Wednesday, July 02, 2008

All Racist on the Western Coast

Welcome to the third episode of Season One of Best Pictures from the Outside In. If you're just joining us—don't worry, you'll still count later on as a "vintage" fan from the infancy of this series!—Goatdog and Nathaniel and I are surveying Oscar's top prizewinners from inception forward and from this year backwards, leading to all kinds of bonkers juxtapositions... though episodes One and Two have convinced us, and hopefully you, that these arbitrary pairings can lead to fresh, lively takes on the movies. This week, we bunk up with All Quiet on the Western Front, a prestige adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's novel about young German soldiers working hard to stay alive in World War I, which was the Academy's favorite movie released between August 1, 1929, and July 31, 1930. We also run into Crash, Oscar's anointee from 2005, tracking 20+ characters through the mean, bile-spewing streets of modern LA. If these two films were mashed into one, you might call it...

Nick: So, this week the inevitable finally unfolds, twice over. On the one hand, for the first time in this series, Oscar ignites a major uproar with its choice of the top prizewinner. Even more typically of AMPAS, and at both ends of our historical double-helix, Best Picture goes to a movie that huffs and puffs along with a Worthy Message. Without dodging the issue completely, I'm inclined to steer clear of the whole Crash/Brokeback passion play, partially because it was all so recent and so heated that we hardly need another rehearsal: you all know how you feel, and so do we. Partially because I'm the host, and I wouldn't have voted for either one of those movies; given Oscar's choices, I was all about Capote and Munich that year. And partially because our goal is to reassess the movies, not the conditions or controversies that surrounded their victories.

So, with that caveat loosely in place - the First Amendment does, after all, still prevail on this blog - I think we might begin more fruitfully with the moralizing aims of All Quiet on the Western Front (war is hell, and the homefront has no idea!) and of Crash (contemporary racism is as horrible as it is pervasive, and you, the viewers, have no idea!). Neither film leaves any doubt about its motivating ideology, although they position themselves a little differently with regard to their didacticism. All Quiet... is brazenly anti-war, as expressed through its stomach-turning battlefield scenes as well as its dialogues and voiceovers—but the film is also intent on making huge forward leaps in realistic "style" and in technical sophistication. Considering how alert we were last week to The Broadway Melody's crude fascination with its own soundtrack, it's amazing that All Quiet...—so much more ambitious in scope, depth, sonic density, and especially camera movement—is only a year older. Director Lewis Milestone makes a huge case for All Quiet... as groundbreaking cinema, which Paul Haggis all but refuses to do with Crash. That film is formally and technically modest, almost TV-like, as though this in itself will make the movie's elaborately contrived dialogue and dramaturgy more "believable."

So, while we grab our first round of cocktails, I have some questions: did you guys feel that the grand scale and artistic ambition of All Quiet... or the almost anti-cinema aesthetics of Crash made you take their implied "messages" more to heart, or less so? What IS the message of Crash, anyway, and does the movie have an artistic identity apart from its rhetorical points? And if I can ask a more pointed question than we sometimes have in beginning these chats, is there a single scene or moment in either film that sums up how you think the movie works, or how you feel about the movie? (I'll keep quiet about my answers till after I've opened the floor.)

Go to it, you crazy lily-white crackers!

Nathaniel: I love that it took us until episode 3 to get to the Worthy Message film... although I fear we shan't ever be granted a two week leave again. We'll be abandoned on the front lines from here on out.

I'm glad you mentioned the anti-cinema aesthetic of Crash. It's one of the reasons I have a problem with it. I'm not predisposed to hating anti-cinema cinema but I almost never take it as seriously as the Movie-Movie. Even in cases where I like the former kind more than in this case, I can never get truly passionate about them. I think it's charitable that you view this deficiency as an aesthetic choice... I'm inclined to view such films as merely lacking in visual creativity or technical skill. So my answer to the first question is that I can't take Crash's message as seriously as All Quiet's, even before we get to the other problem: Racism is Wrong! is hypocritical in delivery. One of the things I respect a great deal about War is Wrong! is that its message is not compromised. It doesn't wallow in the thrills of the battle and victories like many supposed anti-war movies do. The War is Wrong! soldiers actually look distraught whenever they win OR lose... which I think marks a brave commitment to the Message first and foremost. It's not interested in having and eating its cake. Meanwhile, over in Racism is Wrong!, the players and audience seem to be blatantly pandered too whenever the occasion permits. So often the movie seems to be saying, "It's wrong but we all do it—and that doesn't make us bad people!" I think we need a YouTube mashup of Crash scenes set to Avenue Q's "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", pronto. The movie is similarly "Oops, my bad!"-forgiving, if much less witty in the delivery.

