Silent Film Journal

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

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:29 am

White Shadows in the South Seas (1928) - W. S. Van Dyke

Well from the sound of this it almost appears to be a Robert Flaherty project, and bears a great deal of similarity to Moana. So I wasn't too surprised to find that Flaherty was the original filmmaker for the project. However his time consuming process of making movies proved to wear down the patience of MGM so they replaced him with assistant director Van Dyke who was known for getting things done extremely fast. The film maintains a great deal of Flaherty's feel, and the cinematography is noticeably excellent and is visible even in a crappy, deteriorated VHS print. In fact the film won an Oscar in 1928/29 for its cinematography. The story itself is of a white man who comes to shore on an untouched south Sea island. He is revered as a "white god" and endears himself to the village winning over the chief's daughter and saving the chief's young son. He quickly comes to love his new home and tries to fight off a group of white men who sale up attempting to exploit the island. He winds up a martyr for his cause and is still unable to ward off the impending destruction. Made in 1928, the film has a few sound effects incorporated into the soundtrack and apparently there was even an attempt to shoot some talking scenes, most of which are not included. Van Dyke was quickly promoted in the MGM world and would be one of their most reliable directors in the 30's.
wpqx
 


Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Fri Jan 25, 2008 4:23 am

The Unknown (1927) - Tod Browning

It might seem odd to say this, but this might be the best Tod Browning film of them all (I'm far from being an expert). In all Chaney and Browning made 10 films together (Dracula was to be the tenth) and for many modern audiences this holds up the best. Reading one review of the film however it makes a point that this film almost had to be a silent film. The plot would seem ridiculous in a sound film, but somehow our suspension of disbelief is much greater in silent film (after all we have to assume they really can speak). Chaney plays a murderer on the run who is with a carnival. He plays a man with no arms who does shooting and knife throwing tricks with the aid of a lovely assistant played by Joan Crawford. She has a repulsion to men touching her, which makes it seem almost too perfect for Chaney. The only catch is Chaney really does have arms. His competition comes from the resident strong man (who doesn't look that strong) who has a somewhat sincere love for Crawford. In order to protect himself Chaney persuades a doctor to amputate his arms. After his recovery he is a little surprised to find Crawford over her fear of being touched and in love with the strong man. Let's just say Chaney has some revenge in mind.

His performance her is exemplary. Often Chaney would be able to hide behind elaborate makeup jobs, but here his face is pretty much as is. A real life circus performer doubled Chaney's feet and would make something of a career for himself being billed as "Lon Chaney's Legs". Browning's love for the oddities of the circus world is perfectly on display here and its hard not to feel for Chaney. Crawford was still relatively new to acting and it wouldn't be until the next year's Our Dancing Daughters that she would solidify her star status. Included on the DVD is a recreation of the long lost London After Midnight, comprised of a new score and production stills. It helps convey the plot but it in no way should be accepted as a substitute for the real film. An additional documentary on Chaney is also included which is almost entirely praiseworthy but definitely informative.
wpqx
 

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Fri Jan 25, 2008 4:27 am

People on Sunday (1929) - Robert Siodmak & Edgar G. Ulmer

Considered a landmark of avant-garde cinema I can't honestly understand why. The film is a somewhat straight narrative showing a few Berlin people enjoying their day off, and juxtaposing that with their weekday lives. I'll admit a lot was lost on me because I wasn't able to see the BFI DVD, which left me with a bad transfer and French intertitles. The script was written by Billy Wilder, and nearly everyone involved in the making of the film went on to careers in Hollywood. The cinematography is largely excellent encompassing a few early wide angle compositions and almost entirely shot outdoors.
wpqx
 

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Mon Jan 28, 2008 6:03 pm

The Italian Straw Hat (1927) - Rene Clair

Well I said I'd get to it, so I got to it. Not all of Clair's silent films are available but from this picture its clear to see him setting up what would become his trademark style in the early sound era. Clair works in the realm of farce and here he constructs his silly plot to be nothing more than an excuse for bizarre situations that rely on more and more complex misunderstandings. This is the type of comedy that became the staple for most sitcoms and Clair would have been right at home directing for TV. The story concerns a groom whose horse eats a woman's rare and expensive Italian straw hat while on the way to his wedding. Her military suitor is enraged and does everything he can to threaten the groom, so he has to find a replacement. Well it becomes quite costly and nearly impossible to find the hat and well much chaos ensues. Clair flourished best with this independent sound musical comedies and this film does feel like its missing that extra element.
wpqx
 

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby A » Wed Jan 30, 2008 7:07 am

After arsaib's experience, I checked out the whole thread again, to see if you had already written something on the film I watxhed today, wpqx. (Un)fortunately, you haven't, so I'll add a few comments, though the film is in my opinion hardly worth mentioning. As a silent film enthusiast it was nevertheless something special for me.

Nomads of the Nord
(David Hartford / USA / 1920)
DVD, 78 minutes

The film Nomads of the North is listed at a running time of 109 minutes at imdb, but i saw it on DVD with a length of ca. 78. I'm not sure where the information about the longer running-time stems from, but the film seemed already far too long in the version I saw. The direction is pretty uninspired, as the story trudges along to its uninspired end. Nanette Roland (silent moviestar Betty Blythe) is a little girl living in the wild woods somewhere around Montréal with her sick father. She has been waiting far too long for her fiancée Raoul (Lon Chaney) to return to her, and as she does have good looks, and there are other men around her, trouble naturally ensues.

