Where Forgotten Films Dwell

Welcome to this site! It exists for one reason: to preserve the memory of films that have been forgotten about or under-appreciated throughout the ages. Take a seat, read an entry, leave a comment. You might discover your new favorite movie!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Мать (Mother)

Directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin

The 1920s was truly one of the greatest times in the history of cinema. Hollywood was solidifying its status as a wellspring of creative filmmaking. DeMille pioneered the modern historical epic. Flaherty gave birth to documentary filmmaking. Chaplin, Keaton, and Floyd delighted the world with comedic masterpieces that have yet to be topped. Warner Brothers gave birth to sound pictures, MGM to musicals, and Paramount to the movie star. France also challenged to status quo by examining the artistic merits and possibilities of the film medium. Innovators like Dreyer, Clair, and Renoir, and Buñuel dared to take the cinema to new heights by treating it as a genuine art form instead of just a source of entertainment. In Germany, economic hardships sparked the German Expressionism movement, a fever dream of artistic expression and innovation.

And yet, there is one other country that redefined cinema during the 1920s: The USSR. Established on December 30, 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would forever change the balance of world power and become a defining force of world culture. Declared by V. I. Lenin as the single most important medium for educating the masses in the ways of Communism, the cinema took on a new role. Whereas in America the cinema was entertainment and in Europe it was art, in the Soviet Union, the cinema became propaganda.

Throughout the 1920s, several of the greatest geniuses to ever touch the medium were employed by the Soviet government to transform the cinema into a teaching tool of indoctrination. To do so, new cinematic techniques and methods were invented. Dziga Vertov pioneered the theory of Kino-Pravda, or film truth, which postulated that the cinema can witness and depict greater truth than can be seen with the naked eye. Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) was a bold attempt to literally redefine cinematic language and is still revered today as one of the greatest films ever made. Sergei Eisenstein released what could be the greatest one-two-three punch debut in the history of cinema with Strike (1924), The Battleship Potemkim (1925), and October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1928). In these three films, Eisenstein quite literally changed the rules of cinematic construction by introducing the theory and practice of montage editing. Alexander Dovzhenko’s “Ukraine Trilogy” would become three of the most important films in early Soviet history, simultaneously gaining praise and scorn from Soviet authorities for sheer craftsmanship and political ambiguity.

And yet, there is one director from this era who almost always seems to be overlooked by film enthusiasts. While he may not be as famous as Vertov or as influential as Eisenstein, he still remains one of the most consummate cinematic craftsmen to ever come from the Soviet Union. His name was Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin. History may overlook him, but it can never overlook his work.

Just like his contemporary Eisenstein, Pudovkin helped pioneer the montage editing process. But Pudovkin differed from Eisenstein in the messages that he promoted through the use of montage. While both obviously used the montage to create scenes that praised the power of the proletariat and the strength of Communism, they highlighted different aspects of the revolutionary process. Eisenstein used the montage to glorify the image of the masses. In Battleship Potemkin the infamous Odessa Steps Massacre shows the Czarist guards as an unfeeling machine that mowed down crowds of innocent bystanders. In October: Ten Days that Shook the World, Eisenstein used hundreds of extras to create scenes where waves of humanity swept across their oppressors. To Eisenstein, there was strength, power, and significance, in numbers.

Pudovkin preferred to focus on the individual. The montage was used to highlight the individual efforts and struggles that made up the revolutionary forces that swept across Russia. In The End of St. Petersburg (1927), a single unemployed peasant becomes a revolutionary hero. His magnum opus, Storm Over Asia (1928) followed the plight of a plain Mongol herdsman who leads a revolution against English oppressors. These two films alone would be enough to solidify Pudovkin as one of the USSR’s premiere filmmakers. However, both of these films were predated by another masterpiece. The film in question was simply titled Mother (1926) and it eclipses both films in terms of emotional content and impact.

