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This silent movie is about the tragic story of a self-confident hotel porter, who is demoted to lavatory attendant. The porter character brilliantly portrayed by Emil Jannings. The porter’s entire identity is based upon his position and especially on his uniform, which symbolizes power and respectability to his lower-middle-class community of family and friends. In the film there is only one intertitle, and that doesn’t represent dialogue. Therefore, we can surely say cinematography plays crucial role here. The movie illustrates how the camera, in concert with the actors, can communicate so much without a single spoken word. In The Last Laugh, F.W. Murnau’s use of camera angles, contrast lighting and no title cards was a very innovative progression for that time. As the sound and intertitles where absent in this movie, Murnau had to pull the camera capabilities to any limits and use them with extraordinary skill so as to show feelings with exceptional dynamism. The Last Laugh succeeds in combining expressionist elements, such as extreme camera angles, distorted dream imagery, and disturbing light and shadow effects, with a complex psychological study of the main character in his fall from privilege.
The innovations concerning the camera movement are surprisingly visible from the very beginning of the film. The camera is inside the hotel elevator following its movement. Then there is a dolly travelling until it reaches the main entrance where we are introduced to the main character: the hotel?s doorman. The camera almost never stops moving throughout the film.. Murnau uses a probing camera that takes us inside the doorman’s thoughts and feelings. The camera is used to excellent effect to highlight his mental state. In the beginning low angle shots are used to emphasize at the prestige of the doorman. But when the humiliation comes, high angles are used to make the Old Man seem small. The hotel, is shown as a towering edifice, with revolving doors extending skywards – his perception of his workplace when he returns in fear. Murnau also used the camera to depict Jannings’ inebriatedly-depressed state. The camera swings around Jannings capturing the surreal, discombobulated state he’s in very nicely. And then there’s the dream sequence where Jannings imagines himself back in his role, easily hoisting large trunks of luggage with one hand – the camera flies through the air towards and around Jannings, emphasizing the removal from reality. When his secret is discovered, the laughing faces of his nosy neighbors are super-imposed onto each other – all leering at him. We’re introduced to neighbors with a stationary camera that hangs out in the street, observing the community as night turns to day. Later, the camera similarly hangs outside an apartment door and pans left to see a nosy neighbor emerge from her apartment to overhear the news that Jannings has been demoted. As this woman spreads the news to her neighbors, Murnau pans from one balcony to another, weaving a tapestry of mean-spirited gossip. Such camera movement from person to person is repeated in the film’s epilogue, where high society folks read of a lucky man who has just won the lottery. Here, Murnau’s camera drifts through a dining room moving from person to person, table to table, until finally settling on a single table, where a stack of food is removed (in slow disclosure) to reveal Jannings as the lottery winner.
In conclusion, we can say this is a very important film in history. It is the proof that cinema has its own unique artistic language and can definitely depend on the power of image. The Last Laugh is undoubtedly the first to show the power camera movement and positioning can have. It made something so technical into something incredibly artistic and expressive. Also, this film is credited as the inventor and pioneer of the Unchained Camera Technique; something that has become so common in film today. As a result it is obvious that, the cinematography to be an active element of this film. The movie illustrates how the camera, in concert with the actors, can communicate so much without a single spoken word.
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