best film:  Pandora’s Box from G.W. Pabst

  • Pabst’s film features an enthralling narrative and rich characterizations
  • Louise Brooks and her tragic character, Lulu, are/were so influential to the time and to cinema lore (see films and outright homages by Tarantino (hair by Uma in Pulp Fiction), Demme (Melanie Griffith in Something Wild), Fassbinder (actual film Lola– 1981) and Demy (ditto- character and film named Lola – 1961)—Brooks herself was a pop icon in the late 20’s and early 30’s from this film
  • A rich study on the male gaze
  • The structure of the film is set up in act’s- each scene/setting is an act—if they move from her room to the theater that’s a new act
  • Great tracking shot in act 1 when she seals the deal (temporarily) on opening seduction
  • Film and character defined an era—hair, backless dress and scantily dressed clothes
  • It’s to Brooks’ credit as an actress that you find yourself rooting for her
  • Endlessly trendy and fashionable- she dances with a woman, who is in love with her- obviously risqué  for 1929
  • Act 3 the variety show and act 4 the wedding is loaded with mise-en-scene- really well done but this isn’t von Sternberg certainly with what he does with the frame, Murnau with the camera or von Stroheim with the overall obsessive level of detail—as far as comparisons with peers from that era
  • Love the operatic death scene in act 4- probably the best act- greek tragedy like the actual Pandora—there’s a Han Solo-carbonite-like gorgeous artwork in the backdrop in the frames

Love the operatic death scene in act 4- probably the best act- greek tragedy like the actual Pandora—there’s a Han Solo-carbonite-like gorgeous artwork in the backdrop in the frames

  • Close up in big moments- the film clearly influenced Demme (Something Wild’s chilling finale, The Silence of the Lambs)
  • It’s a large story, ambitious, epic and prophetic
  • That’s a quick great shot in act 7 of the camera going below deck with the characters as they descent into gambling
  • Reminds me of Greed from von Stroheim—statement on the times of the 20’s post-war- nihilistic
  • Brooks’ Lulu is likeable but she’s absolutely toxic as well- it’s a story of male gaze and survival for her but it also works as a tale of morality for the men who fall for her— she’s a victim and the culprit
  • Interesting Jack the Ripper finale- ending in male gaze turned deadly

 

most underrated:   Blackmail from Hitchcock. It doesn’t land anywhere in the consensus TSPDT top 2000— an oversight for sure.

  • It is all over the poster– the first British sound film but it’s more than just a technological landmark, it’s a damn fine film
  • Early on we see the criminal/suspect on the bed with all of his surroundings- it’s a great shot and an early precursor to the superior version of the same shot (we’d see this trend a lot with early Hitchcock) of the shot of Joseph Cotton in Shadow of a Doubt
  • Strongly edited action sequence as we see both cops and criminal reach for a gun
  • Venetian blind b/w lighting work and a great shot reveal of cops looking in a mirror
  • Instead of a title card (very common usage in 1929) to show the passage of time Hitchcock ops for a gorgeous mini-montage of cigarettes burning—in fact he very rarely resorts to the title card—it’s pure cinema
  • Makes the intelligence choice to dub some conversations and track them as they move- something Leone would perfect and even Bela Tarr would continue to use effectively in 2011. Other auteurs should do it more
  • The film does slow down after a long man-hunt (this film’s quality is high but it can’t be confused with a similar early film- Fritz Lang’s M)– when heavy (for the time) dialogue is introduced it slows
  • Great tracking shot following characters as they progress up the flight of stairs
  • Strong fast dolly-in on weapon about to be used, or on a phone about to be used
  • We have an early look at the downward shot at a staircase that is very similar to Vertigo

almost 30 years before Vertigo

  • Great silent sequence (except for whistle) of whistling of one man driving another nuts- great use of early sound
  • Architecturally superior long shots of the man-hunt chase where the subject is swallowed up by gorgeous pillar stone columns and a building dome

Blackmail from Hitchcock. It doesn’t land anywhere in the consensus TSPDT top 2000— an oversight for sure— how’s this for a large-scale set piece and future director of North By Northwest some 30 years later?

most overrated:  There just isn’t much to choose from in 1929. Pandora’s Box is the only fiction feature in the top 1000—the TSPDT consensus has it at #287 and that’s in the masterpiece territory—it just isn’t a film that should land that high- I don’t have it in my top 500.

gem I want to spotlight:  The Kiss

  • It’s an impressive film- lively camera throughout without forgetting that Garbo is the star and to take advantage of her acting with plenty of close-ups on her
  • From a genre standpoint it’s heavy melodrama— but it has a Hitchcockian “victim of circumstance” narrative that makes you complicit—your sympathies are framed—with Garbo (and her skill as an actress helps)
  • Great shot of the camera moving back at the same time as the door is shutting—exactly when the violence epic scene happens- excellent work
  • MGM’s last silent film—Garbo’s last silent one too
  • In flashbacks they show Garbo lying about the time and then it shows the clock spinning back and forth—same thing when she’s in court saying “I think the windows were open…no closed!” have have a great cutaway to do the same
  • Love the tracking shot through the prison as the camera pushes the door open

 

trends and notables:  It is a down year for sure. I think this is where the pain of the sound transition comes it. You can’t even fill out a top 10. Other film historians know much more on the silent era than I do but my hypothesis is that The Jazz Singer came out in 1927 and many films were already in the works in 1927 and 1928 (dominated by silent movies still- and both great years compared to 1929) and it wasn’t until 1929 that we had a high percentage of sound films hit the market and many were awful or took longer and landed in 1930 (think of Hughes’ Hell’s Angels- 1930). Pabst has a fantastic year and should be applauded for it- but 1929 doesn’t have a Joan of Arc, Sunrise, Nosferatu or Potemkin. Garbo is a massive star here in 1929—and as noted above this is MGM’s last silent film and her last one, too. She’s great- but not in many best of or near quality films. She is obviously nowhere near as big as Garbo or Brooks in 1929 but Jean Harlow has her archiveable debut in The Love Parade and we have Victor Fleming’s first archiveable film in The Virginian as well. There are too many to note- but the first sound films for auteurs like Hitchcock and Lubitsch.

best performance male:  It is the guys’ turn to be left off- there’s no big 1929 male performance of note.

best performance female: Louise Brooks as “Lulu” in Pabst’s Pandora’s Box is the best performance of the year hands down.

a dominant 1929 from Louise Brooks

top 10

  1. Pandora’s Box
  2. Blackmail
  3. Diary of a Lost Girl
  4. The Love Parade
  5. The Virginian
  6. Disraeli
  7. The Kiss
  8. Broadway Melody

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

Blackmail- Hitchcock HR
Broadway Melody – Beaumont R
Diary of a Lost Girl- Pabst
Disraeli – Green R
Pandora’s Box- Pabst HR/MS
The Kiss- Feyder R
The Love Parade- Lubitsch R
The Virginian- Fleming R

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives