A young soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I. Together with several other young German soldiers, he experiences the horrors of war, such evil of which he had not conceived of when signing up to fight. They eventually become sad, tormented, and confused of their purpose.
14 Feb All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
These things fascinate me: films that are about something but are presented in a way that contradicts that something.
Often it is a film whose message is to strive for the extraordinary, but the film itself is strictly formulaic. Here we have something much more interesting and profound: we have the future of film. We have — not quite independently — the future of the world. And along the way, we have the war film as a key factor in defining the national character.
Even in 1930, the vocabulary of film was still in its infancy. Griffith (and many others) had already frozen the template as stage drama plus sweeping vistas that one could only get on screen. The two alternated: first you would see the lavish, grand scope. Then you would zoom in on some small personal drama, sculpted and dramatised as if it were a stage play. Like, say, the encounter with the dying Frenchman in the crater, or the counter-piece in this project: the two classroom speeches.
This was a very bad thing… very bad for our imagination as a society. Instead of the new medium taking us to new places (and yes, a new moral perspective) we remained trapped in Victorian morality plays. We stick there even today. Much has been made of the use of some of Eisenstein’s techniques. But he was highly individualistic, very personal — even iconoclastic. Tarkovsky’s films appear radically different but are in this independent spirit. Both were non-stage derived, non-moralistic.
Here we have what we would later call a Hollywood film: grand, slick, moralistic (head-smackingly so) and thoroughly mundane in its dramatic sequences. It is, one could say, a militaristic film with a non-militaristic message. I dare say that this type of drag on the collective spirit of the people is as much a curse as any war and indeed a straight line can be drawn from this type of film (yes, even this very film) and the cinematic techniques used by the Nazis to codify and communicate nationality.
Posted in 2003
Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.