[29 July 2009]
The title of this section is pretty much self-explanatory. Attention! Film nerds! If you haven’t seen all of these, you will be made fun of in Film Studies classes.
In attempting to define the slippery notion of exactly what constitutes “great acting”, film critic Alex Jackson once measured the quality of a performance by the degree that it “incorporates and molds a persona”. An actor’s “body, voice and persona”, Jackson’s argument goes, “are inescapable facts” and thus “the greatness of a performance lies in nothing more then in the acknowledgment of these facts”. Too many critics and audiences have a hard time accepting this notion, at least when it comes to handing out awards, which is precisely the reason that two recent, definitive meta-performances from Bill Murray (in Lost in Translation) and Mickey Rourke (in The Wrestler) both lost their Oscars to the more traditionally method-oriented Sean Penn, and why Woody Allen, despite his Annie Hall otherwise cleaning up in most major categories at the 1977 Oscars, lost his Best Actor award to Richard Dreyfuss (in The Goodbye Girl).
Simply put in these terms, Woody Allen’s performance in Annie Hall is the very best Woody Allen performance of all time, the ultimate distillation of the Woody Allen persona ever captured on celluloid. His Alvy Singer is a mess of Allen-esque nervous energy, comic defense mechanisms, rapid-fire wit and self-defeating hyperawareness (not for nothing was the film’s original title Anhedonia, after a psychological condition that inhibits the ability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable events), sifting through a jump-cut memory montage hoping to make sense of his failed relationship with Diane Keaton’s titular love interest. Delightfully antic as it is, a good part of what makes Annie Hall Allen’s funniest, most emotionally penetrating and certainly most beloved film is that it comes equipped with the director’s most fully realized performance, his ultimate conflation of the comic, iconic and, finally, the richly and vulnerably human. Jer Fairall
There’s a good reason, apparently, why Marlon Brando works so well as Paul, the angry American in Paris in Bertolucci’s twisted, fascinating film: rumor has it he made up most of his dialogue. As far as the choreography of his own love scenes goes, who knows? Hideous as he often is in this film, Brando, as usual, has full command of his audience in the way that only a master craftsman can. His performance is a grievous mix of hardcore brutishness and sulky boyishness, infused with an unbridled, often misogynistic eroticism. It was a turn that again reinvented the serious actor and forced people to see him in yet another light after his iconic portrayals of men like Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront and his famously Oscar-denying part as Vito Corleone in The Godfather the year before. Tango, unlike everything else he had done, put the actor’s famed range to the test. Brando’s is an essential performance because it showcases that which makes the actor so great: his focus, his naturalness, his ability to elicit compassion even as he devastates or is unsympathetic. “I don’t want to know your name. You don’t have a name, and I don’t have a name either.” Only Brando could make such a sentiment sound like true love, even as he brings out the butter. Nikki Tranter
To filmgoers with enough cultural awareness to choose cynicism, Brody’s Oscar-winning turn in Polanski’s solemn narrative of a Polish musician’s evasion of the Final Solution will be hard to get behind. The cultural meme about Holocaust-themed prestige films inevitably cleaning up at the Academy Awards was prevalent even in 2002, and Brody’s famous smooch with Halle Berry after winning for Best Actor joined Roberto Benigni’s chair-walking as a goofy awards-show response that (in the popular imagination at least) eclipsed the work that earned it. But Brody’s performance is actually good enough to overcome such tedious burdens and preconceptions.
