The Wheel

1923 [FRENCH]


IMDb Rating 7.5 10 1979

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April 18, 2021 at 07:15 AM



3.74 GB
No linguistic content 2.0
17.982 fps
6 hr 56 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by drednm 10 / 10

Absolutely Magnificent

This stunning 1923 silent film was restored by David Shepard and others in a print that runs nearly 4 hours and 30 minutes. The original film, directed by Abel Gance, was about twice that length, never released in the US except in a severely cut down print of about 2 hours.

The story, a "tragedy of modern times," is seemingly a simple one. Aman named Sisif (Séverin-Mars) rescues a baby girl in a train wreck and raises her as his own along with his son. She's known as a "rose of the rails" since the family lives in a squalid house by the railroad where Sisif is an engineer. As the years pass the girl, named Norma, grows to adulthood. Things get uneasy when Sisif realizes that he is in love with Norma (Ivy Close), and things turn to tragedy when his son Elie (Gabriel de Gravone) also loves her ... but believes she is his sister. Sisif plots to marry her off to a wealthy man to escape the impending disaster.

After Norma is unhappily married off, Sisif is injured in an accident and banished to a small mountain railway near Mont Blanc. He lives there with his son on the edge of a glacier but even in their isolation they cannot escape tragedy ... of their love of Norma.

The film is high art, operatic, Greek tragedy, and must be approached as such. The visuals are stunning. The composition and sets includes the smallest of details, and Gance uses close-ups, iris shots, fades, and rapid editing (borrowed from D.W. Griffith's masterpieces) to make this one of the most beautiful films ever made. The current version also includes tinting to enhance the emotional pitch of the film.

The performance of Séverin-Mars won't be to every taste, but his old-school acting style is similar to that of Emil Jannings. Without dialog, all he has are his body language and face. Shots are held to emphasize the emotional plight of the aging man. And you can see every thought he has in his face.

The other great performance is by Ivy Close, a British actress who also worked in European silent films. She resembles Norma Shearer and as with Séverin-Mars, her face shows every moment of joy and sadness. There's a stunning scene toward the end when she's asked to go to a village dance. She runs to powder her face and sees a gray hair, a line on her forehead. She's growing old. La Roue, the wheel of life, is turning, and Norma is growing old.

This superb restoration is accompanied by a beautiful and haunting score by Robert Israel, itself a symphonic work of great power. Séverin-Mars died soon after filming was completed in 1921. Gance did not complete and release the film until 1923. Ivy Close made a few more silent films in the late 1920s and retired from the screen.

This may be a film you only watch once in your lifetime, but you will never forget it.

Reviewed by dbborroughs 6 / 10

Beautiful but much too long for this sort of melodrama

Abel Gance's monstrously long tale of a train engineer. his son and the girl he takes in and raises as his own. Clocking in at four and a half hours this is still only a fraction of the the three part close to eight hour version that Gance originally created. I won't go into the story of the three years of filming and the tragedies that struck during the filming of the movie, which would make a wonderful film unto itself.

The story begins when Sisif returns to work one day just as a train wrecks in the yard. He pulls a young girl, Norma, from the wreckage and adopts her as his own, bringing her home to live with him and his son. The children are small enough that they simply assume that they are brother and sister. Later as time goes on the children grow, but the family remains in poverty thanks in part to Sisif's drinking and gambling. He is secretly in love with his "daughter" as his his son who makes a living making violins. Also in love with Norma is a well placed engineer who is helping to keep Sisif safe and out of trouble so that he might wed her. As the wheel of life turns and crushes those in its way the lives of everyone take unexpected and not very happy turns.

I'm at sixes and sevens about the film. Certainly its dated badly in some regards. the actor playing Sisif often looks into the camera and plays directly to the audience in a style thats at best over done. Some sequences are clearly unreal. Many interiors were filmed outside since you can see the shifting sun lighting them. And the film is simply put way way way too long at four and a half hours (I can not imagine what the full cut was like).

And yet the film has power at times that is undeniable. The film has a sense of place that can not be matched. Its clear that this was filmed in and around the train yards where it all takes place. The sense of reality is probably is almost unmatched in any film. The photography and montage is among the finest I've ever seen. There are shots of trains running on the rails that need to be hung on walls. Additionally the way the film is cut together is unlike any other film. No one manages to cut like this, I can't imagine what this was like in 1923. The images in images (The scenes of Norma in the train smoke for example) are haunting- more so when you think of how Gance had to put together pretty much in camera. From a technical stand point the quote about the film that's in the publicity for the DVD restoration about how the movie changed after this film is probably dead on. Technically this is like watching lightning. The story is, while melodramatic and potboiler like, affecting and had the film not dragged on as long as it did I would have probably loved the film instead of liked it.

Is it worth seeing? If you're a cinema nut absolutely. Its amazing at times. If you're not a fan of film and really don't like silent film stay away from it because it will probably overwhelm you in the wrong way.

Between 6 and 7 out of 10- with moments that are off the scale.

Reviewed by Boba_Fett1138 10 / 10

Beautifully made movie!

This is not only a greatly made and constructed movie with a nice story, it's also visually a great one to watch, with lots of style in it and with some wonderful cinematography. The movie even features some early moving camera shots.

The train-crash in the beginning of the movie (which is a real classic in my book!) is brought really great to the screen, with some nice fast cuts to build up the tension. It's done in a way you normally wouldn't expect from a '20's movie. The movie features a couple of more sequences like this. Apparently this is the First ever movie that features 'rapid' editing in it, a technique pioneered by Abel Gance.

The movie doesn't use that many title cards and the movie mostly uses its images to speak for itself. It's perhaps also one of the reasons why the movie is much longer (depending on which version you're watching of course) than most others but it Works pleasant that the movie doesn't use that many title cards. It makes the movie a real visual orientated one and its, once again, fast editing makes sure that the movie never drags and no sequences ever become overlong, with of course still a couple of exceptions here and there.

The movie is made with lots of style and the directing is great. It features some great style filled sequences such as a couple of 'dream-like' sequences, point-of-view shots, use of shadows only and use of mirrors, among many other things.

The story itself is original, even today. It's basically a love-story but an unusual one, when both father and son (among others) fall for the same girl, who also happens to be the adopted daughter. It provides the movie with some nice typical (melodramatic) genre elements that all feel original and well conceived. Especially the way the father gets torn and confused by the love for the girl is done in a great way, although the whole part when the father tries to commit suicide gets perhaps stretched out a bit too much. The movie takes some nice dramatic twists that also add to the movie its originality. Abel Glance obviously also knew how to tell a story well! The last third of the movie is definitely the most powerful. Lots of dramatic events occur that work out really well. Also the ending is definitely one worth remembering!

The movie is obviously old fashioned and so it the acting. Totally unacceptable by todays standards of course but it adds all the more to the movie its nostalgic and classic feeling of the earliest days of cinema.

A must-see for every movie lover! Absolutely one of the greatest!


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