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Ruk Watches Old Movies: From 1920 to Beyond!

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Yeah, the title's kinda self evident for this one, isn't it?




Okay, to explain in a little more detail, I recently did my list for BOT's Top 100 Favourite Movies (incredibly last minute as I assume most people did). While I was admiring my perfect and impeccable taste, I couldn't help but notice how lacking said list was in regards to older films. Sure, there were a couple of old classics scattered here and there, but it made me realise how few of the really famous older films I'd actually seen. And, since I'd been meaning to try and get back into watching more films anyway, I figured I might as well kill two birds with one stone and make a project out of it. And then write about it. Because I am nothing if not determined that everyone should hear my opinions.


Basically, my plan is to watch and review one old film every day (or couple of days depending on scheduling), starting with a 1920 movie, then going onto 1921, then 1922 and so on and so forth, all in the aim of getting to at least... let's say... 1999 (by which time I should either be thoroughly sick of the project or ready to go around for another go). In addition, I'm going to grade and rank them as I go along according to my favourites, because what I think this forum really needs is even more lists/rankings.


Brief warning though, while I'm obviously going to be watching a lot of the most famous movies of the time while doing this, I'm also primarily going to be targeting the sorts of films that I personally am/think I would be interested in. So it's highly possible I may skip over a classic or two if there's a lesser known movie that looks significantly more appealing to me. So in that regard, expect to see a lot in the way of comedy, horror, action and animation (once it eventually turns up) and not too much in the way of long sweeping romantic dramas. I don't have anything against those sorts of movies, but it's just not my cup of tea. So just warning you about that now.


Right, with all that out of the way, let's get started shall we? And I'm going to be beginning my marathon with a certain 1920 German expressionist horror that you might have heard of... 





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What happened this year?


A buncha stuff! Prohibition began, the first US General Election took place in which women could actually vote (Warren G. Harding won, fyi), the ACLU was founded, Joan of Arc was canonised as a saint and DeForest Kelley was born! Aka Dr 'Bones' McCoy!



(Also so was Frederico Fellini, Yul Brinner, Toshiro Mifune, Maureen O'Hara, Mickey Rooney and Pope John Paul II, so... good year?)


Oh, and in incredibly minor news, the German Workers Party decided to change its name based on reforms pushed forward by one of its members. But I'm sure we'll never hear of this 'National Socialist German Worker's Party' ever again, right?


Of course, in less foreboding German news, director Robert Wiene got together with writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer to release this little gem of expressionist cinema...



The Cabinet of Dr Caligari




Plot: At the annual fair at Holstenwall, a series of mysterious and brutal murders begin to take place. At the same time, the mysterious and sinister Dr Caligari shows off his exhibit, a somnambulist (sleepwalker) named Cesare. Could the two events possibly be related? Well, no fucking duh. This was the 1920's. Good narrative misdirection hadn't been invented yet. Still, as protagonist Francis searches for the truth behind both the murders and the mysterious Dr Caligari, the audience is left to wonder who is truly the insane one here? 


Trivia: Writer Hans Janowitz claims to have gotten the idea for the film when he was at a carnival one day. He saw a strange man lurking in the shadows. The next day he heard that a girl was brutally murdered there. He went to the funeral and saw the same man lurking around. He had no proof that the strange man was the murderer, but he fleshed the whole idea out into his film. (Fun!!!)


Helped Inspire: Dracula, The Night of the Hunter, Citizen Kane (apparently) and almost everything Tim Burton's ever done.




Ruk's Thoughts:


Boy, who’d have thought that the first old movie I saw on this list of old movies would be so… old, eh?


Yeah, I may have jumped into the deep end a little bit here, because the Cabinet of Dr Caligari is a film that... kinda shows its age? Not just in the fact that it’s a silent, black and white movie, but in everything from its simple camerawork and cliche plot (even though it probably invented most of said cliches in the first place) to its numerous cheap set backgrounds that look more appropriate for a school play than a proper movie.


