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CINEMA IS A TIME MACHINE

by Robert Regan
This time machine does three extraordinary things. 1) It shows us people and places in motion as far back as the 1890s: the streets of New York, Paris, or Cairo; men and women waiting for a train, feeding a baby, or playing cards. The Lumieres and the other pioneers brought a new dimension to the amazing still photography of the nineteenth century. 2) It has made it possible for us to see a person at all stages throughout a long, productive life. The most notable example of this is Lillian Gish. We can see her as a teenager in her first film, Griffith’s An Unseen Enemy (1912). Over a hundred movies later, we can see her last picture,… Read more

This time machine does three extraordinary things.

1) It shows us people and places in motion as far back as the 1890s: the streets of New York, Paris, or Cairo; men and women waiting for a train, feeding a baby, or playing cards. The Lumieres and the other pioneers brought a new dimension to the amazing still photography of the nineteenth century.
2) It has made it possible for us to see a person at all stages throughout a long, productive life. The most notable example of this is Lillian Gish. We can see her as a teenager in her first film, Griffith’s An Unseen Enemy (1912). Over a hundred movies later, we can see her last picture, with Bette Davis, Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August (1987). What an opportunity! Now, here I have to tell a story. It may not be true, but it is in character, and didn’t John Ford urge us to Print the Legend? It is said that, after shooting a close-up of Miss Gish, Anderson said, “That was Perfect!”, upon which Davis who was watching offered, “Of course it’s perfect! The bitch invented close-ups!”
3) What this list is about is the ability of a fiction film to transport us to another place, another time. Historical subjects have always been popular in movies, but I think there were some giant steps forward in the realistic, or let’s say credible, presentation of the past on film from the sixties on. Lighting, costumes, sets, and changing attitudes towards the past have helped filmmakers bring a greater verisimilitude to historical fiction on the screen. Thus, though I love the cinema of the first half of the twentieth century, there will be few films on the list from that era. Similarly, there are few European films here, because the stylization common to the classic European art direction, much as I have often loved it, tends to take me into a beautiful imaginary world (not unlike Sternberg’s Russia), rather than a place that feels real to me.

Another important view of The Time Machine is at: http://bioscopic.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/the-place-of-the-past/#comments

These are the films that are most successful at making me feel that I am really there and then.

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