It’s time for another installment of The Vault! For this installment my choices span 84 years of cinematic history. Some of the older films on this week’s installment exhibit techniques that we still use today. When something works it just works. If a film was good before, it is still good now. Some films may become dated with time, but that does not mean that they aren’t still good. If anything, they give us a look into the past. They give us a way to see history unfold. Just think if cinema was created a couple hundred years earlier? I would love for that to be a reality. I would love to see some footage of the 1600s and 1700s. What we do have, however, is a window to the past with photography and cinema. Not all the films in this installment come from the beginnings of film, but they are all important in their own ways.
- All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
The third film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, this 1930 adaptation of the World War One book of the same name is a great example of an anti-war film. Made at a time when audiences weren’t used to synchronized sound in cinema, the use of wartime sounds made a giant impact on unsuspecting audiences. It also used some very innovative camera work. At the end of the silent era many directors were beginning to move the cameras around quite a bit, but once sound came into the picture the camera became stationary again because of how big and clunky they were and how the microphones could now pick up the noise from these cameras. The fact that “All Quiet on the Western Front” has sweeping crane shots over the trenches and many dolly shots is amazing, considering the unique time period in which it was made.
- Days of Heaven (1978)
This is one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever watched. The entire film was shot at the magic hour (the 20 minutes before the sun rises and the 20 minutes after the sun sets) when the natural light is perfect for filming. I will admit that I am a bit biased since Terrence Malick, the director of this film, is my favorite director. However, I firmly believe in the power of this film as well as its use of natural light. The plot revolves around a love triangle set during the late 1910s. It truly is a piece of art.
- Intolerance (1916)
D.W. Griffith made this film as a direct response to the criticism over his previous film “The Birth of a Nation” (1915). This film, however, is just as innovative as its predecessor. Not only does Griffith intertwine four separate narratives from different time periods (something which is still done today), but he also built some of the largest film sets of all time. There is a sense of wonder while watching it. The film is a true testament to how innovative silent films of the 1910s could be.
- Rear Window (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock made some of the most suspenseful and classic films of all time. “Rear Window” has to be my favorite of his. Not only do you have a mystery that persists until the end of the film, but it is also beautifully shot. Not only that, but we have Jimmy Stewart, (my favorite actor of all time), and the beautiful Grace Kelly acting in the lead roles. The entire film essentially takes place in the lead character’s apartment. This is a great example of how you can make a film in one location and never lose the audience’s attention. A masterpiece of suspense.
- Requiem for a Dream (2000)
This film brings us into the world of drug addiction in a very realistic way. It is raw and unsettling. It is also a great piece of cinema. Director Darren Aronofsky films the subject matter in a way that never glorifies it. The editing is also of great importance here. There are sequences of very quick, high paced editing to make us feel like we are getting high with the characters. It has a great effect on us. This film is graphic in its portrayal of drug addiction, but it is never feels gratuitous. It is a film you won’t forget about once it is over.