23/07/2017

End Of The Week Shorts #15



Today's Shorts: A Page Of Madness (1926), A Few Good Men (1992), True Heart Susie (1919), Vampyr (1932), Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011), Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014), War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017), Stagecoach (1939), My Neighbour Totoro (1988)



A Page Of Madness is an incredibly convoluted and complex silent film, but, despite being hard to follow, this is a terrific filmic experience. 
What you will have to know going into this film is that its about a man who gets a job as a janitor at an asylum so he can be close to his wife (who is a patient). Conflict arises from this when his daughter, who is to be married soon, finds this out. 
On top of being a formal and aesthetic storm of mastery and ingenuity, A Page Of Madness is a melancholic film about family, the disconnection between peoples' minds and the fact that we usually have little to no influence over a person's 'madness'. This then makes the symbol of a mask, something that creates a facade, a poignant and devastating element of this film's conclusion. 
Without delving into spoilers, all I can say is this is an early avant garde film worth being lost in.



I've seen it many times over, and it's not a masterpiece, but this movie always works and never fails to keep my attention. 
Performances all round are great, especially Tom Cruise's, and are supported incredibly well by Reiner's direction of the camera. He allows his actors to take control of the frame and shoots for a seamless edit that allows every major scene to flow perfectly. Above all of this, however, is Sorkin's tremendous script. Whilst his general structure and subtext are nothing remarkable, the dialogue he creates is sensational; it's not its content, but the punch and beat of the lines - truly brilliant. 
All in all, this is then rightly the great movie we all remember for the line: "You can't handle the truth!"



True Heart Susie is a melancholic drama and a romantic depiction of highest female virtue (as its title suggests). In regards to story, this is probably not a film that would work very well by the modern standards of some. But, seen with patience, this can certainly be considered a timeless film about moral forbearance and understanding, one that eventually accepts all of its characters as a narrative about time, forgiveness and maturity. 
Griffith projects this story with brilliant pace (helped by the great score of the version I watched), his iconic cross-cutting and some truly beautiful exterior sets and cinematography which captures a natural aesthetic that Griffith often managed so well. So, all in all, I had a wonderful time with True Heart Susie and certainly think it's a great silent film that anyone who appreciates early cinema should watch.



Though it has the tone of other Dreyer films, Vampyr is very different from the likes of Day Of Wrath, Ordet and The Passion Of Joan Of Arc. Driven not so much by religious themes, but mythology and legend, Vampyr is heavily plot-centric. However, there is a greater focus on aesthetics in this film, and in this regard it is a masterpiece. 
Dreyer then exhibits no minimalism with Vampyr, instead, he blends a pinch of expressionism with abstract and surreal narrative forms to produce a spectacle of ingenious camera movement and cinematography. This unfortunately distracted me from the story and narrative, which isn't as strong as Ordet or Day Of Wrath though seemingly has a lot to it, and so I'm left with little more to say other than that this is a tremendous first talkie from Dreyer and an uncharacteristic formal masterpiece.



A surprisingly brilliant reprisal of The Planet Of Apes series containing one of the greatest moments of all cinema: that tremendous roar of "NO!". 
The only real draw-backs of this film concern the building and use of the human characters, which, though they are peripheral to this story and so certainly aren't welcome to take the spotlight, could have been handled a little better. On a more positive note, Wyatt takes this film in a direction that the rest in the trilogy didn't; he embraced the spectacle that could be captured with the apes natural movement - look for instance to scenes where the young Caesar moves around the home, or where he climbs the giant redwood for the first time. 
Beyond this, Rise is all about story with some great ties to the idea of 'Genesis'. For a lot more on this that contains spoilers, check this out.



Though it is excellent, this is my least favourite film of the prequel trilogy. This all comes down to the over-use of the human characters. 
What Dawn then really establishes is the fact that humans are the most problematic aspect of The Planet Of The Apes; they just can't get them right. Dawn, however, has particularly uninteresting and the least complex of human characters. The greatest element of this film, however, is the arc of Caesar that sees him rise from a mere leader and awakener of the apes, to a young and established king. 
For a lot more on this topic, follow this link.



I've just seen it for the second time and this really is a great movie - combined with the previous two in the trilogy, I believe this is a masterpiece. 
As with the whole trilogy: human characters are the main weakness. So, though Harelson's Colonel is the most complex of human characters in the trilogy, there is a lot left to desire concerning ambiguous human details at many points of this movie. This then means that the biggest fault of War is that there's not enough of it. But, maybe there's more to come from this series that delves deeper into humanity's role, which may hopefully see them have their own rise and revolution? 
That said, for an in-depth and spoiler-based discussion of this movie, follow this link.



John Ford's seminal western is a stark classic that, of course, features John Wayne in his break-through role and wouldn't only go on to influence westerns for decades to come, but some of the greatest filmmakers of all time - Orson Welles in preparation for Citizen Kane being just one example. 
Technically perfect, Stagecoach's editing, pacing, structure and characterisation represent the gold standard of traditional Hollywood movies. Layered onto this, however, Stagecoach is an exploration of honour and integrity stemming from unlikely places. It is this meeting of character and tension that then imbues the action and high-drama sequences with such energy and life, making this movie entirely riveting and a worthwhile watch. 
Whilst so much more could be said about the tremendous chase sequence and the stunt work within, I'll refrain and urge anyone who hasn't seen this classic picture to give it a go.