Well, okay, maybe that’s a little harsh on the last one. The production design of Dr Caligari has been one of its most iconic elements and, while I thought it looked ridiculous at the beginning of the movie, as the film went on the set designs honestly kinda grew on me? Are they weird and somewhat cheap looking? Maybe. But they're almost endearingly so and in a way that helped give the film its own unique flavour.


Honestly, if I had to give real praise to any technical aspect, however, it’d definitely be the lighting. The use of shadows and low light really give the film a dark and haunting atmosphere that matches the creepy psychological tone of the film perfectly. And while a significant chunk of that shadowy lighting is probably down to the actual limits of filmmaking at the time, I still have to give it credit for the achieved effect. The make-up is pretty ghoulish as well, in a very good way. You can definitely see why Tim Burton chose to base his style on this movie.


The other aspect I’d give some praise to is the acting. Sure, it’s very much silent film acting, with a lot of exaggerated motions and expressions, but the actors do a genuinely good job with the parts they were given. (Mostly. The guy who played the doomed best friend made me somewhat giggle at the wrong times.) Special credit goes to Conrad Veidt (the guy whose look (in another movie) inspired the Joker!) as Cesare, the somnabulist, who in spite of having surprisingly little screentime manages to steal the show almost every time he shows up as one of the most genuinely creepy characters in the whole mess.


Still, I’m somewhat torn as to how to rate this. On the one hand, it really did show its age in my eyes, both in terms of filmmaking and all the elements of story/design/whatever that I’ve already seen done elsewhere and usually done better (even if said movies were most likely inspired by this). But on the other hand, having had a bit of time to digest and think on the movie, there is something… strangely compelling about it. Especially towards the end, I found myself being drawn more and more towards it and its haunting atmosphere. It’s not exactly something I personally found to be great, but I am definitely glad I watched it and can entirely get why others might love it so much. That said, on my own personal experiences, I still can't bring myself to give it any better than a B-/C+. Sorry.





Well, now that that's done, maybe I should relax with something more lighthearted? A comedy, perhaps, starring one of the great slapstick comedians of the age?




Wait, hang on, I've already seen that one.





Thaaaaaat's better. 

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What happened this year?


A lot of less fun stuff than 1920. The Tulsa race riots happened, the Red Army invaded Georgia, Adolf Hitler became Fuhrer of the Nazi party and his brownshirts begin physically assaulting the opposition, the Italian Fascist party was founded and a famine in Russia kills roughly 5 million people. But, on the plus side, the US officially declared an end to WWI! Which, you know... maybe a little late on that front guys?


There were a few famous births of note, though. Prince Phillip, Tommy Cooper, Nancy Reagan, Gene Roddenberry, Charles Bronson and Jackie Stallone! (Sylvester Stallone's mother) So there's that.


Anyway, meanwhile, Buster Keaton was making one of about a billion short comedy films, including this particular gem that I'm watching today... which, fyi, I did not know was actually only 22 minutes long, so... yeah. Bit of a short one today.



The Goat




Plot: After a mix-up with a photographer, Buster Keaton accidentally gets mistaken for an escaped murderer and his face is plastered up on wanted posters. Hijinks ensue. Then more hijinks ensue. And even more. Look, it's a 1920's slapstick comedy, who really gives a fuck about the plot?


Trivia: At the 03:30 mark, when the man on the street is counting money in a wallet he found, the graffiti on the fence in the background reads "G.I.P. Funny". (Alright look, IMDB didn't have much in the trivia section for this.)


Helped Inspire: This specifically? Probably not much. Buster Keaton inspired a ton of people through his physical comedy though, including Jackie Chan.




Ruk's Thoughts:


You know, after watching Dr Caligari, I did actually wonder whether I might have gone too far back in time to begin this. Whether all the old-timey stylings of black/white silent filmmaking might have been too much of a culture shock for my modern palate to take all at once.


So naturally, trust this movie to almost immediately disprove that.


Yeah, this was just great fun. I’ve not watched as much Buster Keaton as I’d like, but I’ve seen some of his more famous works like The General (which was… slightly awkward considering all the Confederacy stuff) and his slapstick routine translates almost seamlessly through time (even if the politics don’t). And that goes just as much for this movie. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s frenetic and it’s incredibly funny at times. And it wasn’t even the best comedy of the year! (I’ve already seen The Kid, so I couldn’t watch it for this.).


