This silent film tells the story of a confident hotel porter who is made to work as a lavatory attendant. Emil Jannings has brilliantly played the role of the porter. Emil Jannings brilliantly portrays the porter character. The film only has one intertitle. That does not include dialogue. Cinematography is a key component of the film. The movie shows how, when working with actors and the camera, the camera can communicate so much more than a single word. In F.W. Murnau’s silent film The Last Laugh, Murnau was very innovative in using contrast lighting, camera angles, title cards and no titles. Murnau was unable to use sound or intertitles in this movie so he had to push the limits of his camera and use them with incredible skill to express emotions with remarkable dynamism. The Last Laugh combines expressionist elements like extreme camera angles, distorted dreams imagery, disturbing light effects and disturbing shadow effects with a complicated psychological study of the main character as he falls from privilege.
The film begins with the innovative camera movement. Following the movement of the elevator, the camera is in its interior. A dolly then travels to the main entrance, where it meets the main character: The hotel’s front desk. Murnau uses an infrared camera to get inside the mind and emotions of the doorman. To show the doorman’s mental state, Murnau uses his camera to great effect. The doorman’s prestige is highlighted in the first shots, which are low-angle. When humiliation is imminent, the Old Man is made smaller by using high angles. The hotel is depicted in a tall towering structure with revolving entrances that open skywards. This is Janning’s perception of his workplace as he returns from fear. Murnau also used the camera to depict Jannings’ inebriatedly-depressed state. The camera follows Jannings as he is in a surreal and discombobulated state. Jannings then imagines himself in a dream sequence. He is able to lift large suitcases with one hand and Jannings can be seen flying through the air towards Jannings. This emphasizes the reality being removed from it. After his secret is revealed, his neighbors laugh at him and super-impose their faces onto him. The camera hangs in the street watching the neighborhood, and we are introduced to our neighbors. Later, the camera hangs out by an apartment door. It pans left to view a neighbor who is curious about Jannings’ fate. Murnau moves from balcony to balcony, weaving a web of gossipy, mean-spirited gossip as this woman spreads the information to her neighbors. The film’s epilogue shows Murnau moving from one person to another with his camera, revealing the story of a lottery winner. Murnau’s camera follows Jannings from table to table as he moves from person to person. It is an example of cinema’s unique artistic language that can be reliant on images. The Last Laugh is the first film to demonstrate the potential of camera positioning and movement. This film transformed something so technical to something that was incredibly artistically and expressive. The film also has the distinction of being the first to use the Unchained Camera Technique. It is something that is now so common in film. This film’s cinematography is clearly an active component. The movie shows how the camera can communicate with actors without saying a word.