Capsule Reviews: 1930 Watchlist (Films #5-9)


In my first capsule review post for 1930, I covered Let Us Be Gay, Ladies of Leisure, Murder!, and Anybody’s Woman. That post can be found here.

liliom 5

Liliom (US, Borzage)
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. Think Peter Ibbetson mixed with more overt expressionism. But 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.

Rose Hobart is perfect for the part of Julie, though the film swallows her whole by the second half (standout deathbed scene not withstanding). Her eyes have a sharp directness as she communicates her undying love for Liliom through that tunnel vision stare. Her unshakable need to stay by this whiny asshole is seen with a kind of nobility. At the very least it’s seen without judgment. As for Charles Farrell, well… From what I’ve read, audiences apparently adjusted fine to hearing his voice, but let me be the first to tell you it is rough. He sounds like one of the kids on Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island. Close your eyes and you’re back in the schoolyard with the head bully. His Liliom also walks like Popeye, though that bluster is a pronounced character trademark.

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. (I’ve been, and will keep, mentioning camera mobility in these 1930 films. I don’t mean to suggest that camera movement equals higher quality filmmaking, but in 1930 it is a clear and easy sign of formal ambition as studios, technicians, and creative personalities attempt to establish a visual language for talking pictures)

Notes:
– So this is where “Carousel” comes from! I’d eventually like to see that and other adaptations of this Hungarian play (most notably the 1934 Fritz Lang version), not least because it will be sure to illuminate this one.

– Liliom is so quick to kill himself. It’s kind of absurd. Equally absurd? The notion that Liliom is the first person to be given a second chance. Really? This moron?

– The “Look out, look out the dumb police are on your trail” song is now something I sing to myself.

– Of course this movie was a financial (and somewhat critical) failure. How could it not be? How do you even market something like this? It doesn’t fit into any box.

king of jazz 6

King of Jazz (1930, Anderson)
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. And it’s kind of a must-see. 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. I loved this movie. 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). King of Jazz also reminds me that I have a substantial hard-on for Two-Strip Technicolor.

Notes:
– Bing Crosby’s first screen appearance! He shows up as one of the Rhythm Boys. He was originally slated for a solo number but an arrest after drunkenly crashing his car prevented that from happening.

– There are really lame 30 second skits by Universal contract players sprinkled throughout (some of which feature explicitly sexual punchlines). Though I loved the one set at an all-ladies newspaper.

– “Rhapsody in Blue”: First of all, according to author Richard Barrios, Universal may have paid upwards of $50,000 for the use of this piece. Also, the number is an all-blue one, though I’m not sure how it got like this because Two-Strip can’t pick up blue.

– Universal was also on the cusp of another colossal, and much more successful, effort; All Quiet on the Western Front. It even gets a shout-out here!

bat 5

The Bat Whispers (US, West)
What an exceptional experience seeing a 1930 film in 65mm (The Big Trail, which I haven’t watched yet, also falls under this category). The Bat Whispers is a mystery, yes, but the air here is ripe with two other genres; horror and comedy. Something that struck me about this is the way it successfully balances some tricky tones. There is a slight threatening undercurrent coursing through the film. It mostly takes place in one location, but the house is cast in shadows, and there’s a nice depth of setting that hints at what’s hidden. A masked intruder named The Bat, an entity that famously served as one of Bob Kane’s inspirations for Batman, is known to be lurking around the house for most of the film. Disguising his voice, he omits a wholly unnerving shadowy scrawl. A late scene featuring Una Merkel stuck in a hidden room with the Bat quite honestly gave me the willies.

And then the comedy of the thing! As characters tiptoe around in the dark, carefully treading with their different agendas, The Bat Whispers also proves to be light on its feet. It has a gentle comedic air, often aiming for soft laughs (can’t win them all though; a perpetually frightened character named Lizzie grates very quickly). All the tropes you can imagine are here and then some, contained by surprising energy and foreboding.

