Friday, February 18, 2011

Film #56: Faust (1926)

Free-will is like a mullet.
You can choose a clean-cut business hair cut, OR wicked-long party hair.
But try and have them together, and you just end up looking like a fool.
In other words, it is impossible to be saintly and sinnerly at the same second, as beardo Faust finds out in this week’s silent film, "Faust."

Title character Faust is a smart dude. A well liked old man physician and alchemist, he is busy expanding his mind with the sciences and trying to turn lead into gold. Basically just minding his own business.

But somewhere in the netherworld, an angel and demon get tired playing with their human toy-things and get into a school-yard argument.
“When it comes to humans, evil will always win,” shouts the demon. “No way, I mean, good’s better. Wanna bet?” yells the angel.

The immortals spot Faust and agree he is the perfect man to test their torturous bet on. The angel says that although man has free will (his greatest attribute), he will still side with “good” when tempted… at least eventually.
No so, the demon says, who bets that given the right circumstances even an educated, typically good man like Faust will fall to the dark side. It’s a bet! But what are the stakes?

If the dark side wins, evil gets control of all of mankind. If good wins, man retains his free will and, well, they don’t get much of anything else… besides bragging rights… but ohhhhhhhhh how those angels will gloat at the Company Picnic that year!

The demon gets right to business, tempting Faust by giving him the ability to stop a raging plague, find eternal youth, have any woman in the world, and receive great riches and power…. all in exchange for the small price of his soul.

Will Faust give into temptation and banish mankind to evil control?
Will the angels get a chance to tell the Devil “I told you so, dum-dum?”
Just why is Faust’s beard so whack? Find out in the 1926 German made silent, “Faust.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 0.1
Chris Dimick states:
“Preachy and boring. Put these together in a movie, and the result is my lowest RDHP rating to date. Faust was part religious propaganda, part self-indulgent snoooooooooooooze fest.
Not a second of this film will entertain or illicit any human emotion beyond the feeling to turn off the screen and do something more useful with your time; like do your taxes, clip your nails, or watch paint dry.
Faust, you Fail.

I try to give all silent films a chance, keeping in mind the culture at the time of their production, the production quality they had to work with, and the fact that sound is just not an option. Only in that environment can a person fully take in a silent film.
With this mindset, there are times when the silent movie experience is magical, i.e. Metropolis or The Cabinet of Dr. Cagliari. And then there are times like Faust.

When the characters weren’t wrestling with morally-simplistic demons and angels in predictable, cliché, and stereotypical fashion, they were dilly-dallying along in the most boring love affair in the history of film.
At two hours in length, the movie is just too long for the amount of “entertainment” that is provided. Was there entertainment in this movie? No… it was drab, depressing, drawn out and just a plain miserable experience.

If that isn’t bad enough, I have major problems with the anti-Enlightenment/science ideology of this film as well as its self-righteous religious overtones… but here is not the time nor place for that discussion (religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin are not appropriate discussion topics for the RDHP, and for good reason).

Bottom line, the film fails on many levels.

Yet why, Chris, didn’t you give Faust a 0.0 if you hated it so much? The .1 is split into a .05 for the brilliant effects (which must have been amazing to viewers in 1926) and a .05 for the infectious face-expressions/laugh/cackle of the demon Mephiso.
I've never seen anything like that full faced Mephiso look, and it was a small flicker of fun amongst the awful slog of pious boredom.

Go clean up the dog crap in the back yard. Scrape out the rock-hard cheese crust from the top of your microwave. Do anything… but watch this.

