Finally, a movie my students can watch! This movie isn't even rated! Take that, MPAA!
This is probably the first of many reviews of movies that our textbook mentions that I haven't seen prior to this point. I guess that's one of the blessings of teaching a film class. You get to watch movies that you haven't even heard of and end up sounding really smart.
We're studying German silent films right now. I knew of German expressionism and I knew of the historical epics. I haven't, however, seen much of the Kammerspiel films with the exception of Sunrise. As a fan of the offensively depressing, this movie hit a few gorgeous buttons with me.
The story, practically without text, tells the tale of an aging doorman at a prestigious department store, not unlike the Selfridge's of Germany. A shining light and a point of pride amongst the impovrished community, the protagonist wears his uniform as a badge of honor. Smiling and beaming everywhere he goes, his uniform provides an identity for him. This uniform is stripped away and he is sent to attend the bathrooms, a crime seemingly worse than prison for him. Accurately predicting the derision of his community, he hides his shame by stealing a doorman's uniform and parades himself around, his guilt and fears accompanying him. When his fears comes true, he is embarrassed until he contemplates suicide.
Perhaps the most puzzling part of this film is the epilogue. Director F.W. Murnau is aware of conventions. It's amazing that in the early days of cinema, people were already aware of story conventions. Admittedly, he had theatre and literature to fall back on, but he decided to play up the idea of the happy ending. With the only piece of text breaking the fourth wall, he tells the viewer that this movie should end with the doorman giving up on life and waiting for death. But he stresses the artificiality of the format and gives a far fetched deus ex machina in the form of a dead American with an absurd last will and testament. This epilogue plays out for an eerily long time, stressing how the doorman is the only person who can appreciate wealth having been so long without it. It is powerful, but perhaps my sensibilities and short attention span wanted something more direct. The length of it left me begging for brevity.
This is a movie about feeling. There isn't much of a story, but it shouldn't have much of a story. This is character at its base form and that character is compelling.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.