The Bat Whispers stays put once we get to Cornelia’s estate. So it uses the largely silent first ten minutes for striking formal ambition, particularly in the creative ways it introduces key locations. It also features a very early twist ending! After the film ends, Chester Morris comes out and pleads that the audience not spoil the ending for others. And in such a tongue-and-cheek way too. An eccentric note on which to end an eccentric film.

Notes:
– I really enjoyed Chester Morris doing a weird mix of dapper and dastardly. I so prefer this Chester Morris over the Chester Morris of The Divorcee.

– Features the Laganja Estranga of movie detectives.

paid 4

Paid (US, Wood)
Paid is a touchstone in Joan Crawford’s career. This was a part for Queen of MGM Norma Shearer but Joan, the ultimate self-promoter, rallied hard for this once Norma discovered she was pregnant before filming began. She long ached to move beyond lighter fare of the Our Dancing Daughters variety and establish herself as a heavy dramatic actress. Starting with Paid, Crawford gradually moved away from her flapper persona and into more refined and challenging work. And it’s a good thing she started a career evolution when she did. Between changing times and the enforcement of the Production Code, the flapper persona would soon be outdated, and actresses primarily known for those kinds of roles would have nowhere to go.

Paid has a promising premise. It’s got a prison film crammed into its first ten minutes. It then sets itself up as 80 minutes of Joan Crawford slapping everyone in the face with the law and getting sweet sweet revenge on her former boss by wooing his son. And all that happens. But the second half insists itself into empty melodrama by focusing on the aftermath of a deadly crime, imploding its premise instead of exploring it.

Notes:
– Marie Prevost!!! I’ve noticed that both of the 1930 films I’ve seen featuring her contain scenes where her body jiggles for the camera. I wonder if War Nurse will also have something of the sort.

Paid has lots of zingers:
“Wise as a tree full of owls, that’s me”
“Oh Mary, don’t be so 1890”
“It’s that coin that makes them so sassy Cassidy”
My favorite is “Four years ago you took my name and replaced with with a number. Now I’ve taken that number and replaced it with your name”.

– There are moments in Paid where Joan looks eerily like Sigourney Weaver. I never noticed it before but the proto Sigourney vibes here are off-the-charts.

 

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Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #112-117


Though I’ve also seen Behind the Candelabra, The Boat That Rocked, Point Break and Blood but I’m going to shift those into this upcoming week’s entry.

The Easiest Way
#112. The Easiest Way (1931, Conway)

My quest to see pretty much every Pre-Code continues. This viewing was also inspired by a resurgence of love for Robert Montgomery. I found myself falling for him many years ago, back when I first started watching classic films. It subsided for years until I saw him in When Ladies Meet this year. It all came flowing back. The dapper obliviousness. The drunken cavorting. The boyish charm.

The Easiest Way disappointed me quite a bit, though an ambitiously mobile camera and a couple of outdoors scenes lend a little to grasp on from a formal point of view. The story didn’t bring the progressive aspects of women claiming their own desires, even under the guise of a compromised message film. Instead, we see Constance Bennett exhibiting inertia as subdued dignity. Her lack of character kills the film in its tracks. Many people love Bennett; stunner though she is, color me unimpressed with her acting abilities (at least here). Watching a non-entity of a character make poor choices and become a pity-case for Depression-era women about what not to do in the face of easy opportunity isn’t very fun. Furthermore, Robert Montgomery gets a pitiful fifteen minutes of screen time. Slightly making up for this is his perfect entrance.

Anita Page as Bennett’s sister, and Clark Gable in his first sizable role as her husband, are a parallel instructional couple of how to live life as a woman in the 30’s. Honestly and dutifully of course!

There are a few notables here. Though the final scene plays into my inherent issues with the film, it strikes an effectively complex and bittersweet cord. Marjorie Rambeau has a palpable desperate quality to her speeches which also mark the most astute and empowering material in the film.

