Silent Film Journal

This is the place to talk about films from around the world.

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 7:12 pm

Aleita Queen of Mars (1924) - Yakov Protazanov

An extremely uncharacteristic Soviet film that seems much more out of UFA than Mosfilm. This early Soviet gem is a science fiction film mixed with a bit of socialist realism. It was a remarkably popular film at the time, and it boasts all the high end production values of numerous Hollywood productions of the time, most similarly DeMille's Ten Commandments. Protazanov handles his actors like silent actors meaning at moments you may want to laugh, but its to be expected in many films. This picture is known for its set pieces and design more than anything else, and its reputation is somewhat deserved. Although, like DeMille's film the major thrust of the story occurs in contemporary times and on this planet.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 02, 2007 7:46 pm

originally posted 1/10/06

The Phantom Chariot (1920) - Victor Sjostrom

Forgot I watched this for awhile. This is classic Swedish film, and I found it more accessible than Sjostrom's more praised Outlaw and His Wife. This had a supernatural element not present in the previous film, and this with all its double exposed shots is the more technically adventerous film. Sjostrom again stars in the film and his acting is as good as his direction here. Still not sure where all the "as influential as Griffith crap came from.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Tue Aug 07, 2007 10:45 pm

Warning Shadows (1923) - Arthur Robison

I was glad to see this film for a rather simple reason. This was made a full year before The Last Laugh, and this film featured no intertitles. As many of you are aware I find Murnau's film dreadfully overrated and was glad that one of the film's claims to fame was preceded by this. Not to say Warning Shadows is remarkably better. The story isn't as easy to follow without titles, but for the German's obsessed with shadows this film is over indulgent. Of course it comes from a man that puts on shadow puppets and proceeds to make all kinds of concoctions behind a light. It is a great joy to watch some of these displays but parts of the film seem somewhat incomprehensible. Artificial as any film of the period and caring largely the same type of overacting, it is a curious piece of German cinema and one that although unsuccessful tried to tell a story without a single word.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Mon Aug 13, 2007 7:42 pm

Dura Lex/By the Law (1926) - Lev Kuleshov

I'm apprehensive to say I've seen two Kuleshov films because I watched this with French subtitles. Visually the montage was built upon image association, but although Kuleshov may have been the founding father of the movement he was probably the least radical as a filmmaker. Dura Lex is shot comparatively without much flash. The location photography is excellent and the performances of the three leads make this better than most of the acting in such "masses" pictures frequently made during the period. The plot, which I couldn't follow particularly well is about a gold miner who attempts to murder his two partners after they don't split up their most recent haul. One survives and lives to capture their would be murderer. The keep him prisoner over the long Alaskan winter when they plan on turning him into the police. This proves too much and their prisoner demands to be hung. Somewhat brutal but compelling.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Mon Aug 13, 2007 8:19 pm

Lonesome (1929) - Paul Fejos

When people mention the artistry of late era silent film, no one seems to have any idea that this movie exists. Paul Fejos might not ring the same kinds of bells that Murnau or Vidor did, but there's something magical about this film that like Sunrise and The Crowd are at heart really simple stories. This one is a boy meets girl story, with both characters set up to be in nearly identical situations. They get up, go to work, work in a meaningless job, get invited out by their attached friends, decline, and wind up boarding the same bus to Coney Island where they meet and almost instantly fall in love only to be lost and separated later. You can feel for the characters in their daily plight, and can instantly feel the solitude that they share in their one bedroom apartments. Fejos has a great work montage as a the hands of clock are superimposed over people yakking on the phone to Mary's (Barbara Kent) switchboard operator. Jim Tryon, who plays Jim the factory worker here, and Kent are perfectly cast. They are barely if at all remembered today, but they represent a decent looking couple that doesn't come stuffed with movie star glamor and seem like real working class people. Their eventual discovery and rediscovery is one of the most joyous expressions of adoration I've seen in a film. The Coney Island string of rides seems to have been taken directly from Clarence Badger's It, but with much different implications. I'm sure someone will eventually restore this and we'll all be able to see what a worthwhile film it really is and further testament to the beauty of the late silent film.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Mon Aug 13, 2007 8:53 pm

Last of the Mohicans (1920) - Clarence Brown and Maurice Tourneur)