If I had to pick anything apart it’s that the plot is paper thin and not really resolved at all. Pretty certain they never clear Keaton's name or catch the wanted criminal or resolve anything. But then again, honestly, the plot is clearly just an excuse for the comedy and in that regard it works perfectly. Although, I do have to wonder exactly why this movie is called The Goat, because it has literally nothing to do with goats. Then again, maybe it's an old-timey term I'm not getting.


So yeah, this movie, short as it was, was still a lot of fun. Maybe not in the top tier of slapstick comedies I’ve ever seen, but certainly a proud example of the genre and I enjoyed watching. Honestly, they really don’t make movies like this anymore and I think that’s a genuine shame. So for now, I’m giving it a strong B+




1. The Goat (1921) - B+

2. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) - B-/C+




Well, now I've lightened things up a bit, maybe for my next film I should give the whole German horror thing a second chance? After all, I can't let one bad experience throw me off. And, as luck might have it, there's a certain little bonechilling movie available. One that is definitely not based on any existing properties like Dracula. Totally. I don't know why you'd even suggest such a thing. Because it's definitely not-


Oh hang on, someone's at my door. 'Scuse me for a second...



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What happened this year?


Some neat stuff, some not so neat. On the neat side, the first successful insulin treatment for diabetes was administered! On the not so neat side, Mussolini seized power in Italy. On the neat side, Rebecca L. Felton became the first female US Senator. On the not so neat side, Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned for sedition.


Also, Vegemite was invented. Make of that what you will. 



(All I'm saying is that it might not be a coincidence this happened the same year that Tutankhamun's tomb was also discovered.)


As for famous births, this was actually a pretty good year, with Judy Garland, Betty White, Bea Arthur, Doris Day, Martha Stewart, Charles M. Schultz and not one, but two awesome Lee's with Christopher Lee and Stan Lee



(Also consider this the obligatory Stan Lee cameo for this thread.)


However this wasn't all good news. German currency went through some truly ridiculous inflation as a result of the post-war punishments inflicted upon it by the Allied Nation. How ridiculous, exactly? Well, in 1919, the normal exchange rate was 12 German marks to one American dollar. In July of 1922, the exchange rate was approximately 563 marks to the dollar. By December of the same year, the exchange rate had gone up to 7000 marks to the dollar. Which is, you know, not great?


Why am I bringing this up, you might ask? Well mainly because this year's movie is a German Expressionist horror and I needed to find some way to make that awkward transition from Stan Lee and Vegemite to a hideous terrifying vampire. And it was either this or a Twilight joke. Aaaaanyway....







Plot:  An English German estate agent named Harker Hutter is sent on a journey to deepest Transylvania to visit the castle of the sinister Count Dracula Orlok, in what Harker Hutter believes to be a routine business deal, leaving his lovely wife Mina Ellen behind. Harker Hutter's trek is an unusual one, with many locals not wanting to take him near the castle where strange events have been occurring which doesn't at all remind you of any other famous vampire novel. Once at the castle, Harker Hutter does manage to sell the Count the house, but also discovers that the Count is really a vampire or Nosferatu. While Harker Hutter is trapped in the castle, the Count, hiding in a shipment of coffins, makes his way to Whitby Wisbourg, causing death along his way, ...


Trivia: Count Orlok is only seen blinking once on screen, near the end of Act One.


Helped Inspire: A lawsuit from Bram Stoker's estate.




Ruk's Thoughts:


Okay, good news everyone, you can put the torches and pitchforks away, because this is one 1920's German Expressionist horror that I thought actually did hold up fairly well. Really. Definitely. Totally. 100%. I mean, okay, there were a few problems here and there but- wait no, put that pitchfork down!


Seriously though, I wasn't kidding, this is actually pretty damn great. Espeeecially the titular Nosferatu.. Vampires have gone through quite an evolution over the years, from scary to pretty to tortured loners to comic figures, back to being scary and so on and so forth. And, while I could make arguments both for and against what each of those different types bring to the table (yes, even Twilight), I genuinely can't think of any vampire in any media I've ever watched as instinctively and unnaturally horrifying as Max Schreck's Count Orlok.


