Avant-garde

From Morn to Midnight and The Folly of Man

 

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From Morn to Midnight (German: Von Morgens bis Mitternachts) is a 1920 German silent expressionist film directed by Karlheinz Martin based on the play, From Morning to Midnight by Georg Kaiser. It is one of the most Avant Garde films of the German Expressionist movement.

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I really enjoyed this one, it’s without question the most Expressionistic film I’ve seen yet. The sets are even more distorted than in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Fans of that film will definitely enjoy this. The whole film seems deranged and avant garde. The entire “bike race” scene is very interesting and experimental. 

 

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A bank cashier who realizes the “power of money” after a rich Italian women makes a visit to the bank in preparation of purchasing a piece of art. He suddenly gives into all his lesser temptations and in a moment of weakness (often mistaken for passion) and in a frenzied state of delusion he decides to steal the money from the bank, thus Catapulting him down a twisted and distorted road of folly and temptation becoming the ‘cashier on the run.’ He returns to his home only to realize how much contempt he has for his life, and everyone in it including a wife, daughter and mother.

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He soon realizes he seeks passion in his life, he has a terrible void, which he attempts to fill using money and all of the luxuries and thrills it affords you. Throughout the film the cashier’s death is eluded to and conveyed by the face of death, which he sees in the face of a beggar that he ignored, the face of the daughter who he abandons, and in the faces of the women he seeks to bring excitement and fulfill his life with. He cannot escape it. He proclaims that he wants real passion in his life and is what he seeks the entire film, but each time it fails to meet his expectations.

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He buys expensive clothing and shaves his beard, an attempt to transform, and hide from the police and from his true nature. He then attends a bicycle race, where he offers money to the winning racers in hopes of rousing the crowd and pushing the athletes into a frenzy. This scene has a lot out of focus, and slightly augmented scenes which are very experimental, it also has a good deal of social and class commentary. The Cashier keeps upping the reward which drives the crowd wild, he starts to think he has found his passion, but soon royalty shows up and steals his thunder. He next ends up at a bar, drinking and dancing and mingling with ladies of the night, only to be disappointed yet again and see his fate once more in the face of a woman he mistreats. He then finds himself gambling with some rather rough individuals, they seem to be trying to hustle him, but he soon starts winning and much to their dismay he seeks to leave with his winnings. They confront him and it seems as if a fight will take place.

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Just then a “Sister” of the Salvation Army appears and stops the fight and brings the cashier to her worship services. He witnesses the confessions of a few individuals which makes him self reflect on his own actions. He then wishes to confess and in this moment realizes “All the money in the world cannot buy anything of value,”. I will leave the ending unspoiled, but it’s very powerful and poignant. It has a great subtext about the folly of man and the temptation of the world. I feel as if the film takes a strong influence from Nietzsche, but this could be my personal perspective.

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In so many ways it makes me think of the Expressionist woodcut artist Frans Masereel, in particular the wordless novel (The City: A vision in woodcuts).

 

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The look of this film is extremely intense and employs techniques of German Expressionism mixed with Avant Garde, in a few scenes actors are actually used as part of the sets, when the cashier is walking down a snowy path you can see branches swaying in the wind, which are simply actors arms painted black with white highlights to really give the branches a “moving” and “swaying” quality.

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Another highlight is when he is buying new clothes the mannequins are actually actors and begin to move and dance, as if to entice him into buying the new clothes. You can really sense remorse for his actions by the end of the film, his mannerisms change constantly and he even become less neurotic by the end of the film. As if, seeing how empty the money actually made him feel, cleansed his soul in a way it had not been, before the crime. (Ryan Keinath)

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Video link working as 02/01/15:

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Dementia (aka Daughter Of Horror-1955) – Beatnik Noir?

Dementia (1955 aka Daughter of Horror 57min)
Director/Writer – John Parker
Cinematography – William C. Thompson
Music – George Antheil

I’m sure the 50’s hep-cats and ‘seasoned’ film-noir enthusiasts among you will already know of this film. Nevertheless for a greenhorn like myself, I find it damn near impossible to simply watch something like Dementia and not say a few words about it; even if it is just to confirm, through the reader’s feedback, whether or not I’m clueless as to what defines art, missing the point all together, or that I’m simply a weirdo!

Dementia (or as it was later changed to: Daughter of Horror) is a very stylish and strange short film (ca. 57 mins) from deep within the archives of the 50’s avant-garde b-movies. Some movie-buffs may know it more as the film being watched in the cinema, during that famous scene in the 50’s cult-classic, The Blob, rather than a movie of any cinematic significance. In fact, it’s believed that it was Jack H. Harris, producer of The Blob, who eventually bought the film from Parker and added the narration, renaming the movie Daughter Of Horror. This would make complete sense as Harris could then feature it in The Blob without hindrance. And the added narration, which can be heard in the background during The Blob’s famous cinema scene, serves well to intensify the suspense as The Blob approaches the screaming kids. Even the name ‘Daughter of Horror’ seems like it was added with The Blob in mind, as a poster for ‘Daughter of Horror’, and not ‘Dementia’, can also be seen for a split second during that scene.

This mostly ‘silent’, black and white film opens with a high-angle, night-time shot of a neon-lit street, when, after being invited by the narrator to come with him, ”into the tormented, haunted, half-lit night of the insane”, we are drawn slowly through an open window into a young lady’s bedroom, á la Orson Welles. On the bed lies the sleeping beauty squirming and clutching her bed-sheet tightly. Is she having a nightmare… or an erotic dream? Of this the audience is kept guessing, and from here on in, the tone is set for a private view into the young lady’s twisted and perverse psyche. After wakening from her dream-state, she takes a flick-knife from the drawer and ventures out onto the streets, where she encounters all forms of low-lives, debauchery and sexual depravity, all tied together by inter-mingled hallucination sequences that even have the viewer questioning what’s real and what’s fantasy.

The “parents of horror” having a quiet night in… the graveyard!

Although the film has strong ‘noirish’ elements (lighting, street scenes, atmosphere etc), it’s intrinsically expressionist in nature. Very reminiscent of works by German expressionist film-maker, Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari). Though I’m sure French Impressionist aficionados will argue with this. And they would have every right to, as the film (whether intentional or not) also pays homage to the early, experimental works of the great Luis Buñuel. Either way, this will put into context for you, that this isn’t your average Sunday-afternoon matinee, but rather a performance art concept masqueraded as a film-noir. It also fits into the horror bracket. Although as a horror it struggles to hit its mark. Throw in some very jazzy underground scenes featuring the legendary West Coast jazz ensemble, Shorty Rogers and His Giants, (which along with the narrators voice and a some sound effects are the only sounds you hear, as the film has no spoken dialogue from the actors whatsoever) and you have yourselves a compelling and ambitious ‘Art-Noir’ film (eventually favouring this term over ‘Beatnik-Noir’!) that needs to be seen to be appreciated.

For those brave enough to enter  “…into the tormented, haunted, half-lit night of the insane”, and once you get over the initial feeling that you’re watching an Ed Wood movie, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as to how skilfully director John Parker manages to pull off a project which, on paper, you’d swear was doomed from the start. Personally, I loved Dementia. But like I said at the beginning of this review, maybe I’m just a weirdo!

Dementia is available on DVD by KINO and YouTube

Working video link as of 02/01/15: