lubitsch wrote: However there's no need to send the pendulum back to the other end leave this points completely out of view.
I don't disagree with this at all, and I never said that I wanted to leave the sociological questions a work of art may raise out of the view. To give you an example from literary studies: in the last 40 years or so, scholars have repeatedly pointed out the promotion of colonialist politics in Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and its subservience to a patriarchal ideology, and these scholars have successfully deconstructed the 'wise sage' Prospero in the process. This reassessment of the play has found its reflections for instance in Derek Jarman's film version. However, to the best of my knowledge none of these critics have argued that the play isn't any good because all of this (it won't surprise you that I actually think it's among Shakespeare's very best). In other words: the assessment of the play from postcolonialist or feminist theory has added a lot of new levels to our understanding of "The Tempest", made it more complex and even more intriguing. But it didn't take away anything from the sheer formal and lyrical perfection of the play. And this is where I have problems with what I perceive as your point-of-view. You dismiss "Sunrise" because it has a world-view which is not your own (and Schreck, as usual, has described this world-view in a far better way than I can), and you are not willing to concede that despite your disagreement with its world-view the film has more than remarkable artistic qualities. Or so it seems to me.
Tommaso wrote:Who has ever laid down an unalterable law that films should be 'progressive', follow a realistic and believable storyline and alter the world for the better.
Nobody, but they shouldn't promote 'regressive'
ideals which caused much harm. Birth of a Nation played a crucial role in reviving the Ku-Klux-klan, October praised the illegal
overthrow of a government by a bunch of murderers and Sunrise is guilty
of supporting a whore/madonna duality which still turns out deadly for women in large parts of the world. I know this is all rather obvious and not very new, but I see no point in leaving it completely out.
For once, let me highlight some keywords in your
post. First of all, when Eisenstein made "October", the Bolsheviks were clearly NOT seen as doing something illegal, but rather on the contrary considered themselves as the most progressive group in Russia at the time. Nothing one must agree with, but it's a good reminder of how terms like 'progressive' or 'reactionary' aren't cemented forever, but are subject to who
defines and uses them. But I far more object to the concept of 'guilt' that you apply to "Sunrise". First of all, you really seem to ascribe to film a lot of influence onto the audience, as if they were just a passive bunch of people who are unable to reflect for themselves on what they have just seen. Secondly, you make it appear as if the whole point of "Sunrise" was a conscious attempt to (re-)inforce a certain gender role model, whereas the film only uses the madonna/femme fatale motif to make points which are completely different. That's the difference (one of many) between "Sunrise" and "Jud Süß", for instance. Thirdly, you completely ignore that the madonna/femme fatale-duality is an age-old motif that has been used and re-used in literature and art history over the centuries, so much so that it could be used almost as a 'brick' in a new work for narratives concerned with quite different things. I hardly have to point you to the classic studies of Praz or Paglia, but just in case... In the same way you could argue that Wilde's "Salome" was only concerned with perpertuating such gender roles, which would miss the point completely.
lubitsch wrote:I have marked some of your points bold because they are exactly the ones bothering me. they are mostly expressions of mysticism ending more or less in the wisdom: "Either you see the light or you don't." I don't think it's enough to label something as transcending experience or helpful to explain problems away as archetypes.
First about my use of the word 'archetype': although I expressedly said I didn't have Jung in mind, you seem to have misunderstood me. I used the term more in the sense in which Chaucer's pilgrims can be described as archetypes, i.e. they are personifications of a 'special sort' of people, i.e. THE knight or THE merchant; or with Murnau, THE vamp or THE ageing hotel porter. As to the other words you highlighted and which you take as an expression of mysticism, I gladly accept that label even though I don't fully agree with it. The deeper range of emotions I described need not be of the mystic/religious/spiritual sort, they might simply to refer to things like joy of nature or indeed, deep love. And why you include my mentioning of "Murnau's own, totally personal language" in it is somewhat beyond me.