When thinking on Crash, it's not a scene but a line that careens into me. It's the often lampooned but interesting (to me at least) moment when whitey Sandra Bullock has her inchoate breakdown: "I'm angry all the time and I don't know why." I much prefer the movie when its notions of widespread psychosocial sickness are vaguely expressed. I think Crash is more effective in these fuzzier moments than when it hits any nail (black, white, brown or yellow) on the head. We, as humans, may like easy explanations and diagnosis but that doesn't mean they're good for us. Easy categorizations are part of the problem. If I have to choose a scene I'm going with the bookend of Michael Peña and the bedtime story of the magic cape. The first scene is a beauty since Peña is a sympathetic and fine actor. [Note: producer/star Don Cheadle ventures on the DVD commentary that Peña's performance is "arguably the best thing in the movie."] But the payoff, potent as it may be, is manipulative. It works but the aftertaste is gross. That's how Crash plays for me throughout. I think it's well meaning. I really do. It's the delivery that's the real problem.

Goatdog: The scene from Crash that best illustrates why I think that movie is a train wreck is Sandra Bullock's post-sprain embrace with her sometimes helpmeet, sometimes whipping Hispanic, Maria (played by Yomi Perry). Crash structures itself around a series of accidents—of wrong-place-wrong-time meetings, of "there are only five cops on active duty in LA" coincidences, and of genuine accidents proving that nothing is more unsafe than the home except the outside. These accidents both (1) provide fodder for people to dig out their Racist Thesaurus and Old-Timey Book of Creaky Insults, and (2) provide opportunities to realize the errors of their ways. So Sandra takes a tumble, and none of her self-obsessed (presumably white) friends will help her, but her savior, Saint Maria, rescues her from her beige cocoon, takes her to the hospital, and brings her tea.

How lovely! How loyal! You know, the Maria whom Bullock pays to help out, who would likely get fired if she did not help out. In this grand rapprochement between representatives of the Unaware Racist White Union and the Long-Suffering Hispanic Union, Paul Haggis doesn't see fit to give her a single closeup without Bullock, and after Bullock makes her silly declaration, doesn't show her face at all. By that time, she's a prop, not a person. What. the. fuck? Is he making some subversive statement about how Bullock's self-deluded epiphany isn't real? If so, why not at least one little closeup of Maria rolling her eyes? (We all know Ang Lee would have given Perry her own closeup.) It doesn't matter to Haggis what Maria thinks of this, because he's already dealt with what Hispanics think about race in his Michael Peña storyline. This, like Matt Dillon's rapprochement with Thandie Newton in the flames of the burning SUV, strikes me as completely false in so many ways: it illuminates the silliness of the film's reductively interlocking circle of characters, it proudly brandishes the film's reductive view of how people deal with race every day, and it posits a reductive solution in which we only have to viciously stub our toes while running for the teapot in order to have a grand epiphany about how we're racists but we're not bad people and there's hope for us yet.

Which brings me to All Quiet on the Western Front. You know, because it stands at the opposite pole from Crash's technical, moral, and thematic deficiencies. The one scene I'd choose as being emblematic of everything it does right with its technique and message is the recruits' first outing with the lovably ugly Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim) to lay barbed wire. What struck me was the screaming. When people are shot or struck by shrapnel in this film, they don't fall over on their side and die quietly: they scream, they run around, they tear at their faces, they cry, they're in agony, and their friends have to watch because there's nothing else they can do. When they try to help, it's useless—heroism is useless. Like Nathaniel said, it never deviates from this message, not for a second. I don't think audiences had seen a film deal with war this way before (because the sound is so important to the effectiveness), and it would be another 15 or so years before a film dealt with war this honestly again.