What ultimately sells Wladylsaw Szpilman’s mix of hang-dog luck and wily survival instinct is the strange magnetism of Brody’s features: his floppy boyish hair, emaciated frame, and that absurd nose, curved like the grace note of a New Yorker cartoon. But his eyes do the heavy lifting, nowhere more so than in the fateful scene in which Szpilman plays for his life for Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann) in an abandoned house. In the midst of a hesitant Chopin piece, Brody’s eyelids sag with weary woe. This is not music as triumphant, liberated celebration, as Polanski provides over the end titles. It’s a haunting elegy to loss, and Brody subtly expresses it on his haggard, bearded visage. Brody’s achievement may be remembered by some for the kiss that sealed it, but its glory lies in the less flashy gestures that constitute it. Ross Langager
Like Laurence Olivier with Shakespeare, Chaplin practically owns comedy. With numerous “one reelers”, he was been responsible for some of the most original visual gags in cinema history. In City Lights the physical comedy “bits” seem never-ending, integrated within a feature length story. After Charlie saves a man’s life, a drunken millionaire befriends him and takes him home to his mansion. “Be careful how you’re driving,” ‘The Tramp’ warns (“Am I driving?” is his foil’s response). The millionaire displays a Jekyll and Hyde personality, however, treating Charlie as his best friend when he’s inebriated but shunning him when he’s sober. “Talkies” had just begun, and this was Chaplin’s first forays into sound: in the film he uses it sparingly, but creatively, as evidenced when he swallows a whistle and begins attracting cabs and dogs. Chaplin also wrote the film’s fitting score. As is usually the case ‘The Tramp’ (Charlie’s name for his down and out character) plays the eternal optimist, even when the blind flower girl he loves (wrongfully) thinks he is a wealthy man. To raise money to pay her rent ‘The Tramp’ agrees to a boxing match, and the eloquent choreography of this scene makes for a classic in comedy, a true first. But in the end, the film is also a tribute to Chaplin’s sense of pathos and romance, admirable humanist traits that are prevalent throughout his near-mythical canon. Tim Basham
There Will Be Blood opens with Daniel Plainview toiling his way from solitary prospector to successful oilman in 15 minutes of riveting wordless poetry (accompanied by a soaring Jonny Greenwood score). Day-Lewis wields his gangly but powerful frame like a pick-axe, chipping through rock and soil and sweat and grime and pain and tragedy to gain a measure of wealth and success that he will cling to and expand upon. These tough origins give him a chip on his shoulder the size of an oil derrick. Plainview feels that he has earned respect and power in his sphere; not only does he refuse to lose sight of that, but he refuses to forgive those who do. Day-Lewis’ driven, paranoid giant of a man makes Charles Foster Kane look like Gandhi in comparison. “I don’t like to explain myself,” the admitted misanthrope tells his apparent half-brother Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor); the droop of Day-Lewis’ mouth as he realizes Henry’s betrayal (and later, his son’s desire for independence) accompanies the confirmation of his low opinion of humanity. Those who veer too closely to his inner fire inevitably get burned, none more so than charismatic preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). All of the scenes between Plainview and Eli crackle with fervor and menace, but the final two are all-time classics. Whether he’s mocking righteous judgment or judging with righteous mockery, Day-Lewis laughs in the face of Eli and of God. Divine justice is a cosmic joke to Daniel Plainview, and he drinks its milkshake. Ross Langager
“You’re tearing me apart!” I’ve heard that wail a hundred times, and it still gets me even just thinking about it. But what can be said about James Dean’s performance as Jim Stark that hasn’t been said so many times before? It’s intense, powerful, and revelatory. It’s defining as far as representation of young people in film. Dean set the tone for generations to come, and only a handful of actors have, for me, even nearly matched his passion, his guts or his fearless vulnerability. Dean’s Method performance here was raw; he was smart, he was good. He paved the way for Sean Penn in At Close Range, Matt Dillon in The Outsiders, and River Phoenix in Running on Empty—bold actors who, while young, carry themselves in such a Dean-like way on screen that in scenes involving confrontations with adults, they appear wiser, stronger, more emotionally present than their elders. Maybe it was the red jacket as much as the wailing, that made Dean stand out against Ray’s sometimes stark, black backgrounds. He wore his heart on his sleeve and made you love his character, despite of all of his youthful bluster. You sat up, you listened. You couldn’t look away. Nikki Tranter
What is perhaps most disturbing about the character of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is the ease in which Bickle exists in the world and the ease with which we accept and believe in his existence. This is owed entirely to the raw strength of De Niro’s performance: a complex high-wire balancing act in which De Niro doesn’t choose to play Bickle as an all-knowing, completely detached loner or as an evil psychopath. Instead, the actor infuses Bickle with notes of fundamental naivety and haplessness. He is eager and willing to involve himself in society, but lacks the social skills that would enable him to assimilate. He’s frustrated and desperate to act out, which is what he does, undertaking a brutal vigilante mission to cleanse New York City of its “scum”.
