Cinema that was invented in the last decade of 19th century, flourished in the 20th century and for the most part,it was the most popular and in a way the most creative art format, borrowing from other art forms. After the invention of television, and the production of TV films in the second half of the last century, and later on the internet media and the new age of digitalism and online streaming or stealing of the movies, at least over the past couple of decades, Cinema has lost its glory. At the same time, while in the first half or most of the 20th century, Cinema was heavily in the hands of story tellers, photographers, and actors, who were all led by the filmmaker or the creator, in the last few decades of the past century and more so in the present 21st century, it is dominated by digital special effects and out of reality. So cinema as an art format has greatly transformed to a technical/digital industry. Along the many efforts across the globe to save this modern art against the box office sales pressure and capital demand, this site hopes to contribute a small part in this endeavor!
Cinema initially sprang from photography, so that later on and to this day, it is called “motion picture” or “movies”, while the term “film” could be used for both cinema and photography. In the beginning, cinema was simply, pictures in motion with no other adding arts or technology, such as sound, music, or else, but acting. That is why for the first few decades since the birth of cinema, the movies were “silent” and this art form had to rely basically on the power of imagery with all its cinematographic components and the filmmakers like painters on canvas had to do whatever they could to create a powerful moving picture on the screen in addition to silent acting without talk. In this endeavor, some relied on set design, the use of light and shadows, like the German expressionists, and some relied on editing like Eisenstein, and some relied mostly on acting and sensible realism like Chaplin. At the time and even today, it is easier to rate and rank a silent film, as there were no white noise of sound or talk and all were imagery and picture in motion to measure. Due to simplicity, originality and the role of these pure ingredients, the silent films are still on the top of many best films of all time, such as the works of Serge Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, D.W.Griffith, and Charles Chaplin.
The sound brought theatrical acting to the cinema despite strong oppositions of silent films’ actors who were great action actors, specially in comedy. While 1920’s were still dominated by the silent movies, the 1930’s were the era of infiltration of theatrical acting to cinema that lasted for several decades until the recent domination of special effects and interception of digitalism into cinema. Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogart, Catharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, James Dean and Marlon Brando were such actors who stemmed from theatre or acted as such. This continued to the modern era so that the newer actors such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio continued with such legacy. The theatrical acting while added rich flavor to the story telling and content through dialogues to the cinema, in many instances became very close to theatrical plays and robbed the cinematic experience and presentation, and limited the filmmakers in showing their talents. This is somewhat parallel to the digital cinema nowadays, where digitalism and special effects have totally stolen the rich cinematic creation.
Evaluation, rating and ranking movies, is not a matter of personal taste, likeness, or even a collective voting of majority, as the majority could be wrong and do not consider all the components of a film, with a delicate consideration of the differential factors. In other words, the role of camera, acting and editing are not the same and do not carry the similar weights as special effect. Unfortunately this has not been done closely in most rating and ranking of the motion pictures and the best lists, or awards such as Oscar. Beyond the different components of a film, that somewhat and singularly are recognized as in awards for script, acting, editing, directing, etc., the following factors in ranking the best films are essential. (Of course based on the following criteria, the earlier a film, the higher the rank would be, except the films that in addition to these factors, they have the “best impression” that could go beyond the time boundary. This is certainly very rare and on our list could include only a few rare films such as “The Battleship Potemkin”, “Man with a movie camera” and “Metropolis”, but these films are still frontiers in the time frame and only a few ranks above the other films made before them.
- Originality: No matter how well a film has been made today, if it is a copy of an original work, or an adaptation in one form or another, it would put it out of any best rank. An original work, even if not well done to perfection, it is still original and a creation that needs to be considered. Of course the earlier films fairly take on a lot of credits from this factor, but this may encourage the true filmmakers not to be copiers or followers but original and creative!
- Technicality: This factor should cover all the technical aspects of filmmaking from the story and script to the all works of camera, acting, editing, special effects, etc. The originality and proper application of each technique or component need to be considered in ranking.
- Impact Factor/Significance: This is the factor influencing other films, urging them to copy and experience the original work in part or in whole. This factor is not only the influence that an original work has on the industry, but on people in general and other forms of art and aspects of life as well. In conjunction with the influence that a film could have on other films or else, the significance of the film on cinema as a whole and on the history of this art medium is important and will be counted on.
