Archive for the ‘Silent films I like’ Category

A western Idyll

In Cowboys, Silent films I like on July 28, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Film within the film “Hoodoo Ann”, 1916, DW Griffith.


In Silent films I like on July 8, 2010 at 10:19 pm

From Down To The Sea In Ships (1922) “personally directed” by Elmer Clifton.

“The Defect” (La Tare) 1911

In Silent films I like on June 24, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Louis Feuillade directed over 700 films for Gaumont studios between 1906 and his death in 1925.  Remembered today for his thriller serials like “Les Vampires“, Feuillade worked in nearly every genre, making comedies (both broad and slight), melodramas and kiddie films.

Kino Video’s “Gaumont Treasures” features 3 1/2 hours of his works.  My favorite of these is “The Defect.” It’s a 41 minute tragedy focused on Anna Moulin, an unhappy waitress in a brasserie in the Latin Quarter.  In the opening scene, a distinguished doctor drops in for a cocktail.  Anna tells her tale of sorrows and the doctor gives her a chance to change her life — “quit right now and come with me.”  She does and goes to work for him as a nurse in a hospital for poor and orphaned girls.  She selflessly commits her life to her patients, and, upon the doctor’s death, becomes the director of the hospital.

Even though the film is a tale of redemption, Anna never experiences any joy.  We see her grimly enjoy the satisfaction of hard work and accomplishment but we never see her smile.  Somehow this makes her downfall even more tragic.

An old lover appears with a blackmail scheme.  Anna pleads with him to let her continue her exhausting work, to no avail.  Her sordid past is revealed.  She is dismissed and banished from the hospital.

In the final scene, she is alone in a dark apartment.  She sits on the edge of an open window, preparing to jump.  Instead, she collapses in a chair.

The final card reads:  Anna considers the Far East — where people stricken by plague need nurses to liberate them from death.


More Silent Films I Like

In Silent films I like on May 21, 2010 at 9:27 pm

The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ – 1903

Queen Kelly – (Erich von Stroheim) 1929

Three Bad Men (John Ford) – 1926

Flesh and the Devil (Garbo) – 1926

The Master Mystery (serial w. Houdini) – 1920

The Sea Beast (sort of Moby Dick) – 1926

This last is just an awesome film and should be seen immediately!

The Red Kimona – 1925

Some Cool Silent Westerns

In Cowboys, Silent films I like on January 31, 2010 at 4:17 am

Martyrs of the Alamo (1915) – wildly historically inaccurate, this DW Griffith/CB DeMille collaboration kicks ass.

Iron Horse (1924) – proving that John Wayne, Walter Brennan and company were all living in John Ford’s head long before he met them.

Hell’s Hinges (1915) – my favorite Clint Eastwood movie!  When the townspeople murder the preacher, William S. Hart burns down the whole fucking town.

Wild and Wooly – (1917) – high concept western comedy starring the agile Douglas Fairbanks.

King of the Wild Horses (1924) – cool minimalist horse drama (literally) starring Rex the Wonder Horse and from a story by Hal Roach!

Sherlock Holmes reboot

In Silent films I like on December 1, 2009 at 3:11 am

The 1922 “Sherlock Holmes”, starring John Barrymore, was lost for many years.  This Goldwyn Pictures film is a surprisingly precedent of the modern “series reboot.”  By 1922, there had already been dozens of Sherlock Holmes films.  However, like “Batman Begins” and “Superman Returns”, this film is an origin myth.  (And one completely of the writers’ invention — no such story exists in A C Doyle’s body of work.)

The first few scenes illustrate this.  We first meet Holmes’ (soon to be) nemesis Moriarty, who rules an empire of crime and has the hooks into a Prince.  In the next significant scene, the Prince visits his friend Watson.  The iconography of the Holmes universe is so unfamiliar to the audience that Watson can be introduced smoking a curved pipe in thoughtful repose in a cluttered study.  Watson thinks a friend from University might be able to help out – he’s a smart chap who is mighty good at puzzles.  Holmes is then introduced as a young romantic, reclining in the shadow of a tree, jotting observations on life in a notepad.

