Last Laugh 1 Crop 1

 Oct 11: Lecture: Visual Storytelling (Derek Wilson)

             Film: The Last Laugh (FW Murnau)

A brief survey of the development of film techniques in telling stories on film, including the following key stages:

  • From 'people-watching' to watching movies
  • Making the viewer 'tell' the story, identifying
  • Mise en scene, atmosphere
  • Actors and movement
  • Editing and time
  • Editing and meaning
  • Close-ups, angles
  • Shots, cuts, camera trickery
  • Perspectives
  • moving the camera
  • Add sound and music
 Derek will look in particular at the techniques pioneered by FW Murnau in The Last Laugh and in Sunrise - A Song of Two Humans, which Murnau made in 1927 after he moved to Hollywood. It has consistently ranked as one of the best films ever made. It will be shown by Berwick Film Society on October 10.
The Last Laugh was made by Murnau for UFA in Germany in 1924 and was the first major film to rely entirely on the camera to tell the story (i.e. there were no intertitles). This was achieved by making the camera mobile (called "unchained camera"), using dollies or wires for tracking shots and moving point-of-view shots. Murnau's work was a major influence on Alfred Hitchcock, who was working at UFA as an assistant director when The Last Laugh was being made. (Hitchcock's first job in the movies had been as a designer of intertitles, which Murnau and his colleagues were doing their best to eliminate!)
As well as being a pioneer in cinematic techniques, The Last Laugh was a major critical and financial success. Along with Nosferatu (1922) and Faust (1926), it cemented Murnau's reputation as the leading light of German Expressionism, and paved the way for his move to Hollywood in 1927.
According to Derek, "F.W..Murnau once said that 'Screen art ought, through its unique properties, to tell a complete story by means of images alone; the ideal film does not need titles....The camera is the director's sketching pencil. It should be as mobile as possible to catch every passing mood, and it is important that the mechanics of the cinema should not be interposed between the spectator and the picture. The film director must divorce himself from every tradition, theatrical or literary, to make the best possible use of his new medium.' The Last Laugh exemplifies Murnau's words, which is my reason for choosing to screen the film!"
Image Credit: Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden, Germany