- Survival: This shows how long a work, no matter how great, it will be remembered and looks fresh for years to come, specially in the eyes of the true cinema patriots.
Throughout this site, in writing on films and ranking them, the above factors will be delicately considered, though no evaluation or ranking could be rightful. Such comprehensive evaluation and ranking will hopefully encourage others to take on such or similar process in ranking and awarding, and avoiding a single factor such as the content of the story for political or trend of the time reasons!
Almost all available films in English or with English subtitles from the early years of inception of cinema in this list have been diligently reviewed. Since the originality criteria is very important and could affect the other criteria of technicality, impact and survival, this review has been so far until the year 1955. The following films that have been on some greatest films lists or have been ranked high or awarded by different organizations, have been particularly more carefully watched and reviewed. the films in blue color have been great, but not the greatest to be in our list, and the film in red color have been the greatest films of all time in our list:
1915:The Birth of a Nation
1920:The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
1922:Nanook of the North
1925:The Battleship Potemkin /The Gold Rush
1927:Metropolis /Wings/Sunrise: A song of two humans /The Jazz singer /Berlin: Symphony of a great city
1928:The Crowd/The passion of Joan of arc /The last command/The circus
1929:Man with a movie camera /Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)/Pandora’s box /Broadway melody
1930:All quiet on the western front /Earth/L’age d’or/The blue angel/A’ propos de Nice
1931:Dracula/City lights/Grand Hotel/M/Cimarron/Frankenstein
1932:Cavalcade/A farewell to arms/Trouble in paradise/Freaks/Boudu saved from drowning/Scarface/Grand Hotel
1933:Baby face/King Kong /Duck soup/42ndstreet/Zero for conduct/Don Quixote/Land without bread/The Invisible Man
1934:/L’Atlante/It’s a gift/Three songs about Lenin/It happened one night
1935:/The 39 steps/Triumph of the will/The informer/The Bride of Frankenstein/A night at the opera/Top hat
1936:Modern times /The great Ziegfeld /Camille/The crime of Monsieur Lange/Swing time/Night mail
1937:La Grand illusion /Pepe le Moko? /Snow white and the seven dwarfs /Humanity and paper balloons/The awful truth
1938:Alexander Nevsky/The lady vanishes/Pygmalion/You can’t take it with you/Olympia/Jezebel/The Adventures of Robin Hood
1939:Le jour se leve /The rules of the game/The wizard of Oz /Gone with the wind /Stagecoach/Ninotchka/Wuthering heights
1940:Fantasia/The great dictator /The grapes of wrath /Rebecca/Pinocchio/The Philadelphia Story
1941:Citizen Kane /The Maltese Falcon/How green was my valley /Sullivan’s Travels /The Lady Eve
1942:Casablanca /The magnificent Ambersons/Mrs. Miniver/Listen to Britain
1943:The life and death of colonel Blimp /Titanic /Shadow of a Doubt
1944:Going my way/Double indemnity /Gaslight/Meet Me in St. Louis/Laura/Arsenic and old lace
1945:Brief encounter/The lost weekend/Spellbound/Children of paradise/Detour/Rome, Open City
1946:The best years of our lives /It’s a wonderful life/The turning point/Notorious/My darling Celmantine/Beauty and the beast? /Gilda/A diary for Thimothy/The Killers
1947:Gentleman’s agreement/Out of the past
1948:The Fallen idol /Bicycle thieves /The treasure of Sierra Madre /Hamlet/Monsieur Vincent/Letter from an unknown woman/Red River/The red shoes/Macbeth/Germany year zero/La Terra Trema/Le sang des betes
1949:Kind hearts and coronets/The Third Man /All the king’s men/Late spring
1950:Rashomon/All about Eve/Sunset Blvd./The walls of Malapaga/The asphalt jungle/In a lonely place/Orphee/Los Olvidados
1951:Miss Julie/A streetcar named Desire /An American in Paris/The African Queen /Diary of a country priest/The River
1952:Forbidden games/Ikiru/The importance of being earnest/Umberto D. /The white sheik/High noon/The quiet man/The moor of Venice/Don Camillo/Limelight/Singin’ in the rain
1953:M.Hulot’s holiday/ Ugetsu/The wages of fear/Tokyo story/The war of the worlds/Julius Caesar/Shane/From here to eternity/The robe/ Roman holiday/The earrings of Madame De../The wild on/I Vitteloni/ Gate of Hell
1954:Seven Samurai/La Strada/On the waterfront/Journey to Italy/Rear window/Godzilla/ Twenty-four eyes/Johnny guitar/Sansho the Bailiff/A Star is born/Sabrina/Seven brides for seven brothers
1955:Richard III/Summertime/Pather Panchali/Oklahoma/Rebel without a cause /Samurai, the legend of Musashi/Smiles of a summer night/The night of the hunter/Les diaboliques/Marty/East of Eden/To catch a thief
“On the Waterfront” is the second major film of Elia Kazan with Marlon Brando and Karl Malden, since their first endeavor, “A Streetcar named Desire”, but this time with a fuller cast including Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb, and introducing Eva Marie Saint. Elia Kazan starting on Broadway introduced Marlon Brando with their first cooperation on the screen, and again this time with a full power house of cast, stamped his influence for long years to come on American and the world cinema. As a theatrical director, he brought the art of theatrical acting or method acting to the cinema, emphasized on the role and power of acting on screen and established the actors studio as a theoretical back up. This while took away the important visual component of the art of filmmaking, enriched cinema with the art and significance of script and acting that were ignored or were not known to this extend before.