His facial expressions and soft manner of speaking suggest a certain measure of innocence. We look at Bickle and feel sorry for him and somehow, despite our separation from his world, nevertheless understand his palpable rage (accentuated by De Niro’s vocal inflections, as are his expressions of confusion, frustration and hatred). He seems appropriate for the world he’s in and the world he’s experienced before (Vietnam), as if he is a logical result or symptom of the disease of violence, inhumanity and immorality that he has experienced and which still surrounds him. What is even more interesting is the degree to which De Niro manages to disappear into this role—a skill he has honed in Scorsese’s employ. When I was watching the film again recently, I found myself believing in this character, without reservation, and forgetting that I was watching De Niro—one of the most distinct and recognizable actors in the world—perform. De Niro seems natural in this brutal world, as if he’s transformed both mind and body into Bickle, as if the method has made him mad and he loves it. James R. Fleming
Rural Texan “Sonny” Dewey (Duvall) and wife Jessie (Farrah Fawcett) share a mortgage and kids, but Jessie has been dallying with Minister Horace (Todd Miller) and coveting the Dewey’s most prized possession—their church. After assaulting Horace with a bat mid-softball game, leaving him comatose, Sonny goes on the lam, high-tailing his way out of town on the first outward-bound local bus. He changes his name to E.F., baptizes himself as the “Apostle” and moves into the black community of Bayou Boutte, Louisiana and becomes a mechanic and street-preacher and remodels a church in a last-ditch attempt at garnering a newfound personal salvation and peace. The townspeople are puzzled by his arrival and ask, “What kind of preacher are you?” E.F. answers each query with charming confidence. “You know it, I can do it,” E.F. responds. “I got a little bit of everything in me. And so he does: dancing in ecstasy filled with the holy spirit, exploding into rage, cradling babes, romancing ladies and speaking in spirited tongues, Sonny virtually glistens, commanding a sacred pilgrimage that could bring even the strictest atheist to his disbelieving knees. Duvall wrote, directed and financed the film, requiring 14 years of unflinching faith mirrored in his modern, filled-with fire-and-brimstone performance. Lisa Torem
In a career noted for multiple characterizations, Alec Guinness had his finest hour in the dryly hilarious Ealing Studios comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets where he portrays eight members of the D’Ascoyne family: The Duke, The Banker, The Parson, The General, The Admiral, Young Ascoyne, Young Henry and Lady Agatha. All stand in the way of the disinherited Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) who is determined to restore his family’s honor and claim the Dukedom of Chalfont which should be his. And why was he disinherited? Because his mother defied her aristocratic family and married for love—worse, she married a penniless Italian opera singer. Young Mazzini decides to murder his way to the Dukedom, and down go the D’Ascoynes in a variety of colorful scenarios: dispatched by poison, swept over a waterfall during a Victorian dirty weekend, blown up in a darkroom, saluting on the bridge as the ship goes down, shot in a hunting accident, crashing to earth in a punctured hot air balloon. Of course there has to be a catch: Louis is convicted of one the murder of one of the D’Ascoynes who died without his assistance. He gets off from that charge only to realize that the memoir he’s been writing so assiduously contains details sufficient to convict him six times over. It’s a wickedly grand satire on English snobbery and Guinness outdoes himself by creating eight distinct characters using only a little makeup and a lot of acting. Sarah Boslaugh
Among the seminal ‘80s comedies, many overly-soaked in teenage absurdities, only a handful can be considered good adult comedies that stand the test of time: Tootsie tops this list, mainly in thanks to Hoffan’s iconic cross-dressing performance that echoes the comic bliss of Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot. Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, a talented New York actor struggling to survive while holding onto to an integrity which he deems paramount to his craft, a trait that also prevents him from making any money. He is the archetypal “struggling actor”, but even so, as it usually goes in the film business; women still have it tougher than men. Dorsey sets out to find out which gender is the more lucrative of the two, transforming into the scrappy, feminist Dorothy Michaels in order to land a part in a major day-time soap opera. Hoffman gives an incredibly creative performance as an actor who must play a woman, who also must act. The incredible physical comedy demands of the role are daunting on paper.
