An unknown masterpiece, cablecast early Saturday morning at the ungodly hour traditionally reserved for such treasures, Austrian director G.W. Pabst's first talkiereleased in 1930is a World War I movie far superior to the same year's All Quiet on the Western Front. The always protean Pabst made a brilliant adjustment to sound. Despite the crudeness of the available technology, Westfront 1918 is at least as audio-innovative as Fritz Lang's M in its brilliantly extended, existential battle sequences, thudding sense of the material world, and close-to-overlapping dialogue. (The first words heard in this exceedingly bitter and uncompromisingly anti-authoritarian German movie are in French.)
Even bolder than the use of sound is the way in which Pabst makes monotony and terror tangible, returning again and again to ponder the scarred and denuded deathscape of the trenches. Westfront 1918 feels as much lived as acted. Indeed, Siegfried Kracauer (who reviewed it for the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1930) praised Pabst for making something like a historical document: "Already a generation has reached the age of maturity which does not know those years from personal experience. They have to see, and see time and again, what they have not seen for themselves." And so it goes.
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.
More Film News
- Scott Adkins Plays a Badass Actually Named ‘Colt McReady’ In the Effective ‘Close Range’
- Meet the Pole Who Tried to Warn the World About the Holocaust in ‘Karski & the Lords...
- Jane Fonda Faced Down the Seventies and a Killer in Pakula’s Masterful ‘Klute’
- He’ll Get Your Head Shaking: Surveying the Start of Chung Mong-hong’s (Likely) Great...