The Public Enemy (1 of 4)

Well, I found it. I found a gangster “classic” I didn’t like. Allow me to introduce you to The Public Enemy a 1931 Warner Brother’s movie directed by William A. Wellman (who I will attempt to avoid from here on out). Staring James Cagney, Jean Harlow and Edward Woods it’s too bad none of these could help it.

The Public Enemy is a melodramatic, ham-handed and over-acted snore. Its plot is weak, its purpose completely void and there is no heart. The story is the typical “rough-childhood” experience turned a boy into a criminal (maybe that’s why they call this a classic? It may have started that terrible trend?). But without a moral (besides for the foreword from WB) and without any sympathetic characters the movie becomes laughable and boring.

Tom Powers is a bad boy, not the cool bad-boy attitude that we love our gangsters to have, but that twerpy kind that you just want to backhand constantly. The movie begins in 1909, pre-teen years of Tom, he steals some pocket watches and gets them to his “boss” Putty Nose (What the what kind of name is that anyway?), Putty Nose hires him as a full-time little crook. Cut to 1915 (Yes, exactly 1915. I know because of the big bold numbers flashed across the entire screen this is the most effective way of showing time has passed). Tom Powers is in his late teens (6 years later) but he looks twenty-five. Putty calls in a favor that will make Tom and buddy Matt “big timers!” Oo boy. How exciting. He gives them guns, they blow the job and are forced into hiding.


Years later they work for another guy, Paddy Ryan (who is naming these guys!?). Paddy is a bootlegger and gets them rich. Of course they don’t know what to do with the money and since they are uneducated muscles, and nothing more really, their quick rise to power proves once again that “those who live by the gun die by the gun”. Or something like that. (Matthew 26:52).

See those expression? That is great acting.

When another gangster dies an accidental death, a war breaks out and Paddy’s bootlegging days are over. The first to go must be his muscles. So Tom Powers must die, but don’t worry you’re not involved in him as a character anyway. You’ll just be glad it’s almost over.

Also mixed in is some terrible acting from the cast playing Tom Power’s entire family. His mother and brother are especially horrendous. Even Cagney is nothing spectacular, playing too far into the gangster attitude he turns it into a caricature. And Jean Harlow should have never appeared in movies. Yuck. Reminded me of that Eye of the Beholder Twilight Zone episode…

How is this woman supposed to be the “babe”!?

Avoid this “classic” at all costs. If you’re watching a gangster film from the ’30s spend your time on Scarface, not this diaper of half-brained performance slaughterings. In fact, watch the first five minutes of Tom’s early years and you’ll get a taste for the entire film. Wellman letting these children “act” the way they did, proves his inadequacy as a director, and the fact is only supported by the 78 minutes of excruciating evidence afterward.

The Public Enemy is only avoiding my half-point review score because of Cagney’s influence on gangster performances. Even if future actors had to tone it way down to be taken seriously.

Just one question for anyone reading: does this movie deserve any of the credit it receives? Comment in the sidebar!

<—— Over and Up




On the Waterfront (4 of 4)

Netflix Instant Play spoilers*

In 1954 Elia Kazan, the infamous Hollywood director who turned rat during the McC arthy trials, made On the Waterfront. And there are certainly similarities between Kazan, who named names, and his most successful character Terry Malloy who would also name names. Many film historians think of On the Waterfront as Kazan’s apology (or at least justification) of his testimony in the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Of course supposed Hollywood communists are different from real-life gangsters, but Kazan may not have ever seen that.  Staring Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, Lee J. Cobb as Johnny Friendly,  Karl Malden as Father Barry and Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle, the film won 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor and Actress, and Cinematography (Black and White). It was a new form of dramatized social commentary in the depiction of organized crime, and changed movies forever.

On the Waterfront tells the story of the overturning of a mob-controlled  labor union where the waterfront dock workers are getting scraps for hard work while the boss, Johnny Friendly, uses violence and his power as supervisor to steal the earnings of his union employees. And for a while, things are going well for Friendly. He’s living it up with all the money and power he could want.