The bumper crop of early-30s antiwar films this one kicked off (many of them written by John Monk Saunders, who wrote Wings) weren't this realistic, and from what I remember of the early WW2 films that dealt with combat, they chose the "slight grimace, then fall over quietly" type of battle death. This scene also plays up Milestone's mastery of all the tools available to him as a filmmaker, and at times it's almost as if the creaky-early-talkie period didn't exist, that he was able to meld some of the impeccable technique of the late silents with all the possibilities of sound without losing anything from either side of that formerly impenetrable boundary between sound and silent. It's a legitimately great movie, one of the ten best winners of all time.

Nick: I'm glad you highlight a failure of Crash's editing, Mike, because I do find it galling that the two specific crafts for which Crash won Oscars—the writing and the cutting—are the two things it misjudges more often than anything else. This might seem like nitpicking, but for me a defining moment in the movie is when Don Cheadle's character barks at his mother over the phone that he's "having sex with a white woman," but rather than move closer to Jennifer Esposito's reaction or even hold the full shot where they are lying on the bed in real time, editor Hughes Winborne actually cuts to an arbitrarily different shot as Esposito gets off the bed. This means we don't experience the moment as the character does, in any way; instead, the screenplay digs in its heels for another righteous monologue where a character describes what is structurally wrong with what someone else just did/said. The coarseness of the editing here is botchy in exactly the same way (for me) as the moment you describe, Mike, and works against the film's occasional strength (I agree with Nathaniel here) at showcasing human behavior and vulnerability without always underlining what exactly is most troubling or wrong with the person or moment or event we've just witnessed.

Offending Dialogue + Anti-Reaction Shot = Freestanding Lecture

That said, I don't always think Crash is one-dimensional or totally overt. I don't experience the Matt Dillon/Thandie Newton scene on the highway as a "rapprochement," for example, because I find both of their affects—hers especially, when she subtly shakes her head at the end of the scene—interestingly inscrutable. Some of the writing works, both in the rare understated moment ("You embarrass me") and even some of the florid ones, if you take the movie as a Eugene O'Neill-ish exercise in forcing characters to speak their subconscious thoughts aloud, rather than a snapshot of alleged "reality." And the actors frequently save the movie, or parts of the movie: Terrence Howard's painful apologies to the police, Shaun Toub's and Michael Peña's fight over the door and the lock, Loretta Devine calling office security but then holding them off to hear Matt Dillon out. Strong scenes, sharply played. I do have to give Crash credit for being punchy and vivid and occasionally quite bracing, for all the other times when it's tripping over itself.

But I'm short-shrifting All Quiet on the Western Front! Ditto on its conviction that war really is ghastly and intolerable. I also love the palpable violence of some of the social encounters (Himmelstoss the mailman, converted overnight into a defensive and hostile automaton) and even the camera movements (tracking back as the soldiers rush into their barracks for the first time, underscoring their excitement but also sort of retreating from their painful naïveté). I agree it's one of the best winners Oscar ever chose... but are we going too easy on it? Does it have a Saving Private Ryan-ish problem of getting weirdly talky in the second half? Compared to something as visually and cinematically robust as that horrible scene where the bunker caves in on itself and Franz Kemmerich (Ben Alexander) goes stir-crazy inside, the scenes where the soldiers discuss what war "really is" by the side of the river or where Lew Ayres wrestles internally with his own guilt at killing an enemy feel like a different and slightly lesser movie to me.

Nathaniel: I do think All Quiet gets talky to its (very slight) detriment but it was pointedly moving all the same. The film works best when it's visually conveying the message... like that simple but effective journey of the coveted bad-luck charm boots, or the absolutely stunning ending, which merely recycles a shot from earlier in the film but double exposes it to remind you of the cumulative losses of the movie. It's a gut punch but a humane one, I think. I was also, like Nick, amazed at its technical control. This is only a couple of years into sound filmmaking? They learned very very quickly in Hollywood. Or at least Lewis Milestone did.

