All posts by fionapleasance

About fionapleasance

Fiona has loved movies for as long as she can remember. She teaches film history to aspiring filmmakers.

Shadow of the Vampire

F.W. Murnau’s classic “Nosferatu” has been playing in a new restoration in the BFI’s Gothic Season, and has now made its way to Blu-ray on Eureka’s Masters of Cinema imprint. Fiona Pleasance takes a look back at the daddy of horror movies.

Just like that!

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Tabu: A Story of the South Seas

Fiona Pleasance watches Eureka’s new DVD release of Murnau’s classic.tabu1

Tabu (1931) is a film which inhabits boundaries.  The crossing of social and religious barriers drives its plot.  Originally conceived as a colour picture, Tabu was released in black and white.  Despite appearing four years into the sound era, it is silent, albeit with a synchronised music score.  It is a fiction film containing documentary-like sequences, originally conceived as an investigation into the encroachment of modernity onto the traditional Polynesian way of life, but ending up as a melodrama straight from the Hollywood mould.  Independently (self-) financed in the first instance, the film was effectively bailed out when Paramount bought the distribution rights.  It was planned as a collaboration between two of the most important directors of 1920s cinema, but one took over and the other departed the project; film historians have been arguing about the relative influence of each ever since.

And, saddest of all, Tabu turned out to be the final film made by its credited director, F. W. Murnau, who died following a car crash one week before the film’s New York premiere.

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Saved From the Flames

by Fiona Pleasance

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc), was made in 1928, and is set almost exactly five centuries earlier. At the film’s core is a display of raw human emotion quite unlike any seen in the cinema before or since, its visceral nature expressed in tears, in spit and in blood, taking in faith and torture, and ending in confusion, in fire and in death.
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Yesterday’s Men


George Valentin - Georges Méliès
The gorgeous Georges.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’ve clicked on a link, and now there’s a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  “Oh no,” you sigh, “not another bloody article about those retro-juggernauts, The Artist (2011) and Hugo (2011) and what it all means for Hollywood.  That’s so last month!”

Well, perhaps.  But as a teacher of film history, I hope that I can offer a slightly different perspective on the films as far as their historical accuracy and their contemporary significance are concerned.

Let’s start with The Artist which, having fictional characters at its heart, brings fewer concerns with it.  George Valentin, Peppy Miller and Kinograph Studios never existed, but the film takes place at one of the most interesting and extensively documented periods in cinema history.  The conversion process from silent to sound cinema made – and, yes, broke – a number of careers, so it encompasses many elements which Hollywood itself loves so much, particularly meteoric rises and dramatic falls from grace.

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