Saturday, May 21, 2011
The End of the World (1931)
If you are reading this the world didn't end. The announced rapture didn't happen and the world continues to go on as it did before. (Sorry Mr Camping you got it wrong again)
In honor of the non-end of the world and to satisfy those of you hoping for some real destruction, I'm giving a brief review of Abel Gance's first sound film The End of the World.
The plot of the film has an astronomer (played by Gance) discovering that a comet is racing toward the earth and that it will soon crash and destroy the planet. As the people panic, the governments of the world try to stop the scientist from speaking because they figure it will stop the panic.
The version I saw was the chopped up American version running some 54 minutes. This is about an hour short of the original French cut and about two hours short of Gance's pre-release version which ran three hours (that information is from IMDB). This short version is an ungodly mess. A weird amalgam of sound and silent sequences, the film is full of typical Gance touches such as wild cross cutting and images within images. The film seems not to belong in either the sound nor silent era. Much of the dialog (which is in subtitled French) has been removed and the story is linked by title cards.
Its a trippy film that is full of incredible images and a weird sense that Gance had actually filmed people expecting the end of everything. The destruction is an odd mix of real images, okay special effects and images arranged for effect. The scenes are not your typical world ending images,and while they often seem cheezy they also produce a deeply disturbing effect (or is that simple because I'm writing this up hours before the supposed end of the world?)
Frankly the film as it is seen here, is not a real story. Its more a collection of images and scenes strung together for effect rather than a real drama. If you've ever seen any of Gance's other films ( say Neopleon or J'accuse)you know that the lack of characters and a more solid detailed plot is not Gance's doing. Indeed the credits on the version I saw seemed to be almost entirely bogus not listing Gance anywhere.
Personally I would love to see the full version of this film if I can ever find it, because despite this cut being a curio at best, the images and the snippets of plot that survive foretell a potentially amazing viewing experience in it's full glory. I should also add that I look forward to sitting down and seeing this film again in this version since there is something very primal about the images that mess with you on an very basic level.
Definitely worth a look see if you can find a copy.(Sinister Cinema is selling the short version I watched.) If anyone knows of a full version in English anywhere please let me know I would love to see it.