Archive for Borzage

The Fox Knows Many Things

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2018 by dcairns

To commemorate MoMA in New York’s season of films from the William Fox archive, I compiled for MUBI’s The Notebook a bunch of earlier writings on some of the movies screening — turns out I’ve examined quite a bunch of them over the years. Here.

More on these movies soon, in a follow-up post, and when some of them screen in Bologna…

Pictured: Frank Borzage’s SEVENTH HEAVEN.

Unknown Soldier

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2008 by dcairns


THIS LAND IS MINE is too magnificent for me to actually blog about. Emotive as propaganda, it achieves the level of high art by virtue of its beauty of spirit and aesthetics, and its sheer intelligence — Renoir and his script collaborator, Dudley Nichols, pose difficult questions about resistance to evil, and it’s to their credit that they avoid easy answers. Renoir gets the best out of his cast, with a career-best piece of work from Kent Smith, otherwise known as the most boring man in movies — not a bad actor at all, just one who never makes an impression (in NORA PRENTISS he gets seduced, corrupted, mutilated and executed, all without arousing a spark of interest). In the lead, Charles Laughton has a fantastic role, and avoids going OTT with it, while still allowing himself to make the kind of bold, striking choices only he could pull off. George Sanders, always welcome and always very fine, actually gets to stretch himself.


But I’m not going to write about it, because this is all pitifully inadequate, failing to capture just what’s so exciting and moving about this perfectly judged movie. I just wanted to mention the opening sequence, where Renoir cuts around a town square in a series of striking leaps, using the WWI memorial as a focal point, spinning round it like a pole dancer, so to speak, in a manner quite comparable to Ozu’s jumps through interior space, using a red kettle as a sort of visual anchor, in EQUINOX FLOWER. To be clear, I’m talking about an impression of snappy movement created with a series of totally locked-off shots, so that the filmmaker seems to whisk us from one spot to another with the crack of a whip — truly dynamic cutting that smacks each composition down before us like a series of playing cards in what is unquestionably a winning hand.


Psychologically, of course, these angle changes animate the soldier, almost like the waking lion in BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, and make him seem increasingly beleaguered and surrounded as the German troops flood the little town square. It’s a visual metaphor, probably the broadest in the film.


As the sequence continues, our man is rapidly diminished to a tiny background figure, outnumbered and outgunned. While the narrative function is to simply show the occupation in progress, and the local Nazi commander arriving at the town hall to greet the mayor, a seemingly reluctant collaborationist who is really all to keen to succumb to greater force, a little allegory has been played out with our living statue friend, whose heart still beats like those of the lovers at the end of Carné’s LES VISITEURS DU SOIR.


His last appearance is somehow the most diminished — the ranks of standing men, and the formality and symmetry of the frame, convert him into a piece of architecture again. In the final wide shot of the square, he’s totally absent, eclipsed by a German troop truck. Overwhelmed, engulfed, then finally buried.

Probably the highlight of my past year’s film viewing has been getting deeper into Borzage, and just starting to get into Renoir properly for really the first time.

This Land Is Mine [DVD]