Goodbye, Iris.

Two decades before The Artist, Guy Maddin made Archangel, a weird little tribute of a film that happily pays homage to the era of the early talking pictures; those, like The Jazz Singer, that are on the cusp of sound, but still are structured and made like a silent film. It’s worth mentioning once again; this was released in 1990, so Maddin has plenty of technology and advancement of cinematic technique to use in order to make damn near any film he might want to. So then, why make a film that looks and feels like it was made in the 1920s? For Maddin, I believe it boils down to two main reasons: to give a modern audience a taste of what greatness some early talking pictures had to offer, and also just to see if he could.

The plot was rather hard to follow, but I’ll try to piece together what I can. Boles is a one-legged military man who pines for his perished love, Iris, in the remote northern region of Russia known as Archangel at the end of World War I. Arriving in a town, he first sees Veronkha, a woman who looks remarkably like Iris, so much so that Boles becomes convinced that it actually is Iris, somehow alive after all. Despite Veronkha’s marriage to the amnesiac Philbin, Boles still intends to pursue her, even despite the encroaching front of the war, which continues to be waged in the region despite ending everywhere else. So, here we have a film, circa 1990, that’s black-and-white, looks like it was shot on 16mm film circa the 1920s, and even with equipment from the same day and age. Part of it begs the question of, why would anyone want to watch this one, or why should they? Really, I can’t give a good answer to that question. Besides a very specific group of people, who’d be interested in the early talkie era but have yet to actually see any films from said era, there doesn’t seem to be a solid market for this film. The story is somewhat haphazardly told, and the technicals, while intentionally so, leave a little to be desired. What was a little befuddling was that Maddin and his crew seemed to know what they were doing with the technicals, even through the veneer of making the film seem low-quality enough that it felt like it was really from the early sound era. The only thing that belies the film’s anachronistic style is the quality of some of the shots, as well as the audio; otherwise, this may very well have been made in the late 1920s. Really, the audio was actually too well recorded; it came off as disconnected from the mouths of the people speaking, and not in an “early sound-era overdubbing” way.

Here’s the main thought that went through my head during and after I was watching this film: the style of film it was, combined with the era the film was actually made in, might have served a purpose on the initial list, but that purpose has been supplanted by the much better offering of 2011’s The Artist, which essentially offers the same thing this does, but in a much better and more entertaining way. However, this managed to survive the 10th edition restructuring, which begs the question: what does this really have to offer to the list as a whole? My answer would be: not all that much, not anymore. It’s a nice little experiment of a film, and a good love letter to a bygone era of filmmaking, but the film has basically been rendered obsolete, so aside from completion’s sake, there isn’t a real reason to watch it.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10


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