Seriously, this guy is isn't in the movie quite as much as you think, but every time he shows up, you just can't look away. It's not just the fantastic make-up that easily outdoes any modern CGI, or the unsettling rat-like design that still somehow reeks of danger. But it's the physical performance as well, the weird shuddering way in which Orlok moves, like a stop-motion figure slowly creeping towards you. Not to mention the way he gets some of the most iconic moments in vampire lore... hell, in movies in general. The 'vampire rises at an unnatural angle out of his coffin' thing has been parodied to death and back, but this movie not only created it, but still manages to come off as kinda terrifying.


I also gotta compliment a lot of the beautiful and sweeping visuals whenever they showed up. No weird painted backgrounds in this one (and yes, I still think they looked kinda silly in Caligari). The house Orlok eventually moves to in Germany deserves special mention for its almost looming presence throughout the movie. 


I do have issues though which stop me from declaring it an out and out all-time favourite for me. For one, most of the stuff without Orlok is not nearly as interesting as the stuff with him in. And since, as mentioned, he's not in the movie quite as much as you'd think, that means a lot of time with the relatively uninteresting side cast. Secondly, even though I thought it held up better than Caligari, there are still areas in which the movie definitely shows its age. Especially the 'night' scenes, which have clearly been shot during the day and a terrible-looking blue filter added in post. 


In conclusion, this one's definitely worth checking out. It's a story that you've probably seen told a bunch of times, but with an outstanding central performance, some excellent direction and genuine sense of creeping horror that many movies have tried but failed to recapture. As it is, I'm giving it a strong B+




1. Nosferatu - B+

1. The Goat (1921) - B+

2. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) - B-/C+




Alright, well I've done a second German Expressionist Horror now, so maybe I should try a second comedy to help balance it out. Preferably one with an iconic scene or two to reference. I'd start looking now, but it is getting rather late over here in the UK. In fact, I wonder what time it is...



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Great write ups so far. 


If you'd like to see a companion piece to Nosferatu, Shadow of The Vampire (2000) -  a fictionalized making of the film with Dafoe and Malkovich is pretty entertaining.

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What happened this year?


Hey, remember that hyperinflation of German currency I mentioned last time? Well, it kinda hit its peak this year. Specifically, it got to the point where 1 German mark grew to the equivalent of 4.2 trillion dollars! (I feel there's a box office joke I should be probably making right now, but I keep forgetting which way round the exchange rate goes here.)


In other news, President Warren G. Harding dies of a heart attack and is replaced with Calvin Coolidge, Hitler got arrested after attempting a coup in Bavaria during the Beer Hall Pusch and Warner Bros Studios was officially founded!


As for famous births, there weren't that many I could actually find this year. Charlton Heston, Richard Attenborough, Bob Barker and that most hateful of monsters, Marcel Marceau Henry Kissinger. 


But anyway, enough doom and gloom. Instead, let's go back and look at another classic silent comedy, this one with the most recognisably iconic scenes of all time, even you don't know that this was where said scene originated. Yes, I'm talking Harold Lloyd in...


Safety Last




Plot:  Harold Lloyd plays a country boy trying to make it good in the big city to make his hometown (and girlfriend in said hometown) proud. However, while he claims in his letter that everything is going great, he ends up getting stuck in a dead-end job as a salesman in a department store, with a friend named 'Limpy' Bill (which I don't think is a dick joke?). Fortunately, he sees a chance to turn things around when the General Manager offers a $1000 reward (which was probably a lot in 1920's money) to any employee who can come up with a good way to draw publicity to the store. Harold comes up with the idea of getting his friend, Limpy Bill, to climb the several-stories high department building. However when Limpy Bill is stuck trying to avoid arrest, Harold is forced to do it instead. Also he dangles from a clock. Not that plot relevant, but it's like the one scene everyone remembers from this. 


Trivia: During the famous clock tower stunt, Harold Lloyd is not as far from the ground as he appears. The building on which he climbs was actually a fake wall constructed on the roof of an actual skyscraper and skillfully photographed to maintain the illusion. Harold Lloyd first tested the safety precautions for said stunt by dropping a dummy onto the mattress below. The dummy bounced off the roof and plummeted to the street below.