This was my first Lon Chaney film, but it didn't have Chaney the way one would expect him to be, after reading about all of his spectacular roles in numerous horror films of the 20s. Nomads of the North is arespectable though often tedious old-school melodrama, based on the novel by the same name. Unfortunately, Chaney gives a completely lackluster performance, which many claim to be one of his worst. He has absolutely no screen presence (at least in my eyes), and seems completely uninspired. All of the other actors do a much better job, and youz have to ask yourself why he was chosen for the role of a bland hero, when he doesn't even have the "necessary" good looks. Worth mentioning is the formidable photography by Walter Griffin, showing the beautiful scenery in all its splendour (the whole film seems filmed on-location). The opening of the film, and the exposition of the plot is also done extremely well, introducing all the main players and their motifs in a captivating and convincing way. The mood and atmosphere that are established seem very fitting and could have made for a very fine film. Instead, everything that follows is rather stale, and the moment we are introduced to our happy-go-lucky hero, the inspirational streak present at the beginning seems to be lost completely. There are some interesting scenes in the rest of the film, but if you are familiar with narrative conventions in pre-code Hollywood cinema, you won't be surprised by many things. The ending is again done more convincingly , filmed during a real forest fire, where the twom main protagonists were reportedly injured. At least, unlike many modern productions, the film doesn't take itself too serious, and if you are a silent film enthusiast, you should watch the film at least for its first 20 minutes. Maybe if somebody as talented as Hitchcock had directed this, the movie could have turned out a real classic. As it is, everthing goes downhill from the moment Chaney appears on screen. He definitely is the weakest part of this production, and if you are merely renting the film for his sake, it's not worth it. Otherwise, you'll get to enjoy some old school-melodrama as well as beautiful views of the unspoiled nature around the Canadian border.
A
 

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Wed Jan 30, 2008 4:01 pm

Don't let that sour yourself on Chaney he does have some much better work out there.
wpqx
 

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby A » Thu Jan 31, 2008 4:46 am

Don't worry, I'm well aware that Chaney has supposedly still some aces up the sleeve. I do have at least two more of his films at home, The Shock (1923), and The Unknown (1927). I believe, The Unknown is considered one of his best films, and it does also star a very young Joan Crawford, one of my favorite actresses.
A
 

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Thu Jan 31, 2008 5:44 am

I reviewed The Unknown above and it was one of my favorite Chaney performances. I still might think Hunchback is a better film, but that's just me.
wpqx
 

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Tue Feb 12, 2008 6:50 am

City Girl (1930) - F. W. Murnau

Amidst all the boxed sets and restorations going on it seems amazing that this Murnau film (one of only three surviving American films he made) appears to have been completely forgotten. The story was that the studio attempted to convert it midway in production into a sound film leaving much of it awkward and without Janet Gaynor the cast lost some of the luster present in Sunrise. The story has a similar simplistic tone to it but here the city girl is only suspected of being wicked but deep down is a good girl. The cinematography is great even though this transfer isn't fit to feed a cat. It does seem slightly repetitive at times and seems to lack the grander ideas of so many other Murnau films. I sincerely hope Fox or some company gets to work on this picture (along with Haunted Castle) because I barely feel as though I watched the film. The version I saw was also silent so I'm not sure how much of the sound footage exists.
wpqx
 

Re: Silent Film Journal

Postby wpqx » Tue Jul 08, 2008 10:48 pm

Hearts of the World (1918) - D. W. Griffith

Sorry this thread has been so dormant for such a long time, and it's not necessarily because I haven't seen any silent films. After essentially wrapping up TSPDT's top 1000 list, or rather what I can get, I retreated to a very old list of films to look for. Near the top of the list were a few Griffith features I had floating around. Hearts of the World was right up there and I had recorded it years ago on TCM but never watched it (a very familiar fate). I decided it'd be easier to rent it rather than dig in my attic for the film and well I wish I would have done the extra work. The VHS which came from a no-name distributor was among the worst quality films I'd ever seen. The soundtrack was comprised of a loud humming buzz throughout and not a note of musical accompaniment could be heard. The version is also apparently shortened from the original 152 minute run time, but I'm unaware if the original version still exists uncut. That said Griffith's film is quite spectacular. One of a series of timely WWI films made while the action was still going on, Shoulder Arms, The Little American, and The Unbeliever are the other's off the top of my head. In fact Griffith originally came up with the film after visiting the UK to promote Intolerance. Some officials convinced Griffith to make a film that would help draw America into the war in their support. Some prints of the film (this one included) have a prologue featuring some documentary footage of the war and Griffith making the rounds with a few British officials as he sets out to make his movie.

Like many films of the kind the Germans are typically horrible monsters that rape and pillage at will, but at the insistence reportedly of the first lady, Griffith trimmed much of this footage for the film's eventual release. War as an atrocious and senseless act was on display here and avoids a great deal of the flag waiving patriotism (not to say there isn't a little thrown in). It breaks up families, kills innocent people, etc. Remarkable on scale and the film apparently was so accurate in its battlefield depictions that much of the footage has been substituted for actual WWI films in future docs. Both Gish sisters deliver good performances, Dorothy making the most of her street singer and with a little more charm and resilience than perpetual damsel in distress Lillian. Taken after Birth of a Nation and Intolerance this might seem a step down, but to me it is very much in the same vein and is far from a significant drop in quality. Arguably the best silent film made about the great war.
wpqx
 

PreviousNext

Return to Film Talk

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 8 guests

cron