Side Effects
#113. Side Effects (2013, Soderbergh)

Much more satisfying than the slim pickin’ offerings of Haywire, Side Effects is another yet another Steven Soderbergh genre exercise, this time working within a third generation Hitchockian springboard. It’s a meticulous Jenga tower of a pharmaceutical potboiler fronted by Scott Z. Burns’ precision and Soderbergh’s reliably yellow-hued stasis. It’s a satisfying old-fashioned romp that plays around with manipulation through perspective.

Its final act veers into somewhat uncomfortable territory. I’m not sure if we’re ready to have gleeful throwbacks to the archaic sexual politics of 80’s/early 90’s thrillers with no repercussions. Even more importantly, it simply doesn’t come off, landing between preposterous yet not preposterous enough to retain the necessary guffaw factor. Other unfortunate elements include Vinessa Shaw’s shrill one-note wife.

The trailers worked too hard to cover up its halfway point event, making the very thing they were trying to hide obvious. However, I appreciate that the marketing had the intended effect of not knowing where the film was going after the halfway point. Rooney Mara and Jude Law are both excellent, particularly Mara who paints a realistic picture of crippling depression with her doe-eyed fragility as well as her other layered nuances of character.

Soderbergh’s cinematography under pseudonym Peter Andrews presents some of the best, and at the very least some of my personal favorite, digital cinematography I’ve seen, utilizing shallow focus and deep sensual lighting amidst a clinical backdrop.

Night Must Fall

#114. Night Must Fall (1937, Thorpe)

I’m a big ball of giddiness when it comes to Night Must Fall. It features a career-best performance from Robert Montgomery, playing against type as an Irish homicidal maniac with equal parts charm, vulnerability and psychosis. Opposite him is Rosalind Russell as a repressed quiet niece torn between her fascination for morbid visceral excitement and recognizing her fright as a dangerous reality and that her inaction is paved with potential consequence. There’s an atypically interesting and rich dichotomy between the two characters; it almost feels like a plot line from “Dexter”; except actually good. No, great.

Night Must Fall is severely underrated and filled with character-driven tension. I basically spent the entire time lustily swooning over Montgomery, getting lost in his ‘baby-faced’ Irish lilt and trickster charm tactics. This is a memorable yarn based on an acclaimed play of the time and featuring Robert Montgomery’s only Academy Award nominated performance (and his own favorite performance as well). That introductory shot with the nonchalant swinging door is one of the best first character glimpses in film. I’d count this film among my many favorites.

pieta-3
#115. Pieta (2013, Kim)

“To put it bluntly, Pietà is a baseless experience posturing under the guise of arthouse profundity. I’m not quite sure what Michael Mann and fellow jury members were thinking when they awarded it the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival. I’m also not sure how so many people are being tricked into finding meaning in this faux infant terrible submission. It comes down on us like a sloppily blunt object but without the impact. Kim Ki-duk’s limply affected ‘realism’ is a creative cop-out as he shamelessly uses his name and reputation to wrongly excuse his barely present content. It’s a defense mechanism that only goes so far; you only have to remove his proclamation ’18th film’ statement to realize this entire film, from its unpracticed camera to its cheap shock tactics, is a pile of bull.”

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/review-pieta-2013-kim/

Sightseers

#116. Sightseers (2013, Wheatley)

Rising out of the same kind of mundane death-related British humor from films like Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Trouble with Harry, Sightseers is sprinkled with moments of scathing clarity but is too often bogged down in one-note transparency. We get it. It’s funny because Tina and Chris treat murder like light-hearted shenanigans.

Alice Lowe and Steve Oram created these characters and wrote the film, which Ben Wheatley then directed. Tina and Chris are both pretty pitiful individuals with Chris lacking for creativity and swamped in resentful class issues and Tina a repressed dog psychology obsessive whose life has passed by taking care of her deeply unpleasant mother. Though it boasts two fantastic lead performances, my main problem with Sightseers is that they are seen as pathetic creatures. They are not depicted with an adoptive get-on-board-the-murder-train sympathetic glee, even if Wheatley and co do a good job of entrenching us into their mindsets. They are depicted with one-note pity, as sad adults in arrested development. You don’t root for them and I wanted to be rooting for them.

