Silent Film Journal

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Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 6:32 pm

I decided to rummage through the Last Movie thread and pull out the silent films I've seen and post them here, so people who feel like discussing certain silent films feel free to do so. Likewise anyone who watches a silent film feel free to post at least a few random thoughts here. I'll try and make each post somewhat informative with whatever historical information I can find. I'm feeling somewhat motivated, so I might just go through the entire Last Movie thread.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 6:34 pm

The Bells (1926) - James Young

Well the silent film fest is continuing and nearly over. This film is perhaps best marketed today as one of the early appearances of Boris Karloff, whose role here is extremely small as a hypnotist. The film combines all the guilt you'd expect in an Edgar Allen Poe story, but with an ending that doesn't seem to really fit. Gruesome at times, and heavily influenced by German cinema this film has aged somewhat well. As a period film a different era's morals can be employed and a great deal is said about superstition and witchcraft. Lionel Barrymore proves that he never actually was young, but delivers a good performance as the man who most profited by the gruesome death of a travelling Jewish merchant. I admired how his character, despite turning into the "villain" is actually by far the nicest guy in the story, which of course leads to the chilling notion that under the right or wrong depending on your beliefs circumstances anyone is capable of evil. The film is full of expressionistic touches and plenty of ghostly evidence make it one of the finer psychological horror films of its time.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 6:35 pm

Paris Qui Dort (1922) - Rene Clair

Rene Clair's first film might very well be his best. Although just over 20 minutes, I loved the concept of the picture. A scientist perfect a ray to make the whole city of Paris stop dead in its tracks. However a few people are not affected, and proceed to run through the "ghost town" of Paris, having champagne on top of the Eiffel Tower and visiting the hottest clubs where all the dancers aren't moving. The film would be copied in some form or another many times over, and it was echoed quite well in Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky introduction. I found it interesting though that on this particular Kino VHS release (I had seen it previously on the Criterion DVD for Under the Roofs of Paris) the score made it sound like it was some creepy science fiction/horror film and the doctor who created the ray was something of a monster. This was the American release, here named 3:25, and it was re-edited to highly contrast the fun and fancy free French original. Knowing the somewhat fantastic and surreal elements from Clair, this is a fine start as any to a subversive and always fascinating film career.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 6:37 pm

The Penalty (1920) - Wallace Worsley

One of the films that helped establish Lon Chaney's reputation as the man of a thousand faces, this yarn has Chaney playing an amputee criminal mastermind whose been plotting his whole life to get revenge on the doctor who unnecessarily cut off his legs. The film is none too terrifying and Chaney's harness to tie his legs behind him might seem like simple tools but the film goes along with a tradition of films where the misshapen, or deformed naturally were unbalanced mentally. Of course Chaney's cure is at once silly and ironic it does help to dispel that myth. Rather melodramatic stuff here and something to hunt out for fans only.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 6:39 pm

It (1927) - Clarence Badger

The film that pretty much cemented Clara Bow's reputation, was actually another in a long string of successful films of hers. The film was actually fairly close to the life Bow would have had without acting. It is a charming romantic comedy that's charming primarily because of Bow who had one of the most incredible screen presences in all of film. Of greater interest is the documentary included on the Kino DVD called "Clara Bow, Discovering the It Girl". The doc is concise yet informative, and I learned quite a bit about her. Hell I though she made about one sound film and dropped off the face of the earth, but she actually made a successful transition to sound, and her heavy Brooklyn accent was nearly as bad as people had made it out to be. Now I'm curious to see more of her films, considering how horribly ignorant I am of her work. It however will remain her most remembered and celebrated work. Modern evidence has linked Josef Von Sternberg to the project but received no screen credit. The film was made shortly before he would become Paramount's top dramatic director. It was released early in 1927 so was ineligible for Oscar contention, although I wonder if Bow would have been recognized, she failed to receive a nomination from that first year's best picture winner Wings.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 6:40 pm