My Neighbour Totoro is an utterly beautiful film, both in terms of form and content. It goes without saying, but the animation is astounding with innumerable intricate nuances that make each re-watch a slightly different experience. The Ghibli team also bring such life to their characters who, though they veer on the more cartoonish side at times, exude such raw emotion and strength of personality. 
The core of this movie though is certainly its exploration of maturation and a flourishing nature in two young girls who have to learn to grow up without the constant guiding hand of their parents. And the manner in which this subtext is injected into the fantasy elements of this narrative through symbolism is entirely masterful. 
So, all in all, My Neighbour Totoro is a film I simply can't fault; pure cinematic magic.






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The Band Wagon - Discordant Fun

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The Band Wagon - Discordant Fun

Quick Thoughts: The Band Wagon (1953)

An aged musical actor/movie star is caught up in times and a Broadway musical that all seem out of his depth.


The Band Wagon is a fun 50s M-G-M musical, one that is often held at the same heights as Singin' In The Rain, which came out the year previous to this.

Whilst I wouldn't say excessive comparison to Singin' In The Rain is entirely necessary as this does distinguish itself as a film of its own through its central characters, The Band Wagon certainly pales in comparison. Moreover, The Band Wagon feels, tonally and aesthetically, uncannily similar to the classic Donen and Kelly picture. That said, this narrative is certainly far more reminiscence of Footlight Parade staring Jimmy Cagney, and so feels a little bit derivative.

However, what really saves this show is much of the non-musical components. In short, it's Fred Astaire's character's chemistry, both in the script and between the actors, with Cyd Charisse's and the hints of a romance that builds between them. And in mentioning this, it has to be said that the musical numbers are all pretty strong and intermittently impressive, but, especially in the third act, are quite disinteresting.

Beyond this, an element of this narrative that I did find really incoherent was the plot line that is centred on a pretentious musical, a re-working of Faust, being re-done all for entertainment's sake. Whilst this holds some wit about it as the plot progresses through the first and second act, when we see the replacement show, or at least snippets of it, it appears entirely discordant, incoherent and, dare I say, even more pretentious than the sinister and melodramatic Faust version. So, much like The Footlight Parade 20 years before this, The Band Wagon throws away the rules for its final act - but not in a good way. Instead of the narrative feeling like a conscious play with form and reality, the plot of The Band Wagon feels like one group of people wanted to write a classical love story were thrown into a room with another group of choreographers who had devised entirely separate numbers to be shoe-horned in.

However, despite these downfalls, I much enjoyed the majority of The Band Wagon. It's a shame that the musical elements couldn't provide much and that the narrative was a bit of a blunder in the final act, but the basic arc following Astaire's and Charisse's characters was pretty great in all the ways you'd hope.





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Blind Husbands - Trust & Attention

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22/07/2017

Blind Husbands - Trust & Attention

Quick Thoughts: Blind Husbands (1919)

A holidaying couple are befriended by a conniving lieutenant.


Blind Husbands is a silent mountain movie, a genre that was quite popular in silent European cinema, by Erich von Stroheim, who brings a European sensibility to the American silent film - much like numerous emigrating directors did (which arguably made Hollywood so great).

Well-shot and well-written, what really stands out from Blind Husbands is its narrative subtext. However, if you've not seen this film, I would advise seeing it without spoilers. So, with that said, this is a simple yet poignant poignant film with one clear message: be good to your wife and trust her. We see this message constructed through a couple who are on holiday; the husband about to climb a mountain in the Dolomites. However, this husband, a doctor, whilst he is not particularly bad to his wife, neglects her outright. Recognising this, an insidious Austrian lieutenant befriends the couple and attempts to, rather forcefully and with tools of manipulation, seduce the doctor's wife. This crescendos to the day in which the doctor and the lieutenant are to climb the mountain.

A particularly boastful man, it is revealed that the lieutenant is all facade when he cannot climb the mountain - but, with his untold suspicions, the doctor helps him to the summit of mountain where, paraphrasing, 'men, so close to God, leave their base instincts behind for the souls beneath their minds'. It is then atop the mountain that the exhausted lieutenant drops his jacket, a note that the doctor's wife wrote to him the night previously falling out of his pocket. The doctor picks this up, recognises his wife's handwriting, but, before he can question the lieutenant, he knocks the letter out of his hand and down the mountain side. This leads to a confrontation where the lieutenant says that his wife was going to run away with him, at which point, the doctor abandons him to die.

However, climbing down the mountain, the doctor finds the letter and reads it, finding out the truth: his wife told the lieutenant to leave her alone and that she loves her husband only. But, it's at this point, and in fatalistic/melodramatic fashion, that the husband slips and falls down the mountain. Luckily, help is on the way as the wife suspected something was wrong. After some time, the husband is then saved and brought to his wife alive, but the lieutenant atop the mountain falls to his death.

The implicit commentary on neglectful and dishonourable men is quite striking with such an ending, but a detail that I really appreciated about this narrative was the manner in which the genre elements, the mountain, was woven into the subtext. The mountain has strong parallels to women in the way that dialogue is juxtaposed with imagery of it. In such, whilst some men have respect for the mountains, others claim that it is just a hunk of conquerable rock - and treat women just as such. But, by the end of this narrative, all of those men die by the indifferent motions of the mountain. The only survivor is the doctor who, though he respects the mountain, makes fundamental mistakes in the manner in which he approaches it. This idea is encapsulated to his timely fall and of course parallels the manner in which he respects, but neglects his wife. What the mountain then teaches the doctor is linked to the expressed ideas of God and a higher power. A marriage is not so much about individuals, but, idealistically, a higher purpose. Without faith or trust in this higher purpose and without recognising the enormity of the journey ahead, disaster will naturally befell the relationship; and such is the precise allegory devised by this narrative.