But when Friendly tricks Malloy, his favorite young kid on the dock, into assisting in the murder of local dock-boy Joey Doyle he learns that he has gone too far, and that Terry Malloy has a conscience with an unbreakable will. A two direction storyline also invests in a priest Father Barry, who comes along side Eva Marie Saint’s character Edie Doyle to help her find her brother Joey’s killer.

Father Barry becomes the fire under the union. He holds a meeting at the church to challenge the dock workers to expose their mob-boss Friendly as the killer. But Friendly shows how truly shameful he can be as he sends his goons to raid the church with led-pipes and wooden clubs.

Father Barry takes things to the police and convinces one brave dock-worker to testify in trial against Friendly. The next day Friendly arranges for him to be killed in a loading accident. And just when it seems all hope of overcoming the mob is lost, Father Barry releases a speech, that I think I will say is one of the greatest Christian moments in movie history. I’m calling it the “Crucifixion Speech.”

Terry Malloy, the uneducated amateur boxer and all around tough-guy, is moved. Absolutely shaken to the core by the public divulgence of the evil on the waterfront. Malloy is pressured from both sides as he slowly begins to see the evil of his long time boss and the good of Father Barry.

Friendly makes a mistake by asking Terry’s brother Charley to either “talk some sense into the boy” or kill him. Charley picks him up with all intention to do as Friendly said, but Terry shames him into staying his hand with one of cinema’s most famous speeches ending with: “You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.” Once you see the movie you will always be able to hear Brando delivering these lines.

But Charley’s disobedience angers Friendly, and Charley winds up murdered as well. In a crazy-faced only Marlon Brando could ever pull-it-off rage Terry grabs a pistol and heads to the bar to avenge his brother. Father Barry is there to stop him and convince him to confess his involvement in Joey’s murder and indict Friendly as the killer he is.

After the trial, Terry can’t get work on the docks. And being the strong-willed (and now principled) man he is, he marches straight to Friendly’s front door and demands a confrontation. Then things get climactic as the union workers and the mafia stand face to face on opposing docks as Terry and Friendly box it out.

Saying On the Waterfront is a great film is an understatement. Its 8 Academy Awards are a testament but not a just one. This movie is perfect. The gangster is redeemed through Christian ethics and the powerful conviction of a righteous man. One of the best examples in movies of change and empowerment, and proof there is always hope. It is a beautifully captured, impeccably acted and scripted masterpiece and one of my very favorite films, gangster films or otherwise.

Whose famous speech is better, Father Barry or Terry’s? Is Brando a better gangster here or in The Godfather? Would you have stood up to Friendly? Comment in the sidebar!

<——Over and Up


Scarface (3 of 4)

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My second genre in my study is one of my very favorite. Gangster movies. A brief history before I begin, during the silent era, the gangster film’s growth was seriously stunted by the lack of dialogue. So with the influx of sound there was also a surge of gangster movies. Making this genre an almost exclusively sound age genre. It was simply too difficult to get an audience behind a “bad” character as the hero of the story without being able to hear that persons voice. Once our gangsters could talk they proved to be the most charming baddies imaginable.

1932 presented the world with the fast-talking and ruthless, prohibition gangster Scarface. Scarface or Antonio “Tony” Camonte, played pitch-perfectly by Paul Muni, had a new style of business in the Chicagoland area. And living by a “shoot before they do” mentality he helped his boss Johnny Lovo take over the entire city.

But, quickly his ambitious and violent methods draw attention from the police and his showmanship and brazen (or mindless) courage draw attention from Lovo’s girlfriend Poppy. Tony also has his severe, controlling hand in the life of his younger sister, Francesca. ‘Cesca is 18 years old, in love with Tony’s best friend Guino and completely unaware of her own immaturity.

All three stories come barreling into one another in a terrible night of violence and dancing. After Tony kills Guino in anger over his sister, she betrays him to the cops and heads to his apartment to kill him herself. ‘Cesca’s love for her brother stays her hand and she and Tony enter into one of the most famous standoff shootouts in movie history as they hunker down in a steel encased apartment to open fire on the streets filled with police below. Finally in a last-ditch escape attempt he is gunned down, dying under the neon sign he worshiped. “The World is Yours” flashes over his bullet ridden body as the movie ends.