N-Rating: 2.3
Nick Rich states:
“As a horror movie Faust doesn't make the grade.
There's rarely a creepy moment (notwithstanding the copious shots of dejected looks on the peasant faces), there's no suspense (except for the viewer waiting for the film to end), and the film just has a general lack of things that might scare you (well, except the eternal damnation of your soul). Chris hit the nail on the head with this one: Faust is boring; but I'm not ready to write it off completely just yet.
As a horror movie Faust might not make the grade, but as a study of the time and people who made it I think it has merit.
Germany, 1926. 8 years after the most horrifying war the world has ever seen that robbed a generation of its brethren, and a nation of its dignity and prosperity. When I look at Faust, I see many parallels to the lives of the German people who may have been watching it in theaters when it was released; parallels that most likely would have evoked strong emotions in them.
  • The plague: Much like good old bubonic, the Great War cut a swath through Europe stealing millions of souls. Faust shows people dying in droves, at random, before your very eyes... imagine watching this as a people with the fresh memory of losing loved ones to a war that so completely devastated their lives.
  • The waring powers above: I'm certain the concept of greater powers deciding the fate of mankind evoked a strong feeling in Germans - as a country they had been stripped bare and hopelessly indebted, all by powers which I'm sure felt beyond their control.
  • Science and technology: Have you ever had one of those moments where you look at some newfangled piece of technology and think "why can't things be like they were in the good ol' days?" The loss of 9 millions combatants (not including civilians) due to "advances" in technology, likely made the world bitter of its recent technological advances, and honestly, I wouldn't blame them.
  • The evils of the world: Historically, most people on this little blue ball we reside on have had faith of some sort, and most of those faiths espouse the defending/removing oneself from the evils of this world. With the moral vacuum and spiritual vacuum left from the war, I would wager seeing clearcut illustrations of people succumbing to the indulgences of the world would stir strong feelings in an audience that had itself succumb or that was watching friends and family around it succumb.

All of these themes no doubt had a strong emotional resonance with their intended audience (one that is a bit more difficult for us to engage in 85 years later from our comfy couches) and are just a few things to consider while watching this film. Personally, I didn't find Faust to be preachy any more than a movie about the life of a sexually perverted killer is preachy; both are speaking to a world view (one may be more comfortable to swallow than the other depending on the audience, but I digress). I found Faust to be true to the time it was made by addressing relevant issues, fears, and emotions in a language and style its audience would know and understand.

You may be wondering why I scored Faust so highly if I didn't overtly enjoy it... well, that's a good question. As I've mentioned before, one of the things I love about films is that they are a time-capsule of sorts, giving you insight to the time and people from whence they came. I think Faust did an excellent job of doing just that and combined with the mostly solid acting and breathtaking visuals for its time make Faust a film that can't be dismissed. While modern audiences will likely feel as if this film drags on and would be disappointed if they went into it expecting horror movie, I think Faust holds a valuable glimpse into the mind of our past.

The Skinny: Check this film out of you want to get into a truly horrifying place - the head of a German post to World War I. Or if you have always wondered what would happen to you if you grew a 3 foot beard.”

Things We Learned From Faust:
-The Fourth Horseman is lazy.
-The plague doesn’t mess around.
-The Klan is always ready to help carry dead bodies.
-Faust’s beard caused the plaque, and AIDS, and bird flu, and...
-Youth makes you foolish.
-Out of ink? Use the blood from your arm sore!
-One can make a beard grow by eating Wheaties and pulling on it twice a day.
-Celine Dion signing in French is twice as horrible.
-People are horrible.
-Due to obesity, females are receiving their “monthly gift” earlier in life.
-Further back in time you go, the faster folks fall in love.
-Babies can be a constant reminder of the most horrible day of one’s life.
-Europeans get a little too close to their mothers and sisters:

RDHP Presents:
Famous Beards!
Main character Faust rocked a gnarly chin-strap that reached nearly down to his knees. While most who rock this style are currently in-between homes (homeless), we here at the RDHP respect Faust for his facial follicle freedom! Below, some famous beards blowing in the wind.

Abe Lincoln
Just try and hold a 3rd grade play about Abe without strapping a itchy beard on some squirmy 8-year-old. Can’t do it, and why would you even try!?

Liza Minnelli
Not only was she an occasional “date” for Michael Jackson, she also married producer David Gest. Those two gents are about as straight as Christina Hendricks figure… not that they would have noticed.

Conan O’Brien
After his heart-wrenching breakup with NBC (who left him for old flame Jay), O’Brien went into hiding and grew a creepy beard in a fit of depression. Happens to all the broken guys. But seems he liked the homeless look, because he kept the mug-rug when he returned to TV in November.

The king of back-woods-terrorist-chic.

ZZ Top
What is more awesome than these beards? Answer, the irony that their beardless band drummer is named Frank Beard.

Kids in the Hall – The Beard
Always shave after a vacation... your life might depend on it.

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