Influential but Still Entertaining

         However one may try, not all films are created with the same purpose. While all initially seem to have the intention to entertain the audience, several of the films shown in class have proven themselves to be appropriate representatives of the progression of cinema. Similarly, as not all of these films can contribute equally, a handful of films also, in my opinion, have contributed less than others.

         The first film that I perceive as being significantly more important in advancing my knowledge of the cinema is Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. Although Citizen Kane (1941) is imitated and parodied in many forms, none are a substitute for the technical achievements of Orson Welles and the driving storyline that propels the film forward. From the first time that the camera angle swoops through a rooftop to come sown upon Kan’s wife crying at a time, it is apparent that this film was a pioneer for its time despite the lukewarm welcome that critics gave it upon its initial release. Citizen Kane involves the audience in discovering what the fabled “rosebud” is, and ultimately it is only the audience who discovers its true meaning.

         If asked to only include domestic films, I would find determining a second movie in influence difficult without Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 Rashômon. Kurosawa is a great example of an Eastern director who uses Western practices. The fast-paced action scenes are representative of the work of this influential director who would go on to create several worldwide classics such as Seven Samurai (1954). In addition, Rashômon is valuable in learning of the progression of the cinema when one examines the pioneering plot device of multiple points of view of a single story. While the acting is good, Rashômon is not merely a vehicle for film stars; its true influence in cinema lies in its tightly wound plot.

         The third most influential film shown this semester in my opinion would be King Kong, directed I 1933 by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. While comparisons can be easily made to the most recent adaptation of the film by Peter Jackson, RKO’s classic film was shown in class to have stood the test of time surprisingly well. King Kong (1933) is fast-paced and in some parts perhaps rushed, but it offers a clear example of what in 1933 was perceived as state-of-the-art special effects. Probably the most technically complex of my chosen three favored films, King Kong shows how a film can be revered to the point of recreation in the future with little more promoting it than an oversized ape and a damsel in distress.

         Unfortunately, not all films can be held in the same high esteem as the three aforementioned ones. The first film that I feel contributed the least to the context of the history of the cinema was the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup, directed in 1933 by Leo McCarey. While entertaining and offering numerous laughs, the film itself offered little in both story and technical achievements. Harpo Marx’s comedic timing may have been perfect in this film, yet it is unable to define Duck Soup as one of the most influential of Hollywood films. While few people seem likely to dislike the movie, I feel that it is doubtful that Duck Soup will be listed as an influential film in cinematic history, as those honors are typically reserved for films that excel in one or more specific fields.

         The second that I feel offers less to the history of the cinema than the other films is High Noon, directed in 1950 by Fred Zinnemann. While containing a great performance by Gary Cooper, High Noon is perhaps better suited as a historical allegory as that is what it was intended to be by its director. High Noon is a story that is representative of the blacklisting and McCarthy investigations of the 1950’s. John Wayne called this film un-American, yet does that define it as a landmark achievement in film? Symbolism has been in film nearly since its creation. High Noon, while again not being a bad film to watch by and means, is also not representative of an archetypal western film, among which many identify films such as John Ford’s 1950 The Searchers a part of.

         The third film shown in the course that I feel was least valuable in the history of the cinema was Arthur Penn’s 1967 Bonnie and Clyde. Personally, I loved this movie. Bonnie and Clyde is adventurous, fun and allows the viewer a view from the other side of the law. Again, however, I feel that this film offers little to the history of the cinema. To Bonnie and Clyde’s merits, however, it was one of the first films that consciously attempted to achieve accurate gunfire sounds. On the other hand, as far as the craft of creating a film is concerned I feel that Bonnie and Clyde took a step backwards as occasionally a scene edited together is less than seamless in its transition.

         While not all films are created equal, there is a similarity among all of these films; despite some of them not excelling and offering new technical breakthroughs or plot techniques, both the less influential and the more influential can be viewed side-by-side and enjoyed equally. The films shown in this course show that, despite some lacking the insight into the history of the cinema that others possessed, all can be enjoyed equally as well-crafted pieces of film. In some circumstances I believe that I may have enjoyed the lesser-influential films more than their more critically applauded counterparts, which proves to me that while I feel that not all of the films shown were groundbreaking and innovative, they could be entertaining regardless of this fact.

James Amundson

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