Elia Kazan style or the acting cinema, put the scenario and the acting at the centerpiece of the films, popularized it and conceived a new era of Hollywood as the world of actors. This style was very dominant for decades until it lost some power to the influence of special effects and digitalism in cinema in later years. In these types of cinematic works, such as “On the Waterfront” there is less influence of camera work and art directing, but acting and acting directing. In Kazan’s work, the actors have lots of freedom in acting their own ways and improvise as there quite a few of such scenes in this film, like his others. Many actors liked to work with Kazan and called him the best actors director and Marlon Brando expressed about him “He was an arch-manipulator of actors’ feelings, and he was extraordinarily talented; perhaps we will never see his like again.”
“On the Waterfront” as a powerful socialist workers movement film and a big surprise for Hollywood at the time of McCarthy’s communist witch hunt, is also a mark of ambivalence on and off the screen. On the screen, Terry (Marlon Brando) an ex-prizefighter had been robbed off his career by his older educated brother, Charley (Rod Steiger) who’s the brain of the mobs, headed by the trade unionist, Johnny (Lee J. Cobb) to betting at the interest of the mobs. Terry, a victim of his surrounding and his own laziness and lack of intellect, associates in the murder of a friend, Joey by the mobs, the brother of Edie (Eva Marie Saint) whom he falls in love with and walks on the path of redemption. Off the screen, Elia Kazan, a socialist in the theatre before joining Hollywood and even in this film, through inquisition and force of the anti-communist committee before making the film, betrays his comrades by revealing some names including his own famous writer friend, Arthur Miller, who even started writing the first draft of the script.
On the Waterfront: A Revolutionary Tale of Redemption
The film was based on a series of article titled “Crime on the Waterfront” by Malcolm Johnson published in 1948 in the New York Sun that won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize. The screenplay that was first drafted by famous American writer and playwright Arthur Miller, later on was written by Budd Schulberg as an original story. The film received 12 Academy Award nominations, winning 8 for the best picture, best screenplay, best actor for Marlon Brando, best supporting actress for Eva Marie Saint, best art direction and set decoration for Richard Day, best cinematography for Boris Kaufman, best film editing for Gene Milford, and best director for Elia Kazan. But the great and original score of Leonard Bernstein that was nominated lost to Dimitri Tiomkin for “The High and the Mighty”. The film was also ranked 8thin the first edition of AFI’s greatest American films of all time in 1997, and 19thin the second edition in 2007.
The story and the film about the waterfront in New Jersey union Corruption and crimes in control of the mobs, is a revolutionary story of redemption. Revolutionary , original and surprising for a Hollywood film as even the previous socialist works of John Ford, “Grapes of Wrath” and “How green was my valley” were not about the current time when the films were made. The film was “Spartacus” of the modern time, calling for uprising against slavery and injustice. Even the priest father Barry (Karl Malden) is a socialist that Waterfront is his church is a major force behind the workers uprising.
