Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘d.w. griffith

The Burglar’s Dilemma (1912)

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I don’t have much to add to the critical retrospective of this film; it’s an early work by D.W. Griffith that shows the promise of some of his greater films to come. Other reviews state that the plot devices Griffith uses seem contrived and unrealistic, but that his messages come across clearly in the end. Considering the sheer number of films he was making at the time – around two or three a week adding up to over 450 total – the quality and detail included in the film is impressive. I was also excited to learn the main character was none other than Lionel Barrymore. Overall, I enjoyed this film but struggled to immerse myself enough in the narrative or production to analyze it adequately.

You can find more information and links about the film on IMDb.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 2, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

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Luis Bunuel’s collaborative film with surrealist demigod Salvador Dali is one of the classic examples of short filmmakers subverting Hollywood narrative in every way. The eye-slicing opening sequence communicates that one much watch this film with a different eye, and after that, the film does not try very hard to communicate much else. Narrative sequence is ignored, dialogue is ignored, and Bunuel only includes “images that surprise[d]” the filmmakers themselves. Compared to D.W. Griffith, who wanted to explore everything film could do in the realm of imagination to tell a story, Bunuel and Dali sought the most imaginative of images without the goal of storytelling. Whether they’re expressing an emotion, reveling in turmoil, or simply laughing behind a slew of shocking images is irrelevant. This film is still one of the most studied and discussed short films committed to celluloid, and if you’re looking for a bit of analysis much more insightful and comprehensive than mine, might I suggest John Nesbit’s Old School Reviews or Michael Koller’s article on Senses of Cinema?

Koller quotes Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray to emphasize his point, and I think it’s worth reiterating here.

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 25, 2011 at 11:23 am

The Sealed Room (1909)

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D.W. Griffith, the grandfather of cinema that made one of the most controversial and racist films ever made (The Birth of a Nation), showcases a bit of his own black humor with this film. He was one of the first filmmakers that translated the idea of “connecting space” to the screen, building the concept of continuity that we now see as a necessity in believable film. This film includes examples of eyeline match, where the characters eyes look right and indicate that the next scene takes place to the right of the current scene. A tragic story like this one would have been rare in the early cinematic days, and this one is done with some of the same Vaudevillian melodrama that defined American comedies of the time.

PBS’s American Masters series says of Griffith: “Griffith’s films became part of history in the making—unleashing the power of movies as a catalyst for social change. More than anyone of the silent era, he saw film’s potential as an expressive medium, and exploited that potential.”

You can learn more about his life and work on the PBS website.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm

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