The trajectory of their road trip, and the film, is a lovingly crafted smaller sights of Northern England tour (the Pencil Museum!) There are shots, like the one above, that Wheatley employs that have either Oram or Lowe staring straight into the camera that are involving instigating moments. And that final scene is tops; truly tops and the kind of biting jab the rest of the film was trying to execute with intermittent success. Basically, Scott Tobias’ NPR review perfectly sums up how I felt about it. He articulated it way better than I ever could.

The Big House
#117. The Big House (1930, Hill)

Known as pretty much the first prison film, The Big House establishes a well-known prototype whilst stretching out the boundaries of its own blueprint. Basically, it tweaks its own formula while simultaneously establishing it. Writer Frances Marion became the first female to win a non-acting Oscar for her screenplay and a lot of prison visits and research went into her preparation. So the film is on one level a critique of the prison system, namely the indoctrination process and life within a microcosm society. Overcrowding, poor care, conformity, discipline and the authorial rot are all addressed.

We expect to sympathize with Robert Montgomery’s Kent, a Tobias Beecher-lite audience surrogate, with the touted up big-shots of Chester Morris and Wallace Beery as our troublemakers. In fact, Montgomery’s shifty snitch-fish out of water is seen as the enemy. Morris and Beery, united by loyalty and an inside-out pattern of established friendship are actually the ones with which we sympathize. Chester Morris, who had yet to impress me in a film, is fantastic here. And Beery, in a role that brought him back on top elicits the perfect dangerous but soft lovable aura, even as he talks about his murder rap and knocking dames teeth in. A rare gift that. The two have such memorable chemistry and you become very attached to their camaraderie.

George W. Hill gets around the stilted blocking of early talkies by mixing it up where he can. He creates a claustrophobic atmosphere of sweat and brawn, using boxed-in framing and dark strips and towering architectural structure which threatens to weigh down on the prisoners. There is also a lot of panning and effective use of close-up. Montgomery’s darting eyes are so well-captured in the second half. You are just waiting for him to explode with quaking fear. And finally, the climax of the film is a thrillingly-mounted event of smoky chaos and uncontrollable gunfire. In short, this ranks up among my favorite Pre-Code films.

Screening Log: July 1st-15th – Films #214-230


Hello all! I just thought I would give a heads-up on a few of the posts I plan on writing up over the next month. I’d like to review Breaking Bad Season 5 as it airs. Considering that I spend more time thinking about, analyzing, gushing and mulling over that show more than pretty much any film, I find it appropriate to air out my thoughts as each episode airs. So expect some thoughts on Sunday’s premiere in the next few days. I will also be watching and reviewing Joachim Trier’s sophomore work Oslo, August 31st. A review for 2004’s A Very Long Engagement, a Reintroduction Post, a Worst-Blu Ray Cover file, a Potential Double Feature and finally the 90’s Edition of Film Character I Have an Irrational Hatred Towards are all posts I am aiming to have up over the next month.

This has been an exciting week between Breaking Bad premiering, Shut Up and Play the Hits having its one-night only showing and The Dark Knight Rises on Friday, which I will be seeing at midnight. I plan on rewatching The Dark Knight, a film I like a great deal but (!) that’s about it. Suffice it to say I am still very excited for the final installment. However, the vitriol being spewed onto critics are have ambivalent/negative reactions to the film is not surprising but still despicable and depressing. I hate to generalize, but sometimes fanboys just piss me the hell off. Rant over.

All grades are ultimately arbitrary and are there mainly for my own posterity.

