I have always preferred the reflection of the life to life itself.
To say that Roman Polanski, the famed and influential Polish film director, has created a complicated legacy for himself would be an understatement. His life has been one marked not only by an incredible film career, but by scandal, war and tragedy. Despite his many struggles and flaws, Polanski is undoubtedly one of the greatest director’s of all-time and an extremely influential artist.
Much like the protagonist of his Oscar winning 2002 film, Polanski was separated from his family in the early days of the war. His mother was sent to a Krakow, where she would lose her life to the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi concentration camp, while his father survived. During this time, Polanski lived on the lam in the Polish countryside, posing as a Catholic and receiving a great deal of hospitality and generosity from Polish-Catholic families. Most critics and even Polanski himself agree that this time period was one of the most influential on Polanski’s films and the very real feelings of dread, tragedy and fear that often accompany them.
The Pianist feels very much like Roman Polanski’s magnum opus. This man has fought through so much personal turmoil, not the least of which manifested itself in his own personal demons, and here in exile after many, many years, he was able to finally tell his own story through the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman. It is hard enough to watch a film like Schindler’s List or to think about the Holocaust in a historical context, but the fact that Roman Polanski actually experienced this horrible reality makes the film practically unbearable to watch in its frightening authenticity.
Polanski’s life is certainly a troubling one and undoubtedly a remarkably hard one, at that. His film career has given cinephiles and filmmakers an incredible amount of beautiful art and some of the greatest films of all time. In a film career that has focused on themes of isolation, corruption, desire, innocence and the occult and given us small parts of himself with every picture. With The Pianist, he was rewarded heavily, receiving the Palme d’Or and the Academy Award for Best director for a film in which the man finally revisited his child and really began to reveal the truth behind the man who is Roman Polanski.
The Pianist (2002)
When I was twelve years old, my mother dragged my family to the San Francisco Symphony to see a silent film. It would be cool, she said. It’s a comedy and the music is great, she told me, but of course I was 12 and I couldn’t care less about some 80 year old movie. That film was City Lights.
I can’t say that I immediately fell in love with Chaplin and everything about him, but needless to say, my first foray into silent film was a successful one. Practically every scene in City Lights has become iconic. I remember very vividly seeing The Tramp’s friendship with the millionaire, his nap on the newly unveiled statue, and the funniest boxing match in the history of cinema. As a young boy, something about all of this captured my imagination. Now, as a young man I can totally understand it.
Charlie Chaplin is without question a genius. As a writer, director, editor, producer, composer and most famously as an actor, he should be counted not only as a pioneer of cinema, but as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. He didn’t really ever make a bad film, and an argument could be made that any one of Chaplin’s works is his greatest. That being said, City Lights will always be my favorite.
Silent films were on their way out in 1932, and talkies were starting to take over the industry. Chaplin knew that he thrived in the realm of silent film and with City Lights he truly perfected the art form. Chaplin’s films were more than the slapstick comedy that was popular in his day, and while he could do physical comedy better than just about anybody, his films always had an undercurrent of emotion, depth and biting social commentary that caused his films to have such a tremendous impact.
City Lights isn’t as wacky as films like Modern Times or The Circus, which relied heavily on the physical comedy, and it isn’t as bold as something like The Great Dictator in its political messages. City Lights is the perfect medium. It’s the Tramp’s greatest adventure and his greatest romance. The film is Chaplin’s greatest accomplishment and the best silent film ever made. While the era of silent film was filled to the brim with special and memorable moments, nothing will ever come close to achieving the sheer emotional beauty that the final scene of City Lights so effortlessly captures.
City Lights (1933)
Adam Wingard has impressed a lot of people with his work in the horror genre. Specifically, his film You’re Next, which impressed on the festival circuit and beyond. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of horror films, so needless to say I wasn’t a huge fan of Wingard’s work. It was awesome to see him turn the genre upside down with You’re Next and provide huge laughs alongside the thrills. He has proved himself a more than capable director, but it wasn’t until I saw The Guest that I was really hooked.
The Guest is not a horror film, even though it contains some elements of that genre. It’s also not a straight up thriller or action film. Instead, the film plays out like a big, hilarious homage to cinema, and American films of the 1980’s. It’s a seemingly simple tale that starts out in a seemingly simple way. Wingard proves he has perfected the art of Indie filmmaking in the first third of film which segues into an action thriller before finally leading us, literally, into the haunted house of a horror film for the grand finale.
The film s light with bright neon lights and set to a perfect score of electrons music, that lend itself to the 1980’s atomsphere. In some ways it takes cues from Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece, Drive, but where Refn used the visual language to build his own cinematic fairytale, Wingard uses it as the erratic basis for the completely absurd world he creates.
Dan Stevens is perfect in the role of David, and the film itself is like an incredibly fun thrill ride with indie sensibilities. It’s easy to see, even in these early days that The Guest is well on it’s way to gaining itself a massive cult following. The film is without question one of the most welcome surprises to come to theaters in quite some time, and one that has to be experienced to truly be believed.
The Guest (2014)
The era of silent film was the time of some of the greatest comedians of all time. Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and the comedic duo of Laurel and Hardy are legends in cinema and they can still elicit laughs from practically anyone almost a century after their heyday. Perhaps the greatest of all these comedians, and certainly the biggest daredevil, was Buster Keaton.
Keaton, who was world famous for his death-defying stunts and gags, is most famous for his classic film, The General. In the film, Keaton plays a would-be Union soldier in the Civil War, who is turned down for service and becomes an engineer on board a train called, ‘The General.’ Aboard the train, Keaton’s genius takes over.
I’ve always considered myself to be a Chaplin loyalist. I paid no mind to the work of any of these other comedians. When I finally saw ‘The General,’ for a class most likely, I was completely blown away. Where Chaplin is concerned with story, and tragedy, Keaton uses his staunch white, blank face for pure comedy reasons. It’s stressful to watch Keaton’s films now even 80 years later, because he comes within inches of death all the time.
Keaton’s films, and The General in particular, are cinema in its purest form. The man was a genius in his own right, and his talent and daring separated the man from his competitors and turned him into one of the greatest filmmakers and stars of all time.
The General (1926)