This film, directed by Benjamin Christensen is regarded by many who have seen it as one of the greatest directorial debuts in cinema history. The Museum of Modern Art in New York houses a print of the film, without subtitles which makes it hard to follow at times, and not even a title or credits sequence, if the film ever had one. Two years ago, MOMA had a wonderful tribute to Christensen in which they screened all of his surviving films. This one is one of his two or three most important and one has to keep reminding his or herself that this is his FIRST film at a time when motion pictures were not even twenty years old!
Christensen is credited with being the first filmmaker to consciously shoot into direct light, creating silhouettes and magnificent compositions. He doesn't waste any time in this film, dazzling the audience with (at the time) very complicated lighting set-ups involving sunsets and characters lighting up a lamp in a rooms of darkness. Indeed this film was made two years before "Birth of a Nation" and artistically is just as good as that film and in some ways better.
It would be hard to assess if Christensen was the first to achieve the great things he accomplished since so much early cinema is lost, but there is no doubt that he had a mastery of lighting and composition, and for such an early filmmaker it is truly astounding. Very few of his films are available to the public, but the few that are findable (Mockery, Seven Footprints to Satan, and Witchcraft Through the Ages) are all cinematically interesting and at times downright fascinating.
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War is in the air. Relations between the two nations are strained to the breaking point. Count Spinelli is the secret agent of the foreign power, and it is his mission to find out what the plans of the government are. To assist in attaining his end, the count organizes a carrier pigeon service between his government's headquarters and an old mill on his own estate. Upon war being declared, Rear-Admiral Van Houven arranges his order of attack, and hands over the sealed orders referring to same, to his son, Lieutenant Van Houven. Through an extremely tragic train of events, these sealed orders are placed in the way of Spinelli, who, of course, is not slow to take advantage of his opportunity. Accordingly he copies the orders and sends them by carrier pigeon to his own chief. The pigeon, however, is shot by a government officer; the message is discovered and Rear-Admiral Van Houven learns of the treachery. Quite naturally he immediately suspects his son, and putting duty before paternal affection orders his arrest. The son is court-martialed, found guilty and ordered to be shot. Lieutenant Van Houven's wife reads the result of the trial and makes an abortive attempt to save her husband. Now we see some of the inner workings of Fate. Count Spinelli is trapped in the old mill; round about the war is raging; deeds of heroism are being performed; Lieutenant Van Houven is taken out to be executed and his wife lies at home prostrated with grief. In the midst of a troubled sleep she has a complicated dream, and we are shown in a very graphic manner how in this dream she tries to piece together all the various tragic details of the story. Her troubled brain eventually connects up the incidents in the proper sequence, and awakening she sees a way out of the maze. Through a series of stirring scenes, the problem is rapidly brought to a satisfactory solution and the story winds up in the happy manner the public taste demands.
Uploaded by: FREEMAN
October 18, 2022 at 06:17 PM