Allow me to explain. In both Storm Over Asia and The End of St. Petersburg the main heroes are exploited characters who eventually rise up against their oppressors. However, they do it by their own volition. They rebel because they believe it the right thing to do. In the case of Mother, the events are inspired by something much simpler and infinitely more powerful: love.

Based on a Maxim Gorky novel, the film follows the struggles of a simple family caught up in the failed 1905 Russian Revolution. The father is a rough brute who keeps his wife in constant terror. The son is an inspired revolutionary wholeheartedly devoted to his cause. The mother is an ever-suffering woman. Life is hard, her husband is abusive, and her only son seems hell-bent on throwing his life away. It isn’t long before her husband is killed in a worker’s strike, leaving her in charge of the family. When the son asks her to hide weapons for the revolution, she wearily agrees. But when the police come looking for them, she quickly betrays them, hoping that they will free her son.

Of course they don’t. In a farcical trial scene reminiscent of Tolstoy’s Resurrection, the son is sent to prison. Things come to a head when the prisoners try to escape. But they are brutally massacred. Inspired by the horrors of Czarist oppression and spurred on by the death of her son, she picks up a political cudgel and joins in a worker’s protest. The ending is the stuff of cinematic legend. To ruin it would be a crime. Suffice to say, the film stays faithful to history.

What propels this film to the level of a masterpiece is Pudovkin’s impeccably economic execution and delivery. As Pudovkin’s first independently produced feature, he had access to little money. So Pudovkin had to compensate with devastating cinematic grammar. Along with his cinematographer Anatoli Golovnya, Pudovkin doesn’t waste a single shot or frame composition. Rob Edelman wrote a fantastic article explaining some of the attributes of Pudovkin and Golovnya’s cinematic language:

He and his cinematographer, Anatoli Golovnya, photographed the actors from every which angle: a military officer's self-importance would be conveyed by shooting him from below; the mother's early frustration would be emphasized by shooting her from above, and at the end, her triumph and liberation is highlighted by shooting from below. When Pudovkin places his camera in this position, the character's upper body and head seem further away, more inaccessible, reaching to the sky and towering over the viewer; when the actor is beneath the camera he becomes inferior, in that the viewer is literally looking down on him. Pudovkin does not shoot his performance straight on, as if he is recording a stage play. Mood and characterization are communicated in Mother not by the actor emoting before the camera; the performer is almost a passive participant in the filmmaking process.

That isn’t to say that the acting in Mother is hackneyed. Pudovkin used a blend of professionals (the mother and son were recruited from the Moscow Art Theater) and non-actors (smaller roles like the colonel supervising the son’s interrogation) to create a dynamic world that is both highly realistic and expressionistic. The performances were also highlighted by Pudovkin’s use of montage. Take the famous scene where the son receives good news while in prison. His reaction is punctuated with images of spring: a thawing river, children playing, and birds bathing.

Inevitably (and predictably) later in Pudovkin’s career he would fall out of favor with Soviet authorities. But before he provoked Soviet ire, Pudovkin left a powerful string of films to cement his legacy. Mother will forever be remembered as one of his greatest. A genius piece of economic filmmaking, Mother also separated itself from other Soviet films by making the audience feel sympathy and love for the characters. The struggles faced by the mother reflected countless other cases of pain and suffering that permeated Soviet revolutionary efforts. And yet, as a piece of propaganda, it works its magic. It is impossible to not feel inspired and enraged by the events that transpire. Some may ask why. The answer is that Pudovkin put a human face on the revolution: that of a loving mother.

The entire film can be watched for free on youtube. Below is part 1/11.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Editor's Note: One Year Old

Well, to all my faithful readers I have great news!

Today is the one year anniversary of "Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear"!

The past 52 weeks has produced 87 film reviews. For those who are interested, here are some interesting statistics:

Sorry, that's supposed to say "Continent."


I want to thank all of my great readers and all of those who have been so kind to leave comments over the past year.

In particular, I wish to thank:

AJB: For that great article on Seijun Suzuki!

Bruta1ity: For helping me learn about the wonders of Russian cinema! I got a special treat for you in a week!