Helped Inspire: Almost every scene with a guy dangling from a clock ever.




Ruk's Thoughts:




Okay, maybe I should supply a little context for that freakout, because this is definitely labelled a comedy movie for clear reasons, or at least is definitely a comedy movie for the first half. Said first half is mainly dedicated to more basic comedy bits involving Harold's everyday life and a number of humorous misunderstandings and the likes that he gets into, from being late back to his shift, to trying to trick his girl by pretending to have been promoted to general manager and so on and so forth. It's funny enough, with some great moments, even if I feels it lacks a bit of the energy and style of someone like Chaplin and Keaton.


However, in the second half, once Harold Lloyd actually starts climbing the building, it goes from lighthearted slapstick comedy to a surprisingly intense thriller disguised as slapstick comedy. Seriously I was on the edge of my fucking seat for a lot of said climb and not just for the infamous clock scene. The movie is genuinely surprisingly good at creating and maintaining tension and the physical comedy stylings only add to that. One scene where Lloyd comes very close to boinking his head on a weather vane, while structured and appeared to look like a slapstick comedy bit, honestly translated amazingly well as a thriller instead. It's genuinely quite impressive.


I will say though, I'm not quite prepared to put this over Nosferatu, if only because the comedy sections lacked the same polish as the likes of Keaton, and the building climb isn't until a long way in, but this is still a genuinely excellent, even if not necessarily for the reasons (or genre) I was expecting it to be. B+




1. Nosferatu - B+

2. Safety Last - B+

3. The Goat (1921) - B+

4. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) - B-/C+




Alright so, while a quality movie on its own, that wasn't quite the comedy I was looking for. And while I could try something new, I feel like going back to one of the masters to see how it's done. And, as luck would have it, Buster Keaton just happens to have made one of his most famous movies...



(And yes, I'm aware this one's only 44 minutes long. Don't care, I want to watch it.)

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Sorry this is a day late. Got back later than expected due to Deadpool 2 and was too tired to write up a full thing.




What happened this year?


Stuff happened! Lenin died, the Ottoman Empire was abolished, J Edgar Hoover became head to the FBI, Mercedes-Benz was formed by a merger of two different companies, famed movie studio MGM was created and someone invented the Caesar Salad!


One of my favourite stories that did caught my eye though was that of Harry Grindell Matthew's failed attempts to convince people that he had managed to invent a death ray. Despite his attempts to demonstrate the ray, the British War Office didn't buy his claims and refused to buy the weapon. Which is an almost tailor-made Silver Age supervillain origin, fyi. I have no idea how this didn't end up with Grindell Matthews going on a crime spree and attempting to blow up Big Ben before being stopped by Batman. Aside from, you know, the 'death ray' in all probability being just a confidence scam.


(Although, weirdly, Grindell Matthews did end up going to work for Warner Bros Studio at some point, so... WB might have a death ray in their vault?)


Anyway, as far as births go, there were a few. Benny Hill, Lee Marvin, Robert Mugabe, Marlon Brando, Lauren Bacall, Truman Capote and two US Presidents (George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter) Make of that what you will. In the meanwhile, time for comedy. And one of Buster Keaton's most well-regarded films...


Sherlock Jr




Plot:  Buster Keaton plays Buster Keaton as a theatre projectionist who dreams of being a famous detective. After being framed for stealing a pocket watch by 'the local sheik' (which was apparently a thing in 1920's America?), Keaton dozes off during the playing of a movie and, in his dream, ends up imagining himself as the hero, the titular Sherlock Jr, solving a case that bears a certain similarity to the one he's already caught up in...


Trivia: Buster Keaton practiced for four months, working with a pool expert, to learn all the trick shots that Sherlock Jr. performs during the pool game. Nevertheless, it took him five days to film all the trick shots, and get them right. When he was finished, all the best trick shots he had filmed were cut together to make it look like Sherlock Jr. was playing one continuous game of pool.


