The Passion of Joan of Arc

Les Miserables and Joan of Arc

What is the very best way to use of the close-up? Is it best to save close-ups for the emotional arcs of a film, or to introduce a character? Can too many close-ups leave audiences feeling claustrophobic, and can too few prevent us from properly identifying with characters? Much has been made of Tom Hooper’s controversial use of the close-up for Les Miserables. The lack of critical consent over the film’s close-ups could be a major reason why Hooper has been on few shortlists for directing awards, even as the film garners attention fin other categories. Hooper’s use of the close-up perhaps reaches its apex early on, in an extended shot of Anne Hathaway as Fantine singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” a sequence that has been generally celebrated as the film’s strongest moment and ostensibly ensured Hathaway’s lock for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. But Hooper’s isn’t the first filmmaker known for implementing the close-up liberally and controversially. How does Hooper’s use of the close-up for a film musical compare to one of cinema history’s most famous close-up-structured films, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc?

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From placing Citizen Kane in a modern, Murdoch-filled context to getting really close up with Joan of Arc, Landon Palmer and I have been re-examining the Sight & Sound Top Ten, and we’re hoping we learned something. Today, we’ll compare notes and see how the list has rewritten history for silent films, elevated “serious” work and acted as a queue-filling reminder that there are always more amazing movies to discover. Download Episode #155

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Passion of Joan of Arc

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius are using the Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the greatest movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they gush over the brilliant courtroom drama from Carl Theodor Dreyer that pitted Joan of Arc and her passion against judges hell bent on sending her to the next life. The Passion of Joan of Arc is a stunning piece of work, and there’s good reason to think of it not only as a horror film, but the most well-respected horror film ever made.

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Criterion Files

First is a precarious position to be in, for in retrospect you stand in for the entire legacy (or, at least, for inaugurating the legacy) of the thing itself. It’s tough being the first, and can be burdensome. And of the first ten movies that were admitted into the Criterion Collection, there are some confounding choices. The Lady Vanishes (Spine #3), for instance, is a great film, but hardly amongst Hitchcock’s best (or even his best British work). It’s an…interesting choice for the first Hitchcock film in the DVD collection that would come to define 21st century cinephilia. But then again, way back in 1998, whose to say that the Criterion Collection had any idea the reputation it would cultivate? Criterion’s choices for its first two releases, however, are pitch-perfect. Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the film that defined his legacy and had a greater influence on world cinema than even his Rashomon, sits prominently at Spine #2. And Jean Renoir’s anti-war, prewar masterpiece, Grand Illusion, sits deservedly in Criterion’s #1 spot, with the weight of important classic and contemporary cinema resting comfortably on its shoulders. Grand Illusion may admittedly not have the empirical evidence of definitive influence of Seven Samurai (in other words, it has yet to be remade into a Western). But that is perhaps to its benefit. While Kurosawa made tens of samurai films, Renoir never made another movie quite like Grand Illusion, and the film still occupies a singular place in the history of war cinema – […]

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This post is probably not what you think. There are no LOLCats, no Rage Comic stick men bellowing about the superiority of The Dark Knight and Inception. It’s not really a love letter to modernity. But it’s also not Sight & Sound‘s decennial Top Ten List. That prestigious publication has done great work since even before polling critics in 1952 to name the best movies of all time. They’ve recreated the experiment every ten years since (with filmmakers included in 1992), and their 2012 list is due out soon. However, there is certainly overlap. The FSR poll includes only 37 critics (and 4 filmmakers), but we’re young and have moxy, and none of us were even asked by Sight & Sound for our considerable opinion. That’s what’s fascinating here. The films nominated by those invited by S&S have the air of critical and social importance to them. They are, almost all, serious works done by serious filmmakers attempting to make serious statements. This list, by contrast, is the temperature of the online movie community in regards to what movies are the “greatest.” The results might be what you expect. But probably not.

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Criterion Files

The inevitable day eventually comes in film school in which one learns the famed and much-debated Kuleshov Effect. It basically goes like this: In the 1910s and 20s, Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov conducted a series of experiments in which he used a shot of a person’s expressionless face and juxtaposed it with a series of other images, going back to the same expression on the same face, then to another image. A bowl of soup. A little girl. A child-size coffin. Each of these were juxtaposed with the same footage of the same blank face, yet each time the expression on the face appears different by the act of juxtaposition alone: when the face was juxtaposed with the bowl of soup, audiences concluded that the person was hungry, and when the face was juxtaposed with the coffin, audiences got the impression that the face was sad or in mourning. But the face was, in fact, the same throughout. The impression of difference was audience inference based on the juxtaposition, a projection predicated upon what the subjectivity of the audience member carries with them. The same face. Different images following it. Different meanings derived from each juxtaposition. The conclusion of the experiment was that juxtaposition creates meaning that doesn’t exist in either image alone. A face is a face. A bowl is a bowl. But together, they represent an emotion or an idea. I can’t help but think of the experiment when watching Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterpiece, The Passion of […]

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culturewarrior-basterds

This week’s Culture Warrior explains how Tarantino’s latest has matured the filmmaker beyond simple homage to cinema’s past and instead displays a reverence to the overall potential power movies have to offer, rooted in the sacred experience of the movie theater.

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