Chris: For spreading the word about my blog and for keeping things classy!

Danielmontgomery: Thanks for adding me to your blogroll and for the great encouragement!

Dave: For keeping it real with the Western rap! I miss you, buddy! Comment more!!!

Elisabeth and Baba: Without you two, there wouldn't be a single African film on this blog! Love you!

Emptyflow: For your kind words of encouragement!

Felipe Lacerda: I hope that we cleared everything up! I'm very thankful to have you as a reader!

Fred: For proving that musicals never go out of style!

Ian Mongomery: For all of your kind words! As one blogger to another, keep up the great work, buddy!

Jonathan Cameron
: For the hits, the encouragement, and, of course, the love and prayers! Tell Janet I love her!

: You have NO IDEA how thankful I am for every word of feedback that you give. It truly is an honor to have you comment on my site!

Litdreamer: Hope you've enjoyed "I Live in Fear"!

: For constantly commenting and saving my life!

Paul J. Marasa: For setting me straight about Bresson! ;)

poetbdk: Hope my article on "The Trial of Joan of Arc" helped your book!

S.M. Rana: For being one of the best contributors and commentators on this blog. It wouldn't be the same without you!

Tom Morris: Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Altman!

Wilding: I know that you're out there, buddy! I'll see you around /tv/!

To all my other commentators and subscribers, thank you.

This has not been an easy year for me. There were several times when this blog was my last stake on sanity. Every subscription and comment was like a dream come true.

Special thanks to Mom, Dad, and Rachael. I'd be lost without you all.

God bless you all.

Here's to another year!

Keep those comments coming!

In celebration of my first year anniversary, I will be taking this week off. I'll be back on October 30th with a new review!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came Into the World)

Directed by Paul Wegener and Carl Boese

If the cinema is a world of dreams, then German Expressionism is a world of nightmares. After the horrors of World War One, Germany was consumed by rampant inflation and a horrendous economy. In order to compete with lavish Hollywood films, German filmmakers reinvented the language of the cinema so that they could make films cheaply while maintaining a sense of artistic integrity. Disillusioned by the War to End All Wars, horror seemed a natural fit for a country that had lost 13,000,000 young men. Films began to deal more increasingly with matters of madness and monstrosities. Sets became lucid mazes of sharp angles, painted shadows, and terrifying vistas. In a sense, the fractured and distorted sets and shots reflected the shattered mindset of the films’ characters and, in a sense, those of its audience. Early German Expressionist films, like The Student of Prague (1913) and Destiny (1921) dealt with Faustian exchanges and deals with Death himself. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) were progenitors of the modern monster film with lumbering somnambulists and creeping vampires that lurked in the shadows.

90 years after their production, most German Expressionist films are lovingly cherished by film makers and connoisseurs. Many have been painstakingly restored from their original prints so they can be preserved for the ages. And yet, there is always the occasional film that slips under the radar. One of these is a film of staggering power and artist merit entitled The Golem: How He Came into the World. The third in a series of films about a clay golem that comes to life and murders hapless victims, The Golem: How He Came into the World is the only one that still survives to this day. The film itself was a prequel to the first golem film, appropriately titled The Golem (1915) that took place in the (then) modern world. Set in the 16th century, The Golem: How He Came into the World deals with how the golem was first created. Truly, the origin story of this early film monster deserves to be appreciated not only as a towering example of the genre of German Expressionism, but also as a consummate work of art.

In 16th century Prague, the esteemed Rabbi Loew ben Bezalel reads in the stars that a great catastrophe threatens the Jews. The catastrophe comes in the form of an edict from Emperor Rudolf II that the Jews must leave the city of Prague due to accusations of practicing black magic and the scorning of Christian ceremonies. To protect his community, Rabbi Loew constructs a golem, a massive automaton made of clay. After a magical ceremony, the Rabbi brings the golem to life by giving it a magical pendant with the word aemaet inscribed on it (Depending on who you ask, aemaet can mean either “life,” “God,” or “truth”). He then brings the golem to the court of Emperor Rudolf II and tries to reason with him to repeal the decree of banishment. Laughing at his appeal, Rabbi Loew orders the golem to make the palace collapse onto the spectators and block the exit. Desperate, the Emperor swears that if Rabbi Loew recalls the golem, he will repeal the decree.

