Monday, February 7, 2011

Epic #7 - All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

All Quiet on the Western Front is a WWI movie, directed Lewis Milestone. It's about how unglamorous and dirty and painful war is, and how it's grossly romanticized by people with no experience with it. Saving Private Ryan did show us how terrible war is, but All Quiet on the Western Front is specifically about it. It's an antiwar movie, which was really groundbreaking at the time, that wasn't how you made war movies then. It did win the Oscar for Best Picture that year, so it was successful at the time it was made and really still is, which is a long time for a movie to be well-known.

The actual literal story is about a group of young men who are inspired to enlist in the German army after hearing a rousing speech from their school teacher on the honor and glory of war. When they actually go to war, of course, they discover that it's not as glamorous as it seems from the outside. I didn't actually know there was a main character until about halfway through the movie, which says something about their characterization, but there is, his name is Paul. He's played by Lew Ayres, who apparently was quite successful later, and was decent in this movie. I can't say that I actually got very connected to any of the characters. Something about this movie made it really hard for me to follow. It also actually doesn't have any music behind it at all, which makes the quiet scenes really, really quiet, and there are a surprising amount of quiet scenes in this movie. The actors have to rely on their delivery to put emphasise on pieces of dialogue, rather than the music, and sometimes they fails, which probably contributes to my difficulty in following it.

I actually caught the movie on the Turner Classic Movies channel, which was lucky for me. I was watching a Charlie Chaplin movie I had recorded when the ad for it came on, and the movie was starting on live TV at exactly the time I was watching the recorded advertisement. I attribute this incredible coincidence to the influence of Charlie Chaplin's unquestionable knighthood.

All Quiet on the Western Front is an old movie, and it doesn't quite stand the test of time. It's very 1930s. Something about the whole thing gives of this old movie vibe. If you watch a lot of old movies you know what I'm talking about. It's just something about the way they deliver the lines. More than that though, It's not as good artistically as really any of the other movies I've watched so far. It's like they just pointed the camera at the actors and left it at that. It doesn't really look good, and in a movie, that's important. It's a very visual medium.

I know it sounds like I'm questioning the American Film Institute, but of course I'm not that's not possible. All Quiet on the Western Front is historically significant. It's the first movie to really treat war this way, which is why it ranks how it does. It's a very powerful movie, and it's got a lot of really good scenes; It's a good story. It's just not done significantly well, movie-wise. It's not that effective to watch it. The movie is based on a book, and I'll bet the book is much better. It's about how terrible war is, which is a fine and dandy message I suppose, but it's delivered rather heavy-handedly. There's just slightly too many speeches about it. They show it well enough with the events of the movie, the events are very powerful, and they don't need so many monologues about it.

It does have a very good ending though. The ending is very nice and symbolic and all that, and very famous. I'm sure you're familiar with the hand reaching out of the trenches for a butterfly? Well, that's from this movie. It's very powerful, and I can only wish that it was filmed slightly better.

As a side note, I've always inexplicably confused All Quiet on the Western Front with No Country For Old Men, and I have no idea why. They're completely unrelated movies, it's just the titles I get confused really, it's very strange. Fun Fact there.

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