But here's where I get all Lew Ayres post-war disillusioned on ya. Perhaps it's distasteful to be this cynical but I've seen too much of the annual Western Fronting. Western as in Hollywood, California. Don't these two movies paired (and other wins too) suggest that the technical mastery and aesthetic sensitivity of a film like All Quiet on the Western Front are rather irrelevant to its triumph on Oscar night. Doesn't The Message film always win because of group sympathies for The Message?

Goatdog: I agree that the talkiness of a few of the late scenes detracts from All Quiet, but only a little: yeah, the "let's put all the leaders in a circle and let them fight it out" bit is belabored, but it's such a small part of the film. By the time of Lew's alienating trip back home, his return to discover that just about everybody he knows is dead, his tragic reunion with Wolheim, and that ending, I had forgotten my issues with those few too-talky scenes. I can't put Lew's soliloquy to his dead French foxhole-mate in the same category, because even despite the sometimes creaky dialogue, it's one of the most horrific scenes in the movie, one that drives home the general awfulness of everything Lew's been through. That dead guy sitting there with that half-smirk on his face... shudder. Plus, I just took a break from viewing next week's offering, and my god, All Quiet on the Western Front is a miracle, hallelujah! Although healing the problems of the other talkies around it is not part of its legitimate claim for canonization.

But with Crash, it's the other way around: the general morass of the hapless shooting and editing (my favorite [read, least favorite] being Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton fighting in their apartment, and Haggis deciding to shoot it through the patio doors because he's seen better filmmakers do that, but doesn't stop to wonder why it might work in some cases but not in others), the general preachiness and obviousness of the dialogue and scene construction, etc., make the good moments—I'll admit that there are a few, some of which are really powerful—seem to disappear.

What has Oscar done to make you so cynical, Nathaniel? I'd like to imagine that voters are familiar with their craft and they recognize outstanding work when they see it. That's the way it works, right? But this pairing (and so many other "message" winners, good and bad) (and, for that matter, their repeated demonstrations of their lack of familiarity with their craft) could suggest that they're blind to anything but the message, at least when they go for a message film. That's a therapy session I'd love to eavesdrop on. But at least sometimes, as we saw last week, they can look past clumsy sermonizing (like Babel) and go for something that seizes the brass ring through sheer, ballsy technique. Looking through the list of films we'll be addressing in the coming months, we'll be wondering a lot about what specific motives led to the choice Oscar made in a given year, even when, as here, they made the right choice. Sometimes it's a strong message or phenomenal technique. Or vast, overwhelming scale. Or a comeback vehicle for a director who doesn't get enough credit. Basically, Oscar needs something huge and noticeable to pin its medal to. It might be fun at the end to try to divide the winners into categories: technique, message, scale, comeback. And Ernest Borgnine.

Reader: Don't front. Don't be all quiet. Do you agree with us that the Milestone film is a milestone? Are you angry at Crash all the time, and do you know why? Though Oscar may have said it all with that interpretive dance of "In the Deep" before a blazing car, leave us your impressions in the form of a Comment...

Stats: All Quiet on the Western Front was nominated for four Oscars, winning Best Picture and Best Director. Crash was nominated for six, winning Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing in addition to Best Picture.

Currently: Goatdog's and Nathaniel's posts on this week's films
Previously: ep.1: Wings & No Country; ep.2: Broadway Melody & Departed

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Blogger tim r said...