For the strong subtext, Blind Husbands proved a truly worthwhile watch. But, I'll end by turning to you. Have you seen this movie? What are your thoughts?





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Every Year In Film #16 - Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory

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The Band Wagon - Discordant Fun

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21/07/2017

Every Year In Film #16 - Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory

Thoughts On: Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory (La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon, 1895)


A crowd of workers exit the doors of a factory.


Here we are, the birth of cinema... well... is it? We are now 16 posts deep into the Every Year series, which should indicate that cinema didn't just pop out of nowhere; it certainly didn't just come to Louis Lumiere as he dreamed and thus there was light. A question that then becomes unavoidable is: why are we often told that the Lumières invented cinema?

You could argue that the Lumières were the first to, 1) project film, 2) perforate film and, 3) show a film to a paying audience. But, none of these three qualifiers are true. You could then argue that the Lumières invented what would become the basis for modern cinema. Now, this is a strong argument as the Lumières, much like Edison, did an awful lot for the promotion and distribution of commercialised cinema. However, I certainly wouldn't agree that this grants the Lumières the label 'the inventors of cinema'. I think the best stance to take when looking at early film would be a more rational one that we assume for films, say, from the 30s onwards. With sound films, we generally see cinema as a body of work with many great storytellers, actors, writers, directors, cinematographers, studios and business entities attached to it. I think this is because most people feel a familiarity with sound cinema and so attribute the understanding that their age of cinema is a vast and complex one onto its history. With silent film, however, we have what can be considered 'cinema in its infancy'. And just like we look for and hold precious the milestones of our children's growth, we seem to want to do the same thing with silent film. This is why the term 'first' really defines the hierarchy of early films. On a slight side-note, when looking at contemporary film history, we then set up the hierarchy based on greatness (an abstract culmination of a film's management of all of cinema's attributes), when looking further back into history 'classic' seems to define popular films, whilst in the modern day, the hierarchy is almost entirely dominated by popularity with films waiting to be classed as greats or classics - or just forgotten. However, let's not digress much further.

Understanding that people have an affinity for the term 'first' in early cinema, the greatest 'first' to be given, 'the first actual film', needs a really compelling candidate. With that said, I don't think there are two more attractive figures than the French Light Brothers. Not only is France arguably the most significant country in regards to cinema, but LightLumière... beautiful. Whilst the names are important, Dickson, Muybridge, Marey, Reynaud, Le Prince, Greene, Anschütz, Janssen, Skladanowsky, Jenkins and Prószyński just don't have a romantic ring to them. And romantic is a key term as it is so easy to romanticise the Lumières who invented cinema through realism, the documentary, humanism and a love for light, movement and shadow. As some will know, this romanticism reaches a little too far. However, whilst we may say that the Lumières weren't the first, we must give leeway as it is difficult to define such a term, moreover, there isn't a need to cynically dismiss these incredibly important figures of cinematic history. Instead, coming back to my main point, the best way in which to view cinema, even at its earliest, is in a similar capacity to how we view modern film; there are a plethora of great contributors to a wider and more abstract idea of the cinema. Whilst there are certainly firsts in regard to details and elements of film form and technology to be noted, there is no such thing as a Lumière who suddenly invented the movie camera, and then, 20 years later, a Griffith who gave the world the cut, dissolve, the epic, the narrative, the chase, the feature... the cinema that we now know.

So, if we must, the best way to look at the Lumières - even Griffith when we come to him - is to consider them to be the Scorseses of the 1890s or the Kurosawas of early cinema as these attributions say very little apart from that these figures were very important. With that established, we can now ask who were the Lumières and what makes them important?

The Lumière Brothers, Louis the younger, born 1864, Auguste, the older, born 1862, were raised in Besancon, France. Their father, Antoine, owned and ran a photographic portrait studio here. He was partly a self-educated man, orphaned at 14, who was a teaching assistant to a painter, but also, after a period of military service, studied under a photographer named Nadar. Having later moved to Lyon in 1870 with his two sons and wife, Antoine would have another boy and three girls. Here he would set up a photographic plate manufacturing company, one that was almost always on the verge of failure.

Louis and August would both study at a technical school in Lyon, La Martiniere. Whilst Auguste would be developing a strong interest in science, research and medicine, Louis's education was interrupted by violent headaches. He would then study piano and other plastic arts such as painting and sculpture at home. Later he would labour away, with one of his younger sisters, in his father's factory, working long hours - it is said they worked from 5am to 11pm. However, the business was still failing until 1882, when Auguste returns from his military service and, with Louis, designs machines that allow for the expansion of the factory. This lead to greater success for the family and allowed them to live more comfortably.

After a decade or so of working for and managing the factory, the Lumières would begin working on moving picture technology. Inspired by their retired father who had gone to an Edison peepshow in 1894 where he was given a strip of the kinetoscope film, the Lumières decided to invent a moving picture system that improved upon Edison's.

It is then said that, on one sleepless night, Louis devised plans and designs for what would become the Cinématographe. He would initially patent these in both his and his brother's name - for they always worked together, but Auguste has always given Louis credit. However, the name Cinématographe and designs for a moving picture system had already been patented by Léon Bouly in 1892. Bouly had even created 2 created two Cinématographes. Here is one of them:


This is a simple device that has never been proven to have functioned very well, if at all. It used flexible un-perforated film that would intermittently be stopped by a pressure pad as it passed the lens.