And if I spoke of the goal of 'enrapturing' an audience for a filmmaker: this is as old as Meliès, or as 'entertainment' itself.
lubitsch wrote:After all we all have to thank the Age of Enlightenment and its free thinking that we can sit before a computer and happily disagree about some films
I guess I'm not alone in wondering whether the 'free-thinking spirit of the Age of Enlightenment' isn't a myth itself. There has been many a free-thinker who has been crushed because his scientific findings did not concur with what was believed to be 'reasonable science' in his time (I think especially of the history of medicine, here). Do yourself a favour and read Pynchon's "Against the Day" for an up-to-date narrative assessment of the whole problem. And you never seem to question the ideology of Enlightenment as much as you question other ideologies.
lubitsch wrote:while the last mystic, archetypal years in German history are not exactly ones I'd like to see repeated.
And here 'schüttest Du das Kind mit dem Bade aus', as we say in German. The immediate connection of mysticism (in most general terms) with the tenets of Nazi Germany is not only unfair, but also historically wrong. The alleged 'mysticism' of the Nazis (all the talk about the German 'race', the party rallies etc.) was nothing more than a clever trick they worked on the masses to conceal their imperialist, racist and capitalist goals, even though some of the Nazi elite admittedly had a vivid interest in occultism. But all this has nothing to do with the mysticism of people like Jakob Boehme or William Blake, or with the spiritual search in the works of Tarkovsky.
lubitsch wrote:is it really necessary to push the scene to the limit with an extra artificial studio setting and a walking route (with corresponding camera movement) which was planned just for the sake of showing how lost and desoriented he is (morally).
Perhaps not necessary
, but it greatly underscores his morally being lost, as you say yourself. Congruence of form and content, then.
lubitsch wrote: The run through the wheat on the contrary grows out of the story and out of more conventional scenes and recedes back which gives it all the more power. we have two happy people, one of them searching for a new life on the land and the camera subtly and for a rather short moment underscores this in connecting them with this land.
Sure, but the tenets of both films are different. "Sunrise" centers more exclusively on the emotional states of the protagonists, this is its sole theme and thus the film constantly evokes these by its visuals; "City Girl" is indeed concerned with questions having more to do with social aspects and the outside world (surviving even though the price of wheat falls, the difference between rural and urban life and how its perceived by city and country dwellers etc.), thus it doesn't focus as exclusively on Lem and Kate's love affair. But the way "Sunrise" reaches its goals seems to me far more extraordinary and unique as a whole;which is why I rate "Sunrise" higher.
lubitsch wrote: I may sound slightly cynical, but for me the hand of fate translates to the hand of the screenwriter runnning out of ideas how to let a story grow out of its characters.
Again, the hand of fate is a stock motif reaching back to Greek drama. Why not use it again, then, as a scriptwriter, especially if you're concerned with emotional states that are pretty universal? It's like saying "Why have a vampire in "Nosferatu" if you could make a realistic film about sexual obsession/perversion?" There is no need for hands of fate nor for vampires if you want to make a film, but I can't see why you deem it so terribly wrong to speak in symbols, images, metaphors.
lubitsch wrote: But if you start in your first lesson with whites in blackface in BOAN, cintinue with Russian propaganda and then go to the acting madness in Metropolis, you will leave most students with a deadly impression.
Totally contrary to some of my own experiences. Not too long ago, I lent "Sunrise" to a friend of mine, an emancipated, modern woman who clearly isn't the one who lets her husband play the patriarchial game with her. She had a good interest in films, but had hardly seen any silents before. After she had watched the film, she said that "Sunrise" was the greatest film she had ever seen. Since then, she has amassed more books on Murnau than I have. I guess what attracts her about silents in general now is that they are NOT basically like "modern films with only sound missing". And as I assume you have a teaching job as well apart from your library work, why don't you try to emphasize that difference, the worth of these films despite the over-acting and the melodrama? Few students would read something like "Paradise Lost" of their own accord, but there are ways to convince them of it nevertheless. And sorry for so many examples from English literature, but that's where I basically come from.
EDIT: Schreck, I see you posted while I was busy responding (nice new thingy with the new forum software, btw), and notice that some of your points basically are the same as mine, though with different emphasis. I fully agree with your description of the end of "City Girl".