Dispatch 2014.09.09

My memory is a fiddly thing. If I don't write things down, I will forget, and sometimes it is right to embrace the forgetting, but in this case, that's not what I want.

After some joking that we realized wasn't quite so joking, we decided we needed a project, and so Film School is in. Noah and I have started watching all of the Best Picture nominees, in order, from the beginning, and I keep forgetting to jot down our reactions. We started at the beginning:


  • Wings (1928): A silent film, and a bit of a novelty now in that it's a story of going off to A Great War, but the war is actually World War I. We couldn't imagine how much it must have cost to do those hand-painted frames, or those aerial combat shots. It stands more as a marker of a specific time in moviemaking than as a movie we'd really want to watch on its own merits, but it was the right place to start.
  • The Broadway Melody (1929): so far, the low-light of the set. We can only speculate that it must have won because it was one of the first full-length feature musicals, even including a short sequence of Technicolor (since lost, but it would explain that weirdly out-of-focus bit in the middle), but we found it nearly unwatchable. The acting, writing, and plot don't hold up terribly well. 


  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): this movie was the first time we turned to each other and said, "This held up well!" Large sets, realistic portrayal of the horrifying futility of World War I. It was the first time we saw really good tracking shots and use of foreground / background image composition. We commented repeatedly that it felt like we were starting to watch the film medium grow up.
  • Cimarron (1931): the first Western to win. Expansive outdoor scenes, and better use of exposition to start a story. This movie was the first one to start weaving multiple simultaneous stories together, even if the male lead was maddeningly annoying. ("What? She STILL hasn't left him? What the hell is wrong with her?")
  • Grand Hotel (1932): Noah commented that it felt like we could see the art of movie storytelling jumping in leaps and bounds with each movie we watched, and this one felt like no exception. While not naturalistic by modern standards, there's a world of difference in the acting and direction of this movie and "Wings." It featured overlapping expositions ("oh, look, it's the Phone Booth of Exposition!") and a mix of wide and narrow shots. It also had Greta Garbo, and the not-inconsequential contribution of whoever lit Garbo's shots, as they were noticeably different from the shots around them. Oh, and we did indeed cheer when she gave her famous line, "I want to be alone." 
  • Cavalcade (1933): this is next!
  • It Happened One Night (1934)tbd
  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)tbd
  • The Great Ziegfeld (1936)tbd
  • The Life of Emile Zola (1937)tbd
  • You Can't Take It With You (1938)tbd
  • Gone With The Wind (1939)tbd

We should get to "Cavalcade" sometime in the next week or so.