. It features the first Technicolor cartoon, a shrunken orchestra marching out of a box, a giant larger-than-life scrapbook, ghost brides, the world’s longest bridal veil, extravagant mobile sets, superimposed images and related special effects, and, in what must be the scariest image in 1930’s cinema, Paul Whiteman as a winking moon in the sky. And the whole thing’s in Two-Strip Technicolor to boot.

The conceptual center of the impressive “Melting Pot” finale is what you might guess; promoting diversity while completely whitewashing a convoluted ‘history of jazz’. The pointed absence of African Americans is unsurprisingly everywhere. The one time African culture makes any kind of appearance is the prologue bit to the “Rhapsody in Blue” number, at once breathtaking and troubling. Dressed in Zulu chief garb, dancer Jacques Cartier stands on an oversized drum for a stage. His projected silhouette is made giant on the wall behind him. He begins to dance with direct ferocity. The eroticism of it is hypnotic, but the sexual nature of the thing reeks of the blanket exoticism so often depicted through ‘Otherness’.

King of Jazz works because the Universal team and director John Murray Anderson (Paul Fejos also contributed at some point before leaving) understand that there are different kinds of spectacle. There’s the special effects spectacle, which comes in all forms throughout here. There is also the music-centric spectacle. An early scene features copious close-ups of — not even musicians playing their instruments but something even more up close and personal; instruments being played. Another scene takes a different approach by capturing the interplay between a band and its components. Without cutting, the camera keeps up with the music by quickly panning over to each soloist. Finally, there is the grand scale production spectacle, and boy does it deliver on that front.

Though his rotund self has a welcoming energy, Paul Whiteman seems quite the random figure to construct a film around. But it falls in line with the early sound period trend of bringing in band leaders as well as talent from vaudeville and theater in order to give them film vehicles. Even when it’s boring, it’s not, if that makes sense (I realize it doesn’t. Maybe one day I can describe this sedate sensation). It moves along at such a clip, and its sheer audaciousness coupled with genuine spark makes this a “seen to be believed” kind of film. It’s also beautifully, and I mean beautifully, photographed (Ray Rennahan, one of the film’s three cinematographers, was an innovator in the development of three-strip Technicolor).

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3. Dance of Her Hands (short) (US/Nutshell Pictures/Bel Geddes) (FTV)
Available on youtube

Dance of Her Hands features dancer/choreographer/actress Tilly Losch at the height of her lithe powers. This short stages “The Hand Dance”, a collaborative conception between Losch and Hedy Pfundmayr. At the start, Tilly’s head is behind netting while the titular hands take center frame. Her hands lilt and quiver, they scurry and contort. But most of all there’s a palpable yearning to her movements. We soon meet the rest of her, a witchy puppetmaster that casts spells with her digits. Her performance is further abstracted by the pitch black negative space, a presentation that emphasizes the sensual and dislodges Losch from any kind of concrete reality. The hands lead and her body follows. Self-expression manifests as a delicate ache that can only be resolved through movement.

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2. Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (Germany/FilmStudio Berlin/Siodmak, Siodmak, Ulmer, Zinneman) (RW)
Available on youtube 

Menschen am Sonntag looks far ahead to the French New Wave and Italian neorealism. It also looks ahead to the substantial careers of Billy Wilder, Edgar G. Ulmer, Robert Siodmak, Curt Siodmak, and Fred Zinneman. It incorporates a humanistic and carefree take on the city symphony film while keeping with the signatures of New Objectivity. Menschen am Sonntag is notable for near-countless reasons. These distinctions matter, enormously so, but while watching it, you’re too busy basking in the impermanence of its direct sunlight to intellectualize its images.

There’s a special twinkle to films that capture an immaculate specificity of time and place. In Menschen am Sonntag, 1930 Berlin radiates loud and clear, from roaming streetcars and chaotic intersections to now-immortalized store window displays and sparse graffiti. Individual Berliners get snapshots taken, a moment from their random Sunday saved for posterity as they self-consciously stare into the camera. Berlin hustles and bustles with an energy that carries over into the scenic Nikolassee, suggesting that weekend reprieves must be seized upon with a joie de vivre that suggests not a recreational moment should be wasted. The forcefulness of the sunlight matches the youthful characters scene for scene.

There’s a shrewd perceptiveness to how Menschen am Sonntag hones in on the unspoken that goes on between young men and women. The participants may or may not be aware, but a game made of almost imperceptible moments is always in motion. Anything seems possible. These connections are both monumental and fleeting, a coexistence only possible in youth. Glances are had, love is made, betrayal is imminent. All in the same day, all under the surface. Both extraordinary and just another Sunday.