Helped Inspire: Same stuff as mentioned on The Goat's page. Also possibly Last Action Hero. Can't confirm that though.




Ruk's Thoughts:


So, once again I'm stuck watching a Buster Keaton comedy and, once again, it was genuinely a ton of fun. And, honestly, I loved this movie even more than The Goat. While that movie was almost a perfect example of the old silent film era of slapstick comedy and the hilarity, this movie goes even further and has the sort of inventive camera trickery and choreography that I thought wasn't just inventive for a slapstick comedy, but is inventive for movies period. I laughed my ass off during the 'quick scene transition' stuff in the movie theatre scene and I'm surprised more modern movies haven't tried anything like that. 


Really, almost everything I liked about The Goat was here except sharper, more refined and more inventive. Stuff like the motorcycle chase, the car boat, the pool table scene (which apparently was not faked, Keaton pulled off every single one of those shots (albeit separately and edited together)) all had me both in stitches and marveling at the ingenuity shown. 


If I had to pick any real flaw it's that, like The Goat, it doesn't really have much of a plot. But, then again, unlike The Goat, it does bother to have an actual plot conclusion, so that's a plus. But either that doesn't really matter much, because this movie is all about the comedy. And on that point, I'd say it more than hits the mark. As such, I'm giving it a nice strong A.





1. Sherlock Jr- A

2. Nosferatu - B+

3. Safety Last - B+

4. The Goat (1921) - B+

5. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) - B-/C+



Alright, enough comedy, time to get back to the actual classics. In this case, probably one of the most famous silent films of all time, a pioneer in regards to the formation of cinematic language and one of the earliest films of one Sergei Eisenstein... 


Now if you'll excuse me, I think I've got something in my eye...



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Waiting to get to the 30's so there is a chance of having something I have seen.

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Sherlock Jr. is a masterpiece and maybe the best cure for anyone who thinks silent movies aren't for them. There are more visual ideas and energy in there than in most movies made since. 

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What happened this year?


Lotta kinda crappy stuff, to be honest. Hitler started writing Mein Kampf, the SS were first formed (as a bodyguard unit for Hitler), the Ku Klux Klan organised a parade in Washington DC with over 30,000 marchers (which was a lot in 1920's terms) to show off their popularity, Mussolini began his dictatorship in Italy and The Great Gatsby was published, bring torture and pain to the thousands of schoolchildren forced to cover it decades later in English class.


Alright fine, maybe that last one isn't quite in the same league.


As for famous births, we've actually got quite a few, some of whom, while not household names now, are still a pretty big deal in regards to film history. Paul Newman, Lee van Cleef (aka the Bad in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly), Jack Lemmon, Robert Altman, Rod Steiger (of Night of the Hunter fame), Johnny Carson (aka the 'Johnny' in 'Here's Johnny!'), Richard Burton and Julie Harris And on the more well known side, we have people like Peter Sellers, Dick van Dyke and Angela Lansbury.


We also have a bunch of controversial people that I won't common on as well like, Margaret Thatcher, Malcolm X and Pol Pot. Oh, and Audie Murphy. Who isn't actually that controversial at all, but I wanted to bring him up because he's awesome.


Anyway, onto the movie. And it's sure as hell a big one today...


Battleship Potemkin




Plot:  Based on the real-life mutiny, Battleship Potemkin tells the story of the sailors on the titular battleship who, after being denigrated and abused by their (literally) moustache-twirlingly evil officers, decide to revolt. They successfully take over the ship and sail to the near port of Odessa where they inspire the citizens to revolt in the spirit of the glorious Russian Revolution (you know, before it got all totalitarian and mass-murdery).   


Trivia: The famous Odessa steps sequence was not originally in the script, but was devised during production.


Helped Inspire: God, where do I even start? Um... The language of cinema? Seriously, this is one the most influential films of all time for a reason. Oh, and I guess it also inspired that baby carriage, train station shoot out from The Untouchables.