When they return home from the palace, all seems well. Then Rabbi Loew tries to deactivate the golem. Unbeknownst to him, the golem, having been alive too long, has no intentions of going quietly into that dark night. The golem rebels, sets the city on fire, and begins a murder spree. The golem is eventually stopped, and I will leave that incredible scene for my readers to discover themselves. Suffice to say, as the golem was borne of ignorant makers, it could only be defeated by ignorant innocents.

The Golem: How He Came into the World was a terrifying film of grim ironies. Accused of black magic, the Rabbi Loew decides to protect his people by summoning Astaroth, otherwise known as the Crowned Prince of Hell, to bring his automaton to life. The golem, originally designed to protect the Jewish community from destruction, ends up almost annihilating them himself. In a way, the film acts as a prophetic warning of the coming of fascism in Germany in the 1930s. In order to save themselves from destruction, the German people elected Adolf Hitler as the Chancellor of Germany in 1933 to lead them. Eventually, the man they elected to help rebuild and protect their country would plunge them into World War Two, leaving their cities in ruins and their population decimated.

The film, while revolutionary, is a tad uneven. Rabbi Loew has a daughter named Miriam who begins a tryst with a knight named Florian who originally delivered the decree of banishment to the Jewish community. The entire affair, while vital to the plot later in the film, comes off as out-of-place in such a nightmarish landscape. Rabbi Loew takes his automaton about town and even sends it shopping at the market in one scene. Perhaps this was intended to show how tame the golem was harmless when first constructed. But one feels that such scenes were only added to pad the film’s length and to give the golem more face time.

But such complaints are tolerable in the face of such innovation. The directors Paul Wegener and Carl Boese, were key figures in the German Expressionist movement. Boese, who actually appeared in the film as the golem, helped define how movie monsters would act, move, and respond. Along with the somnambulist Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Count Orlok from Nosfertu, the golem was a prototype movie monster that would go on to inspire the characters of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman.

As a production, The Golem: How He Came into the World may seem overly excessive for its genre. Armed with multiple sets and a massive cast that included waves of extras all dressed up in expensive period costumes, The Golem: How He Came into the World must have been a herculean production for its time. But the effect was well worth it. The end result was a film that existed in a macrocosm of fear and suspicion, terror and uncertainty. While The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari clearly existed in a series of sets, The Golem: How He Came into the World leads the viewers to believe that they are truly witnessing another world, or perhaps, a shadow from the past. Or, could it be that the film was a reflection of the future? Only the stars know….

The entire film can be seen for free on youtube. Below is a link to the first part of the film.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Girl Shy

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
The United States of America

He was so afraid of girls that he made a secret study of them, and the more he studied them the more he feared them.

Of all the great silent comics, there was never a man quite like Harold Lloyd. He was not a rascally little troublemaker like Charlie Chaplin or the perfect stone-faced gagster like Buster Keaton. Instead, his characters were usually unassuming, white-bread men. Walter Kerr, author of the 1975 book The Silent Clowns probably best summed it up by saying, “He had to think it all out. Lloyd was an ordinary man, like the rest of us: ungrotesque, uninspired. If he wanted to be a successful film comedian, he would have to learn how to be one, and learn the hard way.” And learn the hard way Lloyd did. Of the three great silent comedians (himself, Chaplin, and Keaton), Lloyd was the most prolific. By the mid-20s he had already starred in over 100 films. As the highest paid performer of the 1920s, he became famous for two onscreen personas: Lonesome Luke and his most famous character known simply as “The Boy.” “The Boy’s” toothy smile, stylish hat, and trademark glasses made him instantly recognizable. The famous scene from Safety Last! (1923) where he dangled from a clock on the side of a skyscraper could very well be the most iconic image of the silent film era.