The film is about redemption of Terry (Marlon Brando) who has been an associate in the mob crimes forced by his brother, Charley (Rod Steiger) the right hand of the mobs boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). When he arranges the murder of his friend Joey, and later on falls in love with his sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), his internal turmoil of ambivalence and guilt begins a process of redemption seeking. His eyes and heart have opened by love and the realization of his wrongdoing, leading him to break through and joining the right side against his brother and the mobs. After another deliberate murder of another worker on the dock, he fist fights with Johnny on the waterfront in front of all the workers ready to start a working day. While winning the fight that is promising for the workers and their uprising, all the mobs joining Johnny and beat him up badly to the ground. While no other workers dare to rescue Terry, the father Barry and Edie arrive to the scene, lift him up and encourage him to finish what he has started and lead the workers to work, this time running by their own union and not the mobs. He does so while completely bruised and beaten, limping and walking off balance, followed by all the workers entering the gate of the dock to work on their own free of mobs control, hence concluding their victory and the end of the film.
The film is also a redemption call of the director, Elia Kazan who two years earlier named eight former communists in the film industry to the House committee on un-American activities in 1952. Arthur Miller, the friend of Kazan who wrote the initial draft of the film, entitled it “The Hook” that was refused by Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures as he suggested to change the mobs to communists as elements of corruption in the waterfront workers union, that Miller never agreed. Later on with the help of Budd Schulberg who rewrote the script and kept it all as it had happened in the real life of the waterfront in New Jersey, the script was taken to Sam Spiegel, an independent producer who worked with them and produced the film. Kazan in seeking redemption for his action two years earlier did not let Spiegel to change much of the story and put the film on the screen to the surprise of Hollywood, but the accolade of the public and critics, sweeping eight awards at the Oscar, as nobody wanted to be on the dark side of the injustice.
“On the Waterfront” that hinges heavily on the power of acting and is a great such example, may not have been as such if the role of Terry had been given to Frank Sinatra per original suggestion of the producer and if Kazan would not have insisted on Marlon Brando. The role of Edie who was originally turned down by Grace Kelly who preferred to play in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” was finally given to Eva Marie Saint who won the best supporting actress award at the Oscar (ironically she was the only principal actress in the film), while Kelly won the best actress award for another film, “The Country Girl”. Rod Steiger who was ironically a year younger than Brando, played as his older brother in the film and won the best supporting role at the Academy Awards. “On the Waterfront” is a force major of acting and music score, though its cinematography, directing and else were not exceptional.
In closing remarks “On the Waterfront” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:
- Originality:“On the Waterfront” is original in its own genre, as the first American revolutionary socialist film encouraging uprising of the workers against exploitation like slaves and corrupted union running by the mafia mobs, though it could be run by any other capitalist agency. The film screened at a sensitive time that such films were totally forbidden and could be a subject of further prosecution and accusation by the government anti-socialist movement. Though the film is not original in its force major acting example, as Kazan, Brando and Malden along with Vivien Leigh did the original one three years earlier, but the film benefits more great actors such as Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb and Eva Marie Saint who add to the power of acting cinema.
- Technicality:The technicality of “On the Waterfront” is mostly in its acting power of method acting and its powerful and timely storyline through a beautifully written screenplay, plus a very much fit music score. The black and white nature of the film is optimal, and editing and cinematography are considerable.
- Impact Factor:The influence of “On the Waterfront” has been on any future film of the same genre addressing social and workers issues against any corrupt and unjust system. The impact of method acting that the film is a great example, has been on many actors and films. The scene in the car where Terry blames his brother for being robbed in life of being “somebody” and not “nobody” was repeated years later by Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull” where he talks to himself in the mirror for being nobody instead of somebody.
- Survival:“On the Waterfront” has survived well to this very day in its influence on actors, directors and in the subject story and it is still a joy to watch and learn. The film has also been a peak of success for both Kazan and Brando, as shortly after they both rusted for a while before bouncing up a bit.
Japan with a history in filmmaking since the inception of cinema, never rose at a world race level and was not much recognized at an international level, until the 1950’s that is considered the golden age of Japanese cinema. With Rashomon of Kurosawa in 1950, this rich cinema became known to the world, so that any non-commercial film from Japan was the subject of accolade of western critics. Although none of these films could match or even parallel with the Kurosawa’s masterpiece, the Japanese films in the 50’s such as Ikiru, Ugetsu, seven Samurai, Godzilla, and specially Tokyo Story harvested many awards worldwide, and even the latter dethroned Citizen Kane in the Sight and Sound’s 2012 director’s poll. But only “Gate of Hell” by the Japanese veteran actor and director, Teinosuke Kinugasa came out of this land of rising sun, as another shocking masterpiece hard to resist not to praise.