This is the gangster movie that drew attention to the gangster movies. It opens, as many older films did, with a statement to the audience, saying clearly that the movie is an indictment of gang rule and a challenge of sorts to the audience to do something about it since “the government is your government”. What became of this warning, eventually, was the Hays Office for Censorship and the beginning of strict rules enforced on Hollywood’s gangsters. They were not to be glorified and made into heroes, they should be condemned!

But then a problem arose. See, the gangsters were charming. We liked them. We liked them shooting each other, and robbing banks, and smuggling drugs and alcohol, and especially we liked them doing all of it with cool “wise-guy” attitudes and loads of class. Sure he was a murdering crook, but look at that suit! Nobody cared, they were “just movies”.

But surprisingly censoring the gangsters like Tony out of business, at least until the Hays Office was shutdown actually furthered the progression of the genre. What did Hollywood do when they couldn’t glorify the gangster? Ever heard of a little term called “the bad cop.” We simply put cops undercover and let them do the same things that the gangsters were doing, except because they were technically “good guys” it was acceptable. We still do it today with almost every popular spy and police TV drama. Burn Notice is a good example. Or for purists Internal Affairs (or its remake The Departed) are also good examples.

Scarface is a classic, it defined an era of gangsters and really set the tone for the extreme violence, classy showmanship and subtleties of organized crime films. It also was eight years before the film noir movement (in which hundreds of gangsters films were made) kicked into high gear, meaning it’s style hasn’t been mimicked. There are not many films like Howard Hawks’ Scarface.

Personally, I like the original better than the De Palma’s ’83 remake with Al Pachino. And my reasoning is really quite simple. It’s shorter. 93min vs 170min is a no-brainer for me. Howard Hawks speed in completing the story accentuates the quick-way-up fast-way-out circumstance of Tony. The slow destruction of a bootlegging empire and collapsing of Pachino’s world presented in the ’83 version is simply too slow. Hawks version gives you no time to think, and doesn’t drag on until good actors are giving ham performances. I’d say watch both, but if you only have time for one watch the shorter, older and better time-tested classic. Muni is as cool as Pachino tries to be.

Do you think gangsters make good heroes? Think the remake is better? Think Pachino is a ham? Comment in the side bar!

<——-Over and up.


The Social Network (4 of 4)

David Fincher’s new movie based on Ben Mezrach’s book “The Accidental Billionaires” and adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin is maybe the best movie I’ve seen this year. I read an article in the paper where Sorkin said that when you watch a movie that says it’s “based on a true story” you should think of that film as a painting rather than a photograph of what happened. Painting or photograph I’m not entirely sure, but The Social Network is definitely excellent.

Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jessie Eisenberg, and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) are the creators of a social networking site for Harvard students. In a drunken rage of programming and blogging about fresh ex-girlfriend woes Mark develops the website that will become facebook. His main reason is to compare the girls on campus, he calls it and intends only to make people angry. But when the website overloads and crashes the Harvard network the two friends realize they have something bigger than they anticipated in their hands.

Harvard puts Mark on academic probation for overloading the servers and invading privacy, who is then picked up by the Winklevoss brothers who want him to design a website for them. He agrees but behind their backs he makes a plan with his best friend Eduardo. Quickly they form an agreement, 70% is Mark’s (he did the work) 30% is Eduardo’s (he put up the money for servers and start-up). CEO and CFO best friends and business partners. But when (then) begins expanding to other universities Yale, Columbia, Stanford etc. things change quickly between the friends. And when Eduardo is secretly cut out of his 30% share, a close friendship ends and an enormous 3-way lawsuit for intellectual property begins. Finally ending with the worlds youngest billionaire, the film’s tag-line “You Don’t Get to 500 Million Friends Without Making a Few Enemies” has a resounding force.

The story is emotional, fascinating, invigorating and absolutely non-stop. The opening scene, which I could only describe as a shootout of dialogue between Eisenberg and actress Rooney Mara is worth admission price. My wife and I sat down in the theater and cringed when the hordes of tweens and teens bumbled in to see our movie, spilling popcorn and soda, whooping and howling like they had entered a water park. But after an incredible back-and-forth between two upcoming actors, we knew the theater would quiet down, and it did.