Every once in a while we check back in with Berlin. Annie sleeps all day, surrounded by pictures of movie stars. People sit on benches and look out their windows. Life being lived, or not, all at the same time. Films didn’t convey this in 1930. They don’t even convey it now, though a handful sure as hell try. Recent attempts to examine the scope of everyday life can be found in the ham-fistedness of the hyperlink film. When these work it’s through the scope. The ‘everyday’ part is substituted with melodrama or a deliberate larger-than-life feel. That doesn’t take away from those films; they just have a different prerogative. Conversely, plenty of films capture the everyday of transitory youth but aren’t aiming for that scope. This rare combination demands flexibility in the nonexistence of story, and by floating back and forth from our frolicking quartet in order to incorporate the character of Berlin, Menschen am Sonntag creates magic in reality.

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1. Madam Satan (US/MGM/DeMille) (RW)
As often happens, I’m at a loss when the time comes to describe my love for #1. The following write-up will probably operate as groundwork for something I wish to eventually expand on.

Cecil B. DeMille also had a film on Top Ten By Year: 1925, the outrageously fun time-travel romance The Road to Yesterday. When DeMille isn’t overtaken by his preachy paradoxes, when he finds his brand of balance within the at-times absurd imbalance of his films, you get something that doesn’t exist anywhere else. In 1928, DeMille signed a three-picture deal with MGM. Madam Satan was the second of these films, with Dynamite and The Squaw Man coming before and after respectively. Unsurprisingly, Madam Satan was a major flop, with MGM posting a 390,000 loss. Even then, audiences had no idea what to make of this thing. What was it? What is it? It’s everything, but is it anything?

Madam Satan tends to be regarded as a cuckoo collectible. Oddity, trainwreck, loony, bonkers, bizarre; you get the gist of attributed adjectives. And, yeah, it’s all of those things. My love for this film often defies logic. Hell, outside of “Low Down” the songs aren’t even good (!), and they certainly aren’t helped by the poor sound quality of the era which renders sopranos incomprehensibly shrill. At times it seems like the film is about to indulge itself into oblivion, so caught up it is in exhausting every aesthetic or tonal thread.

(Sidenote: even fans of Madam Satan tend to universally disregard the supposedly “lethal first hour”, a bedroom farce involving the central four characters. I will never understand this (Barrios)! It’s a zany concoction of shade throwing, false niceties, and lots of physical scrambling. It’s actually my favorite section of the film. It also stands as a perfect example of DeMille’s whim for hitting the reset button halfway through one of his pictures.)

Madam Satan could only exist in 1930;  “in its very derangement, it embodies a distinctive trait of original musicals: they tended to treat the medium as a collage of found objects, jamming the most ordinary conventions alongside some truly lunatic notions” (Barrios, 252). This first wave of movie musicals would soon be extinct. The second wave, which came a couple of years later, emerged with already clear-cut delineations between the real (backstage romance) and the unreal (the insular world of a Berkeley number).

A boudoir sex comedy, a disaster film, a remarriage romance, a momentary tribute to electricity, an Art Deco orgy, a misshapen musical. Madam Satan is all of these (like I said, it’s everything, but is it anything? I say yes). Some of these designations will suddenly disappear, the aforementioned boudoir sex comedy for example, but DeMille goes all-in on each one for the duration of its stay. Madam Satan is a case against cohesion. If DeMille wants the zeppelin to crash, doggone it, that zeppelin is going to crash. If he wants to spend twenty minutes on the grand entrances of Adrian-draped costume-ball attendees with names like “Fish Girl” and “Spider Girl”, he’ll do it. The story will catch up when, or if, there’s a moment to breathe. .

The Art Deco sets and costumes, by Cedric Gibbons and Adrian respectively, are used to unite fantasy and glamour. The iconic look created for Kay Johnson’s alter-ego is a sequined nude-illusion for the gods. As archaic as a lot of Madam Satan‘s sexual politics are, this is the image people remember, this presentation of defiant transformation and reclamation. That entrance, with its unintelligible trilling and costume-reveal-as-magic-act, drips with a hard-earned heroic self-regard. It’s easy to forget that Angela has turned herself into a sex goddess superhero to seduce her philandering and entirely unworthy husband back into the fold. But DeMille, in a radical act for the time, strove to make marriage sexy by “daring to suggest that the married woman was as desirable and exciting as the pubescent party girl” (Haskell, 76). So Madam Satan can also add “domestic fantasy” to its resume.