But at their core, Lloyd’s characters were modest, inconspicuous fellows just trying to make their way in the world. Of course, there was usually a girl involved for whom Lloyd would jump through hoops to impress or woo. But then again, that was usually the basic formula for silent comedies back then. Women were prizes for which the protagonist had to endure severe dangers or complications in order to win.

But in 1924 Lloyd released magnificent film that broke away from that formula and in the process inadvertently helped create an entirely new genre of film: the romantic comedy. The film in question was entitled Girl Shy. While it may usually be overshadowed by Lloyd’s other great films like Safety Last! And The Kid Brother (1927), it is nevertheless one of the genius’ greatest films.

We find Lloyd as his “The Boy” character working as a tailor’s assistant for his uncle in the small nowhere town of Little Bend, California. As the title suggests, Lloyd is unusually frightened by women. When confronted by a member of the fairer sex, he is seized by uncontrollable stuttering that can only be broken by the sound of a whistle. His condition makes him somewhat of a celebrity as girls come in to deliberately tease and intimidate him. In one cruel scene, one girl forces him to sew up a hole in her stocking while she wears it.

But despite his fears, Lloyd desperately craves affection. In an early heartbreaking scene, he stands outside of a dance hall and begins to meekly dance with a store’s support column. His undiluted eagerness and bittersweet innocence recall Chaplin dancing with his dinner roles in The Gold Rush (1924). Who cannot identify with such a poignant and familiar scene?

But Lloyd has big plans. He has no intention of staying a tailor’s apprentice for his entire life. He writes a book in the hopes of getting published and becoming a successful writer. His book is entitled The Secret of Making Love by Harold Meadows. Obviously, the title had much more innocent connotations in 1924. Indeed, the book is a compilation of his fantasies of being a successful playboy and ladies’ man. Many of the film’s earliest gags come from reenactments of these fantasies. He first writes his “experience” with “The Vampire,” a seductive brunette trapped within a tightly-fitting dress. After watching the scene, one wonders if Lloyd was a fan of the exploits of Irma Vep in Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires. We then watch his exploits with “The Flapper” who he callously mistreats until she begs for his affections.

After the book is completed, he hops on a train to Los Angeles where he meets a young sociality named Mary Buckingham. She first meets Lloyd when, in one of the film’s most iconic scenes, he sneaks her Pekinese dog onto the train after it is denied entry. Forced to sit next to her in the only empty seat, he finds that he can actually interact with her without breaking down. This is in part to the fact that the train whistle periodically breaks his stutter and to Mary’s eagerness to talk to him. Played by Jobyna Ralston, a regular in many of Lloyd’s films, she channels some of the original innocence and demur beauty of no less than Lillian Gish. But her character in this film is no stock beauty. Unlike the women in Buster Keaton’s work, Mary is not rude, mean, or demanding. Unlike Chaplin’s belles, they were not helpless but well-meaning airheads. She is a funny, kind, and surprisingly experienced character. By that I mean that she is no ingénue. Notice the coy and slightly mischievous smile she gives Lloyd when she learns the name and topic of his book.

When the train reaches its destination, there is a sweet scene where Lloyd and Mary find that they are the sole passengers left after everyone else had departed. Startled t, they hurry off the train towards their different destinations. It is at this time that the audience realizes that this isn’t like the other silent comedic romances that they were accustomed to. The film takes time to develop each character as separate individuals. We watch as Mary rejects suitors and Lloyd’s book gets rejected. When they meet again, Lloyd purposefully blows her off because he was too embarrassed to tell her the truth. It is this conflict that establishes Girl Shy as one of the first genuine romantic comedies. In a romantic comedy, two characters fall in love, for whatever reason they separate, realize that they truly love each other, and get back together. Romantic comedies require there to be a problem or a roadblock in the relationship that each character must overcome. In other silent films of the era, once the protagonist wins the heart of their loved ones, the film usually ends. For them, the comedy was more important than the romance. In Girl Shy, one could make an argument that it is actually a love story with jokes.