In typical Fincher style the lighting set the tone for his actors to deliver lines with such confidence that it’s hard not to believe them. I finally pieced this together while sitting in The Social Network. The same way I believe Tyler Durden from Fight Club when he says: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” I believe him, even though I know that’s insanity. It’s the lighting. It’s that serious and consistent yellow grain light that fills the screen with this attitude. It’s why Eduardo can say lines like “I like standing next to you, Sean. It makes me look tough.” And everyone in the theater thinks it sounds so cool! Fincher works actors and shows confidence at such perfectly timed moments, that what he delivers in the end is masterful directing. And that’s not to take credit form Garfield’s acting.

Because before I get to what I think the movie means, I want to say that the cast is stupendous. Eisenberg, who I disliked in The Squid and the Whale, started to like in Zombieland, and now think is the best actor his age in Hollywood steals the show. Andrew Garfield, who has been incredible in everything I’ve seen him in (watch Boy-A there’s a good movie) performs like I expected. And even Justin Timberlake is, well he’s bearable, good at moments and unconvincing at others. Maybe having a pop-star play the creator of Napster wasn’t a good idea, it takes me out of the story for sure. But otherwise flawless casting.

I think this movie is good not only for its pacing and acting, but because I think it’s true of people. Even if the film isn’t 100% accurate as the real Zuckerberg has said, I think it says something about money and people and especially friendship. The movie presents Eduardo as Mark’s only friend, that is until Mark becomes infamous. Eduardo who is the plaintiff in one of the lawsuits is actually the better friend. Mark sold his friend for an idea that made him the youngest billionaire in the world. And it has to make you wonder, do you have friends worth a billion dollars?

Facebook, the real facebook, has become the most popular website on the internet. It’s a free service worth 25 billion smackeroonies, but it’s also been the butcher of our culture’s view of friendship. There’s a great moment when Eduardo fights with his girlfriend because his relationship status on the website says single. He confesses to her that he doesn’t even know how to change it, and it’s embarrassing as the CFO to not know how to change it. And it’s silly and the audience laughs, but we are right there. There’s a YouTube video floating around about facebook saying that 1 in 3 women between 18-26 check facebook before they do anything else in the morning.

My generation, is a generation of technology and blogging and YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and on and on, so how do we stay friends in the middle of all of it? It’s hard for me to compress it into a blog post/movie review, so I’ll say watch the film and just feel it. How many of your “facebook friends” are friends? Or are you no better than Zuckerberg, cause they’re just there for notoriety?

My #1 scene (courtesy IMDB):

Facebook Lawyer: Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: [stares out the window] No.
Facebook Lawyer: Do you think I deserve it?
Mark Zuckerberg: [looks at the lawyer] What?
Facebook Lawyer: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don’t want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.
Facebook Lawyer: Okay – no. You don’t think I deserve your attention.
Mark Zuckerberg: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try – but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.
Mark Zuckerberg: Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

It’s Alive! The Transforming Genre of Horror

Horror is a perfect genre to begin a genre study course, first because it is simple to track its progression over time and secondly because it is a reliable cultural thermometer. Based on the nearly hundred or so horror films I’ve seen and approximately the half-dozen I’ve carefully selected and re-viewed or visited for the first time I feel I have a strong sampling to discuss the genre. My early films will be The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, my classical films will be Frankenstein and Dracula (both 1931) and my revisionist films will be Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby, with frequent movement around the last four decades of horror (and maybe science fiction, I make no promises).

Horror has been a quickly evolved and developed film genre. From its story-telling devices and film-making techniques has arrived a style and theme of movie that still entertains and frightens.

In its early days the genre was permanently forged into movie history with the German art movement, Expressionism. One film in particular helped in the “crystallization of the horror film as a genre” (Langford 2005, pg. 161) that film is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Cabinet used heavily painted sets, extreme makeup and over-the-top acting to exaggerate and dramatize the supernatural and paranormal. This destruction and recreation of reality into the bizarre became the standard of horror films.

But as Langford writes (and I paraphrase) the world didn’t need Cabinet to teach it how to use low-key lighting, angles and shadows, the value and lasting influence of these early films like Nosferatu and Cabinet is in the story-line content they presented—the centralization of a message and theme of the creepy and paranormal. These early movies started speaking in a language the world hadn’t heard before, but proved very eager to learn.

