HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Big Parade
HTS Overall Score:68
Last year or so we had “The Artist” come out in cinemas everywhere, a throwback to the old classic days of Black and White Silent films. This time we have one of the oldest and most epic silent films grace the home video market. “The Big Parade” was one of the first of its kind, an epic that rose itself above all of the fluff pieces and comedic Charlie Chaplin and dared to raise more serious questions and deal with the loves, the losses and the tragedies of war. Watching a silent movie from early 20th century in a modern setting can be very jarring to those of us accustomed to more sophisticated storytelling and camera techniques. This doesn’t take away from the fact that film making has always been a growing art form and to see it in its infant days should not take away from the amount of effort and style that was put into those limited forms of film making. “The Big Parade” was only released 2 years before the introduction of the “talkies” and is well known for being one of the last of great silent films of our time.
Jim Apperson (John Gilbert), is a rich and spoiled gentlemen, living the good life, he has no worries, a beautiful fiancée and not a care in the world. All of that changes, however, when World War I arrives on the scene. Jim’s Father shames him into joining the Army once America dives into the great world war and he is shipped off to France for his deployment. All seems well and good there. He makes a couple of friends, Bull (Tom O’Brien) and Slim (Karl Dane) and the three of them putz around the village of Champillion waiting for their walking orders. While there the three of them befriend a beautiful peasant woman by the name of Melisande (Renee Adoree). Jim and Renee hit it off immediately a blossoming love starts to form between the two young people. Before you know it Jim and the rest of his company are shipped off to the front lines and Renee is left in tears with Jim promising to return.
Here the focus of the film shifts to a much harsher and depressing tone. The actual game of war is not really a game at all, but a deadly march towards death, destruction, defeat or victory. Jim and his buddies battle their way through the German lines taking ground the whole way, only to end up in a faceoff between an entrenched German battalion and his own. The night grows dark and Slim is sent out on a mission that is pretty much a death sentence. Hearing their buddy dying out in the dark Bull and Jim defy orders and charge the German lines and leading an attack that sweeps the field in their favor. The only problem is that Jim is the only one of the three amigos that makes it out alive. Wounded and a mess, Jim wakes up in an Army hospital and finds out the village of Champillion has been sacked by the enemy and been a battleground for days. Traveling to Champillion, Jim desperately searches for any sign of Melisande, only to be hit by a mortar shell once more and sent home as disabled. On arriving home he finds out his fiancé has been a bit less than faithful and is bitter over what has happened to him. Not giving up home he decides that he MUST find Melisande, whatever the cost and sets out on a trek that finally reunites the couple in a tearful reunion.
As I said earlier, “The Big Parade” is a bit pedestrian compared to many modern epics such as the legendary “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Schindlers List”, but it is a fantastic piece of historical fiction that is a must watch for anyone who enjoys the history of film and where the roots for those legendary epics came from. While the storytelling and implementation aren’t as refined as modern films, that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment factor one bit. The first third of the film has always been a bit slow, filled with some cheesy propaganda dialogue (in text of course), but only serves to setup the rest of the film. Once Jim gets to France, the light hearted romance that is sparked between Renee and himself creates a much more engaging film that is sure to draw you in. Once the actual battle starts you can’t help but be glued to the screen, watching a film that is unrated, meant for everyone, display the horrors of war, the death and loss, without actually showing blood, guts or anything we today would find necessary to drive home the message. It’s fascinating to see Jim come face to face with the other side and come to the realization that the other side of the war, is just like him. Young boys who are scared out of their mind, following orders and watching THEIR friends die, just as much as Jim is watching his friends lose their lives.
The last half hour of the film is EXTREMELY powerful. I have a personal connection in that when Jim comes home, body torn up from the mortar shells, and bullets that have attacked his flesh, I had flashbacks to when my own brother stepped off the plane 2 years ago, bandaged up from head to toe from an IED spreading shrapnel through a 1/3rd of his body. Watching Jim deal with the anger, the rage, self-loathing broke my heart remembering when I witnessed the exact same emotions flitting across a similar loved ones face. The re-uniting of Renee and Jim is rising crescendo to an emotional film that’s torn you from one spectrum to the other, putting a final smile on your face as the credits rolled.