I just added All Quiet to my lovefilm queue, as it's much too long since I've seen it. On the "issue" question, and straining as best I can not to rehash old arguments, it's legitimate to throw Brokeback into the mix here, right, by way of footnote? I doubt anyone would argue that it's a "message movie" in the way that Crash is, but I'm interested to know why you guys think sexuality/homophobia as themes, shall we say, are less grabby for AMPAS than race and racism. (Or at least less grabby on a Best Picture level, since there are plenty of Hankses and Hurts and Therons and Swanks to prove that it's catnip in the lead acting categories.) So what's the problem? If Oscar likes to congratulate herself for moving with the times, wouldn't Brokeback have been a more significant breakthrough? Was it too much about repressed desire, and not enough about overcoming and acceptance? Was it simply too sad? And I'm wondering: what version of the movie might have won out over Crash -- something more all-gay-issue-movie, all the time? I don't doubt it would have been a film we'd all have liked less. As you touch on in your discussion, there's an air of hindsight inevitability now to why Crash won -- ie, it won because it's cruder, more obvious, and more button-pushy, of course it won -- which we certainly didn't feel at the time. I guess I'd also like to posit that in terms of its reputation, not winning the Best Picture Oscar might have been the best thing that ever happened to Brokeback. If it had won, I bet it would be widely considered an "issue movie" now, and kind of a straight movie, in all the ways we don't really want it to be.

11:02 AM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

I know i was a champion of Brokeback from the beginning but even I, who loved it TONS when it came out... think it has only gotten stronger over the past two years. Every time i see it actually i think it's better than the time before.

you might be right about the oscar loss helping its eventual rep. I can see people listing it with the other GARGANTUAN classics that didn't win no...

but anyway. i was really impressed with ALL QUIET even if i didn't love it in a personal way the way I do, say, WINGS... but that might have to do with when i saw the latter. This was my first time watching ALL QUIET. This series has already blessed me ;)

1:23 PM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger RJ said...

I'm so glad you guys decided not to discuss the Crash v. Brokeback controversy. Frankly, that conversation is played out. This was far more interesting. I applaud you for the decision.

3:11 PM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger RJ said...

haha... Million Dollar Baby and (shudder) Cimarron. This ought to be interesting.

3:13 PM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

I find it interesting to note that the Academy was awarding films about world wars before WWII came along. Perhaps it's because films about WWI rarely come about these days, and when they do and when they're great - such as Weir's Gallipoli from 1981, or Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement from 2004 - they don't seem to cause much of a fuss.

Is there something about the second world war that is not only more iteresting to Oscar, but also to filmmakers in general. Surely the ratio is about 10:1 of films dealing with WWII to films dealing with WWI. I'm not that knowledgable about the world wars, especially I - I blame the lack of movies :p - but were Americans not involved in WWI? And if they weren't then how did Western Front win considering they - in the future, granted - haven't been exactly supportive of non-US related war films - What was it about this film dealing with German soldiers (hmmm) that piqued the Academy's interest so much? It sort of makes me think that this win was indeed a mix of the "message" and the "technique".

And on a frightening, yet similar note, it's so strange to think that there was a time when the Academy awarded a movie such as Western Front and people had no idea that a second world war was brewing.

3:54 AM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

good question. it's also interesting to note that it's Germany that's viewed sympathetically here and would never be again in the war genre.

although the setting of ALL QUIET is probably irrelevant. You could dub over any reference to any particular country with any other particular country and the movie would be the same statement.

9:44 AM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger goatdog said...

Americans were involved in WWI, but only toward the end. But Oscar, at least in the beginning, was really interested in that war--two of their first three winners dealt with it. And as WWII came closer, they took a renewed interest: The Grand Illusion, Sergeant York, Yankee Doodle Dandy. Since then, there haven't been that many, you're right. It's probably because WWII was the defining event of the 20th century for Americans, and it seems to have pretty much wiped out our collective memories of the earlier war, which seemed more minor, at least to us. Sort of like how there haven't been very many movies about the American Revolution, but the Civil War is a hugely popular setting.

Expanding on what Nathaniel just said, All Quiet takes pains to be a universal message about war: sometimes the reminders that these characters are Germans are jarring, because they really could be anyone.

I'm not sure WW2 was exactly "brewing" by this time--it was still three years until Hitler seized power in Germany. Which makes this film interesting, because it didn't have a "trigger" like many other antiwar films have, aside from the publication of the novel and its worldwide popularity.

10:11 AM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger Classicfilmboy said...

