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Tony Grist

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All Quiet On The Western Front [Jan. 16th, 2015|11:47 am]
Tony Grist
I've seen it in several versions- including one that was tinted in the manner of silent movies- blue for night scenes etc. The first time was at school- when I begged my way out of my sick bed to get to the showing.  The copy I just watched is taken from the one deposited at the Library of Congress- so as complete and well-scrubbed as possible. It's the greatest war movie ever made: Yes? No?

Well, surely the most influential. All the WWI tropes are here, but still fresh, never seen before. And there are things that have never been bettered- the battle scenes for example. They really are quite extraordinary. The sequence that intercuts a close up of a machine gunner with his view of the men he's killing, panning along the advancing line as they fall, is as powerful a vision of mechanised warfare as exists in any medium.

A myth about the early sound era is that they had to put the cameras in soundproofed cases- which took the movies back twenty years or more and- after the wonderful fluidity of the later silent fims- everything became stagy and static and studio-bound. But none of this applies to All Quiet. The camera pans, dollies, does everything but fly- and maybe it even does that in some of the panoramic shots of the battlefield. There are breathtaking trick shots- like the one right at the beginning where we back out of the street, where the troops are marching, and seamlessly, without a cut, into the classroom where the professor is holding forth.

The script is a little literary and some of the acting (but not that of the two older leads, Louis Wolheim and Slim Summerville) has the over-emphasis and over-statement associated with the silent era. So what? Screen acting was still a work in progress. You could call the movie primitive and it is- in the sense in which Duccio is primitive compared to Michelangelo- but primitive doesn't mean worse.
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Comments:
From: cmcmck
2015-01-16 11:54 am (UTC)
Probably not the greatest (for me, that's Kubrick's 'Paths of Glory') but certainly a truly great film.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-01-16 12:00 pm (UTC)
Haven't seen Paths of Glory for a while. I've got a copy; I should give it a spin.
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From: artkouros
2015-01-16 03:46 pm (UTC)
I should watch that sometime.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-01-16 03:50 pm (UTC)
Yes, do.

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[User Picture]From: wyrmwwd
2015-01-16 03:49 pm (UTC)
I took a class in Religion & Film my last semester in seminary, and the professor said much the same things about this movie.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-01-16 03:55 pm (UTC)
Did you get to see it?

I'm curious to know how it fitted into a discourse on Religion and Film. It raises plenty of ethical and philosophical issues, of course, but it's not explicitly religious or anti-religious.
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[User Picture]From: wyrmwwd
2015-01-16 04:12 pm (UTC)
We saw a scene, but it was not one of the movies that we viewed in its entirety. It was the scene you mentioned. What we discussed was how it took the viewer into the mind of a person dealing with the moral and ethical implications of war. Christians have an interesting relationship with war. Clearly, Jesus was not a fan. And yet, Christians have managed to come up with "Just War" theologies. I went to a very liberal seminary, so this comes up a lot.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-01-16 04:50 pm (UTC)
The film treats religion gently but dismissively. Paul prays occasionally but doesn't expect to be heard. When he winds up in a Catholic hospital he's pleased but only because the Catholics have a reputation for serving the best food. There's a battle scene with a churchyard being churned up- and coffins unearthed- by shells. Maybe this is making some sort of a point (about the silence of God?) but who knows?
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[User Picture]From: wyrmwwd
2015-01-17 02:32 am (UTC)
Some of the most "religious" films don't seem very religious at all. "American Beauty" springs to mind.
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[User Picture]From: porsupah
2015-01-17 04:32 pm (UTC)
So what? Screen acting was still a work in progress. You could call the movie primitive and it is- in the sense in which Duccio is primitive compared to Michelangelo- but primitive doesn't mean worse.

I'm thinking, here, of Metropolis. Absolutely, the acting isn't what we'd find in any modern production - even ten years hence, styles had moved on. Yet, doesn't the highlighting of the extreme differences between the working class and those living in opulence deserve precisely that kind of grotesque magnification, now at least as much as then?
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