The film, the first Japanese film in color out of the country, was also the first to win the palm d’Or or the grand prize award of the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. It also won the best foreign language film in 1955 Academy honorary award, best costume design and best color awards of that year of the Oscar. “Gate of Hell” also won the 1954 New York Film Critics Circle Award for best foreign language film and the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival. “Gate of Hell” stands out as another Japanese cinema masterpiece since Rashomon, not for all the above awards and recognitions, as often these could be meaningless, but as another wakeup call for what cinema as an art medium could achieve, that had already been lost in the west to commercialism and popularism of the time.
The film, a celebration of colors by Eastman for the first time in Japan, opens up with a modern time recitation of the Heiji rebellion of 12thcentury Japan, invading the emperor palace. A lady-in-waiting, Kesa, the wife of a samurai, Wataru, escapes the raid and lands at the house of another samurai, Morito, who remains loyal to the emperor unlike his brother and kills a traitor. Morito first not knowing Kesa being married, falls in love with her and when he is offered any prize for his loyalty and bravery, he wishes Kesa as his wife. Following the theme of Rashomon mixed with a tint of the American “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” of 1927, “Gate of Hell” is a shocking storyline for any culture, even the western.
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“Roman Holiday” is perhaps the best example of a popular or commercial film that borders with the film as an art medium. The simplicity and tenderness of the film reminds us of “The Bicycle Thieves”, but in a fairy tale drama and comedy. “Roman Holiday” is also perhaps the first modern fairy tale of a royal princess getting bored and suffocated of royal life, escaping to the reality of everyday of common people, who themselves may not appreciate their simple happiness. The film is also one of the first not to be about two lover characters on quite different sides of life, but about an eternal city, Rome in modern time, after the destruction of the world war II. Finally the film is the first major feature for Audrey Hepburn, an unknown actress until then, who brought a simple beauty and a gentle character on and off the screen to the cinema and deservedly won the best acting academy award.
A Cinematic Commoner:
As the crown princess Ann meets the commoner journalist Joe Bradley, the art film meets the common/popular film. The film written basically by Dalton Trumbo, who was not credited until a few decades later, for being blacklisted as a communist and in jail at the time, was William Wyler’s first major achievement since “The best of our lives” in 1946. The film looks like being shot spontaneously or by improvisation when takes us along with the princess and the journalist around Rome. This is as documentary and honest as “The bicycle thieves” was. At the same time the film does not boast and pour on the screen, claiming to be anything beyond an ordinary film for the pleasure of the audience. In this manner, the film unwantedly gets close to Chaplin’s films that are first for the people then for the consideration of cinematic art. Perhaps that’s the reason the film to this day has not been much credited by the critics and the film experts, though they may similarly like and enjoy it as any commoner.
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In art in general including the cinema, there have been many adaptations that have advanced the original work, other than the originality. But “Singin’ in the Rain” is an exception that’s not just very original, but no adaptation has ever been able to advance and add to this not only the greatest musical film, but one of the best example of a cinematic masterpiece. The only exception that is also mentioned in the film itself, not to be the first musical film, that is “The Jazz Singer”. But “Singin’ in the Rain” surpasses its prototype for being so original, innovative, multifaceted all at the same time, that barely any other film in the history of cinema has been able to achieve. Gene Kelly who played a year before this film in “An American in Paris” and earlier acted and directed other musicals, could not get even close to what he achieved in “Singin’ in the Rain” in acting, directing and choreography of this great film.
A Cinematic achievement at every level:
“Singin’ in the Rain” is an example of what cinema could achieve as a moving visual art. With its all innovation of choreography, music, songs and dancing in every frame, that no future musical films could achieve, it is not only the best musical ever made, but the best to watch to this day. It’s not just about being original, as no musical even after has been so colorful, choreographic, rich in dances, costumes and at the same time quite entertaining, comic and a bit at the end melodramatic. The storyline falls well in the place and other than the first few minutes of a slow beginning, there are no flaws throughout the film. “Singin’ in the Rain” is where the art of filmmaking meets the art of entertainment.