The film is also interesting for predating a number of Fritz Lang signature films.  Lang’s “Spies” (1928) and the Dr. Mabuse films (1933) were built around a criminal mastermind and his criminal empire.  These films were more concerned with the villain than anyone involved in his capture.  Similarly, Moriarty starts this film and he directs its action.  In fact, the UK title of the film is “Moriarty”.  The villain charts, as well, the life course of the world’s greatest detective, for it is he that transforms Holmes from a dawdling student of life into the driven master of deduction. At the end of the first act, the two come face to face, “for the first and last time” announces Moriarty as he dismissively shows Holmes the door.  Holmes pledges his life and the entirety of his intellect to this science of deductive logic so that he can bring this fiend down.  “My life’s work is to rid the world of that gigantic menace – Moriarty.”

Moriarty so rules the picture that it is only his capture (another invention) which allows Holmes to find love.

As to the cinematic worth of “Sherlock Holmes”, the program notes from a rare 1975 screening of the film at  NYU are dead-on in their criticism, and pretty amusing as well.

Some more films I like from the teens

In Silent films I like on September 27, 2009 at 7:08 am

King Lear – 1916

The Last Days of Pompeii – Italy – 1913

Sir Arne’s Treasure – Mauritz Stiller (digging this dude) – 1919

Traffic In Souls – 1913

Shakespeare Unplugged

In Silent films I like on September 9, 2009 at 5:33 am

Watching a collection of silent adaptations of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.  Early works: 1899-1911 and short: under 20 minutes a piece.

Yes, silent Shakespeare seems like the worst idea ever — it’s an understatement to call Shakespeare “verbal” — but, watching this, you remember that plays like “The Tempest” and “Midsummer’s Night Dream” have a lot of magic in them.  This allows liberal use of shot-action photography so stuff can disappear.  and back-winding for double-exposures  — new and exciting tricks of the day.

On the other hand, it is extremely weird to see these actors gesticulating in silent film manner, and know that they are speaking some of the greatest dialogue in English literature.

King John“King John”, 1909.

Especially worth viewing are “King Lear” (1911) and “Merchant Of Venice” (1909), both Italian; the hand-tinting is among the most beautiful I’ve seen.

Title Cards

In Silent films I like on August 27, 2009 at 7:19 am

Watching Jean Epstein’s 1928 adaptation of E.A. Poe’s “Hall of the House of Usher”,  La chute de la Maison Usher. Strange thing: instead of the common practice of inserting translated intersitials (or subtitled ones), this DVD had a  translator reading the cards in a heavy French accent.

It was disconcerting, placing me somewhere lost in time — not when the film was made, but not sitting in my living room 2009 either.

This method also created the sensation that the title cards were the voice of a narrator.  This  had never occurred to me.  After some thought, I realized that I’ve always seen the title cards as a tool to be used by the filmmaker — like a long shot, a close-up, or a music sting.  And, like most tools, the better filmmakers use them sparingly.

So, a sincere thank you to the folk over at Image Entertainment for a misguided notion.

Some films I like from the Teens

In Silent films I like on August 19, 2009 at 7:05 am

Student of Prague – (Paul Wegener) – 1913

Traffic In Souls – 1913

Twilight of a Woman’s Soul  (Evgeni Bauer) – 1913

The Golem – (Paul Wegener) 1914

The Darkening Trail (William S. Hart) – 1915

Trilby – 1915 (amazing finale!)

Hells Hinges – (William S. Hart) – 1915

After Death (Evgeni Bauer) – 1915

The Dying Swan (Evgeni Bauer) – 1917

The Spiders (Fritz Lang) – 1919

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – 1919

Brand Upon The Brain – 2006