One thing that I REALLY liked was the lack of super models in the whole film. The soldiers were gangly, bulky, skinny and just looked like a bunch of worn out young men holding a gun and hoping for the best. Even Jim, the handsomest of the bunch wasn’t ripped from head to toe and have his teeth sparkle every time he smiled. Renee herself was a beautiful WOMAN, not an anorexic super model that most of Hollywood is filled with, but a flesh and blood woman, with some serious natural beauty. Something you really don’t see a lot of in modern films
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=12851[/img]At first glance the video quality of “The Big Parade” may not seem like demo material, and you’re right, it’s most definitely not. What it IS though, is faithful to the source material that is at hand. If you’ve seen the original DVD of “The Big Parade” then you know that the Black and White DVD looked a mess, detail smeared everywhere and lack of resolution didn’t make it any better. Here the film elements have been lovingly restored to the best that they’ve ever looked. “The Big Parade” was shot on several different film stocks and you can see the shift from one stock to the next, one moment the camera is focused like a razor and the next it tends to shift out of focus. However there is a beautiful layer of film grain over the whole film and only minor layers of dirt and the occasional scratch. The black levels are rather inconsistent due to the optical effects used at the time for day for night shots and the like. All of this to say according to my own viewings of the original print screens as well as the commentary embedded in the film this is about as good as the film can ever look due to old old almost 100 year film stock and the effort went into restoring it is staggering. While it can never be “Iron Man” level demo material it is amazing what they were able to do with such an old dirty film.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=12853[/img]Now being that this is a silent film with a 2.0 mono sound track you can rightly assume that there really isn’t much going on in the audio department. The 2 front channel are quite literally the ONLY channels out of my 5 speakers that are being utilized, and most of that is the musical score. The score however, is beautiful and leads us through the film allowing us (along with the visual acting) to make up for the lack of descriptive dialogue that most of us are used to today. Haunting in one moment to a lightly lilting jig the next it keeps us laughing, intrigued and saddened, all with a flick of the conductor’s wand. There is some background sounds intermingled every once in a while, but for the most part this is a musical track, and what it does, it does well, however that can’t make up for what it isn’t as well, which is not a wildly robust track that we’re going to use as demo material.
• Audio Commentary by Historian Jeffrey Vance with King Vidor
• Theatrical Trailer
• Vintage Short 1925 Studio Tour
• 64 page book of comprehensive notes by Historian Kevin Brownlow, photo art, and more
“The Big Parade” is a cinematic piece of our history, one of the oldest films to date on the Blu-ray format and well deserving of its academy awards, not only for its historical value, but for the sheer epic force that it was back in the emerging days of film. Many of us today would find the limited dialogue cheesy, and the acting a bit over dramatic, and even the film shooting styles to be amateurish, however back in the day it was the “Star Wars” of its era. A film that pushed the boundaries of what people thought could be shown on screen and surpassed the fluff pieces that most people were used to giving us a war drama that is lighthearted, sweetly romantic and deeply horrifying in one sitting. This film is not one that I’m going to recommend as a buy to everyone due to its different nature, but if you haven’t seen the film, and are interested in historical films, or the black and white silent films of a near century ago, then I highly recommend checking it out. For the fans of this classic films than all I can say is GET IT NOW! It’s the best the film has every looked and probably ever will unless technology massively changes in the next decade or so.
Starring: John Gilbert, Renée Adorée, Tom O'Brien, Karl Dane
Directed by: King Vidor, George W. Hill
Written by: Lawrence Stalling (story), Harry Behn
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0
Studio: Warner Brothers
Blu-Ray Release Date: Oct 1st, 2013
Buy The Big Parade Digibook Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Check It Out
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