214. Caged (1950, Marshall): A-

215. Mirror Mirror (2012, Singh): D-

216. Street of Shame (1956, Mizoguchi): A-

217. The Deep Blue Sea (2012, Davies): B

218. Executioners (1993, To & Ching): D+

219. Party Girl (1958, Ray): C-

220. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Bergman): A

221. A Very Long Engagement (2004, Jeunet): A-

222. On the Beach (1959, Kramer): B-

223. Bullhead (2012, Roskam): B+/B

224. Pather Panchali (1955, Ray): B/B-

225. Harakiri (1962, Kobayashi): A/A-

226. Red Desert (1964, Antonioni): A

227. Seconds (1966, Frankenheimer): B/B-

228. The Passion of Anna (1969, Bergman): B-

229. The Naked Kiss (1964, Fuller): B+

230. John Carter (2012, Stanton): C+/C

 

 

 

Screening Log: June 16th-30th, 2012 – Films #193-213


All grades are arbitrary and subjective; they are there for posterity.They reflect on what level the film worked for me personally on a first viewing and are not reflective of their ultimate worth. Obviously a film like Casque D’Or is not B- level work, but the film failed to fully cast its spell on me, thus a B- grade.

193. A Man Escaped (1956, Bresson): A/A-

194. High Art (1998, Cholodenko): B

195. Floating Weeds (1959, Ozu): B+/B


196. Les Enfants Terribles (1950, Melville): A-

197. The River (1951, Renoir): B-/C+


198. Casque D’Or (1952, Becker): B-

199. Le Plaisir (1952, Ophuls): B+/B

200. Night of the Demon (1957, Tourneur): B+

201. The Band Wagon (1953, Minnelli): A-


202. The Grey (2012, Carnahan): B/B-


203. Les Cousins (1959, Chabrol): C

204. House on Haunted Hill (1959, Castle): C

205. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, Sturges): B+

206. Headhunters (2012, Tyldum): B-

207. Brave (2012, Andrews & Chapman): B+/B

208. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Anderson): A/A-

209. The Intouchables (2012, Nakache & Toledano): B-

210. Sudden Fear (1952, Miller): B-


211. The Wrong Man (1956, Hitchcock)
: B-


212. Chronicle (2012, Trank)
: B

213. Mon Oncle (1958, Tati): B

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Review: King of Devil’s Island (2011, Holst)


Originally posted on Criterion Cast April 1st, 2012

There are a considerable number of films featuring adolescents driven to the far reaches of suffering in reform schools, correctional facilities, institutional homes or rigid private schools. At this point, many stock characters have been established; the newcomer who shakes things up, the stern and unwavering headmaster, the martyr and of course the ultra-evil authority figure.  All of these and more can be found in King of Devil’s Island, director Marius Holst’s bleak as bleak can be tale of what happens when power goes awry.

Like several others in a similar vein (such as The Magdalene Sisters to name a more recent one), King of Devil’s Island is based on a true story. It depicts Bastøy Island in 1915 Norway, a reformatory secluded from the rest of the world where it housed wayward boys from the ages of eleven to eighteen. The environment is hopelessly desolate and frigid. One can feel the sharp stinging chill of the air while watching. There is no escape. It is frighteningly simple to get shipped to Bastøy; one character is sent for stealing out of a church donation box. Once there, it is exceedingly difficult to obtain release, taking many years. The workload is dire and labor-intensive and they are underfed. The punishment and abuse are dealt out at a moment’s notice and retain the status quo of cruelty expected in films of its kind.

In short, you would not want to find yourself here. But inmate newcomers Erling (Benjamin Helstad) and Ivar (Magnus Langlete) sadly do. Erling, a harpooner who is rumored to have killed, immediately starts plotting an escape plan. Ivar, who is much younger, experiences the worst possible form of welcome by unwittingly attracting the attention of house father Bråthen (Kristoffer Joner). The admission procedures strip them of their clothes and name. They emerge naked in front of their fellow students, part of the nomenclature with their new identities C-16 and C-5.

Bestyreren (Stellen Skarsgard), the school’s governor, is far too resolute in his misguided sense of reform to consider how damaging his methods are. Finally, there is student leader Olav (Trond Nilssen), who emerges as the heart of the film. He is inches away from being released after six arduous years. But as tensions rise, he must question whether or not securing his release is more important than standing up for the injustice he witnesses.

