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Daybreak Express

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 8, 2015

This bright little city symphony is similar to, roughly contemporary with Stan Brakhage’s The Wonder Ring. It’s not a contest, but whereas Brakhage seems to be finding his voice, or his craft, Pennebaker is already there. And at this wonderfully confident early part in his career, his voice is his craft; this is photographically, rhythmically superb stuff. The images are exactly cut to Duke Ellington’s eponymous composition, or maybe in a strange, retroactive way, the composition is cut to the eponymous images. Regardless of chickens or eggs, sound and picture achieve a superb balance, not usually accomplished or even contemplated in conventional films.

(For some of the very best of that you might also want to check out Maurice Jaubert’s collaborations with Jean Vigo [1933 and 1934], or Sergei Eisenstein’s with Sergei Prokofiev [1938, 1945, 1958], Bernard Hermann’s scores  for RKO’s Citizen Kane and The Devil and Daniel Webster [1941], the conclusion to the Archers’ Black Narcissus [1947], or the ballet portion of their The Red Shoes [1948].)

The form here comes happily to the forefront, but there’s an attitude here as well, or an idea, which then practically coalesce into a theme or even message. It’s lovely: all this brightness and colour and purposeful velocity makes Daybreak Express a remarkable and even inspiring bit of urban optimism.

Last little thing: the exact tension between the subject and the conscious capturing of same also makes this into something you wouldn’t necessarily expect or credit. But there it is: this is Paul Cezanne, standing exactly, exquisitely between faithful representation and rapturous abstraction. Fun for your kids, or your graduate school seminar.