Phantom (1922) - F. W. Murnau

With a film title like Phantom, and a director like Murnau, who's three previous films all contained elements of the super natural, the title of this film might seem really misleading. Once I realized the film had nothing to do with Phantoms or spirits, you quickly had to reassess the picture. The film is more melodrama, and a little downbeat. However the picture despite being completely non-specific about time or place, the picture does comment on the economic situation of then present day Germany. The film is pretty much all about money, and the lack of it. Murnau disposes of most of the expressionistic touches of the film. However parts of the film use some tricks. The film is probably more closely related to impressionistic film. This is evident in the nightclub scene, where delirium is rendered with a very subjective scene. The film was thankfully unearthed and restored, perhaps not to its original glory, but far better than any previously available prints. Luckily at the same time a print of The Haunted Castle was unearthed, so I can only hope that film can come back.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 6:42 pm

Judex (1916-17) - Louis Feuillade

There aren't a lot of Feuillade serials on DVD, in fact there are about two available in the US, Fantomas was released on Region 2. Getting a chance to see this was certainly a treat. The film gets unfairly demoted next to Les Vampires, but that is unjust. The film feels like a film novel. In episode form the serial doesn't need to relate to a conclusion. Instead all you need is enough to contain thirty minutes or so, and this film works on that level, as roughly 13 mini-films each a narrative within itself with a loose end. Allowing for many rich characterizations, and a chance for many characters to be introduced and disappear without us really getting confused. The modern equivalent of a mini-series, I can't help but admire this work. Not to say if its better, but I feel I got more out of this than Les Vampires. Perhaps its because the characters in this film seemed more human, even if it's uncommon to have a secret labyrinth of tunnels, a pack of dogs that can lead you to a secret lair, and of course the means to enact diabolical revenge.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 6:50 pm

My Best Girl (1927) - Sam Taylor

Mary Pickford's final silent film and the one most people consider to be the most similar to her real life. This is the film that paired her with future husband Charles "Buddy" Rogers. Pickford's performance is good here, and she has an opportunity to go all over the place as this film blends romance with comedy, slapstick, and of course melodrama. Worth a look, and certainly a highlight, but I was more impressed with her earlier performance in Stella Marris to go calling this her finest hour. It could be noted that the director, Sam Taylor came from Harold Lloyd which is where you can see a great deal of the timing in these slapstick moments may have come from.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 6:56 pm

Au Secours! (1923) - Abel Gance

Now we're talking. Clocking in at a whopping 23 minutes, this gem is definitive French Impressionism. Gance the experimentalist makes this "haunted house" a ridiculous odyssey in false perspectives, rapid editing, subjective camera moves, and everything else he can find. A near perfect film if nothing else for its endless experimentation. Max Linder stars and also co-wrote the story.

La Folie du Docteur Tube (1916) - Abel Gance

Also included on the same Image DVD as the above two films, this one is considered by some to be the birth of avant-garde French cinema. Gance uses a mad scientist story to be able to distort everything. The film is short, and appears like it may have some missing footage, but for its format its worthwhile. Albert Dieudonne, who later played Napoleon stars.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 7:00 pm

Alibi (1929) - Ronald West

While trying to find any films from the earliest years of the Oscars available, I uncovered this gem from the very much forgotten Ronald West. West was a unique auteur who worked in complete secrecy and shot only at night. His film is hyper stylized with numerous expressionist touches. His city skyline is painted, everything is at an angle, and there are shadows that could swallow a person whole. The morality of the film may be its most curious aspect though. Cops in this film torture people, frequently use gangster tactics, and are never honest. However the criminals shoot people in the back, faint at fake gunshots, and fall on their knees whenever their life is in danger. In West's world no one has any merit. He is not favoring one side over another, they're both horrible. An extremely pessimistic side to take, but a supremely interesting film. Highly recommended for fans of gangster films, expressionism or the curious toddler years where Hollywood learned to talk.

This film and Chester Morris were both nominated for Oscars in 1928/29, it lost in both races.
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