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In TCM’s ‘The Story of Film,’ Week Three, Expressionists and Surrealists Write Their Own Rules

'The Story of Film': Expressionism, Impressionism and Surrealism

Every Monday through December 9th, Criticwire will offer an annotated guide to Turner Classic Movies’ ‘The Story of Film,’ built around the 15-part documentary series by Mark Cousins. Read previous coverage of The Story of Film here.

Monday, Sept. 16

8 p.m.: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) (U.S.A.)

Museum of the Moving Image curator Charles Silver on what many have called the greatest film of the silent era. For the Guardian, Silent London’s Pamela Hutchinson explains why it’s “My Favorite Film.”

10 p.m.: The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011). Episode Three: “Expressionism, Impressionism and Surrealism: Golden Age of World Cinema (1920s)” 

11:15 p.m.: Battleship Potemkin (1925) (Soviet Union)

The essays written on Sergei Eisenstein’s landmark movie could fill a college course (and have), but to narrow it down, here’s a brief, illustrated overview of montage theory; via TCM’s site, James Steffen on the film’s history and its recent reconstruction, and Gregg Severson on whether the film’s reputation as history-distorting propaganda is itself a distortion.

12:45 a.m.: The Goddess (1934) (China)

The least-known of this week’s films, at least in the West, Wu Yonggang’s film is considered a high-water mark of Chinese silent cinema — for Chen Kaige, the best film of the 1930s — and the key document in the career of Ruan Lingyu, a major star who took her own life at the age of 24 after having her private life dragged through the tabloids. This seven-page program note from the University of Buffalo offers a thorough overview. 

2:15 a.m.: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) (Germany)

For GreenCine, David Hudson offers a primer on German Expressionist film, of which Caligari, with its highly stylized sets and lighting, is a prime example.

3:30 a.m.: Metropolis (1927) (Germany)

One of the most momentous events in recent film history is the rediscovery of Fritz Lang’s complete Metropolis, which after being lost for the better part of century was thought to be gone for good. The website for Eureka Entertainment’s U.K. release features copious information on the film, as well as a PDF of their beautiful and informative pressbook

Tuesday, Sept. 17

8 p.m.: La Roue (1923) (France)

Kristin Thomson, the co-author with David Bordwell, of Film Art: An Introduction, narrates this concise video essay on Abel Gance’s epic.

12:30 a.m.: Un Chien Andalou (1928) (France)

Critics often interpret Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s surrealist cri de coeur in psychoanalytic terms, but in this intervew, Bunuel explains how two of its most memorable images were taken directly from dreams, and how in keeping with the tenets of surrealism, they resolved to “refuse any image that could have a rational meaning.”

And a rather nifty marriage of Un Chien Andalou and the song which it inspired.

1 a.m.: I Was Born, But… (1932) (Japan)

The Criterion Collection’s Michael Koresky explains why this domestic drama was a “true step forward” for Yasujiro Ozu, sometimes called the most “Japanese” of Japanese directors, and, for Cousins, an exemplar of true cinematic classicism.

3 a.m.: The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011). Episode Three: “Expressionism, Impressionism and Surrealism: Golden Age of World Cinema (1920s)”

4:15 a.m.: Osaka Elegy (1936) (Japan)

CriterionCast breaks down one of Kenji Mizoguchi’s tales of fallen women, and points to this video, which emphasized Mizoguchi’s formal genius by removing people entirely from the frame.


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