October Overlook Madness #1 – J’accuse! (1919)

Hello and Welcome! For the fifth consecutive year I’m doing this October Madness, but this time this will be the first ocassion in which it’ll be done in english and in this blog! So, for all of you, from all over the world, Chile, United States and beyond… welcome!

In this yearly experience I see a horror movie a day and I review it immediatly afterwards. Sometimes is hard, sometimes it’s easier, and this year the complications aren’t absent, this year I’m attending a total of 4 days to the Valdivia International Film Festival, so I’m going to have little time to see the movies I have to see each day, but I’m gonna make sure that you’ll have all you need every day.

So, as always, we base this experience on the master of October Halloween entertainment, James Rolfe, also known as the Angry Videogame Nerd, the man who made me love and be entertained with the horror genre of film. This year in his classic Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness he’ll tackle Sequelathon Part 2, he’ll tackle 5 classic horror films and their sequels. The first movie he reviewed was ‘The Mummy’ (1932), and he’ll continue with the rest of the Mummy films of the Universal series. You can see the first video here.

As every year, if I’ve already seen a movie that James reviews, I’ll see one of my own, one of my list, always in chronological order, of the classics of horror cinema that I’ve yet to see. So, as I’ve already seen the Universal 1932 film (but not the rest), I’ll choose the first film, chronologically, that I haven’t seen and that is considered in the realms of the horror genre. I’m happy about this particular film.

‘J’accuse!’ (1919), or more known as ‘I accuse!’ in its english translation, is maybe the most powerful silent film that I’ve seen in my life… I have a lot to see still, but this one just blew me away. Part war film, part romance melodrama, part horror movie, part zombie flick… the film is like the perfect mixture of many of the things that I love and look forward in a movie at any time. At times it seems like it might fail to a certain inclination, a cliché of sorts, but it manages to stay original and fresh, even for a movie made in the 1910’s it seems to come out from another planet, a honest to God anti-war film that actually works as one in the most subtle way, and not like a leaflet made by a 19-year old hippie.

When the 3 hour film finishes one can’t help that in the final minutes you’re yelling ‘J’accuse!’ with our protagonist, even if his mind isn’t what it used to be, we can see the truth in his eyes, in his words, in the way that he moves, as a silent film it works perfectly, as most of the time I didn’t even need the intertitles to know what was going on, it’s a film made by a master of the visual form, with a gorgeous cinematography that frames in the most perfect way every shot that could be possibly imagined. Just look at the two examples that I’ve put here (I should put more, but this is October Overlook Madness, I’m against the clock), they are gorgeous in every way.

The most impressive and interesting visuals are when we see the War going on, and it’s incredible to know that this was filmed while the World War I was still being fought, that many of the extras in the final scenes were soldiers that actually died a few days later than those scenes were filmed (making an eerie comparison to what they were doing in the scenes, playing dead soldiers). But then come the last half hour of this movie, when we see the horror element being played out, when all the dead soldiers of a town come back home to see if they are honoring their dead, if their death was worth it. This is the biggest moment of J’accuse agains the war and its evils, and seeing the shambling corpses trying to grab the living is a chilling ordeal.

The acting is magnificent, the costumes are realistic, the whole movie is a masterpiece from every angle. The story of the poet that turns lieutenant is emotional and the ending is actually tear worthy, seeing how the mind and the spirit of a single person could be changed when they see and feel the horrors of the War. There are many elements that seem bold for a movie made in 1919, like (very very brief) female nudity, allusions to rape, admissions to unfaithfulness, explosions and blood: but it all serves for the purpose of being a crude and realistic movie (as much as the ending verges on the fantastic horror side of genres in film). But I guess this is way too early in the film history to talk about real genres (I could say that 1920 is like the dividing year in that specific realm).

There’s so much to say about this masterpiece, I’m so glad that I started this year’s marathon of films with a great one that is instantly among my favorite films of all time. Let’s find many other films like this one in this next 31 years of October Overlook Madness. My rating is obvious, but I still put it down below.

10/10

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