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Sundays at Videotheque

Videotheque in South Pasadena, CA was my film school post-college. Even though I live far away now, I still make it out almost every Sunday to check out movies that I have no luck finding online, for money or otherwise. In this ongoing series, I will give my brief impressions about my rentals from the past week.

A Page of Madness (1926) dir. Teinosuke Kinugasa

Even at the beginning of cinema, some artists could already grasp the potential of the medium to tap into the unknowable, and Kinugasa was one of them. The fact that this silent nightmare/fever dream is still as disturbing and disorientating as it probably was back then is a testament to his artistry.

Portrait of a Young Man in Three Movements (1931) dir. Henwar Rodakiewicz

I didn’t intend to watch this movie, but it was on the same disc as A Page of Madness. It is certainly beautiful and many of the images are quite striking even if they are in grainy black and white, but I just couldn’t get behind what was basically an extended screensaver.

Girls in Uniform (1958) dir. Geza von Radvanyi, starring Lilli Palmer and Romy Schneider

Another movie I didn’t intend to watch because I wanted to watch the original from 1931 (which has been remade quite a few times, surprisingly). The highlight would have to be the performances of Lilli Palmer and Romy Schneider, the latter of whom demonstrates a real passion and carnality that is startling even 60 years later. I also liked how the film commented on all of German society in its portrayal of the rigid school and the collective erasure of individuality that it encourages, a sly skewering of the same mentality that made Nazism possible.

Hallelujah (1928) dir. King Vidor, starring Daniel L. Haynes, Nina Mae McKinney, William Fountaine

A decidedly problematic movie that I think is worth watching anyways. It was the first Hollywood feature film to have an all-Black cast. It is rife with stereotypes, and people have argued that it was films like these that actually deterred more realistic and sympathetic portrayals of Black people. I don’t disagree with these assessments, but roles for Black entertainers were few and far between, and I spent a lot of time marveling at the many songs and dances that comprise this movie and thinking about how so many Black entertainers are responsible for the way American culture and entertainment has turned out today.

Tabu (1931) dir. F.W. Murnau, starring Matahi, Anne Chevalier, Bill Brambridge

This movie is fascinating because while it doesn’t necessarily give an accurate representation of Polynesian culture, it does give an accurate representation of a White man’s gaze. Robert Flaherty of Nanook of the North fame was famous/infamous for crafting almost completely false narratives from unsuspecting indigenous tribes, and I suspect there was a lot of the same shenanigans going on here. It is also a beautifully shot film that manages to maximize the natural surroundings, proving that Murnau was one of the greatest visual artists and storytellers of the silent era.

 

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