Stories of justified adolescent uprisings are always going to be engaging, to me at least. Marius Holst’s paint-by-numbers film is entirely predictable yet still manages to be a justly moving experience. Holst moves beyond the empathy implicit in the basic storyline, emphasizing the stark environment and the human elements buried deep within the struggle. Almost every frame is entrenched in hollow blues and grays. This may seem an obvious aesthetic choice but, again, Holst moves beyond the obvious with his execution. It is a rich film to look at, but the environment is never glamorized. This is a truly miserable place, and the visuals all support this.

Unfortunately, there is not much room for the actors to wiggle around in their archetypes. Unsurprisingly, Skarsgard manages quite a bit with a character that is so deeply mired in stern self-denial, that the film does not allow him even an honest moment with himself.

It is the child actors though who come through strongest. The governor says early on that at Bastøy “the past and future don’t exist. There is only present”. The film follows this proclamation relatively closely, focusing on the youths roles in the here and now of their predicament. Even without learning much about him, Helstad always makes sure we see Erling’s motivations come from immediate and tacitly sensed injustice.

Trond Nilssen’s Olav lends the film its most humanistic element. He has spent six years adapting to life at Bastøy. He has obeyed and proven a faithful inmate. There is a sort of reliance he has on the way things work at the school. Sure it is brutal and harsh, but if something were truly aghast, appropriate action would be taken; right? Surely he can expect his word, after six loyal years, to be worth something. From the moment we set our sights on Olav, we know where his arc is headed. Nilssen cancels out any negative effects of our awareness; the arc is all in his eyes and he is heartbreaking in the film’s successful through-line.

The strength of Helstad and Nilssen also force the friendship between Olav and Erling into the forefront of the film’s memorable aspects. The final ten minutes are inescapably emotional.

Filled with somber strings and heavy-handed and repetitious symbolism to drive home this grim tale of rebellion, King of Devil’s Island never feels substantial but is never less than entirely involving. When the uprising arrives it is shown as desperate and humanized rage. These kids do not turn into monsters and Holst smartly never allows that to come across. Holst is less interested in what happens when the breaking point is reached and more interested in the journey to that moment. The King of Devil’s Island is about unmonitored hierarchies of power and the disturbing results that can yield from a sharp schism between those in control and the unlucky defenseless.

Screening Log: March 15th-31st, 2012 – Films #61-82


Heading into April I thought I would be done with my goal for watching some films from the 1920’s and 1930’s. But as I look at what I roughly have planned for the 1940’s, I realize I do not want to move on from these decades until I finish up what I had planned to watch. The films I have planned before moving on are A Woman in Paris, Beggars for Life, October, Joyless Street, Spies and Sadie Thompson for the 1920’s and Earth, Desire, Quadrille, A Day in the Country, Street Angel, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, City Streets, The Four Feathers, Madam Satan, Land without Bread, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Monkey Business and The Crime of Monsieur Lange for the 1930’s. These will likely comprise the majority of the films I see in April.

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


62. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927, Hitchcock): C


63. Love Me Tonight (1932, Mamoulian)
: A-


64. 21 Jump Street (2012, Lord & Miller): B+

65. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933, Lang): B

66. Basket Case (1982, Henenlotter): B-

67. Holiday (1938, Cukor): A/A-


68. Ladies They Talk About (1933, Bretherton and Knighley): B-

69. Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (2011, Rapaport): B-


70. Alexander Nevsky (1938, Eisenstein): C/C-

71. The Threepenny Opera (1931, Pabst): C

72. A Day at the Races (1937, Wood): B+

73. Sabotage (1936, Hitchcock): B/B-


74. Tabu (1931, Murnau): B+

76. The Pearls of the Crown (1937, Guitry): A-


77. The Hunger Games (2012, Ross): B


78. Sisters of the Gion (1936, Mizoguchi): B

79. Destiny (1921, Lang): B-/C+


80. Osaka Elegy (1936, Mizoguchi): B+

81. King of Devil’s Island (2011, Holst): B

82. The Story of a Cheat (1936, Guitry): A/A-