Remade several times, for many people this remains the finest adaptation of James Fennimore Cooper's novel of the same name. This version is somewhat literal and is compelling in its own right. Some of the plot threads may seem to be used and reused several times over. The film may be noted today as the first picture to give Clarence Brown directorial credit. He was Tourneur's assistant at the time and when Tourneur fell ill, Brown took over the project, and Tourneur insisted he get credit even giving him top billing. Future leading man Wallace Beery plays a villainous Indian, but most of the remaining cast is somewhat indistinguishable. The story is easy to follow, thanks in part to the remakes, and fans of the Michael Mann version might not be able to sit through this one which is comparably much less action packed, but certainly has some worthwhile sequences for its time.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Tue Aug 14, 2007 4:58 am

The Blue Bird (1918) - Maurice Tourneur

I hear very little about this film from most film cannons. My only guess is that the film's 2005 restoration was too recent for inclusion, and I'm unaware of how impossible to find it was before then. The DVD boasts of a spectacular restoration, but in all honesty the film print is still in shambles. What can be salvaged has but several spots are in particularly bad shape. The film is imaginative if not occasionally overbearing. Based on a stage play that has all the makings of a timeless fable some children are awakened by a fairy who needs to find the magic bluebird of happiness. Suddenly the family pets as well as several inanimate objects take on human characteristics and everyone is off to a magical world where emotions and processes are people rather than things. I feel sometimes that the filmmakers are too impressed with what they are doing. The joy and happiness segment went on for far too long and the journey without resolution was a little disheartening. However certain sequences are fantastic and if you're a fan of primitive special effects this film will thrill you, and certainly it is worthwhile viewing it in the subjective eyes of someone from 1918. Of course the happiness is in your own home message can be well appropriated, but an overall delightful film, that could stand a little trimming.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Tue Aug 14, 2007 6:59 pm

The Cat and the Canary (1927) - Paul Leni

Hollywood then as now was concerned with being the best in the world, so this typically involved bringing foreign talent in when necessary. Paul Leni arrived in America to far less fanfare than Murnau in 1927. He was hired to direct a version of the famous stage play The Cat and the Canary, and of course it just happened to be a Universal picture. No other studio at the time was as concerned with scaring people, but Leni's film is a new kind of horror film. A film that mixes as many creepy and frightening moments with bits of pure slapstick. James Whale would perfect this combination in Bride of Frankenstein but here it still is relatively new. If the film seems predictable that's because it probably established every convention of the haunted house film. Oft-remade no other version has held up as well as the original, and at least from a commercial standpoint Leni appeared to be one of the more successful immigrant directors of the era.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Sun Aug 19, 2007 9:24 pm

The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924) - Mauritz Stiller

Today this epic Swedish film has Greta Garbo plastered all over its cover, but the truth is she's a supporting player, and one that doesn't show up for quite awhile into the film. The title character is played by then huge film star Lars Hanson, who like Garbo and Stiller was brought to Hollywood. The picture is epic and is roughly two features put together. In this story you have a quick framing device to explain Gosta's defrocked priest who happens to be an alcoholic. Much to his credit though he happens to be irresistible to nearly all women so his lowly standing in society makes him the enemy of many a parent. He finds refuge in the house of Ekeby where a group of 12 "knights" sit around drinking eating and occasionally providing a little entertainment for the major and more specifically his wife. A few families are entwined here and almost all of them seem to have a similar situation. The picture was actually released in two parts and was conceived as something of a Swedish Die Nibelungen, namely a massive production to symbolize all that was great in Swedish film. I must say that the film falls short of greatness, but has the tag of forced greatness and modern audiences might not be that entertained. For all its novelistic tendencies and epic character arcs it can be considered something triumphant, and the last picture Garbo and Stiller would make in Sweden.
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Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Mon Aug 20, 2007 5:52 am

The White Hell of Piz Palu (1929) - Arnold Fanck and G. W. Pabst

Hard to believe it but there actually was such a genre known as the mountain film. Produced almost exclusively in Germany most are forgotten about now best known as the inspiration behind Guy Maddin's Careful. For those that remember Leni Reifenstahl as an innovative filmmaker of Nazi propaganda might be surprised what a small portion of her life that accounts for. Included among that everything is a career as a leading lady, and from what survives most sources cite The White Hell of Piz Palu as her best performance. The story is spectacular in its scope, full of avalanches, near death experiences, an exquisite nighttime torch rescue and countless bits of excitement. After all it does seem hard to stretch a people-trapped-in-a-mountain movie to 133 minutes, but filmmakers Fanck and Pabst do just that. I'm not sure who directed what but considering Fanck was also one of the screenwriters my money was on him being the main creative force behind the picture. It is rewarding and entertaining still today. The picture was re-released as sound feature in 1935 but this is the only version in circulation.
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