It's great to see you throwing love at "All Quiet." It's an exceptional film. Ironically, nearly 80 years later, it still can pack a punch, while "Crash," a mere two years later, seems outdated already. As for the sound issue, I know "All Quiet" can be talky, but I accept it as most films made at that time were talking. It's only two years removed from the sound revolution, and most every filmmaker was under the impression that if you have sound, you use it in every frame. And that meant dialogue. However, what's amazing about "All Quiet" is how it merges both sound and imagery to create its power, something most films were not doing at that time. In my humble opinion, "All Quiet" is the first time that Oscar got the selection for best picture right.

12:57 PM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim and @KC: I think the Academy loves extroversion and sort of hates introversion. There is no question that homophobia and/or avowed reluctance to watch BBM on the part of some Academy members hurt its chances, but I've always thought the bigger reasons it lost are that a) Crash hustles all of its messages, themes, and "repressions" up to its very loud surface, whereas BBM stays much more internal, and b) Crash surveys a problem/promulgates a message that encompasses all audiences in a very overt way, whereas BBM asks that the experience of a very small and rarefied cast of characters stand in for a larger problem, but also carry some particular weight. Crash has a message for Society. BBM does, too, but its people are less generic than the surrogates and voiceboxes that populate Crash, and it expects its audience to be less generic and more personal in the way they relate to the movie.

Put another way:
Crash: "Here is a problem we all have, amplified to a level that you can hear without necessarily seeing yourself." (agitates some critics, but makes voters comfortable)
BBM: "Here is a problem (the closet) that some peole have - which is really a problem (repression and ostracism) that all people have - made so intimate that you may be forced, one way or another, to see yourself." (critics love it, but voters may be uncomfortable)

@KC: I actually think the issue is related. Part of this is xenophobia: the USA tells more stories about WWII because we were involved earlier and longer, and with greater fanfare and reward. But also, the Nazis sort of handed filmmakers this really condensed villain and this pre-packaged visual iconography (swastikas, yellow stars, camps, lockstep, Reich architecture, whatever) that works perfectly on film. WW1 doesn't reduce as easily to a single guilty party (which is part of why we wind up with a furiously scapegoated Germany, and eventually WW2), and it doesn't strike me as implicitly "visual" in the same way... maybe because WW2 was also so much more heavily engaged in the war (propaganda films, newsreels, the flourishing studio system, actors in the service, hyper-production and massive ticket sales for Hollywood product), so the war and the cinema developed in conjunction and built this lasting relationship.

I'm just talking off the top of my head. I know I'm being superficial and careless.

@BGK: Thanks for commenting! Of course you're right about the prevailing standards for using sound and dialogue in H'wood films of that moment, though what's odd in All Quiet (as we tried to touch on) is how dissimilar to those customary approaches the film is for the first hour, only really gliding into monologues, dialogues, and voiceovers in its second half. So my (very small) reservation is more about the film's own change of character, opting for techniques it has previously and gloriously transcended. But no question, it's still a masterpiece. I agree that it's the first "right" verdict, and certainly in marked contrast to a lot of the 30s winners!

2:14 PM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

y'all are worrying me with all these comments about the 30s having bad winners.

Nick... I love what you're saying there about external versus internal messaging and I agree to an extent but it also thoroughly depresses me. It just goes to show you how tough it is for people to see outside of their own experiences. Even when the "other" as it were is represented astoundingly well and in accessible and moving ways.

4:57 PM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger ctrout said...

My Rankings:

1. All Quiet on the Western Front - A+
2. The Big House - A
3. The Divorcee - B+
4. The Love Parade - B
5. Disraeli - C+

1. Crash - A-
2. Munich - A-
3. Brokeback Mountain - B
4. Capote - B
5. Good Night, and Good Luck. - C-

6:16 PM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger Barry said...

I agree with you Sean, because Crash is better than Brokeback Mountain.

7:31 PM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger John said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:23 PM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger John T said...

I actually have been holding off on All Quiet on the Western Front. I've actually been toying with pulling a Nick/Goatdog here and waiting to have this be my final Best Picture nominee (though I doubt it will be as good as Judy or Gone with the Wind).

