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November 06, 2006



Frank Capra - 1928
Columbia Pictures 35mm film

While there are plenty of films to see, I am for now just taking some time off to be with Lumena. We did discuss catching some new Japanese films at the Dejima Japanese Film Festival, but chose instead to go back to the Netherland Film Museum, which is within walking distance of where we are staying. Ever since going to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Lumena has developed an interest in seeing silent films in a theatrical situation with live music.

So we went with Submarine. The film was shown with a live quartet, cello, contrabass, guitar and accordian. The accordian player also supplied some sound effects. The theater, one of two in the Film Museum, is a little jewel box with plush seating, and a screen high enough for clear viewing for all.

Submarine seems more in spirit with the films of John Ford or Raoul Walsh. The camaraderie and practical jokes make up the relationship of sailors Jack Holt and Ralph Graves, a bond almost destroyed by vamp Dorothy Revier. The one scene that seems most Capra-esque is of Graves seen trapped in the submarine, with the small shadow of a cross on the left side of the screen. As the titles were in Dutch, I don't know how much of the narrative I really lost. The special effects, primarily a model submarine under water, look primitive by today's CGI standards. The sight of Dorothy Revier adjusting her stockings has withstood the test of time.

Capra also isn't someone thought of in association with "montage". In Submarine are a couple of scenes designed to echo each other, first with Revier dancing with Holt, and later with Graves. Capra immerses us into the jazz age with close-ups of musicians, followed by shots of dancers seen from the knees down. Both scenes end with shots of a broom pushing the debris from the floor, from the right in one scene, from the left in the second scene. Graves and Revier, embracing in the waves, though standing, seems to anticipate the more famous embrace of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity.

I'm not sure how much of Submarine was considered cliche even in 1928. What was most interesting was to see love expressed as violence between the two (or could we say three ?) pairs of lovers. The relatively frank (pun intended) sexuality is a glimpse of what Capra could do before his career was reduced to annual presentations of It's a Wonderful Life.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 6, 2006 06:23 PM