Ruk's Thoughts:


So I gotta admit, I wasn't entirely certain what to expect when I started watching this movie. Sure, I definitely know of its importance in film history and its status as an all-time classic and so on and so forth. But I also knew that about Dr Caligari and that still didn't stop me from feeling somewhat lukewarm on it. Yet, once I actually watched this movie and digested it, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that Battleship Potemkin actually very reminded me incredibly strongly of another movie I recently watched. Not necessarily in style, story, execution or any real surface details, but more in how it engaged me and how I viewed it and ultimately how I think I felt about it.


And that other movie was....... the 2017 Cambodian Martial Arts movie Jailbreak



(Wait wait wait, don't leave, I'm going somewhere with this, I swear!)


Now, to explain fully why I think this is the case, I need to go into the backstory of Jailbreak a little. As those of you who were following my 2017 film ranking list might know, I first saw Jailbreak at the London Film Festival. And, before the screening, there was a short talk from Jean-Paul Ly, one of the film’s stars and stunt choreographers, who told us a bit about the film’s production. I won't go into full details here, but basically Jailbreak was possibly the first Cambodian action movie ever and was made on a shoestring budget with a team of extras who, before Jean-Paul arrived, barely knew the slightest thing about martial arts or how to be stuntmen or almost anything else.


And, I should note, all that definitely showed. The movie wore its pitiful budget and its relative inexperience on its sleeves, with cheap sets constantly reused and a rather basic plot and acting and so on. Yet, in spite of all of that, it still ended up being one of my favourite films of the year. Why? Because while it may have been cheap and sloppy and lacking in the sorts of things most movie studios take for granted, there was one aspect that the movie was not only good at, but managed to hit into fucking orbit again and again and again. Specifically, the martial-arts action. Which I won't gush about too much here, but I honestly think is every bit as good as The Raid. And ultimately, it was so good at said action that, honestly, all those other problems not only felt insignificant, but honestly almost gave the movie kind of an underdog vibe and made it all the more meaningful that in spite of all its limitations and problems it still somehow managed to be so damn good at what it tried to do.


Now, why am I bringing all this up, you may ask? Well, because I kinda feel Battleship Potemkin is sorta in the same boat (pun not intended). The movie itself came off as sloppy and unpolished and weird to me in a lot of ways, in large part because so much of what we consider modern cinema had yet to be properly developed. Yet, like Jailbreak, the movie had things that it was so good at, so genius and incomparable and brilliant at, that when it started really utilising its talents, all those minor problems and awkwardness just seemed to melt away in the face of how freaking amazing it was.


Seriously, when the movie really, really started pushing the boundaries of cinematic language during the boat revolt, I was freaking transfixed in a way that very few movies have ever managed to achieve from me. And it kept the hits coming and coming and coming, culminating in the infamous Odessa Steps sequence which was just pure cinematic magic. There were techniques that I'd seen other filmmakers use before, yet never as effectively as they were used here. And in some ways the sloppiness and rough-around-the-edges nature of a lot of the film honestly emphasised the emotion, making it feel less robotically perfect and more human and visceral and real. I was genuinely blown away by how good it was and not in the precise ways I was expecting it to be.


In conclusion, I do think Battleship Potemkin is a flawed film and I'm not entirely certain everyone whose used to more modern cinema will necessarily appreciate it. But, honestly, I almost feel like its flaws made it shine even further. That imperfectness that, like Jailbreak, added almost an underdog element, that ultimately made the effort put in feel all the more real and meaningful and meant that when the movie starts to shine with its dramatic montages, it shines all the brighter. As it is, while I'm not certain I'd give it a straight A+, I do still feel it definitely deserves its place as a true film classic. A+/A






  1. Battleship Potemkin- A+/A
  2. Sherlock Jr- A
  3. Nosferatu - B+
  4. Safety Last - B+
  5. The Goat (1921) - B+
  6. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) - B-/C+



Okay, I feel I should quickly say that I'm likely to be on hiatus for the next few days or so. I've got a coursework deadline coming up that I really need to be focusing on right now (and probably should've thought about before I started this, but ah well.) Still, I will definitely be continuing this. Especially since, as some people might know, I freaking love animation. And the next film coming up is possibly the oldest (surviving) feature-length animated film ever.


What? No, not Snow White. Fuck that Disney poser. I'm talking about something else entirely...




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