Considered by many one of the greatest films, and included in many greatest films list, and number 5 at the AFI 100 best American films, “Singin’ in the Rain” deserves well to jump back in time and stand above many original films in our list, including its prototype, “The Jazz Singer”. The title of “Singin’ in the Rain” could be somewhat a misnomer, as there is only one scene of dancing and singing in the rain, only by Gene Kelly. In dancing, Donald O’Conner and in singing Debbie Reynolds surpass even Gene Kelly, so make it three actors in the first role in a way, with no supremacy of one over the other. The film is also one of the rare films to be adapted for a musical show on Broadway. It has also been listed in AFI’s 100 years not only as the 5thbest American film, but on the top of every other list of AFI, such as the best laughs, the best passions, songs, heroes and Villains.
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“A Streetcar Named Desire” film directed by Elia Kazan, was based on the play of the same name by the great American playwright, Tennessee Williams, written in 1947 and awarded the prestigious Pulitzer prize in 1948. This great American play adapted for the screen was the first play to be casted and directed by the same actors and director both on the stage and on the screen. The Broadway production of the play was also directed by Elia Kazan and starred Marlon Brando, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter. The only difference was Vivien Leigh who did not appear on the Broadway stage, but in London production in 1949, directed by Laurence Olivier. Tennessee Williams also collaborated with Elia Kazan and Oscar Saul to write the screenplay.
There is no need to comment on Tennessee Williams who along with Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neil are considered the three foremost of American playwrights. He has written many other classics for the stage that many of them such as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Sweet Bird of Youth” have also been adapted for the screen. His “A Streetcar Named Desire” is widely considered as one of the three major American plays along “Long Day’s Journey into Night” of Eugene O’Neil and “Death of a Salesman” of Arthur Miller.
Elia Kazan who directed both the stage play and the film was a rarity in American cinema, in many aspects including working on these two performing art media. He was a Greek-American, born in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) to his Greek parents, moved to America at age four with his parents, that his story of immigration could be read and seen in his book and film, “America, America”. He studied drama art at Williams College and Yale School of drama, and acted professionally for eight years, before joining the “Group Theatre” in 1932 and later on co-founded the “Actors studio” in 1947 with Robert Lewis and Cheryl Crawford.
In the Actors Studio, Kazan along Lee Strasberg introduced the popular “Method Acting” that dominated the Broadway and from there was taken to the Hollywood and in the films with such classic performances of great actors such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda and Jack Nicholson among others. Kazan was the principal factor behind rearing quite several great American actors such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty, Gregory Peck, Montgomery Clift, Kirk Douglas, Faye Dunaway, Patricia Neal, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro.
Kazan brought the theatrical acting method on to the screen, and for the first time, gave such importance to acting in cinema, so this element became very essential in films since. He was an actor-director and according to many actors working with him, the best, as Marlon Brando hails him humbly in his autobiography:
“I have worked with many movie directors—some good, some fair, some terrible. Kazan was the best actors’ director by far of any I’ve worked for… the only one who ever really stimulated me, got into a part with me and virtually acted it with me… he chose good actors, encouraged them to improvise, and then improvised on the improvisation… He gave his cast freedom and … was always emotionally involved in the process and his instincts were perfect… I’ve never seen a director who became as deeply and emotionally involved in a scene… he got so wrought up that he started chewing on his hat. He was an arch-manipulator of actors’ feelings, and he was extraordinarily talented; perhaps we will never see his like again.”
An all Emotional Acting Classic:
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A film that is based on the novel of “The African Queen” of C.S. Forester of 1935, is about a British boat of the same name as the title of the film, which at the end heroically with explosives hits and destroys a German navy during the first world war. This at the best could be a film like “Das Boot” of Wolfgang Peterson in recent years, but in the hands of American master, John Huston, from the start of re-writing the script that he often pitches in his films to the direction, would be a master classic like no other.
Only in the beginning and the end scenes of the film, one would notice that the film is happening during the world war I, in a German occupied village of East Africa. The film basically is about the voyage of the African Queen captain, Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) who takes on sister Rose (Katherine Hepburn) on his boat over the Ulanga river out to the lake and safety. Adding to this first adventurous and dangerous trips, passing through a few wild rafts and a waterfall, and attacks by Germans from their fort above, is attacking and destroying the German navy at the entrance to the lake a the end of the film.