However, next to nothing is known about Bouly other than that he patented for this device in 1892, and didn't pay to sustain it in the following years, leaving it to expire. This meant that the Lumières could use the name "Cinématographe" as attached to new designs without any legal fears in 1895.

The Lumières' Cinématographe was not just a moving picture camera; it could shoot, project and copy film - and so was a truly impressive and ingenious device. Designed by Louis Lumière, the first model was manufactured by the factory's chief engineer, Charles Moisson. It utilised perforated film and, as always, the best way to understand this device is through a visualisation:


The most ingenious element of this camera is probably the clamp system that moves the film intermittently. At the 1:55 mark, this is zoomed in on and we can see that the pins, those that move the perforated film, move in and out of the perforations due to the spinning ridge of the plate masking the underlying cam system - which itself causes the arm to move up and down as the shutter system rotates simultaneously. Initially inspired by the manner in which sewing machines function, all of these minute pieces of design are synchronised so that film can be exposed and moved through the system at around 16fps (though, this varied due to manual cranking).

What makes the Lumières' Cinématographe so important is the radical improvement on Edison and Dickson's kinetograph that it represented. The kinetograph was heavy, immovable and ran on electricity; and this is the reason why Edison's company had to construct the Black Maria studio. The Lumières camera was only 16lbs and it was hand-cranked. This is what allowed the Lumières to go out onto the streets; the cigar sized machine was quite portable, moreover, its image was much crisper and more detailed than any other motion pictures of this time.

So, it's with this brilliant invention that the Lumières made one of the last great leaps of motion picture innovation by essentially assimilating and improving upon the work of numerous inventors. And it was with this device that they they shot their first film in 1894; their workers leaving the factory. The first screening of this was in 1895 at the Society for the Development of the National Industry. Shown privately to around 200 people, including Léon Gaumont, this was part of a presentation that also featured the colour photography that the Lumières were simultaneously working on. Surprised when the spectacle of moving pictures overshadowed their work on colour photography, the Lumières decided to continue working with the movies and arrange a public screening. Later that year, on the 26th of December at the Salon Indien du Grand Café, the Lumières then screened, to around 30 paying people, a programme of 10 short films.


The first of these films is our subject for today, La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon, otherwise known as Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory.


Only 46 seconds long, this was shot by Louis Lumière, across the street from the Lumière factory. It is here that we then see an aesthetic that has only so far been implied through the films of Louis Le Prince, who also shot unknowing people in a documentary-esque fashion with Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge. However, the Lumières did not shoot this with higher ideas of documentary and realism in mind. Instead, the simple observational aesthetics of this film imply that the Lumières only meant to capture motion itself as a social spectacle. In such, when we compare this to the 'films' of Marey and Muybridge, there is a clear lack of focus on the spectacle and science of motion - even Edison wanted to capture events and attraction, primarily through working with vaudeville acts. The Lumières are then certainly in a world of their own, approaching cinema from a direction that no one else had just yet. Even with Le Prince shooting from a window, we can understand that he was experimenting from a position of necessity and as a means of capturing as much movement as he could. Whilst we see shades of this in the early films of the Lumières, as they develop, it was very clear that they were motivated by the social aspect of cinema. Before delving into this, however, we shall run through the Lumières' first film programme.

So, the second film shown in the Salon Indien du Grand Café was l'Arroseur Arrosé, or, The Sprinkler Sprinkled.


This is a significant film as it can be considered to be one of the first live action narrative films (we could argue that Reynaud made the first narrative films through animation). Whilst Edison constructed events, much like Marey and Muybridge, there was a performance put on by all of their subjects that had no clear attempt towards imitating a latent and mundane reality. The only films that you could really raise a debate around would be Edison's staged boxing matches. However, these were staged to seem like documentations of public events. The Sprinkler Sprinkled is then staged narrative cinema because the story that is told for a camera is a narrative that we would usually never be privy to and couldn't pay to see. Thus, the Lumières constructed a staged event that only a camera could truly capture in this fashion - unless someone set up a small theatre in this garden (but, that certainly wouldn't be the same as this).

So, the significance of this short is primarily that it can be considered the first narrative staged film ever, however simple it may be, but that it is also an exception to the idea that the Lumières only worked with reality and documentary. In fact, the Lumières made numerous staged films of this kind alongside their production of 'documentaries'.

The next film shown was Le Débarquement du Congrès de Photographie à Lyon, The Disembarkment of the Congress of Photographers in Lyon.


Next, La Voltige, Horse Trick Riders:


La Pêche aux Poissons Rouges, Fishing For Goldfish, which features Auguste and his baby:


Les Forgerons, Blacksmiths:


Repas de Bébé, Baby's Meal:


Le Saut à la Couverture, Jumping Onto The Blanket:


La Places des Cordeliers à Lyon, Cordeliers Square in Lyon:


And finally, La Mer, The Sea:


What defines all of these Lumière shorts is, as you will probably have recognised, people. The Lumières almost always shot human subjects and are defined by their projection of these films to large groups of fascinated people. What the Lumières then attempted to give cinema, for monetary sakes, was its social aspect. This is what Edison was very reluctant to pursue by abandoning his kinetoscope and is what brought cinema, as it existed in the form of toys in the 1800s, out of the home and into mainstream success. And for decades to come, until the advent of television, this was the only true means through which cinema existed - though, there are many examples of paper film devices called Kinoras or Mutoscopes that even the Lumières produced for the home-viewing of their shorts.