Though nominated for an Academy Award, Hoffman had the misfortune that year of going up against Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon, Peter O’Toole and Ben Kingsley (winning for Gandhi). The film nonetheless received nine other nominations including a Best Supporting Actress win for Jessica Lange, a nomination for co-star Teri Garr, and a veritable filmic launching pad for the lunacy of Bill Murray, understated in a role sandwiched between his peak comedy work in Caddyshack, Stripes and Ghostbusters. Surrounding himself with such talent, however, only makes Hoffman even better. His passionate speech to his agent (played by Tootsie director Pollack) about playing a tomato in a commercial is still comedic gold: “Nobody does vegetables like me. I did an evening of vegetables off Broadway!” Tim Basham
By 1927, a then 32-year-old Keaton was already a titan, a confirmed filmmaking genius and the star of nearly 30 shorts and eight features. So it makes sense that Keaton would take a chance with his next project, a large scale adventure centering on the Civil War and the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862. Taking the reigns as both leading man and comic rube, the “Great Stone Face” took audiences on a journey that was both dramatic and romantic, with the standard slapstick and physical gags tossed in for good measure. Unfortunately, The General was not well received at the time, and flopped on the strength of some very harsh reviews. Many just couldn’t buy their famed funnyman in an inventive ‘action’ mode. While the movie is now considered a masterpiece, few seem to suggest that Keaton’s performance is the key. But outside all the dangerous stunts and spectacle, the film’s heart clearly belongs to the man offering no recognizable expression of emotion whatsoever. Bill Gibron
The Fred Astaire style musicals of the 1930s gave way to Kelly and his Technicolor song and dance films of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Singin’ in the Rain is the quintessential example of the genre and top’s AFI’s list of best musicals for good reason: Kelly every move drips with talent here, not only singing and expert dancing, but also co-directing. Set in the late ‘20s, Kelly plays a popular film star, Don Lockwood, whose producer decides to alter their latest silent film to fit the popular demand, as the newest rage is “talkies”. Don, along with characters played by Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, save the film by turning it into a candy-colored musical. Some stories say Kelly’s legendary puddle-dancing scene for “Singing’ in the Rain” was filmed in one take, while others say it took a full two days to shoot. The one thing historians seem to agree on is that Kelly was sick with a high fever while shooting the scene, and in true trouper fashion, insisted the show go on. The greatness and easy-going nature of this beloved scene may overshadow the other classic musical numbers in the film like “Make ‘Em Laugh”, “You Were Meant for Me”, and “All I Do is Dream of You” and it may even pale in comparison to Kelly’s incredibly inventive jazz/ballet choreography with the great Cyd Charisse, yet if you sing the first few bars of the title song, chances are someone will be able to sing the next verse. It is one of the most iconic sequences in film. Tim Basham
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain is one of two films (the other being The Dark Knight) that officially canonized the brilliance of Ledger. Based on the short story by Annie Proulx, the narrative revolves around the romance and self-discovery between Ledger’s Ennis del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist, against the magnificent backdrop of a breathtaking pastoral Wyoming. Amidst controversy produced largely by conservative audiences, Brokeback was both a commercial and critical success. Ledger’s tortured Ennis walks a tightrope between his love for Jack Twist and his fear of violence and ignominy if he chooses to live life as his authentic self, forcing himself into a hetero-normative relationship with Alma (Michelle Williams), to no avail. Ennis’ dark internal conflict rounds out a deeply contemplative character that frequently mumbles and is privy to isolated eruptions of violence and sharp words (Ledger’s use of voice is nothing short of astonishing here).