This early influence can be clearly seen just over ten years later in the two enormously successful films Frankenstein and Dracula. Frankenstein garnered from the early films a firm belief in the presentation of the impossible in a melodramatic style. Colin Clive screaming “It’s alive!” again and again would be humorous if audiences hadn’t previously understood that such performance are expected.

Frankenstein also showcases a similar monster to Cabinet in that of a person in heavy make-up grown with technology to include prosthetics. The same could be said of Dracula whose monster is engrossed in the same make-up driven effects. Early horror films made no attempt to hide that they were just movies. The effects and costumes were the point, similar to George Méliès science fiction films and his trick shots and editing trademarks of the 1910’s.

The next step in the evolution of the horror genre was to take both this implausibility and the exaggerated worlds and to force them into the confines of the everyday person, essentially to make the outlandish believable. It took considerable time to turn into the modern-day horror film. But everything I read from Langford to Ebert refers to the same turning-point in film history. Psycho.

Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece Psycho extinguished the separation of the audience and their fears. Psycho was not only plausible, but it felt authentic and while it kept some devices (like the human, or humanoid, monster) it discarded others like the melodramatic acting and flashy set pieces to replace them with honest behavior from actors and convincing settings and environments. Psycho is generally regarded as the most influential horror film in history (Schneider 2008).

Roman Polanski’s 1968 nightmarish horror, Rosemary’s Baby, followed quickly into the safe-zone rubble created by Psycho, playing still on the everyday mixed with the supernatural and the evil. It was especially enlightening to watch this progression so closely together. Watching all these horror films over three weeks reveals each proceeding one as a cinematic child of the past. Indeed the language of the alarming that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari spoke was being echoed in the films I watched.

The other amazing feature of horror films is their incredible accuracy as gauges of a culture. It is hard not to notice the gradual increase in the sexuality of the genre. Cesare’s love in Dr. Caligari becomes Dracula’s fascination in Dracula which turns into Norman Bates abasement of life and especially women in Psycho which turns into blatant sexuality and nudity in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.

Compared to the decades in which these films were released it shows an ever-growing willingness to expose and display the obscene for the sake of shock. Alfred Hitchcock’s famous shower-stabbing scene is void of nudity because he considered it inappropriate for audiences to see Janet Leigh’s body. Just eight years later we see full nudity in a rape scene involving Satan in Rosemary’s Baby. There is no doubt a connection between this and the sexual revolution of the 1960’s.

Film is both a cause and an effect of societal changes. (Thompson, Bordwell 2003) It reflects and it creates ideas and thoughts. That’s part of its wonderful power, but also when dealing with a genre like horror part of its inherent threat.

Obvious is the excessive gore and sexuality in the genre from the last decade. It seems that thanks to gore-horror movies the perversion will never end. Many of the most successful horror films of today’s Hollywood have little if anything to do with ingenuity, design, suspense and art. The current shift in focus is directed at nudity, violence and shock.

I will quickly plot a few movies on a timeline to back this up. Beginning in 1973 with The Exorcist containing intense violence, gore, language and anti-religious messages; The Shining (1980) again language, violence and nudity are frequent; Saw-Saw VII-3D (2004-2010) all featuring increasingly disturbing content including nudity, sexuality, torture, violence and gore. Cabin Fever (2002), The Devil’s Rejects and The Descent (both 2005), Teeth (2007), Bitten (2008) or Sorority Row (2009) (dates courtesy are all progressively targeted at the teenage boy’s mind. A film like Saw would have been completely abhorrent to society in the 1930’s, and I’d bet that even the directors of our great horror classics would be appalled at the “monstrous” styles and content now common-place in their genre. Perhaps an improvement in the content of horror films will be an indicator that Hollywood is beginning to see its part in the repercussions in degrading American lifestyles.

Horror is an amazing genre and a historically important movement. I am amazed by what I learned and saw in the constant changing and elaboration of themes and characters and devices used by the film-makers. And I found that I actually enjoy many of the more artistic behind-the-scenes aspects of horror. Like wondering how they make the monster or costume or make-up look the way they did? Or where did they get the idea for this or that spray of blood or eerie glow?

