Today’s Shorts: Labyrinth (1963), A Daring Daylight Burglary (1903), Hunting The Panther (1909), The Spirit Of The Beehive (1973), Dawn Of The Dead (1978), Oldboy (2003), Braveheart (1995)
Labyrinth is a surrealist short from Jan Lenica, a significant artist who changed the face of Polish animation in the 60s.
With an incredibly unique style, this film seemingly explores freedom and tyranny as it follows an angelic figure, a suited man with wings, into a city where he confronts evil to no avail and later witnesses puerile and lewd spectacles before being captured, his mind infected, and then destroyed. This short has been compared to the Icarus myth, but is clearly a reversal; instead of flying too high, our figure flies too low, only to be consumed by darkness, leaving this narrative a pessimistic critique of charity and good intentions. The manner in which this idea is captured through the aesthetics is quite penetrating and so is something I’d certainly recommend.
An impressive early example of multiple location linearity in cinema, A Daring Daylight Burglary is one of the first archetypal chase/action shorts. In such, it follows a burglar who, as the title suggests, daringly tries to rob a house during the day before leading police officers on a chase.
This is a significant film as it is one made by Frank Mottershaw whose films were an influence on Edwin S. Porter who would go on to release the first American western in this same year, the famous Great Train Robbery. In terms of structure and pace, Mottershaw’s film feels much more mature thanks to a stronger sense of space and time jumps as well as a surge of energy gathered in the final few shots – though, this may just be a result of the varying frame rates (which may or may not have been corrected in the version I saw). Moreover, A Daring Daylight Burglary has a much stronger sense of realism thanks to the use of real locations, distinguishing it from a tradition of sensationalised and romantic retrospection that begun with Porter’s first western.
This is a film by Alfred Machin, a prolific French filmmaker who was quite significant in the the nineteen-teens thanks to his work during WWI as an operator in the Armed Forces Cinematographic Services. This documentary-esque short (there is clear fictionalisation within) pre-dates his work in WWI, however. Employed by Pathé, Machin travelled all over Africa recording film of people, animals and their practices.
This is then, especially by modern standards, a highly unethical hunting film that sees a panther caught in a trap, poked with sticks and then shot at close range before being skinned. Quite like other shorts in which Machin would document the hunt of animals such as giraffes and hippos, this is then a form of spectacle and an extension of early cinema scenes which would simply document life (which would of course be dated by this point – which explains the expansion into more exotic and dangerous regions).
Most likely inspired by his interest of animals, Machin shot many of these movies in his early career and would go on to own exotic animals, such as a chimp that would star in a few of his narrative films once he owned his own production company. Almost by some macabre sense of karma Machin would go on to die in 1929 due to injuries he sustained after being struck by in the chest by a panther he owned.
Instantaneously recognisable as a masterpiece, The Spirit Of The Beehive is a beautifully shot film with a heavy reliance on pure cinematic language and the image.
Despite its allusions to the Spanish Civil war, which add great depth and a poignant social commentary to this narrative, what struck me most was another level of subtext that explores childhood, maturity and imagination. In such, as we watch our protagonist, the young Ana, naively trudge through profound contacts with ideas of good, evil and the grey haze that embodies the two concepts, there is a tremendous sense of resonance thanks to great performances as well as highly metaphorical and symbolic writing that ingeniously incorporates the most complex elements of Frankenstein into this film.
All in all, The Spirit Of The Beehive is a brilliant cinematic experience that I’ll surely be diving into again.
Seen as a straight zombie movie, Dawn Of The Dead is good fun, but objectively a pretty terrible movie. The direction is ok, just like the editing, but the acting and the script are so incredibly dumb at certain points that it’s ridiculous. And the zombies… just bad. The main flaw with this movie is then the awfully designed narrative that has no real conflict and shallow characters that only manages to give us some bursts of spectacle to be immersed in.
However, as most will be able to tell you, Dawn Of The Dead also serves as a poignant commentary on commercialised mindlessness and destruction – and it explores these themes pretty well. For this, Dawn Of The Dead is not only a classic zombie movie that had an immense cultural impact as part of a changing American movie industry, but is also one with, somewhat ironically, a bit of brains.
All in all, this movie has significant redeeming factors and is intermittently quite a fun movie, but nonetheless suffers from a lot of dumbness – again, somewhat ironically.
A flawless film that really didn’t need the remake – which I’ve not seen in full, so don’t really have a valid opinion on.
With his newest feature, The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook certainly proved himself to be one of the most interesting directors working today. But, the Vengeance Trilogy, which Oldboy is apart of, is an example that Chan-wook has been making great films for well over a decade now. As the most sensational film of the trilogy, Oldboy is edited and directly masterfully with great, though over-the-top at points, performances all round.
What stands out most about Oldboy, however, is the story which, looking past the plot twists on numerous re-watches, is very intricate and darkly profound. In short, Oldboy is an exploration of inhumanity and isolation – a crushing aspect of existence that can leave people only wanting to be numb. The manner in which these themes and ideas are explored is entirely exceptional with some unforgiving dark humour.
All in all, I think it’s safe to say that Oldboy is probably a masterpiece – one that maybe isn’t for everyone.
A tremendous epic, Braveheart is a movie I’ve seen from beginning to end about 3 times now – but have seen to the half-way mark about a dozen times more than that. What this of course implies is that this is quite a long movie (just over 3 hours) with an awful lot going on within – maybe a little too much. The only faults with this film in my view are then its somewhat bloated nature and over-abundance of plot beats and characters.
Despite the plethora of notorious historical inaccuracies, this is an all-time classic and a near-perfect movie when viewed with the right amount of time and energy. What stands out most are of course the action scenes, which, much like any great battle scene that somehow makes it to a screen, are a tremendous and quite rare feat – and there are many in this movie. Added to this is a performance of a lifetime given by Mel Gibson, who, no matter what he does or has done, will be the guy who made Braveheart.
All in all, what more can be said other than that this is a brilliant movie that everyone has to see at least once.
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