Friday, May 18, 2012

Unsentimental Mood

The Docks of New York (1928) - Sternberg
docks of new york
docks of new york1
Bill (George Bancroft) is a brutish stocker, shoveling coal in the boiler room of the ship. He gets one night off ashore before he ships back out. He happens to witness a blond girl (Betty Compson) plunging into the water in a suicide attempt. He rescues her and carries her to a local bar (naturally) to bring her back to life. Since she doesn't have anything to wear, he breaks in, steals some lady clothes from a nearby store. With encouragements from others, on a whim, he asks the girl to marry him. Everyone including the wedding party knows that they have no intention of keeping their bows.

The Docks showed me that not all silents are slapstick comedies, camera tricks or overacting. It's unsentimental, pessimistic and its emotions complex and subtle. Our hero and heroine are not button-cute but downtrodden and world weary. No one asks the girl why she tried to kill herself. We never get to find out. But Compson's sad smile is more telling than anything. The ending is sort of a copout but Sternberg doesn't go all the way to make it corny. Beautiful cinematography too. It's great.

No More Lonely Nights

Lonesome (1928) - Fejos
Jim is a factory worker and Mary, a switchboard operator. They are lonely working class folks in the big city. It's July 4th weekend and they decide to go down to Coney Island to have some fun. Jim notices Mary first, soon the attraction is mutual and they spend the whole time on the beach until they realize it's night. After having a good time at the boardwalk and various amusement ride, they get separated. A terrible thunderstorm ensues and they come home, wet and melancholic.

Lonesome is a virtuosic filmmaking: graceful, playful camera movements, sophisticated editing techniques- multiple exposures, impressive shot transitions, ingenuous setups- handheld rollercoaster rides, cheap but effective in-camera thunderstorm effects, etc. Jim and Mary's connection and their heartache in being separated after finding someone special is very palpable. You can feel the sexual energy when they reunite at the end. I bet they get to have the best sex of their lives after the credits roll- one can only hope. Barbara Kent has the most beguiling smile among the silent era actresses.