Nonetheless, the primary place of cinema being a theatre implies yet another reason as to why film historians are so drawn to the Lumières. Both through form and in business practice, the Lumières were focused on the social draw of cinema, which is where a lot of its power and magic resides.

This novelty is then what we can assume contributed to the Lumières' huge success. So, whilst only 33 people attended and paid 1 franc for the first screening, three weeks later the Lumières were taking in 2,000 francs a week. This is what founded the French film industry and contributed to the expansion of cinema after the Lumières began producing hundreds of their Cinématographes and giving them out to agents around the world. The Lumières themselves would go on a world tour with their cameras, but only remained interested in cinema for about 6 years until 1901. It was around the turn of the century that the Lumières then famously said "the cinema is an invention without any future". And this was true in regards to the Lumières' cinema; they just couldn't have predicted how the form would evolve.

Whilst the Lumières ventured onto a few other things and had a tremendous impact on the world, this is where we'll end our look at the brothers. The final idea I want to reiterate before letting you go, however, is that the Lumières weren't the first in regards to a lot of things. However, their significance is not bound to this label, rather, the films they made and how they inspired, indirectly or not, the evolution of cinema.

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The Planet Of The Apes Prequel Trilogy - A Modern Masterpiece

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20/07/2017

The Planet Of The Apes Prequel Trilogy - A Modern Masterpiece

Thoughts On: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011), Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014) & War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017)

Humanity creates a cure for Alzheimer's that gives apes new and greater consciousness... all to devastating effects.

    

**SPOILERS THROUGHOUT**

Having just seen the third Planet Of The Apes movie, I have been struck with the realisation that this trilogy has just re-written some of humanity's most profound and fundamental stories with world history and some ground-breaking technological innovation. What I will now then be dissecting is how these three stories function and exactly what it is they say about modern societies. If you want to read this essay in 3 separate parts, as it is going to be a long one, please click here.

We then start with Rise. The story of Rise is centred on the birth of a species and its emergence from the proverbial Garden of Eden. With Rodman, as played by James Franco, being a creator, a God of sorts, we see him give a new awakening to apes. This is signified with Bright Eyes. She is taken out of the wild, brought away from a primitive vision of the world...


... and given access to another level of consciousness; she is awakened.


However, despite this awakening, there remains a primitive drive in Bright Eyes. She has to protect her child.


This is what leads to the downfall of herself and of the entire genetic experimentation of 'God', Rodman. This is the first profound gesture of this movie as it not only chronicles the birth of a new species, but it describes how and why they are not just pawns or pets to the higher power - an idea which is echoed throughout this narrative primarily with the image of a leash or cage. Bright Eyes has a sense of self-sovereignty and a will to protect and establish her own family and kind. This suggests that what makes a species truly conscious, not just intelligent and awakened, is its assumption of freedom and family.

It's at this point that we see elements of the Adam and Eve archetype being twisted, but also the 'Terminator narrative' being revised. To expand, with the developing technological age, we have questioned the role that A.I will assume in the future - if and when we create it. As the Terminator series asked, will A.I destroy us all? The Planet Of The Apes is an equal expression of this, but concerns a biological and genetic innovation of science, not just a technological one. But, there is a core difference between the story of humans giving birth to an artificial intelligence and a superior biological species. Whilst A.I is usually used as a narrative tool to comment on the fragility and absurdity of human nature, and so is often used to comment on war and human chaos, the modern Planet Of The Apes narrative uses apes to explore the fundamental positive drives of humanity. This is why we see Bright Eyes' sacrificial and rebellious act of protecting her child as one that draws the line between humanity and apes; it says that consciousness of a human level only functions with freedom and responsibility.

So, what we see with Rodman raising Caesar is God keeping apes in the Garden of Eden despite them being conscious. In such, Rodman awakens Caesar without giving him true freedom and responsibility. The Tree of Eden, or, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that Rodman leads Caesar to is then in the redwood forest; it is a tree that represents apes' unique physical capabilities and strengths (which allows Caesar to climb the gigantic tree) combining with new vision:



So, what Rodman teaches Caesar as he raises him is how to take responsibility and build a family. But, there is a contradiction within Rodman. He keeps Caesar on a leash and treats him like a subordinate - though, with respect and care. Moreover, Caesar is a mistake and a side-effect of Rodman trying to take care of his own father - who loses both sight and consciousness with his Alzheimer's disease. There is then a tension in this narrative born between humans and people that is never truly overcome. And this is something that Caesar recognises when he stands atop his Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The 'good' that Caesar is taught by Rodman concerns family and responsibility. However, the 'evil' that Caesar holds in his genetics and body is his potential to overcome humans - as is represented by the threat of violence, which Caesar often represents but sometimes embodies throughout this narrative. This then signifies a new kind of Tree of Eden; it is one that encapsulates both potential power and evil as well as internal good.

When this rift between good, evil, apes and humans is pushed to its very limits with Caesar protecting Rodman's father, we see reality thunder into the idealistic relationship between Rodman and Caesar; humanity and apes.


When Caesar bites the finger off of the dickhead neighbour, he is exiled from humanity; it is recognised that he is a threat and so is put in a new Garden of Eden with other apes where he finds a new Tree.


However, the ape sanctuary is a torturous Garden of Eden for unawakened apes, one that keeps their consciousness suppressed. It is then Caesar's job here to not only assimilate with his own kind, but turn to his back on God, awaken his new family and escape into the world away from the Garden of Eden. This all suggests that this Garden isn't good for humanity or any fully awake organism; for them to truly mature and develop, they must leave. So, as we all certainly feel when watching Rise, this entire sentiment is encapsulated with one action.