Of the nominees of Oscar's third show, I have yet to be impressed by the others-The Big House is too simplistic, The Divorcee is utterly forgettable, and Disraeli is just ridiculously bad. In 2005, I am on the side of the cowboys, followed by the journalists.

I agree with Nick on the WWII films, and I'd go a step further with the iconography by pointing out the key players themselves-you'd be hard-pressed to find Americans who could name the American President during WWI, but during WWII you have Churchill, Hitler, FDR, Mussolini, de Gaulle-all larger than life icons that people can easily know the story behind when telling their WWII film.

8:24 PM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger The Other Van Gundy said...

This is a super great awesome series. Look forward to the next installment.

9:16 PM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger Brian Darr said...

All Quiet on the Western Front was the last Best Picture winner to have been prepared in a silent version as well as a sound version. It seems fitting, since, as goatdog points out, the technique feels grounded in late-silent-era storytelling.

The film kicks off a hefty list of Best Picture winners in which English-speaking actors portray historical figures or other characters that "should" be speaking another language.

The discussion here inspired me to look at a 1995 article on the film by Modris Eksteins. According to Eksteins, the version we see today is not the same as the version that won the Academy Award, which was supposedly 150 minutes long. That version caused considerable consternation in the increasingly right-wing Germany, where opponents argued that the film besmirched the German military's honor. Universal, with an eye on the lucrative German film export market, recut a somewhat shorter version of the film which circulated in Europe and elsewhere; it seems that this is the version that is still seen today.

7:56 PM, July 04, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Sean: Interesting rankings. Glad to see someone else put off by GN&GL as I was, both times I saw it. And nice to see that very high mark for Munich.

@John: Totally agreed. I have to screen The Gathering Storm soon for a book chapter I have contracted about Vanessa Redgrave, and I'm curious to see how those figures are all evoked, especially since Vanessa is so sharply critical of Churchill in her (riveting if somewhat baffling) memoir. And thanks so much for your note about TDL on Aug. 4... I'll reply separately, but any chance you'll be taping this??

@OVG: Thanks for the enthusiastic response - and it's always great to see some new names mixed in here.

@Brian: Fascinating. Does the article imply that the 150-minute version still survives anywhere?

9:02 PM, July 04, 2008  
Blogger Brian Darr said...

Here's a quote from the article (found in the November 1995 issue of History Today): "In 1983, after four years of painstaking efforts to reconstruct the 1930 original, Jurgen Labenski, an editor with the West German television network ZDF, unveiled a 139 minute version. While eleven minutes short of the 150 minutes Milestone claimed he made, this may be the closest we will get to the original creation."

9:47 PM, July 04, 2008  
Blogger Glenn said...

I suppose that is true about WWII having more identifiable landmarks (people, events, etc) and it sort of confuses me because WWI is such an important moment in my country's history (Gallipoli examplifying that). But a quick search of the keyword "wwi" at IMDb shows how less noteworthy they are (no matter the quality, a lot of them seem like obscure titles)

11:17 PM, July 06, 2008  
Blogger Da Martyr said...

Were any of you able to read this whole boring excerpt of rambling and dull commentary?

9:52 AM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger ajnrules said...

Heck yes! As an Oscar buff whose seen every Best Picture winner, I find this to be a very compelling series, as the pairings take the analysis of the movies to a whole new level.

Anyways, I first saw All Quiet on the Western Front almost ten years ago, and I was impressed not only by its technical qualities but also by the solid storytelling. Yes, the talking parts can drag on a little bit (for me the biggest culprit was the soldiers' rendezvous with the French girls), but it doesn't detract from the film's strength. I felt the film improved on the novel in a few ways. One that stood out for me was Kantorek the schoolmaster's fate. In the book, he gets his just reward by agonizing through training as a soldier, but in the movie he's still there, brainwashing new students. The scenes couldn't be more different, but I felt that the film's version is much more powerful.

As for Crash...I actually enjoyed it, although not as high-brow cinema but as a mindless summer popcorn movie.

7:13 PM, December 17, 2008  

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