Of course, through a series of rather silly events, the publishing company decides to publish Lloyd’s book, Mary decides to marry another suitor, and Lloyd decides that he needs to confess to Mary before she gets married. This is all a set-up to the film’s greatest sequence: the chase to the chapel. If this isn’t one of the greatest silent comedic sequences ever filmed, it is at least one of the best of Lloyd’s career. We watch as he seizes vehicle after vehicle in an attempt to get to the chapel. During the chase, he finds himself on horseback, in a shootout with criminals, and on top of a run-away trolley. The camera intersperses medium and long shots of him almost as if it is desperate to prove that it is indeed Lloyd on top of real runaway vehicles. The audience never doubts it for a second. Several of the stunts could have easily killed him, especially one near impossible shot where he hangs from a pole off the top of a trolley and falls into the passenger seat of a nearby car. Even if it wasn’t Lloyd, we know for a fact that somebody was risking their life doing that stunt.

Of course, Lloyd makes it to the wedding just in time and whisks Mary away. He begs for Mary to marry him, and of course she says yes. Would we want it any other way? After all, we are emotionally invested in both of the principle characters. It makes sense considering that Lloyd described the film as a “character story” instead of a “gag film” that was played solely for laughs. As a result, there were fewer gags and more of a focus on the characters and their relationships. That’s not to say that it isn’t funny. It’s quite the contrary, actually. Girl Shy is one of Lloyd’s funniest films. And we are lucky that he managed to be so funny. By creating that perfect balance between character development and pure humor, Lloyd helped rewrite the way that romantic films would be made for the rest of history. Pretty good for a modest country boy, huh?

The entire film is available on youtube at the following link:


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Editor's Note: A Trio of Silent Films

Hello readers!

Well, we are quickly approaching my 100th review! It's still a couple months away, but we are getting closer and closer every week!

Such occasions give people reasons to reflect. I, too, have begun to reflect over my blog and its reviews. But something struck me as odd.....

Of my 90+ reviews, only SIX of them were silent films!

This problem needs to be alleviated. So, for the rest of the month of October, I will be doing a trio of reviews on silent films. I've got some comedy, some drama, and, in true Halloween spirit, some terror coming your way!

Stick around. You never know what you may find!

Nathanael Hood

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ônibus 174 (Bus 174)

Directed by José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda

On June 12, 2000, a homeless man named Sandro Rosa do Nascimento boarded a public bus in Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro with the intention of robbing its passengers. Armed with a .38 caliber revolver, Sandro found himself in the middle of a hostage situation when one of the passengers managed to signal the Brazilian military police. What followed was a media circus as reporters swarmed the bus, transmitting the entire crisis on Brazilian television. As the day turned to night, Sandro became irritated and began to threaten the lives of his ten hostages. Finally, at 6:50 PM, Sandro exited the bus using one of his hostages, a pregnant schoolteacher named Geisa Firmo Gonçalves, as a human shield. Tragically, a bungled effort by local special ops to disarm Sandro led to Gonçalves being shot several times. As Gonçalves died in the street, the police forced Sandro into the back of a police vehicle where he died of asphyxiation. The entire event was a monumental disaster. Stubborn higher-ups in the police force insisted on taking Sandro alive, resulting in multiple missed opportunities to neutral him with a sniper. The law enforcement acted indecisively as a result of the local media coverage, not wanting to lose face by taking him in on live television. Miscommunication between the various law enforcement branches led to the disastrous attempt to subdue Sandro when he exited the bus, directly leading to Gonçalves’ death. And finally, it is rumored that the police murdered Sandro in the back of the police vehicle as revenge for humiliating the entire department on national television. The officers who took Sandro into custody were tried in court and found not guilty.