Caesar says "NO!", and the fact that that sends such intense tingles down everyone's spines says that we universally recognise that something radical has changed. In fact, that "NO!" has to be one of the most powerful moments of all of cinema for the way that it drives so deep into the human condition. This "NO!" is the articulation of a true awakening; the apes are given a voice, they have established a family, turned their back on God and are ready to walk out of the Garden of Eden.

The fact that the apes do this by turning tools of oppression (the electric prod, the hose and later broken parts from the gates of a zoo) against humans introduces a new dimension to this movie; human history. These tools are all allusions to riots and rebellions, most starkly, the Black Rights movement of the 1960s. This is emphasised with Caesar's, by and large, peaceful uprising and escape from humanity. Beyond this, the infection that plays a hugely significant part of the end of this narrative holds further allusions to races being wiped out by disease - an example being the Native Americans. However, the strength of this use of history will not yet come into full play just yet, but, let it be noted that this idea has been seeded.


The final profound element of Rise comes with a reconciliation with God, or Rodman. Not only does Caesar step out of the Garden of Eden, bringing with him a new family, but he goes having come to peace with Rodman. This is one of the biggest revisions to biblical tales that The Planet Of The Apes makes. Whilst the values that Rodman, or God, teach Caesar remain with him and his culture, God is allowed to die off-screen - which is a significant statement in its own right. This marks the birth of a new species that will not live in the same ambiguity that humanity does; whilst we do not have any idea who our creators are, apes will. And whilst you could argue that the apes will also never know where humans and all biological life came from, this foundational contact with 'God' is something that puts them at a clear advantage, culturally speaking. So, with Caesar taking this into the real world having broken away from God to build a new home, the horizon seems promising.

It is then at this point that the narrative of Rise gives way to that of Dawn. Dawn is centred on the apes building upon the foundation of Rise by developing law and moral standards in their community. We see this as soon as we're told that humans are all being infected by the Simian Flue.


The Apes solidify their community with laws and ethics such as 'Ape not kill ape' and 'Ape together stronger'. These are the lessons that Rodman gave Caesar to leave the Garden of Eden with, and so Dawn is primarily about these notions being challenged. This is done with a strong focus on the human's struggle for survival and the fact that they are now realising that they aren't the no.1 species on the planet, as, without our tools, apes are very starkly the superior species. For this reason, the humans attempt to re-establish their technological basis. But, is this safe for the apes?

A lot of this movie is then focused on an idea of "too complicated". We talked about this with the movie No Man's Land, and this concept is simply a recognition that humans often allow chaos and disorder, ironically, through simplistic and short-sighted thinking, to take rule over a system when they begin to see things as too complicated. This is a stance encapsulated by the dichotomy between separatists and reformists; between, as one example, Koba and Caesar. We then see a paradigm that repeats itself throughout history plague this film. How do conflicting groups reach a peaceful agreement without blowing the whole thing up? Koba's answer is that peace can only be established after destructive separation, whilst Caesar begins this narrative believing that peace can be established with a calmer separation, but later assumes the position of a peaceful alliance.

This is constantly challenged, however, because if humans are to survive, they have to work around the apes. And thus there is introduced an idea of poison both in the human group and the ape group.


These poisons are the individuals that selfishly want to force separation and establish domination. This is an idea that is linked, problematically so, to co-survival because both groups want a stable home in which they may thrive, which means strength. And strength is the one idea that Rodman never really provided Caesar with before he left the Garden; he was awakened, given intelligence and morals, but remained naive within the protection of 'God'. Caesar then funnels this element of his personality and his survival through both hatred and love, or, at least, this is how they manifest themselves. We have already seen Caesar utilise strength intelligently in the Rise, however, throughout Dawn, all of his actions are guided by a yearning for peace and stability. Because he then loves his family group, he protects them, showing strength as to keep them stable. However, as Koba suggests, Caesar also harbours a love for humanity. It is through this that strength must surface again as to protect what little love for humanity Caesar still shares.

What we are thus seeing through this rift within Caesar is an extension of his foresight; to protect the future, he has to decide what evils must be forgiven and what goods must be revealed to be poison. This is why when classical themes of 'regicide', what we can equate to killing a king, find their way into the narrative, Caesar has to recognise the poison in his 'good' social group whilst continuing to act mercifully and with trust towards the humans - and this intellectual recognition extends to his closest friends such as Maurice.


As Koba takes over the ape group and leads them into battle, there is then a demonstration of two archetypes; the merciful, wise king and the corrupt, evil king. In such, not only wouldn't Caesar readily go to war (let alone instigate one through attempted murder), but if he did, his battles would be thought of as a tactful means of overcoming an enemy - as we saw in Rise. With Koba, the corrupt, evil king, war is an outlet for evil and violent catharsis; it has no regard for his people or a greater ideal which leads to a lot of unnecessary death. Koba's sacrifices, some of which are committed directly by himself...


... are then an expression of his evil; his 'sacrifice' does not unite the group through ideals of good, family and home, instead, fear - something that extends into War.

It is at this time, and with one of the most expressive sequences in this film, that Caesar returns to his Garden of Eden to reflect on all that he was taught.