This Academy Award-nominated performance was one of the last before Ledger’s untimely death at the age of 29. Brokeback is a lasting testament to Ledger’s sheer power as an actor (and to his chameleonic charisma), that leaves us feeling a great sense of loss, resulting from an abrupt end to what seemed to be the beginning of a brilliant actor’s oeuvre. There’s also a sense of joy to be had from Ledger’s raw, candid turn, too: he was perhaps the first straight actor to play the lead in a gay romance that found even conservative American film-going audiences going along for the ride without much judgment. To have such a platform with which to espouse tolerance, and in such an iconic, personal way, is the benchmark of a great artist. Courtney Young
I love what Mason does with his body in Ray’s film. We talk about actors giving ‘physical performances’ and his is a perfect example of this. It is an extremely ‘physical’ performance in that the actor uses each muscle, each joint, each peculiar nuance of his own physicality to breathe harrowing life into the strung-out addict school teacher he is playing (his eyes virtually shake in their sockets when he’s fiending). In particular, there is a brief moment at the beginning of the film, before he descends like Orpheus into a Hell of addiction and mental illness, when he is reaching for a green sweater in his locker—painfully slumping, every muscle tensed with an anguished look on his face. It only lasts a few seconds, but this is the kind of detail that Mason so expertly conveys in each scene as he maps out his character: the attention given to each second is full, the performance lean without going over the top. Mason has played sad sacks before memorably in Lolita and the remake of A Star is Born, but there is a haunted look on his face here that didn’t come through in the other two as clearly, or as daringly, lending the film a claustrophobic, yet intimate feeling. Especially in his final scenes, it is as though Mason is playing another man altogether, a tweaked-out, murderous zealot who thinks he is receiving messages from God to kill his family. The film’s look at ethics, masculinity, addiction and faith, I thought, were interesting and edgy in the present day, so they must have been downright scandalous for the ‘50s. Matt Mazur
If every director has an actor for a celluloid double, then Fellini without a doubt found his in the continental cool of Mastroianni. The middle aged man, who had survived a stint in a Nazi prison (he eventually escaped to Venice), came to acting indirectly. While working for a film company, it was suggested he take acting lessons. In 1948, he made his onscreen debut, and by 1963, he was a major international superstar. Like the character in La Dolce Vita (1960), Mastroianni plays a member of the media—this time, a director suffering from a creative slump. As the title tells (it was taken from the number of projects Fellini had helmed since the start of his career), the lack of inspiration leads to acts of artistic desperation that puts our hero on a predetermined pilgrim’s progress through his hopes and fears, his highs and his invective interpersonal lows. Looking as suave as he is sad, Mastroianni gets us to accept what appears to be an egotistical display of public pouting. His performance alone makes this movie the masterpiece it is. Fellini as devilish doppelganger fills in the gaps nicely. Bill Gibron
I first watched The Hustler with my grandfather when I was ten years old. He’d told me that it was not only his favorite film, but also the best screen performance he’d ever watched. He said Newman was “cool, just cool” and that there was something also to be learned from his character and performance. During my first viewing, I was taken by Newman’s cocky arrogance and sheer confidence in his role as ace pool shark “Fast” Eddie Felson. For me at the tender age of ten, Newman’s performance personified a sort of cool that just didn’t seem to exist anymore—he seemed otherworldly, a product of an era long before my own. As soon as the movie was over, I wanted to be a pool hustler just like Newman’s character. It was his cockiness I liked, the ease and grace with which he moved around the pool hall. He didn’t just play pool, he performed the game. All eyes were on him—he made women swoon and manipulated virtually every man he met.
The brilliance in this performance is owed entirely to Newman’s grace on screen, from the way he handles a cigarette to the way he handles a woman or a pool stick, Newman not only brings “Fast” Eddie alive, but renders him as a seemingly mythical figure who, much like Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Macbeth, is torn to emotional shreds in front of us. Though the movie takes place in a fairly short period of time, Newman, through subtle turns of voice and expression and a cold gaze that sets in later in the film, psychically ages his character quickly. This is the sort of performance which, like my grandfather suggested, you can learn something from: yes, “Fast” Eddie is a gifted man, but he is also as an amoral man who trades his gifts and shot at happiness for money and a limited measure of fame. Newman returned to the character of Eddie 25 years later in 1986’s The Color of Money, directed by Martin Scorsese, a role for which he won a Best Actor Oscar. James R. Fleming
There was a time when Pacino was a good actor, maybe even the best film actor in America. That was before, of course, his rather “loud” and exasperating roles in films such as Scarface, Dick Tracy, and Scent of a Woman and nearly two decades of onscreen hollering (his performances in Heat and Angels in America being possibly exceptions). However, the deep and resourceful actor that Pacino used to be—and perhaps can again be—is best demonstrated in Dog Day Afternoon. In this film we have Pacino at his very best, acting with subtly and genuine humanity. He plays Sonny, a guy who holds up a bank in order to pay for his male lover’s sex change operation. Over the course of the film, Pacino takes us on an emotional roller coaster, giving a performance that is packed full of fear, excitement, anger and love—often all in the same scene.
