Horrible Beginnings: George Melies’s The House of the Devil.

Many consider George Melies’s 1896 three-minute short, Le Manior du Diable (The House of the Devil), to be one of the first ever examples of a ‘Horror’ film.

The film opens in the courtyard of a mansion with a sinister looking bat circling. Said bat quickly transmorphs into a man: Satan! The Devil proceeds to conjure up a plethora of demonic spirits with impunity. That is until our noble warrior arrives to ruin the party. He battles heroically with the haters of all that is Holy; dispensing his own brand of justice with his trustly crucifix, sending them all back to the firey horror whence they came.

Although the intended meaning was one of mild humour rather than terror, nevertheless the signifiers of what would later become staple horror generic are present: gothic architecture, supernatural figures, the fight of good versus evil.

Is the film scary? Not a chance. Interesting? Yes. Because it is worth considering that maybe the fundementals of the Horror genre haven’t strayed that far, and in the case of movies, the complexities of human fear are largely unchanged.

Watch it below and see what you think.


The Guardian chooses its Top 25 Romantic Films.

As part of its ‘Film Season’  The Guardian has been printing a “The Greatest Films of All Time” suppliment to accompany its  newspapers. Every day readers are treated to a top 25 list in each genre, decided upon by its film critics. So far there has been Romance, Crime and Comedy; with another four to be unveiled as the week progresses.

However, there already seems to be a few strange choices and almost foolhardy absences cropping up, so i will be picking them apart, genre by genre in a typical ‘angry blogger’ type of way. And i’m gonna start with Romance.

Here is the List for the 25 Greatest Romantic Films Of All Time:

1 Brief Encounter David Lean 1945
2 Casablanca Michael Curtiz 1942
3 Before Sunrise Richard Linklater 1995
3 Before Sunset Richard Linklater 2004
4 Breathless Jean-Luc Godard 1960
5 In the Mood for Love Kar Wai Wong 2000
6 The Apartment Billy Wilder 1960
7 Hannah & Her Sisters Woody Allen 1986
8 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Michel Gondry 2004
9 Room With a View James Ivory 1985
10 Jules et Jim François Truffaut 1962
11 All That Heaven Allows Douglas Sirk 1955
12 Gone with the Wind Victor Fleming 1939
13 An Affair to Remember Leo McCarey 1957
14 Umbrellas of Cherbourg Jaques Demy 1964
15 Lost in Translation Sofia Coppola 2003
15 Roman Holiday William Wyler 1953
15 Wall-E Andrew Stanton 2008
18 My Night With Maud Eric Rohmer 1969
19 Voyage to Italy Roberto Rossellini 1954
20 Dr Zhivago David Lean 1965
21 Harold & Maude Hal Ashby 1971
22 When Harry Met Sally Rob Reiner 1989
23 Say Anything…. Cameron crowe 1989
24 Fabulous Baker Boys Steve Kloves 1989
25 A Matter of Life & Death Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell 1946

There is an inherent difficulty when discussing and dissecting genre films; many features no longer obey the conventions that established the precident, but can still be considered ‘romantic.’ As a genre becomes more recognisable the easier it is to play with, and that manipulation of the audiences expectation has led to some masterpieces.

But what makes a Romantic film? Do the lead characters really need to fall in love (Lost in Translation), or do existing lovers have to overcome some disruption to their equalibrium and get back on track (Eternal Sunshine of the Spottless Mind)?

I have no real passions about the romance genre, other than its given birth to some of the worst films of all time. But it has also given us many of the classics, and in terms of this list some of them don’t fair as well as they should.

My main gripe is with Wall-E, which is not a altogether a credable romantic film and shouldn’t be on the list – I suspect that someone is trying to be rather too clever with this choice. Only because if you were to replace the robots with humans the plot would seem a little ridiculous and romance a tad saccharine and action-movie-esque.

A Matter of Life And Death, Harold & Maude and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are all very respectable choices and could feasably have been placed much higher – particularly A Matter of Life and Death.  Also, Take out Say Anything…, replace it with Edward Scissorhands and find somewhere to put Brokeback Mountain.

Like I said, I’m no romance afficionado; they have the basics right so i’m not too peturbed. That said, the next genre I will shine a light on is ‘Crime,’ and that list is six kinds of fucked up!

Ben Affleck and a response to Dave Bailey

Last week my peer and fellow film student, Dave Bailey, posted to his blog a comment defending the acting endeavours of one Mr. Ben Affleck.

Dave’s gripe -available here– came as a result of a feature that appeared on the Moviefone website entitled, Seven Actors Who Are Better Directors: a self-explanatory blog post that uses Affleck as its reason d’être.