Madam Satan also stars Lillian Roth, one of my silver screen obsessions. A gifted comedienne with a crinkly nose, dimples for days, and a practiced yet untouched vivacity, her Trixie is a pure delight. Weaponed with a “fleshy impertinence”, she brings a humanity to the “other girl”, but not by hiding her vindictiveness (Barrios). Her unapologetic immaturity becomes attributable to age. She’s as spunky as Angela is supposedly dowdy; in fact, it’s hard not to root for her. The rest of the cast is legitimately great. Kay Johnson conveys her piety with sophistication. Reginald Denny is, against all odds, lovable as a womanizing cad. And Roland Young is an idealized Charles Ruggles; a stammering spacey drunk that doesn’t over-chew the scenery or outstay his welcome, and lands genuine laughs to boot.

Madam Satan is one of the first ‘sincere trash’ movies. I wrote about this a little, and hope to expand on it, in regards to my undying love of Valley of the Dolls. There’s an awful misconception that everything has to work in a movie you love, and if it doesn’t, your love derives from the compartmentalization of what works from what doesn’t. That, if you profess your love of something, you have to answer for all the reasons it may or may not fall short (whether that comes from others, yourself, or both). Statements like “the plot’s ridiculous and the ending is shite, but I don’t care, I love it!” or people asking “well how do you account for this?” in response to hearing that you love something.

Sure, OK, sometimes this is how it works. But just as often, it doesn’t. “I don’t care, I love it”? But I do care! I care about all of it! Madam Satan‘s very identity is dependent on its messiness, good or bad, strong or weak, entertaining or dull. Its very existence excites me, lights me up inside. Its camp qualities and, to quote the great Latrice Royale, its romper-room fuckery, is singular, and I crave films that are singular. But make no mistake. Singular alone doesn’t make for the more interesting products of greatness. Just Imagine, also from this year, is singular, and it also sucks. But this, this is an excessive extravaganza of the best kind; an unironically pleasurable proto-spectacle rendering of Kate Bush’s “Babooshka”. Madam Satan is one of the key ways in which the oft-spoken-of magic-of-the-movies registers for me.

This only scratches the surface of why Madam Satan has become one of my favorite films. These scattered thoughts are meant to work through the basics, so I left the details of its lunacy out, for now. I’ll leave the last words to Richard Barrios, who says that “in one clean sweep, it seems to embody the end of the Jazz Age, the collapse of American prosperity, the death throes of early musicals, and, most literally, the flop of this last baroque grasp of twenties frivolity.”(252). Mic drop.

100 Images from the Films of 1930


Full disclosure: there are more than 100 images here. But 100 Images from the Films of 1930 sounds better than 105 images from the Films of 1930, doesn’t it? Well, I’ve finally come to the end of the 1930 Watchlist. It feels good, but it also right on time. Momentum plummeted towards the end, so it was a snail’s pace cross over the finish line.

Over the next two weeks I will be rounding out my 1930 coverage. Posts will consist of, in addition to this, the What I’ll Remember post and the Top Ten which will include write-ups on the films and the year in general. Previous 1930 coverage can be found here:
Top Ten By Year: 1930 Poll Results
Movie Poster Highlights: 1930 

What follows is a visual celebration of 1930. While viewing over fifty 1930 films in the past six months, I gradually collected screenshots of images that jumped out as something I wanted to capture and cherish for the future. For this post I chose personal favorites from that sizable collection. The images are arrange purposefully. I tried to group together shots that had something visually in common, whether it be content or blocking. I hope you enjoy them. I started doing this with 1978. You can find a sampling of my favorite shots from that year in my What I’ll Remember post. But it was 1925 where this aspect of the Top Ten By Year Project really took off. You can find that here. I promise you won’t regret it; there are so many incredible images from 1925. The same goes for 1930, or at least, I hope you agree.

What are some of your favorite shots or images from 1930 film? 

Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis NéePrix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

liliom 7Liliom (director: Frank Borzage/cinematographer: Chester Lyons)

The Doorway to Hell (director: Archie Mayo/cinematographer: Barney McGill) The Doorway to Hell (director: Archie Mayo/cinematographer: Barney McGill)

The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: GĂŒnther Rittau)The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: GĂŒnther Rittau)

For the Defense (director: John Cromwell/cinematographer: Charles Lang) For the Defense (director: John Cromwell/cinematographer: Charles Lang)

City Girl 13City Girl (director: F.W. Murnau/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

The Dawn Patrol (director: Howard Hawks/cinematographer: Ernest Haller) The Dawn Patrol (director: Howard Hawks/cinematographer: Ernest Haller)

City Girl 2City Girl (director: F.W. Murnau/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

Blood of a PoietBlood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

way 2Way for a Sailor (director: Sam Wood/cinematographer: Percy Hilburn)

People on Sunday 14Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen SchĂŒfftan)
The Dawn pateolThe Dawn Patrol (director: Howard Hawks/cinematographer: Ernest Haller)

liliom 5Liliom (director: Frank Borzage/cinematographer: Chester Lyons)

CeWCkXrUIAEnNZCBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

citygirlCity Girl (director: F.W. Murnau/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

Morocco 10Morocco (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: Lee Garmes/Lucien Ballard)

Aimless WalkAimless Walk (short) (director: Alexander Hammid)

big trail 9The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

the big trail 7The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

the big trail 6The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

Just Imagine 10Just Imagine (director: David Butler/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

clocksMadam Satan (director: Cecil B. DeMille/cinematographer: Harold Rosson)

madamsatan3Madam Satan (director: Cecil B. DeMille/cinematographer: Harold Rosson)

follow thru 9Follow Thru (directors: Lloyd Corrigan, Laurence Schwab/cinematographer: Charles P. Boyle)

bridal veilKing of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

au bonheur 3Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

king of jazz 4King of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

king of jazz 8King of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

Au Bonheur 9Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

three good friends 9Die Drei von der Tankstelle (director: Wilhelm Theile/cinematographer: Franz Planer)

au bonheur 8Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

CeV8dS6UMAA5oYcBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

doorway to hell 9The Doorway to Hell (director: Archie Mayo/cinematographer: Barney McGill)

CeWB_62UEAAHaAwBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

People on Sunday 17Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen SchĂŒfftan)

min and bill 2Min and Bill (director: George W. Hill/cinematographer: Harold Wenstrom)

joanPaid (director: Sam Wood/cinematographer: Charles Rosher)

CeWB-3OUkAAvMxpBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

CeWC80ZVAAETn5xBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

chesterThe Bat Whispers (director: Roland West/cinematographer: Robert H. Planck)

murder 8Murder! (director: Alfred Hitchcock/cinematographer: Jack E. Cox)

au bonheur 12Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

A Notorious Affair 2A Notorious Affair (director: Lloyd Bacon/cinematographer: Ernest Haller)

Ladies of Leisure 7Ladies of Leisure (director: Frank Capra/cinematographer: Joseph Walker)

la petite lise tLa Petite Lise (director: Jean Grémillon/cinematographer: Jean Bachelet, Rene Colas)

The Dawn Ptrol 2The Dawn Patrol (director: Howard Hawks/cinematographer: Ernest Haller)

morocco 8Morocco (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: Lee Garmes/Lucien Ballard)

tumblr_n1yclhICk71qjs1omo1_540L’Age d’Or (director: Luis Buñuel/cinematographer: Albert Duverger)

People on Sunday 7Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen SchĂŒfftan)

the big house 6The Big House (director: George W. Hill/cinematographer: Harold Wenstrom)

bloof pwBlood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

The Big House 3The Big House (director: George W. Hill/cinematographer: Harold Wenstrom)

Au bonheur5 55Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

blood of a poet 7Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

Hell's Angels 4Hell’s Angels (director: Howard Hughes/cinematographer: Elmer Dyer, etc, etc)

HellsAngels11Hell’s Angels (director: Howard Hughes/cinematographer: Elmer Dyer, etc, etc)

the big trail 3The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

liliom 2Liliom (director: Frank Borzage/cinematographer: Chester Lyons)

People on Sunday 6Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen SchĂŒfftan)

tumblr_ny80z5zTyp1ufel7co1_540Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen SchĂŒfftan)

tilly losch 3Dance of the Hands (short) (director: Norman Bel Geddes)

Blood of a Poet 6Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

blood 3Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

Blood of a Poet 4Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

tumblr_ls1w43jioY1qzzxybo1_500Dance of the Hands (short) (director: Norman Bel Geddes)

street of chance 2Street of Chance (director: John Cromwell/cinematographer: Charles Lang)

morocco vMorocco (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: Lee Garmes/Lucien Ballard)

