The Grand Illusion (1937)

This film demonstrates the evolution and continual mastery of film making techniques to convey a story, however it lacks a solid narrative structure. The story has little introduction, a web of complications and conclusions with various climaxes and finally ends.
New techniques include that of time passing. To demonstrate a time skip there would either be a dialogue of current events to do with the war or a shot of a newspaper reporting events. The new convention of establishing shots shows the use of a moving vehicle with a camera on it. Possibly a train or early dolly system. These shots were also used to demonstrate a passage of time via a montage of shots.
With the introduction of sound comes the problems of the sound editing process. A few scenes such as when all the prisoners played the flute and when Marechal was speaking to the cow were clear examples of inexperience in sound editing. The tone of the flutes did not change despite everybody moving behind a wall.
There was one terrible cut during the scene where Marechal and Elsa are about to kiss where the music is built up to an exceptionally loud and impacting point and then it’s a straight cut to the next day with different, softer music. It was just disturbing to the eyes and ears.
The film is generally realist, but incorporates expressionistic elements such as the scene where everybody stands still, in a rather twilight zone-ish style while the camera pans around the set. The aforementioned montage technique is another expressionistic element used. However the main goal was to convey a realistic story. The expressionistic techniques seem to be used for pacing and comic relief.


March 24, 2009. In class. Leave a comment.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

This will be a rather short one as we did not get to see much of this film, just the opening and skipped fragments of the end. Therefore I cant really comment on the story.
The iris technique continues to be used for close ups of characters (to which I’m still not convinced is more effective than simply moving the camera closer to the characters), however one new use we see here is the iris out open. This is the iris spreading out to reveal a scene. A rather effective technique in setting the scene for a story that is still used today.
The sets were very theatrical, that being spectacular, but obviously fake. The film makers likely did this on purpose to create a surreal world. Similarly the acting of Dr Caligari was very theatrical, particularly his eyes. Everything was at such an obscure angle that is disallowed the practicality of anything, but it did look cool.
The spooky writing with funky colored shapes behind it was an extremely bad font for reading, however the film made up for that by holding the words on screen longer for the audience to decipher it.
Some intentional chroma changes were used, such as a blue filter for anything outdoors and a yellow filter for all scenes indoors.
The brief little bits we did see inspired us designers to ask our  lecturer about creating a stage version of this film.

March 22, 2009. In class. Leave a comment.

The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

This film by Sergei Eisenstein is a pure propaganda film made in response to Lenin’s interest in using film, as a way of justifying the revolution and consolidation of power. This is achieved through the plot device of a martyr in order to instill a sense of justice into the minds of the masses.

The film has a much more solid narrative structure than our previous studies. It is broken up into five equal chapters and follows the simple formula of introduction, complications and spectacular conclusion.

Eisenstein clearly made this as an expressionistic work, as the film techniques are very noticeable and most tend to emphasise an overly dramatic portion of the film, such as the little boy being killed and the shots of the amputee to evoke sympathy from the audience. The expressionistic techniques are effective in amplifying the mood and atmosphere of the particular scene and most definitely used with that purpose in min in order to sway the public. If realist techniques were applied it would be much less successful as a propaganda film.

The iris technique was used a few times for no discernable purpose. There was also a strip shot where they eliminated two strips of rectangular film on either side of a shot of people walking down stairs. Once again I have trouble figuring out its purpose, but it was more visually appealing than the iris effect.

One problem that continues from our other film studies is that of the anti climax. It would seem that film makers had still not quite figured out how to effectively structure the last part of their films. There is a lot of build up to battle on the sea in chapter 5, which is unsuccessfully sustained through five minutes of preparing the ship for battle. Then the deux ex machina comes though when the ships are magically inhabited by revolutionists and everyone appears to leave happily every after.

March 10, 2009. In class. Leave a comment.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

This film by D.W. Griffith is a three and a half hour piece of propaganda glorifying the KKK. Although putting the extreme racism aside the film was clearly made with no sense of cinematic narrative structure. This can be attributed to the lack of cinema at the time and sheer amazement people would have felt at seeing a picture on a screen, but even so I have a hard time believing that this film would have kept audience glued to the screen for the entire three and a half hours.
It was an adaptation of a book ‘The Clansman‘ , but I feel Griffith was simply trying to replicate the book instead of adapting it to the new medium. While I have not read the book, I think that the story presented on film would be a much less boring experience being read.
The film undergoes seemingly random chroma changes. The first few chapters start out yellow and then there’s a short two or so in blue and then back to yellow. The only change with any discernable purpose is when it becomes red to represent bonfires and various parts of war.
The iris effect that Griffith seems quite fond of was annoying. I assume the idea was to show where the focus in the scene should be, however this can be easily achieved by framing the shot properly.  It does make me curious as to what the audience would have thought of the effect at the time.
The sets look quite realistic with the exception of one indoor fight scene where a man lifts and throws another on to a wall that moves, clearly showing that it is a flat.
It seems like Griffith used both real black people and fake black people via the use of (unconvincing) make up. The fakes were easy to tell as they simply did not look authentic and were only used for key roles.
The acting was generally believable until it got over dramatic near the end or unprofessional, e.g. at one point early in the film a girl spiked the camera in a crowd scene.
Music was generally appropriate however I did notice that at some points it was too epic for the action going on. For example in a scene of someone sitting down and talking the music should not have been fast paced and very loud.
This film shows the beginning of large production budgets (originally US $40,000 but rose to $112,000) and the potential of films to make absurd amounts of money, grossing $10 million.

March 5, 2009. In class. Leave a comment.

Lumiere, Porter and Melies


The realist actualities of Lumiere provided a short, one angle insight into a different part of the world. They were nothing more than a camera (or kinetoscope back then) set up for a few seconds with little action happening. The significance of this is quite clear though. These were some of the first moving pictures in existence and a couple of seconds of people walking out of a factory would have been truly astonishing back then. If it were to be likened to contemporary times it would probably be like us seeing 3D hologram technology, which would create an entirely new medium to work with. Some of Lumiere’s other titles include ‘Woman Throwing Baseball’ and ‘Arrival of the Train.’ This was technology that would change our world, however not through “Actualities.”


Melies the magician would be one of the first to play with this new filmic technology to create an expressionist story. Widely considered to be the first science fiction film made, ‘Trip to the Moon’ (1902) is exactly what the title implies. It begins with a parody of astronomers dressed as wizards, who make plans to go to the moon. It is an amazing piece when you consider that it all would have had to have been privately funded. There are wonderful sets (flats, forest areas), set pieces (specifically the big ship), very nicely done costume and props (the league of astronomers and the animal-like moon dwellers). However camera angles are virtually the same in every scene, making it feel almost like you were sitting in the audience of a theatre show.


‘The Great Train Robbery’ (1903) presents a well structured narrative through the potentially pioneered use of jump cuts. That is, the story isn’t exactly linear, for example the scene where the bandits get off the train is followed by them running through the forest with no need to show what happened in between. It also cuts to what is happening elsewhere at the time, e.g. while the bandits are running through the forest we see the police at a ball. There is an attempt at colouring various parts, such as a woman’s dress at the ball, however it simply doesn’t look right as the sole colour apart from bits of purple on the roof. While I acknowledge it must have been a tedious process to colour it, they should either do the whole scene or not at all, as I think the colour actually distracts from the action occurring. There were some experimental camera angles used and some panning that made it feel more cinematic, as opposed to ‘Trip to the Moon’ where the use of only one single camera angle made it feel quite theatrical.

March 4, 2009. In class, Uncategorized. Leave a comment.