Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tod Browning's Freaks (1932): A humanist masterpiece

Tod Browning's Freaks is a humanist masterpiece that leaves you thinking and in awe its compassion and craft.

Browning has you first appalled with a confronting directness that borders on exploitation, yet all the while he builds compassion and a criminal solidarity through empathy. He makes you complicit in terrible acts of revenge - not withstanding the tacked-on studio-imposed closed romantic ending, which perversely reinforces the darkness of the deeds by rewarding vengeance. Indeed the expressionist climax is as dark as any noir from ten years down the track.

Notes on Yasujirô Ozu's I Was Born But (1932)

Contrary to most critics' view that the ending of Yasujirô Ozu's I Was Born But is downbeat, I find it delicately up-beat. The two precocious brothers not so much lose their innocence but rather gain in maturity and compassion. They are too young to see that their father’s silliness is a much lesser crime than the philandering of the boss, which while it is played for laughs, is there for the adults to see.

The kid brother played by 8yo Tomio Aoki  has to be one of the greatest childhood performances ever. Those mean poses, the cheekiness, the raspberries, and the mimicking of the older brother are glorious. A fantastic example of the uplifting joy of cinema both in its wistful nostalgia and human pathos. Great performances, a wry script, and a beguiling rhythm have you hooked.

The Ozu static shots and interludes with a low camera (and the flagrant disregard of Hollywood's rule) are there, but the editing and ensemble scenes also have a cheeky eloquence, like the camera panning before the character providing the perspective is shown, tracking shots with the camera like a little kid trying to keep up with the antics of the older kids, and the same tracking camera stopped by an obstacle such as a lamp-post . The shots of trams crossing the frame insinuate the elemental pathos we are witnessing.