Our Blushing Brides 17Our Blushing Brides (director: Harry Beaumont/cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad)

the-divorcee
The Divorcee (director; Robert Z. Leonard/cinematographer: Norbert Brodine)

tumblr_nkqvfjrN7q1rgxncdo5_1280The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: GĂŒnther Rittau)

au bonhhh
Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

three good friends 5Die Drei von der Tankstelle (director: Wilhelm Theile/cinematographer: Franz Planer)

king of jazz 6King of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

king of jazz 10
King of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

Blood of a pioet 6Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

blood 9Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

CeWC57EVAAA81Cl
Borderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

Laughter 17Laughter (director: Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast/cinematographer: George J. Folsey)

feet first 2
Feet First (director: Clyde Bruckman, Harold Lloyd/cinematographer: Henry N. Kohler, Walter Lundin)

tumblr_mzxdv0cjxI1raq0fho1_540
L’Age d’Or (director: Luis Buñuel/cinematographer: Albert Duverger)

tumblr_mh3510SpEi1qzxrh2o1_540
L’Age d’Or (director: Luis Buñuel/cinematographer: Albert Duverger)

Blood of a Poet 2Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

CeV8fQXVAAEVEWc
Borderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

tumblr_nnoz56h31a1sdhfypo2_1280The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: GĂŒnther Rittau)

morocco 6Morocco (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: Lee Garmes/Lucien Ballard)

Ladies of LeisureLadies of Leisure (director: Frank Capra/cinematographer: Joseph Walker)

HellsAngels2-700x410Hell’s Angels (director: Howard Hughes/cinematographer: Elmer Dyer, etc, etc)

tumblr_nkqvfjrN7q1rgxncdo7_1280The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: GĂŒnther Rittau)

swing you sinners 3Swing You Sinners! (short) (director: Dave Fleischer)

tale of the fox 4
Le roman de Renard (The Tale of the Fox) (director: Irene Starewicz, Wladyslaw Starewicz/cinematographer: W. Starerwicz)

tale of the fox 3Le roman de Renard (The Tale of the Fox) (director: Irene Starewicz, Wladyslaw Starewicz/cinematographer: W. Starerwicz)

bonheur 22Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

Hell's Angels 3
Hell’s Angels (director: Howard Hughes/cinematographer: Elmer Dyer, etc, etc)

all quietAll Quiet on the Western Front (director: Lewis Milestone/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson, Karl Freund)

tumblr_mq3ikbRCSR1rjtufgo1_540
Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

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Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

Prix de beaute 2
Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

CGVbMxYWwAA7qQC
Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

tumblr_n3fm6eQYlz1r9ujrco1_540
Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

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Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

tumblr_m7fifsoV3V1qea3n2o1_540
Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen SchĂŒfftan)

madam satan 25Madam Satan (director: Cecil B. DeMille/cinematographer: Harold Rosson)

tumblr_mufj3dWotB1rsc0mvo4_540
Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen SchĂŒfftan)

Ladies of Leisure 5Ladies of Leisure (director: Frank Capra/cinematographer: Joseph Walker)

Our Blushing Brides 16
Our Blushing Brides (director: Harry Beaumont/cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad)

Ca4AntsW8AA0P9q
Just Imagine (director: David Butler/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

madam satan 222Madam Satan (director: Cecil B. DeMille/cinematographer: Harold Rosson)

follow thru cocktailsFollow Thru (directors: Lloyd Corrigan, Laurence Schwab/cinematographer: Charles P. Boyle)

follow thru 10Follow Thru (directors: Lloyd Corrigan, Laurence Schwab/cinematographer: Charles P. Boyle)

the big trail 2The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

Screening Log: April 1st-14th, 2012 – Films #83-104


Note: The letter grades are entirely arbitrary, and merely reflect my own subjective interest and response to the film on a first viewing.