Interestingly, Pacino supposedly refused to act in scenes that featured outward homosexuality, but even Pacino’s alleged resistance to performing in such scenes serves to make his characterization all the stronger. His interactions with his lover are confined to telephone conversations, which seem to offer Pacino the particular measure of restraint he tends to need as a performer in order to truly act well. His impulse seems to be to act in an explosive and physical manner, but in the hands of a legendary director, and with material that forces him to hold back or be emotionally or physically cut off from his co-stars; Pacino is able to use his facial expressions and delicate turns of voice to convey an incredible range of emotion. In his best performances, this restraint leads up to a sudden explosion of emotion (such as his attack on Diane Keaton in The Godfather II) or, in the case of Dog Day Afternoon, his now famous “Attica! Attica!” calls for revolution and resistance. This is the sort of performance that not only engages and excites, but also serves to inspire and touch. James R. Fleming
“There used to be a me,” Sellers once famously told Kermit the Frog, “but I had it surgically removed”. For as much as Sellers’ idea of himself as a virtual non-entity, only taking shape when he’s “on”, now feels inextricably tangled with the knowledge of his notorious off-screen abuses, it lends an overcast of melancholy and more than a couple layers of meta-meaning to his penultimate performance in Ashby’s already slippery Being There. As the intellectually stunted man-child Chance (quickly renamed Chauncey Gardener in the first of many misinterpretations) dispenses trite observations about flowers and television only to have them taken as metaphorical gospel by the rich and powerful, Sellers’ performance is one of pleasant smiles and vacant stares that rely on him never appearing to be in on the joke. But is there really a joke here at all?
For as much as the film functions as both media satire (Chance’s unwitting platitudes are ideally suited to a culture that has reduced politics to easy sound-bytes) and spiritual allegory (see the film’s famous closing shot), its real significance to the Sellers oeuvre lies in its revelation that the face behind the comic mask is not sad, but rather completely blank. “I like to watch TV”, Chance declares at more than one point, and Being There is, at heart, a film about how the constant flickering distraction that surrounds us has left us unable to separate the ridiculous from the sublime, fools from saviors, mediocrity from genius. Jer Fairall
On a car trip across Sweden, Isak Borg is on a journey to receive an award honoring his storied career. Through a series of daydreams and nightmares, he relives some of his most painful memories: the ones that he’s brushed over, and the ones that he’s chosen to remember with fondness instead of malice. He is forced to see them again as they were, to give them dates. Throughout the film, Sjöström’s face tells almost the entirety of the story. How he wakes from his dreams, startled and struggling to even know where he’s at, how he collects himself up against harsh critiques, how he holds it all in and is able to work it all out so that he can just get on with his day. At times, Sjöström slumps his shoulders, or makes his face light up like a little boy’s, almost as if he were pleading for the intimacies of life to come easier, to move along with some grace instead of always with such friction and trauma.
“If I have been worried or sad during the day, it often calms me to recall childhood memories,” we hear Sjöström say in a voice-over as Isak drifts off for the final time in the film. It’s his only happy dream—watching his parents fish together on the shore and, without words, the camera pulls in tight on Sjöström’s face, in front of a bright Swedish sky. Back in his bed, he almost smiles. In our life we may never get to say it all, or be able to express to our truly loved ones how they save our lives every day, but the look on Sjöström’s face as he rolls over on his pillows seems to say that in small moments, wordlessly, maybe in some unanticipated way, we can. And that these moments, whenever they come, are worth holding on for. Jon Langmead
He was known as “the man you love to hate”—and that was just among the studio chiefs he worked with throughout his two decades (1919-1933) as a director. But there was much more to the Austrian immigrant turned auteur than elaborate back stories (most of which were fake) and legendary battles with producers. Von Stroheim was also an amazing actor, as his work alongside the great Jean Gabin and Pierre Fresnay in Jean Renoir’s 1937 masterpiece confirmed. Playing Captain von Rauffenstein, a German officer destined to guide the fate of two fallen French aviators during World War I, von Stroheim easily essayed both parts of the anti-war dynamic—hero and villain, pawn and player. His turn was so powerful that it, along with the entire film, it was labeled “Cinematic Public Enemy #1” by none other than Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister. When you can piss off the Third Reich, you must be doing something right, and this film (and Von Stroheim) definitely managed such meaningful discourse. Bill Gibron