The entire affair was later documented and partially recreated in the superb Brazilian documentary Bus 174, named after the specific route advertised on the bus that Sandro unintentionally hijacked (in November 2001 it was renamed as route 158). It creates a visceral and devastating examination of Brazilian law enforcement, media politics, life for homeless orphans, and street crime. But at its heart is Sandro: his life, his struggles, and his unintentional martyrdom. Yes, martyrdom is the right word to use. For Sandro used the event to cry out against social injustices. Screaming at the video cameras that surrounded him, Sandro struck back at the criminal elements that led to his mother being murdered in front of his eyes, the system that prosecutes and mistreats young street orphans, and the apathetic public who, when polled, revealed that they were in favor of killing the orphans in order to clean the city up. Some may say that the death of Gonçalves nullifies all chances of him being a martyr. But let me point out that Gonçalves was shot four times and three of those bullets came from the police officers who were supposed to rescue her.

Directors Padilha and Felipe Lacerda recognized that the Bus 174 incident was a symptom of a much more devastating illness. So they spend much of the film exploring the criminal element of Brazilian society. What we find is a torturous portrait of young children forced to live and steal on the streets. These children, it is explained, are literally invisible to passersby who ignore them as they go about their daily routines. Their lives are worth less than nothing, as they are rounded up, thrown in jails with subhuman conditions, and literally left to rot. Sandro himself was a survivor of legendary Candelaria church massacre of July 23, 1993 where Brazilian policeman murdered seven homeless children and injured several others. We meet a bevy of experts and psychologists who postulate that Sandro was psychologically scarred by the event and may have led to his holding up Bus 174.

As Padilha and Felipe Lacerda dive deeper and deeper into the social ills of Brazilian society, disturbing trend begins to appear. As can be expected, there are several convicted criminals and street orphans who are interviewed. They all mask their identities, either out of fear of losing street cred or facing retribution for squealing. But soon the police officers and law officials that they interview begin to wear masks and disguise their voices as well. One would think that they would have nothing to fear from testifying about a public police action. But it slowly becomes apparent that these men have as much to fear as the street criminals that they attack. Clearly, they face prospects of retribution from inside their own departments. After all, the Bus 174 was a colossal embarrassment for the local law enforcement. In one of the most corrupt police departments in the developing world, is it any surprise that those who remind them of one of their greatest failures would be in danger for their lives?

After all, we are talking about a police department that not only allows, but in a sense depends on corruption and graft to survive. My mother used to work as a missionary in Brazil. She explained to me one day that most Brazilian policemen are severely underpaid by the government. In order to feed their families, officers are literally forced to survive on what they can manage to extort from the public. Bogus traffic violations, spurious parking tickets, and other illegal methods of extortion are the name of the game. When I asked why people didn’t stand up to them, she explained that such a reaction would lead to being put in jail. And the last thing you want, according to my mother, is to end up in a Brazilian jail.

In addition to being forced to operate in a system that requires corruption, Bus 174 explains that many, if not most, policemen are critically under-trained. Experts in the film explain that the mentality among most police officers is that they exist to enforce the law and kill those who stand in their way. Most of the time, it is the homeless who find themselves in such predicaments. In hindsight, it is a miracle that only two people were killed as a result of the standoff.

To watch Bus 174 is to witness a sad implosion of Brazilian society. The end, when it comes, is tragic, but we ultimately don’t expect anything else. What else could happen in such a situation? But Bus 174’s greatest strength is not in what it says, but in what is doesn’t say. A lesser documentary would chastise the local law enforcement and the complacent public that allowed such a tragedy to happen. A lesser documentary would grandstand itself and demand social change. Bus 174 doesn’t. It regards its material with a sad sense of resignation. It bestows Sandro with a sense of dignity and understanding that he probably never received in his life. Ultimately, Bus 174 presents a system in desperate need of change. One can only light a candle for orphans like Sandro, so mistreated, so exploited, so destined for tragedy.

Out of respect for my Brazilian readers, I have removed some lines from this review that may be misconstrued as hurtful or insensitive. As one of my readers pointed out, many of these social ills discussed in this review are being diligently resolved. For that I am extremely thankful.

Part 1/12 of Bus 174