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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blogging the Hulu Plus Criterion Collection: Apart From You

Apart From You

This is the first silent movie we've come across. Apart From You was made in 1933 when most American films had fully converted to talking pictures and had conquered a few of the technical problems that had made early talkies so stiff. Apart From You was clearly intended to be a silent film unlike 1930's All Quiet on the Western Front which was released in both silent and sound versions. There are some techniques that simply wouldn't work with the addition of sound. Sound conversion was still a new technology so it's not that unusual for some artists to hold out.

This film is directed by Mikio Naruse. I first encountered him in college and I've grown to appreciate his work more. Whereas the samurai movie focuses on the warrior class of Japan, Naruse chronicled the plight of the underclass and particularly women. The story this time concerns Kikue, an aging geisha whose teenage son acts out because he's ashamed of his mother's profession.

This is a silent movie that often doesn't look or feel like a silent film. Most of the silent movies remembered today are a bit more stylized. There were realistic silent films in both America and other countries. This is one of the realistic ones. The lower class apartments look like lower class apartments. The son at one point hides the holes in his socks by painting his toes black. The performances are also very subdued and realistic. Kikue's son is introduced in a very simple manner. The character and the performance feel ahead of their time. Except for the lack of sound the scene would still work today.

There are, as I stated, some techniques that could only be used in a silent movie. The most obvious is the use of the camera zoom to emphasize characters in conflict with each other. It's used every time two characters give each other a hard look. It's a little bit like tension lines in a manga.

This is a very good, short film that clocks in at just over an hour. Naruse is a director worth studying and his stories are simple but emotionally effective.

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