A discussion of classic and contemporary film with Andrew Schenker
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The Last Laugh: Deluxe Restored Edition DVD
There are two things that everybody knows about The Last Laugh—that it tells its story entirely through images and that it features a groundbreaking use of the moving camera—but both statements require further clarification or risk severe misapprehension. While it's true that F.W. Murnau's 1924 film relies on only a single intertitle, there are three other instances where the filmmaker calls on a written text to advance the narrative in ways that would be impossible through purely visual means. Further undercutting the autonomy of the film's visual program, Murnau commissioned a score from composer Giuseppe Becce which he closely oversaw and whose cadences are designed to cue the viewer's reactions nearly as much as the film's images. As for the camera movements, there's no denying the impressive maneuvers designed by Murnau and cinematographer Karl Freund which allegedly astonished the Hollywood community when the film made its American debut, but a careful viewing of the picture reveals just how infrequently the camera leaves the tripod. Instead Murnau and Freund save their elaborate tracking shots—accomplished with great difficulty given the camera's bulk—for thematically key sequences while keeping the camera locked down the rest of the time.