On a beautiful and colorful but dangerous wild life background of the African river running through a jungle, that was rightly filmed in Technicolor, the film is all about what is going on between the two on the boat. The relationship between the gentle full of etiquette British Christian missioner, sister Rose and the rough and alcoholic Canadian captain Charlie, is an original and one of the best ever screened. The film in addition to its twisted few adventures along the way, holds emotional and twists that ends in a romance, changing the whole relationship between the two travelers. Again in the hands of Huston, both actors play their best in unusual and unexpected roles for both, and this time while both were nominated for academy awards, only Bogart wins it as his only Oscar award of his life.
Another Classic Beyond Borders:
While in early 1950’s, Hollywood was self-absorbed with movie themes about herself and awarding themselves like “All about Eve” and “Sunset Boulevard”, John Huston, once again after “Treasures of Sierra Madre” broke the convention and took us beyond the borders with “The African Queen”. His “Treasures of Sierra Madre”, the first American film being shot out of Hollywood and on real location in the roughs of Mexico, was followed only a few of years later by “The African Queen”, being shot in location in the East African rivers and jungle. This time in Technicolor, the film was not just rich in touching the human’s relationship and inner natures, but their struggles for survival in the wild and while at the stake of enemy at war.
The film about the relationship between two, opposite and different in many ways, on a small boat on a wild river in Africa, is a rarity in cinema, specially the American’s. This time different than “Treasures of Sierra Madre”, the film while again dialogue dependent, but not as heavy and philosophical, but simple, ordinary, reaching more the depth of humans’ feelings, so at the end draws the two different and opposite to each other. The film with its beautiful cinematography and gripping acting in two unusual roles for two popular Hollywood actors, is heart warming, adventurous and romantic.
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Imagine the art of cinema without “Kurosawa”, his influence on this medium and “Rashomon”. Akira Kurosawa who is more known in the western world and perhaps anywhere else in the world for his great film “Seven Samurai” that has been well adapted by the American cinema as “Magnificent Seven”, entered the film industry as a painter. Then after a few years of working as an assistant director, he made a few feature films such as “Sanshiro Sugata” (1943), “The most beautiful” (1944, when at the set met his actress wife), “Drunken Angel” (1948) and “Stray Dog” (1949), before becoming world wide popular with his masterpiece “Rashomon”. With this film, Kurosawa not only made himself known, but the whole Japanese cinema and quite a few other great directors who were introduced to the world of cinema such as “Yasujiro Ozu, “Kenji Mizogushi”, “Shohei Imamura”, and “Masaki Kobayashi”. Although Yaujiro Ozu was Kurosawa’s predecessor, but became more known with his later films to the west, such as his “Tokyo Story” (1953) and “Floating Weeds” (1959), all thanks to Rashomon.
Kurosawa who took him quite a few years until coming up with his great creation (Rashomon), he could not repeat another masterpiece, despite unrelenting movie making every year. Despite the well receptions of a few of his later works such as “Ikiru” (1952) and “Seven Samurai” (1954) specially in the west, cinema had to wait for another few years until he comes back with a few other masterpieces such as “The Hidden Fortress” (1958), “Yojimob” (1961), “Sanjuro” (1962), “Red Beard” (1965), “Kagemusha” (1980), “Ran” (1985) and finally “Dreams” (1990).
Kurosawa with Rashomon, like De Sica with “Bicycle Thieves” took the art of cinema to another level, and that’s why his film Rashomon, jumps to the number 5 in our greatest films of all time list. But like his role model and master, John Ford who after making “The Grapes of Wrath” in earlier years, and got caught up in his American patriotism to depict the American history of becoming in his westerns, Kurosawa also got caught up in his cultural samuraism! Kurosawa who apparently descended from a samurai family generation, perhaps felt to depict that part of the historical culture of Japan in his films. He first showed the dark side of the samurai who were simply knights or fighters for the rulers of the time, from 12 to 16thcenturies in Japan, in “Rashomon”, a story of one samurai like many others who became bandits. Later on in his “Seven Samurai”, he attempts for redemption of samurai, by showing their heroic characters in helping the poor assaulted farmers of a village by other bandits.
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