83. Land without Bread (1933, Bunuel): B-


84. A Day in the Country (1936, Renoir): B


85. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933, Capra): B+

86. The Raid: Redemption (2012, Evans): B+/B


87. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012, Hertzfeldt): A-

88. Sadie Thompson (1928, Walsh): B+/B

89. Monkey Business (1931, McLeod): B-

90. Madam Satan (1930, Demille): A-

91. October (1927, Eisenstein): C-

92. Street Angel (1937, Yuan): C

93. Beggars of Life (1928, Wellman): B+/B

94. Earth (1930, Dovzhenko): B-

95. The Passion of the Christ (2004, Gibson): C-/D+

96. Désiré (1937, Guitry): A

97. Quadrille (1938, Guitry): A-

98. Miss Bala (2012, Naranjo): B


99. Carnosaur (1993, Simon): F

100. The Rape of Europa (2006, Berge, Cohen and Newnham): B

101. Project A (1983, Chan): B+/B

102. Vicious Lips (1986, Pyun): C/C-

103. The Heroic Trio (1993, To): A-/B+

104. Cabin in the Woods (2012, Goddard): A-/B+

List: Top 30 Favorite Classic Actresses


To recap from the Classic Actors post, I’ve been doing lists like this nearly my whole life or at least as far back as I can remember. I redo my ‘Classic’ and ‘Modern’ Actors and Actresses lists every couple of years and I felt like posting my latest versions of them. They vary a lot throughout the years; I found the Actors in this case to be more difficult. While there were certainly actresses who regrettably did not make the list because there wasn’t room (Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman and Olivia De Havilland to name a few) or because there were actresses who gave one single performance I cannot get enough of but could not justify picking them over others (Anna Massey, Kathleen Byron, Sue Lyon). Like I said in the ‘Classic Actors’ post, I will not be posting reasons; simply a picture and a list of films I have seen with them. This list is a lot less varied than the previous one; it is almost entirely focused on the studio era in Hollywood.


30. Joan Fontaine
Seen in 5 Films: The Women, Gunga Din, Rebecca, Suspicion, Letter from an Unknown Woman


29. Celeste Holm
Seen in 4 films: Gentleman’s Agreement, A Letter to Three Wives (narrator), All About Eve, Three Men and a Baby


28. Tippi Hedren
Seen in 3 films: The Birds, Marnie, I Heart Huckabees


27. Jean Harlow
Seen in 8 Films: The Public Enemy, Platinum Blonde, Red-Headed Woman, Red Dust, Dinner at Eight, Bombshell, Wife vs. Secretary, Libeled Lady


26. Olga Baclanova
Seen in 4 films: The Docks of New York, The Man Who Laughs, Freaks, Downstairs


25. Lauren Bacall
Seen in 12 films: To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Key Largo, Dark Passage, How to Marry a Millionaire, Written on the Wind, Murder on the Orient Express, Misery, All I Want for Christmas, Dogville, Howl’s Moving Castle (voice), Birth

24. Judy Garland
Seen in 11 films: Love Finds Andy Hardy, The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, Ziegfeld Girl, Girl Crazy, Meet Me in St. Louis, Ziegfeld Follies, The Pirate, A Star is Born, Judgment at Nuremberg, I Could Go On Singing


23. Audrey Hepburn
Seen in 8 films: Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Children’s Hour, My Fair Lady, Wait Until Dark


22. Miriam Hopkins
Seen in 7 films: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Smiling Lieutenant, Trouble in Paradise, The Story of Temple Drake, Design for Living, The Heiress, The Children’s Hour


21. Greer Garson
Seen in 3 films: Goodbye Mr. Chips, Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest


20. Norma Shearer
Seen in 4 films: He Who Gets Slapped, The Divorcee, A Free Soul, The Women


19. Lillian Gish
Seen in 10 Films: The Musketeers of Pig Alley, The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, Way Down East, Orphans of the Storm, La Boheme, The Wind, Portrait of Jennie, The Night of the Hunter


18. Greta Garbo
Seen in 8 films: Flesh and the Devil, Anna Christie, Mata Hari, Grand Hotel, Queen Christina, Camille, Ninotchka, Two-Faced Woman


17. Joan Crawford
Seen in 10 films: The Unknown, Grand Hotel, Dancing Lady, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, The Women, Mildred Pierce, Possessed, Johnny Guitar, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, I Saw What You Did


16. Simone Simon
Seen in 4 films: La Bete Humaine, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Cat People, La Ronde


15. Shelley Winters
Seen in 10 films: A Place in the Sun, The Big Knife, The Night of the Hunter, The Diary of Anne Frank, Lolita, A Patch of Blue, Alfie, The Poseidon Adventure, The Tenant, Pete’s Dragon


14. Ginger Rogers
Seen in 9 Films: 42nd Street, The Gold Diggers of 1933, Finishing School, The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, Swing Time, Stage Door, Kitty Foyle, Tales of Manhattan


13. Joan Blondell
Seen in 8 Films: The Public Enemy, Night Nurse, Three on a Match, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, Nightmare Alley, Opening Night, Grease


12. Marilyn Monroe
Seen in 9 films: The Asphalt Jungle, All About Eve, Clash by Night, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot, Let’s Make Love, The Misfits