Horror is a genre of these things—of effects, acting and lighting. It is a world of costumes and myths and entertainment that has moved from significant and patient thrillers to mindless, stomach-lurching gore festivals without missing anything in between. But we must always be careful when watching horror films not to confuse our entertainment with the dark content they often depict.

If this one genre can be used as a thermometer of our society’s ethics and values then we must regulate our participation. Our film-going experience must always remember to not hack and slash its way into our spirits. Sometimes the films we watch get so scary we have to remind ourselves, “It’s just a movie.” So let’s not forget that and in doing so allow what is “just a movie” to permeate our world and minds.

Rosemary’s Baby (4 of 4)

Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror Rosemary’s Baby is the fifth movie in my genre study of horror. Polanski, who desperately wanted to do a skiing film, came on board to do Rosemary’s Baby through William Castle and Paramount, who told him he could do his “ski” film afterward. RB ended up turning into one of Polanski’s greatest career achievements.

Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a young couple, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes), who are in a relationship going two different directions. Rosemary wants a family, wants children, wants attention from her husband. But Guy is an actor, and being an actor he is “naturally self-absorbed” and cares much more about his career than his wife.

The unassuming pair moves into the apartment next door to an elderly couple, Roman and Minnie. Minnie and Roman are no ordinary senior citizens they are in fact witches. Witches who are looking for blood to use in satanic rituals. Roman becomes fast friends with Guy as they begin to talk about show-biz. Guy is convinced off-screen to join their neighbors’ evil coven and to give them Rosemary as a vessel to birth Satan’s baby! Can you believe this guy (no pun intended)! His wife and baby and soul to Satan in exchange for success in Hollywood, what a dope.

Minnie drugs Rosemary with chocolate mousse and kidnaps her with the entire coven, some 10-20 people all elderly, well, besides Guy. In a half-asleep drug induced coma Satan rapes Rosemary. It’s a graphic scene, much worse for what it implies in the shadows than is actually shown, but grizzly nonetheless. She is impregnated with Satan’s child and begins a terribly painful nine months.

Minnie and Roman and Guy all work together to keep her from seeing or communicating with anyone outside of the coven. Even her obstetrician is part of the coven. The wicked three all go to incredible lengths even casting spells on people outside the coven to keep Rosemary secluded and drugged. When Rosemary gives birth to the devil’s child she is forced to mother it under the supervision of the Satanist witches.

The fear in Rosemary’s Baby comes from two things. One a religious or spiritual aspect, since we are dealing with Satanic worship and the occult, and two from the familiarity of the neighbors and the general peacefulness of the set. RB takes the people and things that we feel we can trust and slowly turns them against the heroine. She can’t trust her husband, she can’t trust her neighbors, she can’t even trust her doctors! Betrayal and deception are huge themes in Rosemary’s Baby to look past them, I think, is to miss the point of the film entirely.  What happens when not some things but everything you have faith in gets undermined?

As a horror film, I didn’t find the film altogether that frightening. It drives almost like a drama for the first hour, and then shifts into a horror/mystery hybrid. Polanski, despite his personal life, is an extremely intelligent director and guided a near perfectly acted and shot movie.

To defend that a little I’ll give two examples. The first being the tight and deliberate framing. The rape scene is actually the best example of the thought and precision put into the film. The angles of the cameras, the close-ups on the blood being painted over her body and of Satan scratching her shoulder are the only thing you leave the scene with clearly. Everything else gets blurred and smeared and color-balanced away from clarity. This is a carefully worked scene.

When she wakes up the next morning with scratches under her arm, you understand it with a satisfaction that poorly directed and written films don’t have.  You realize that what you’ve seen was there for a reason, when it’s brought up again.

The second is the acting. Farrow is unreal, her innocence and spunk at the beginning of the film and the quick and dramatic subversion of her energy and spirit feel authentic. As a man, I can say I’ve never so well sympathized with a pregnant woman. In the last third of the film when she makes an escape and pieces together the clues my heart is in my throat. Farrow is perfect.