Essentially, Dave claims that the charges levelled at Affleck as an actor are unjustified; this is not so.  Affleck’s early career was indeed very promising, but he took the path of least resistance and opted for the paycheque, like so many others before him.  No one doubts the Bostonian’s ability to hold the screen and deliver fine performances, but if it’s in a film like Gigli or Surviving Christmas, who gives a shit?

And if you also consider that during Affleck’s ‘dark time,’ friend and collaborator, Matt Damon, made a the likes of The Departed, Syriana, The Good Shepherd, The Brothers Grimm and a two-thirds of the Bourne franchise, it puts things into perspective a little more.

Ultimately, these “bad films” (as Bailey Puts it) taint the legacy of a man who is an Oscar-winning screenwriter and who may, one day, receive the same recognition as a director.

Still, after viewing Gone Baby Gone and The Town, there is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel for Affleck, but we ought not to forget that we all had to wade thru some shit to get there.

Where Have All The Film Critics Gone?

Here’s an interesting article about the current issues surrounding film journalism and criticism.

The article was written by Vincet Rossmeier and published in The Brooklyn Rail a few months ago. Read the article here.

Hitchcock: The Puppet-Master

The term ‘Auteur’ was originally used in regards to film in the 1950s by French film critics writing in the film journal ‘Cahiers du Cinema’.  Championed by the likes of soon-to-be leading New Wave filmmakers, Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer, ‘Auteurism’ effectively renewed the interest in artistic film for the critics who had become disillusioned with traditional film-making and filmmakers who they felt had become too heavily reliant on the genre picture.  Although it seems a relatively rudimentary concept, auteurism has become a complicated argument among film critics and industry professionals; the translation of “Auteur” to “Author” is where the universal agreement ends.  What Truffaut’s original 1954 essay, and other critics subsequent, were trying to create was an idea that the ultimately the director is responsible for the creativity (and thus, success) of a film by placing him/her above everyone else; as Truffaut explained “There are no good or bad films, only good and bad directors.”

What “The Young Turks” maintained was that in order for a director to be described as an auteur, his or her influence must be felt in each frame of his/her films and that the themes, styles and influences must be consistent and felt throughout all of their work, Film Critic Mark Shivas is cited as saying that an auteur film ‘transcends it’s story by the brilliance of its mise-en-scene.” The implications of these ideas were vast, not least on the institution of the French film industry itself (and France for that matter), for whom literature is and was held in such high regard.

The Auteur Theory was in part a rejection of the stringent importation rules that were imposed in France regarding Hollywood and British films, and of the post-War “cinéma de qualité” films on which the French film industry had become so efficient, yet reliant.  Part of the controversy lay in the fact that most of the directors on which they bestowed this accolade were foreign (Renoir was the main exception), and even worse many were American.  Also the theory plays down the roles of other industry professionals, the producers, screenwriters, editors, etc, who all play an important part in cinema as a whole.  At the time of inception it was agreed that the directors that embodied this theory the most were Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir, John Ford and Orson Welles.  However, the director that perhaps was the biggest influence and incarnation of the Auteur Theory was the ‘Master of Suspense’, Alfred Hitchcock.  Regardless of the differing theories of authorship and the constant evolution of the guidelines on which a filmmaker is judged, Hitchcock remains the measuring rod for critics and film scholars worldwide; he is undisputed Auteur for all those who believe in the concept in one form or another.  Every “Film Studies” book that contains a chapter on the auteur will undoubtedly go on to present Hitchcock as a case study. Read more of this post

Suicide and the Hollywood Legacy

In 1932, welsh-born Peg Entwistle, a 24 year old aspiring actress, told her uncle she was going to visit friends, instead she took off up the Hollywood hills, climbed the letter “H” of the now famous structure and leapt to her death.

Why she picked that particular letter no one knows, but it’s easy enough to understand the significance of the spot that she chose to end her life.  In true Hollywood fashion however, it is reported that the day following her demise, around the time she lay cold, contorted and rigid in the dirt, a letter would arrive at her home and with it an offer of a  part in a play about a young girl who commits suicide. The story itself would become legend; an example of cruel irony that Hollywood simply can’t get enough of.  But the girl who jumped that day never really mattered anyway and would be all but forgotten until only the event itself remained.

The bright lights that once lit up the “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign are long gone, but the lure of the American Dream, like a siren on the rocks, is as enchanting as ever.

However, despite its frequent cruelties, Hollywood is still a land of wonderment; a place where fantasy becomes reality and at the right time of day the very place where the American Dream can be seen riding the breeze up and down Sunset Boulevard for all to see.  Money, fame and glory await those with the grit and grace of los ángeles.

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