It's here where he learns two things, 1) apes are not better than humans, and, 2) his father was not God, instead, just a good man. This signifies one major step in Caesar's maturity; he has reached a point as an ape (as a 'man') that is equal to Rodman's, allowing him to see him not so much as God, but just a man. This completes Caesar's reconciliation with him that ended Rise and shatters the Rodman-God metaphor. As a result, this is also what allows Caesar to decide to establish peace with humans as equals with the understanding that, whilst the work of humanity seems to be at the expense of humans, and in this respect God has left apes (Koba) with scars, humans are not one simple collective; there are good people and there is evil. And in such, Caesar is really beginning to understand what his Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil really taught him.

With this knowledge, Caesar has to revise his ideals such as 'Ape not kill ape' and 'Ape stronger together' to begin to surpass human morality and social structuring. He must do this because there is such a thing as poison, and it has manifested itself in the form of Koba, who cannot reconcile with 'God', with the higher power that is/was humanity. So, what Caesar must to is recognise that apes are not stronger when their structure is being poisoned, and also that not all apes are apes that contribute to the higher ideals of the group. This all manifests into this moment:


After defending himself and exploiting Koba's weaknesses (as represented through their battle), Caesar has to decide whether or not to allow evil to fall into demise - a decision that he indirectly makes in the end of Rise when Koba pushes the helicopter over the bridge; a helicopter that held a human figure of evil and a lack of foresight; Jacob, another poison. This, Caesar allowing evil to fall, is Caesar's ultimate demonstration of strength, a culmination of physicality, morality and intelligence, and it leaves him a great king in his infancy.


However, there is a question we must ask ourselves. What does Caesar now perceive, how does he see his future?


As is demonstrated with his farewell to the 'good human', Malcolm, both humans and apes have failed as a consequence of their poisoned structures - and this is going to lead to war. However, this is going to be a war between the virtuous apes and the corrupt humans, because, for now, the few good people who are not under the rule of poison are going to escape. The implications of this, whilst hopeful now, will then only be resolved in War.

War, as an extension of Dawn, is focused on the trials of a great and wise king. So, as we delve into this, I'll emphasise that there will be SPOILERS and I hope you'll understand that I can't yet use images as I don't own the movie.

War opens with the humans, those that were called in the end of Dawn, attacking the apes. With this, we come to realise that the poison that was supposedly destroyed through Koba still infects the ape society. In such, there are traitors that help the humans, adhering to an idea that there needs to be destruction and separatism. Because Koba and his followers were essentially told they are not apes, humans are now then taking advantage of them as 'donkeys'. However, Koba doesn't only infect ape society through these traitors; he exists within Caesar too as a product of him knowing the evil and the good of apes.

This is all expressed when Caesar's oldest son and wife are killed by the colonel of the attacking army. Because he fails to protect them, the image of Koba begins to haunt him in a Shakespearean manner, symbolising Caesar's understanding that he, whilst he is a good king, cannot justify the destruction of the humans - especially at the expense of his family. This is why there were plans to flee the forest which are enacted when Caesar begins to further embrace the evil, or Koba, within him by deciding to take revenge alone, abandoning his group so he can cut off the head of the snake that bit his family: the colonel.

The primary conflicting force of this vengeance is, however, made obvious when Caesar's core group follow him; Maurice, a guard and Rocket. It is later made clear that, just like the apes will die for Caesar, there are humans willing to die for the colonel, leaving both the humans and the apes societal hydras that spawn two new heads every time one is destroyed. After all, this is what happened after both Rise and Dawn; the humans are cut down, but the malevolence and evil within their groups only flourishes. So, whilst Caesar signifies a growing aggression and evil once his family is taken away, it becomes his task throughout the movie to prevent his tribe from becoming a hydra and a snake that consumes itself - which is what the humans are becoming.

We have seen humans as the self-consuming snake ever since the end of Rise; after the power went out and the humans began destroying one another. This continues throughout Dawn, despite their efforts to produce a great leader, and comes to a climax in War. We see this through the infection, which the surviving humans assumed they were immune to, coming back and rendering humans mute and ape-like. Because of this, the humans face utter eradication; even if they survive, they are inevitably going to devolve unless they destroy the disease that causes their devolution. What we are then seeing also come to a climax in War is the human side of this narrative.

We have implied that there is a use of history throughout this series that comments on us, but it has so far been incoherent or incomplete with only a few references to rights struggles and political polarities. In War, we are seeing one of the most damaging of human ideas being expressed as a holy war: eugenics. Genetics is where The Planet of The Apes series began and it is where it will end. Humans attempted to strengthen their society, but allowed corruption and a lack of foresight, as represented Jacobs, to destroy themselves - and they only fell further when societal and moral structures failed (which is demonstrated in Dawn).

Eugenics is then the form of genetic manipulation that, instead of saving the minority of humanity and thus progressing the whole as with the cure for Alzheimer's, is going to save the majority of what is left is humanity as to give the whole a chance. This leaves colonel as the most complex human character in this entire series, but also an encapsulation of 'too little, too late'. The apes made their rise with a maturing and developing great king; humanity has been searching for this for years and the best they can do is a king that is the equivalent to Koba. The colonel then incites some of the greatest human atrocities ever committed; acts of world war, genocide and eugenic holy war - all signified through imagery of concentration camps. As a result, War For The Planet Of The Apes could be recognised as Holy War For The Planet Of The Apes. This is largely because humans are fighting for their highest ideal and all that makes them human, symbolised by holiness and God, whilst apes are striving to develop their own, what we would call, humanity. What makes their war holy is then this appeal to the abstract pinnacle of a hierarchy; a guiding God, or set of ideals, of compassion, mercy, unity and family.