Ruth Gordon who plays Minnie is just as good. Rosemary’s door never more than cracked open but Minnie somehow flooded through. Gordon won a well-deserved Supporting Actress Oscar for the role. She is incessant, hospitable and impossible to ignore.

Cassavetes plays overpowering so well it should be studied in acting classes, the feeling his presence in the film generates is tangible through the screen. The easiest way to spot a great villainous performance is to test whether you care where and what that villain is doing when they aren’t on-screen for you to observe. Cassavetes makes you wonder constantly.

Rosemary’s Baby was an extremely enjoyable film to watch. It is perfectly paced (even as a long film, 2 hours 16 min), and it knows its next move way in advance. It is a little dated (I desperately wanted someone to google some answers, in fact an iPhone might make this movie impossible), but it is more than what I anticipated. Certainly my fifth movie was “horrific” in its content but not in its quality.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2 of 4)

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In 1920s Fritz Lang turned down directing this twisted film, and it was put into the hangs of Robert Wiene (pronounced with a German accent). What it became was an expressionist masterpiece of jagged set pieces and oblique shadows painted on everything in sight. It is a crooked, spatially challenged movie of impossible shapes and constructions. After The Cabinet was released, Expressionism fully adopted the belief that the peak should be larger than the base.

To me The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a perfection collision of what I know is historically great film and what is currently the most boring thing I can remember watching. Cabinet is short, it’s only an hour and ten minutes long, but silent films don’t age the same way as sound films. Even a “movie buff” will likely struggle through this early genre film. But let’s be honest most people watching Cabinet anyway must be movie buffs.

Quickly, the story opens on our hero Francis, who is in the woods with an older man. He begins telling a story from his past. The story is an outlandish flashback that takes up the meat of the entire movie. As Francis explains he was part of an investigation to uncover the murderous intentions of Dr. Caligari, an evil psychiatrist who studied somnambulism (a somnambulist is a person who never awakes). According to Francis, Dr. Caligari enslaves the somnambulist known as Cesare and through some mystical magic is able to control him and force the poor somnambulist to do things that he would find abhorrent if he were awake. Like murder innocent people.

I’ll go ahead and ruin the plot, because it’s historically important and for the sake of this post I must do so. Francis is actually the insane character, and all of his rambling about the “somnambulist” is just part of his imagined and completely crazy world. Francis is revealed as a patient at the psychiatric hospital where Dr. Caligari, or at least the person he believes is Dr. Caligari, is simply a good-natured hospital director.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an extremely important movie. To the high-class of the 20’s it was a German art film that showcased over-dramatized acting and stylized sets and makeup to create a fantasy world that no one had seen before. It pushed the borders and never let the audience forget it was a movie, everyone knew they were observing “art” (similar to the magical worlds of Méliès’ science fiction silents).

To the public Cabinet was a horror movie complete with one of the very first “monsters” in the form of Cesare the Somnambulist! Shoot, it even had the climactic gimmick that many of the last few decades best and most popular horror films are known for! Think The Sixth Sense, The Descent, or Shutter Island.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is undeniably a door-opening film. It blew the hinges off expectations to make room for monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula in 1931 and even serial psychopath’s like Norman Bates in the 60’s. And most importantly and greatly understated: it set a criterion for horror films with shadows, make-up, melodramatic acting, and thorough hysteria.

Thankfully, however, we have improved past many of the time weakened devices of Cabinet and now our horror films use better ones. Let’s use sound as an example. I like sound. I joke around with friends that I have the wonderful ability to hear in the dark. Out of nowhere I just spit out, “I can hear in the dark.” I do this when I’m reminded of the power of sound. Try to imagine any frightening thing you’ve seen on a screen. Go ahead take a second and think of something scary. Got it? Okay, now eliminate the associated noise.

My point.

I can’t imagine Psycho‘s shower scene without that screeching, or Frankenstein without thunder booming and Colin Clive screaming: “It’s alive!” over the downpour. Even cheap visual scares and jump cuts are heavily audio devices. Watch the trailer for the new movie The Roommate and you’ll hear what I mean.

My crux is this, film has made wonderful advancements so that we don’t have to watch movies like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. We needed it, it got us places, but thank God we got there.