11. Vivian Vance
Seen in: “I Love Lucy”, 180 episodes and “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour”


10. Jeanne Moreau
Seen in 7 films: La Notte, Jules and Jim, The Fire Within, Diary of a Chambermaid, Mademoiselle, The Bride Wore Black, Ever After


9. Anna Karina
Seen in 5 films: A Woman is a Woman, Cleo from 5 to 7, Vivre se vie, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville


8. Marlene Dietrich
Seen in 10 films: The Blue Angel, Morocco, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, The Devil is a Woman, Destry Rides Again, Witness for the Prosecution, Touch of Evil, Judgment at Nuremberg


7. Katherine Hepburn
Seen in 13 films: Little Women, Mary of Scotland, Stage Door, Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Woman of the Year, Without Love, Adam’s Rib, The African Queen, Suddenly Last Summer, The Lion in Winter, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner


6. Barbara Stanwyck
Seen in 12 films: Night Nurse, Baby Face, Ladies They Talk About, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Stella Dallas, The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire, Double Indemnity,  The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, Sorry, Wrong Number, Clash by Night


5. Monica Vitti
Seen in 3 films: L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse

4. Ann Dvorak
Seen in 4 films: Scarface, Three on a Match, ‘G’ Men, Girls of the Road


3. Bette Davis
Seen in 14 films: Three on a Match, The Petrified Forest, Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Letter, The Little Foxes, Now, Voyager, Mr. Skeffington, A Stolen Life, Deception, All About Eve, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte, Return to Witch Mountain


2. Lucille Ball
Seen in 9 films, 2 TV shows: Stage Door, Five Came Back, Dance, Girl, Dance, Du Barry was a Lady, Without Love, The Dark Corner, The Long Long Trailer, “I Love Lucy”, 180 episodes, “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour”, Yours, Mine and Ours, Forever Darling


1. Louise Brooks
Seen in 7 films: The Show Off, Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl, Beggars of Life, A Girl in Every Port, Prix de Beaute, Windy Riley Goes Hollywood

Lulu in Pandora’s Box


“Lulu in ‘Pandora’s Box’”    

Originally posted April 20th, 2011 on Film School Rejects as part of their ‘Criterion Files’

The first time I saw G.W Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, I thought I knew what Lulu, the character played by Louise Brooks, would be like. All I knew was that Lulu destroyed the lives of those around her. I expected her to be a typical femme fatale, with perhaps a bit of the vamp in her; sexy, manipulative, cold, calculating, powerful. I expected her to be a scheming woman with a plan for destruction. Lulu is a very complicated character because she is in many ways the direct opposite of the femme fatale despite the amount of damage she inevitably causes. I chose to write about Pandora’s Box because it means a great deal to me. Most importantly, it introduced me to Louise Brooks. I idolize her for all she had to endure, for never compromising and for the enigmatic personality she brought to the screen which has never been matched.  By looking at Lulu as a character, I hope to give at least a little insight into her performance in Pandora’s Box and the complicated and ultimately symbolic character she portrays with Lulu.

The name of the film immediately gives some indication of Lulu’s character in the parallels it suggests between her and the myth. Pandora was the first mortal woman in Greek mythology. She was made as a punishment for mankind due to the actions of Prometheus because powerful women were seen as destroyers of man. She possessed incomparable beauty, charm and skill. But she opened a box out of curiosity and released all of the evils in the world and by the time she closed the box the only thing left in it at the bottom was hope.

There are obvious similarities between Pandora and Lulu. Most importantly, curiosity was Pandora’s motivation for opening the box; not some calculated plan to unleash evil on the world. Curiosity can be seen as synonymous with naivetĂ©, which is exactly what Lulu has. Lulu is not the femme fatale. She is a naĂŻve woman who is somewhat unaware of the effect she has on people and of the damage she causes whether it is her fault or not. Lulu does not purposely ruin the lives of the people around her and this is a key characteristic.

In the commentary for the film with Mary Ann Doane and Thomas Elsaesser that can be heard on the Criterion Collection edition of Pandora’s Box, Doane make a statement that reveals another important characteristic of Lulu’s. Doane states that “she is a character for who the past holds no weight”. Lulu’s sole motivation is pleasure in the present. She does not mean to hurt anyone. She fails to comprehend that her actions affect others and that other people have their own individual feelings and desires. She does not learn from past mistakes and refuses to compromise or dwell on the past. Additionally, Lulu will not learn from past mistakes and is capable of shaking the past off no matter how traumatic it may be.