However, whilst there are clear elements of the war that are holy (because they are linked to the essence of humans and apes as well as their greatest ideals), there is more to this war for Caesar. He has to not only recognise and allow for the existence of human good (as he does in Dawn), but he must begin to protect this. But, the only human good that remains of people has been shunned from society; it is they who are mute and devolved. Having found a little girl like this, but also with a representative of highly humanised apes through a new character who often calls himself 'Bad Ape', Caesar must then learn how to be a great king over the course of this narrative by learning from humanity's greatest mistakes - e.g. our world wars, holy wars, vengeance and most damaging of ideas.

By continuing to assume and develop his moral, intellectual and physical strength, Caesar must then endure and sacrifice himself to human evil in the concentration camps as to protect and save his apes. As a result, a lot of this movie plays out much like The Bridge On The River Kwai with hints of the stories of Christ - but this is a detail I won't delve into. So, it is through this endurance that Caesar and his leading core group of apes preserve the good of humanity (the innocent mute girl) and in turn allow all that is corrupt and evil in humanity to fall. As has been a motif of this entire series, allowing evil to fall is done through infection - which is a symbol of nature and innate biological combat. By preserving the little girl, who has a blood-stained doll, Caesar brings into the concentration camp, which his whole tribe is put into, infection. This infection is what seals the severed neck of a decapitated hydra, preventing it from ever coming back to life. In such, this infection gets into the colonel's system.

However, this is a detail that proceeds a second group of humans descending from the north to destroy the colonel - all because he is killing the devolving humans. The battle that plays out here is an ambiguous one that probably needed more of a focus on. However, it quite clearly represents all of humanity's remaining strength coming into conflict with itself - much like what happened with the apes in Dawn. What we can assume, however, is that this human struggle is a futile one that is predicated on base emotion with no higher ideal - which is why the infection can be considered metaphorically to be the continued downfall of humanity after they ignited a fire with Rise. In fact, what is reflected by Dawn and War is the idea that consciousness cannot be turned off once it is switched on; an awakened being cannot be put back to sleep. The humans are the ones that woke up the apes, but in attempting to put them back to sleep, they only destroy themselves as a result of trying to defy nature instead of managing and advancing it with an alignment with the apes.

This all comes to its final climax when Caesar unites all of the apes by giving everything he has to them. However, Caesar giving his all means that he fails in blowing up the humans, putting to a stop their civil war which is destroying all of the apes who are caught in the crossfire. However, one of the donkeys, an ape traitor, turns against his masters having recognised that Caesar can give no more - all for the greater good of the apes, he then sacrifices himself. As a result, Caesar sucks the last of the poison out of his society, turning the last of the evil monkeys good, which triggers the Great Flood; an avalanche that destroys the entirety of the human army. This is, of course, after his final confrontation with the colonel. Here, Caesar attempts to embody Koba by murdering the colonel and taking vengeance, but, there is no need for this after Caesar accepts this dark side of himself, moreover, his moral and intellectual limitations as an ape. Caesar has evolved as far as he can as an ape, but has managed to do enough. This is why, despite being ready to accept a step backwards, nature takes its course. Not only is the colonel infected, but the flood wipes away the last of the human's power.

The apes, however, survive the Great Flood by clinging onto trees, signifying that it is their base essence as apes (their innate strength which separates them from humanity) that allows them to transcend humans once they have learned to become morally, socially, structurally and ethically superior to them - but also having recognised their own shadow, which is what Caesar accepted when he confronts the colonel by embodying Koba.

There is then hope at the end of this narrative with devolved humans and evolved apes finding and establishing a new Eden of their own design in the real world, bringing into it lessons from human history. It is here where the old great king is no longer needed, however. He has physically given everything he has to the apes and this kills him. But, Caesar transcends the tangible world with his death; he will now become the founding father, a tangible God, to all apes to come, who will hopefully continue to thrive and evolve as a species alongside what is left of humanity.

Now, with the entirety of this trilogy covered, it seems that this narrative is anti-human. However, what we can consider this narrative to be is an expression of our greatest fears in the modern age. Not only can we sense that our scientific and technological innovation is leading us to a point where we will maybe create new life that may endanger our own existence, but, we can all recognise that there are significant structural issues with human societies that could make those up-and-coming challenges insurmountable. What the entirety of this narrative expresses is then a cautionary tale concerning human talent and innovation, yet also the precariousness of our values and moral structures. Caesar and the ape society are then signals to humanity and a reprisal and re-contextualisation of our greatest stories that mean to serve, warn and guide humanity.

For exactly this, it is overwhelmingly clear that this trilogy is one of the greatest pieces of art that cinema has produced in the modern digital age. And whilst I have attempted to outline the main structure of this narrative and its core ideas, I think there's an awful lot more that we could all re-watch this movie for and even utilise. However, this will all lead to a talk we've had before on Cinema As A Religion, so, we'll end things here.

Actually, I think I can find a bit of a positive note to end on. In Rise, we are told that humans have just entered Mars' atmosphere:


This means that there may be surviving humans in the solar system and that all is not lost in the world of The Planet Of The Apes. So, can we then expect more from this trilogy that reaffirms humanity? Is it possible that we can develop our own great kings and rise ourselves? Can we merge and co-exist with a true Planet Of The Apes; Earth populated only by these evolved creatures? Maybe this is a signal for more to come, but maybe this is where the series leaves us looking into the dark void of our own future.

However, this is where I'm going to end this post with one last question: what are your thoughts?






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