The Crowd (1928)

2 06 2009

Pretty great for the most part. There’s a few slight dramatic touches here and there that are inevitable, but still not all that flattering for Vidor. It’s not quite up there with his greatest achievement, 1931’s The Champ, but it is the closest I’ve seen him come. Even if I find some of Vidor’s dramatic turns to be a little too convenient, I still find it nearly impossible to exaggerate the influence of this particular film. Not only was Vittorio De Sica watching, so was Yasujiro Ozu. Simply stated, this is the root for a good deal of my favorite films, and if I didn’t love it on its own, I’d still feel obligated to appreciate it.

While The Crowd now stands as a towering achievement in the Hollywood system as an observation and critical depiction of Americana, it actually has a good deal of melodramatic tones that come in throughout. The story follows the life of John Sims, a man born on July 4th, 1900. There is a hint of a “rise and fall” arc, but in all honesty, Sims never exactly rises. Vidor is to credit here, as he is, perhaps inadvertently, subverting the expectations of the audience. While there are emotional outbursts that are inevitable for a film from 1928, the plot itself is fairly (and remarkably) uneventful.

The narrative plays out like this: John gets a job, gets married, he and his wife, Mary, face complications, they have kids, one of them dies, and as a result, John quits his job. From there on, Vidor’s protagonists are caught in a world of what seems to be limitless doom. This feeling is all the more powerful because it isn’t actually accurate. John is offered a job from Mary’s critical brothers, but he turns it down. He leaves his house, ponders suicide, and returns home with a new job: a city advertising clown. This is what Vidor wants the audience to believe is a “happy ending” and he is damn convincing. John and Mary, headed surely for separation, suddenly reconnect and everything is fine.

The problem, for the characters, is that everything isn’t fine. The final two minutes of the film are a perfect example of how a filmmaker can manipulate the audience. It works in Vidor’s case, because he seems to going the opposite route that one would conventionally take with such an ending. It’s another example of the narrative, contrary to one’s intial reaction, isn’t fueled by events. For that sheer element alone (i.e the element of observation vs. drama), Vidor’s masterpiece is to be seen. He would indirectly influence everyone from Wellman to Hou. Did I mention the amazing cinematography or the beauty of Eleanor Boardman yet? Vidor has too many good things in his favor that the few minor hiccups in his film can be disregarded entirely.

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