An example of this is when she returns to Alwa’s place after she escapes from her trial for Schon’s death. Alwa comes home to find Lulu coming out of the bath. She acts insensitively to what Alwa is going through. She smiles even though he has lost his father; she pokes him and he says “How dare you come here”. She looks slightly confused and says “Where else should I go but home?” She smiles, he shakes a hat into her hands and then Lulu gets violently angry and then throws the hat across the room. She then completely changes moods, smiles and crosses the room to go look at herself in the mirror in her bathrobe. Lulu wastes no time moving on from life-changing events so she can continue pursuing the present moment. The way Lulu acts in this scene is not malicious but simply unmindful; because of this, we continue to care about her despite her blatant inability to take other people’s feelings into account.

Another key characteristic of Lulu that harks back to the natural curiosity of Pandora is Lulu’s childishness. We are the most curious as children and this is what Lulu essentially is; a child. She becomes the most childlike around her “father”/pimp Schigolch. She is the most familiar with him and sits on his lap whenever she sees him. The most extreme example of Lulu’s childishness is the tantrum she has backstage at the revue she participates in. Schon brings Charlotte his fiancĂ©e backstage at the revue which Lulu is performing in and shows her around. When Lulu sees Schon, her expressions and mannerisms are that of an upset child. Her brow pushes forward and her lips pout out and Lulu suddenly looks like a five-year old who did not get her way. She stomps off and refuses to perform in the show, pushing people out of her way and makes a large commotion in front of Schon.

A piece of behind the scenes knowledge during the making of the film can also shed some light on how Pabst might have seen Lulu. When she shoots Schon, G.W Pabst told Louise Brooks to react by saying “Das Blut!” meaning “the blood!” Although neither the line nor Brooks’ lips uttering the words make it into the film, this direction is an indication of Lulu’s childlike nature. Instead of telling Brooks to react to the fact that she just shot and killed her lover and her best friend’s father, Pabst tells her to react to a much more abstract thing; blood. A child would unlikely understand the full implications of the death of someone and instead would react to the concrete physicality of the blood. Pabst’s direction of Brooks during this scene suggests that he also looks at Lulu as having childlike qualities.

For all of Lulu’s characterization, her mere presence gives off a sense of symbolic purpose. The connection to the figure of Pandora and the elusiveness of Lulu elevates her to a mythical-like status. This is why it takes a figure like the assumed “Jack the Ripper” to eliminate her; someone with that historical status is the only one who has the ability to destroy her. The way Pabst’s camera depicts the actress, and the meaning that Brooks’ presence and performance give to the film add to the fascination that comes with Lulu, making her a unique character and an iconic presence in film.

Louise Brooks never poses for the camera. It makes her all the more appealing and Pabst uses this to his advantage by adding different lighting techniques, most notably soft focus and expressionistic lighting to enhance her undeniably unique qualities. Using soft focus for close-ups was standard, but Pabst’s use of it veers towards visual poetry. The casting of Brooks, an American among a cast of Germans, gives her an added air of mysteriousness and unfamiliarity to audiences; she sticks out even more so because of it. Louise Brooks plays Lulu with a natural air that has never been equaled. Rumor has it that the reason that Pabst did not cast Marlene Dietrich as opposed to Brooks was because he had said that “’one sexy look and the picture would become a burlesque’”. He needed Brooks’ effortless quality in front of the camera to make the film stand out among others and he knew it.

Brooks’ real life antics make the character of Lulu even more engaging to a modern day audience. She was promiscuous, very much into sex and desire almost to a fault. She and Lulu represented the modern woman who was in control of her life, her sexuality and of the choices that she made. Unfortunately for Brooks, many of these were bad choices; but she made her own life by her own rules. The Hollywood system could not contain her. All of Lulu’s seductive qualities were Louise Brooks. Pabst managed to capture the essence of her. This is not an act; beyond the definite construct of Lulu, I believe we are seeing Louise Brooks herself.

Lulu is a character in cinema that has become an icon, representing desire, eroticism; a woman who seems to be in control of the camera that photographs her, her femininity and her power. Lulu is brought to life by Louise Brooks, a legend in her own right, who is unforgettable as Pandora’s Box. Make no mistake that in the end, for all its other accomplishments, of which there are many, Brooks makes this film. She is sex and desire. She is a curious child. She is living completely for herself. She is mythically symbolic. She is Lulu.