Day 140: The Passion of Joan of Arc 1927 + Justice League 2017 + The Wolf of Wall Street 2013

The Passion of Joan of Arc 1927

#37 2012 Director List #9 2012 Critics List

With a great deal of excitement, I anticipated watching The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927).

It made sense to watch it tonight because I watched two more Chaplin films this week, The Circus (1927) and A Woman of Paris (1923). I’ve also just seen City Lights and The Gold Rush (twice) and Modern Times. If ever I was in a space to watch a silent film and appreciate it on its own terms, it’s after five silent films made around the same time.

It’s also a good time to see it based on the knowledge gained having only seen Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc five or six weeks ago.

I’m bewildered. A disappointment.

I can recall images from Sunrise, Greed, Intolerance, A Woman of Paris and Battleship Potemkin, as well as Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc and the praise for this film’s visuals seem undeserved unless this film was created in a vacuum and Dreyer had never seen another film.

Granted, there is a sustained use of the close-up to create an intimidating sense of relentless accusation and judgement against Joan, but the film lacks a compelling narrative thrust other than the trial transcript. The repeated images of the same faces in close-up, over and over, becomes monotonous. The close-ups don’t continue to reveal knew aspects of the character of those people. It’s become less meaningful rather than more.

I get it. The accusers and judges, the officials of the church were hammering at Joan until she broke. They were in her face day after day. So, close-up, close-up, close-up.

Is the greatness of the film simply that it is audacious to make a silent film based on a transcript of a trial? Is it great because it has to limit the title cards and use as much visual language as possible to tell the story?

I don’t even feel that it takes us far inside Joan’s head, other than the actress and director always portraying her state of mind through tears in her eyes and tears running down her cheeks.

This is an extremely over-rated film. I watched the restored version, which looks stunning, and has lots of extremely interesting faces, but visually I didn’t find it mesmerizing.

Justice League 2017

I had a couple of free hours in the afternoon, I haven’t been to see a film in a cinema for a couple of weeks, so I took a chance on Justice League. Warner Bros. owns the rights to DC Comics superheroes and have been trying to compete with Marvel Comics universe (previously distributed by Paramount from 2008-2011, now by Disney 2012-present), arguably not as successfully.

Man of Steel was mostly ghastly, despite a few good moments between Amy Adams (Lois Lane) and Cavill. The unrelenting stupidity of the climax was also unforgivably boring. Batman vs Superman was a significant improvement, moving from ghastly to mediocre – sometimes quite good – but still had too many stupid moments, particularly the circumstances of the difference in approach to being a super-hero, and the antipathy between the two heroes. Now with Justice League, they’ve gone another step in the right direction. But it’s still a blend of nonsense and good scenes, never getting the balance right. Those overseeing Marvel’s cinematic universe seem to have a better idea of the blending of comic-book hero violence with humour and drama.

Zach Snyder just can’t get it right, not even with his third attempt. My suspicion is that some of the good scenes are due to Joss Whedon.

For instance, the scene where Aquaman is sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso without realising it, is surely classic Whedon humour as the League realises they’re going up against a villain from outer-space without their only hero from outer-space. It’s clever, funny (but not laugh-out-loud ha-ha) and adds a real note of danger to the fact that this quintet lacks the firepower to beat Steppenwolf.

Since Henry Cavill wore Superman’s cape and Ben Affleck, Batman’s cape, in 2013, there’s been an underwhelming public and critical response despite the fact that with five films Warner Bros have grossed $3 billion. By comparison, just the two Avengers films grossed $1. 5 and $1. 4 billion for Disney and Iron Man 3 did $1. 2 billion. The Marvel films seem to have been received with greater affection by the public and regard by critics.

Marvels films have been helmed by a variety of directors. No single director (with the exception of Joss Whedon writing and directing both Avengers films) has controlled the franchise like Zach Snyder has for Warner Bros.

It’s not unusual for a single director to be given the reins with the Batman franchise. Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher did two each. Christopher Nolan did all three Christian Bale Batman films. Snyder has directed all three of the Superman/Batman films, and not very well.

Man of Steel was beyond dumb. Batman vs Superman had a few good moments but still had massive weaknesses in the overly cartoonish approach, Wonder Woman, however, had a more adult approach and serious undercurrents, like the Richard Donner Superman films of the late seventies. Richard Lester’s approach was much more like Zach Snyder’s approach. Exhibit one: Superman III (1983).

The Wolf of Wall Street 2013

My wife has recently finished reading a book called Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball) about working as a bond salesman on Wall Street. This made her ask herself if the life of Jordan Belfort as depicted in Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s film, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) trod the same ground?

With Taxi Driver and Casino under my belt, I still have plans to watch New York New York, Goodfellas and Raging Bull to complete my Scorsese quota.

I’m so glad of the opportunity to see this film again while in the midst of the year of seeing everything, and what I noticed were the similarities in the filmmaking approach and style with Casino.

One of Scorsese’s themes/topics is to show people living life to a degree beyond what most people could imagine is true/possible/believable. Casino, Goodfellas, Wolf of Wall Street all fit that style. Taxi Driver and Raging Bull – I can’t believe I’m writing that this is true – are completely believable, from the first viewing despite showing extremes of human behaviour.

Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, terrible as they are in their depiction of human behaviour, are more realistic. Casino, Goodfellas, Wolf of Wall Street – they’re more extreme – and similarly awful in the way it shows powerful people treat people who aren’t.

[It’s extraordinary that the transcripts of the trial of Joan of Arc (which I watched last night) are similarly unbelievable, showing equally appalling behaviour. I can only take the fact that there are multiple sources online corroborating the legitimacy of the transcripts of her trial, as compelling evidence. Personally, I would like to see those transcripts and the evidence for their authenticity before accepting that Joan – actually – gave those answers to those questions.

The reason being that history shows that these claims of Joan of Arc – of what would happen – the word of God through angels – were fulfilled. Either there’s elements that are made up or it is an extraordinary supernatural knowledge that cannot be explained through human understanding.]

The first thing I realised was that I thought the film was better than the first time I saw it three years ago in a cinema. I originally thought it was a good, sometimes brilliant, film. The relentless, outrageous, energy in the film, was more like a Baz Luhrmann film, like The Great Gatsby or Moulin Rouge. The over-the-top opening of unbelievable, appalling, behaviour made me distance myself from my gut reaction, to a point where I acknowledged the good things about the film, for which it received many nominations and awards, but reserved a definitive opinion. The reality was that I didn’t know how to take the film. It was so over-the-top I had to step back and ask myself whether I was able to accept it as reality?

I couldn’t and I didn’t that first time. The excesses, despite having seen them before, was different when it was Pacino and cocaine in Scarface and DiCaprio and cocaine in Wolf of Wall Street. Scarface was a genre film, whereas Wolf was (apparently) a realistic film.

That’s the kind of thinking as my brain tried to make sense of Jordan Belfort’s story.

I wasn’t exactly na├»ve three years ago, but I am a completely different person now, and what was completely unbelievable then, is much more believable now. Even the dwarf-throwing.