Tuesday, June 1, 2010

100 years, 100 films 3: Queen Elizabeth (1912)

Ugh. God this film sucked. This film was such a piece of arse munching shit. I hated this film so much I can't think straight. I thought I was going to be able to write my review in this rage induced state, (I just finished watching this piece of fucking shit), but no. I need to take a break to calm down.

[one shower later]

Okay, I think I've calmed down enough to explain exactly why 1912's Queen Elizabeth, directed by Henri Desfontaines and Louis Mercanton, and starring Sarah Bernhardt as the titular character, is a huge pile of shit.

I will start with the biggest problem - it's boring. It is so fucking boring. And this isn't like some guy who's favourite films are Robocop and Ferris Beuler saying that the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is boring. Yesterday, I watched a French film from 1911 that was described as a 'social commentary', and I didn't find that boring. I didn't love it, but I didn't find it boring. So when I say that Queen Elizabeth is a boring piece of garbage, you don't need to take that with a grain of salt. It is boring. There are two main reasons that this film is boring. It is insanely stagey, and the interstitials are terrible, and destroy any possible chance of suspence.

The insane staginess - this is a filmed version of a stage play. Now, when people in the sound era make filmed version of stage plays, they are often accused of being boring because they are 'stagey', or 'not filmic'. This is often a perfectly justifiable complaint - the film makers didn't do enough to turn the material that is best suited for the stage into something suited for the screen. So, okay, let's take a movie that this complaint is often leveled at, Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. I'm not choosing that film because I dislike it or anything (I actually think it's pretty good), but because it is the first film that comes to my mind when ever anyone talks about the 'staginess' of filmed stage plays. Okay, so imagine Dial M for Murder - pretty much all takes place in the one setting, most of the intrigue is communicated through dialogue, not a whole heap of action or movement - and then, remove all sound. So now what you have is a bunch of people standing around, mouthing dialogue silently. Oh, and I don't mean "replace the dialogue with dialogue interstitials" or anything, I mean just simply remove all sound. No replacements. No alterations of any kind. So now you have long, long, long, long, long (long long long long long) scenes of people... openning and closing their mouths. Oh sure, sometimes you can sort of intuit what they are saying, but most of the actors aren't really emoting with their body language much or anything, they're pretty much just... standing around and talking. There is a scene where Queen Elizabeth meets Shakespeare. They shake hands, they exchange pleasantries for about two minutes, the scene ends. WHY IS THIS IN THE FILM? I mean, okay, I can understand having a scene where Elizabeth meets Shakespeare - Shakespeare's a cool dude, I get wanting to put him in your film - but ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENS IN THIS SCENE. There are zero things going on. I suppose we in the audience are supposed to be sitting there going, "oh, I bet Shakespeare's saying some funny quip right now. Oh, that Shakespeare. He's such a fun guy probably." I'm not complaining about the fact that the movie has no sound. I'm not - I like lots of silent movies. What I'm complaining about is a movie that has no sound AND DOES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO COMPENSATE. You know that old writer's trick of trying to imagine how a scene would play in a silent movie, so that you can write your script visually as well as verbally? Well, this movie does the exact opposite. It tries to imagine a film with sound, and just plays like that. Towards the end of the film, I was so goddamn bored I was actually providing my own dialogue. 1st Woman: "Oh! I'm a stupid fucking idiot who's waving my arms around for no fucking reason!" Man: "Well I love you anyway, even if you are a retard who likes to wave your arms around!" 2nd Woman: "I'm some character who you may or may not have seen before, but have absolutely no memory of! I don't know why I'm in this piece of shit!" I'm not saying it was great dialogue, but it was better than NOTHING WHATEVER.

The second reason this movie was boring was the terrible, terrible interstitials. The film makers decided that, instead of providing dialogue, or helpful narration to help the audience understand what is happening as a scene moves along, they would provide interstitials that explain what is ABOUT TO HAPPEN IN A SCENE. So you'll have a potentially suspenceful situation: The Earl of Essex is making out with the Duke of Northumberland's wife - the Duke of Northumberland is walking in a corridor right by the room that Essex and the wife are in - will he stumble in to the room and find them at their amorous endeavour? Yes. We know this, because before we even saw the Duke of Northumberland, we had a helpful title that read, "The Duke of Northumberland finds his wife and Essex in each other's arms." THEN we see the Duke of Northumberland in the corridor. Well, thanks, movie, for RUINING ANY POSSIBLE SUSPENCE. Another example - there's a scene were a fortune teller enters the palace, and predicts that Queen Elizabeth will lead a sad life, and that Essex will have his head chopped off. Do we start this scene with a sense of gay abandon ("oh ha ha ha, let's use the services of this old fortune teller, won't that be good for a wheeze") before things turn to shit, thus building tension and interest? Of course not. Before we even see the fortune teller, we are told that, "A Fortune Teller predicts that Queen Elizabeth will lead a sad life, and that Essex will end his days on the executioner's block", thus making the next five minutes of screen time utterly pointless. In fact, you could tell the entire story of this film JUST USING THE INTERSTITIALS. And like I said before, none of the interstitials are dialogue. They're all just telling you what is ABOUT to happen. Who thought this was a good idea? IT MAKES NO DAMN SENSE.

But the boringness of the film isn't the only problem, oh no. We also have the terrible acting to contend with! It may just be that I was so goddamn bored that the hammy acting looked even more ridiculous than it usually does in silent films, but god was it hammy. And how the hell was Sarah Bernhardt some sort of big star? She's fucking terrible! She moves her arms around like she's having a convulsive fit in slow motion. She was mainly a stage actress, so maybe her stardom had something to do with her voice, but Jesus Christ, based on this performance, I would say she's damn terrible. And basically no one else is any better. Hald the actors went to Scenery Chewing School, and the other half just do nothing at all.

Oh, and the camera work was static and uninspired. It wasn't really a major problem or anything, but just one more minor thing to add to the list.

This movie sucked.

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