March 3, 1928
Directed by King Vidor
Everyone wants to be special. In our modern age, we spend most of our time surrounded by media, and everyone we see is special. We are so saturated with media, so used to watching and listening to special people, that we believe that to really exist, we must be one of these special people. From childhood, many of us cannot envision a mode of living not based in being special. But the most extraordinary achievement is to learn how to be ordinary. To reach the point where the desire to be special can be dropped completely.
The endemic need to be special was already firmly in place by the time of The Crowd. As a child, our hero has no plan for his life other than that he wants to be special (“I’m going to be somebody big!”). He goes to New York to join the crowd, but this crowd exists only something for him to distinguish himself from, and be noticed by. In 1928 there were still fortunes to be won. This obsession continually trips him up, to the point where it’s embarrassing to watch him next to his patient and doting wife Mary.
Suddenly, he finds himself of step with the crowd. He only achieves his happy ending with the realization that he is already one with everyone else. The crowd means our fellow humans, who we commune with, to soothe bad times and celebrate good ones, and this connection of love and humanity than any degree of “specialness” one could measure. At the beginning, he points and laughs at the poor man on the street. At the end he is the poor man, but he’s still laughing.
The discovery of how to be ordinary was not one that came naturally to cinema, and it’s only now in 1928 that the task is taken up. In order for Hollywood to learn how to portray the ordinary, it had to go to New York. To the crowd. The only city bigger and newer than Berlin.
This mode of realism is most striking in the scenes in their humble New York apartment. Filmed in New York, in a real apartment, with a real bathroom, and a real toilet, and a real El train speeding by. For the first time in cinema’s history, we see the real problems of regular people. Just like us, they are trying to be special, and sometimes, a truly special person can learn the greatest secret of all: how to be ordinary.