So I’ve been thinking: good ol’ Internet listicles are fun. And depending on the context, they can tell you a little about the writer, too. Here I’ve been publishing posts on our beloved old films week in and week out, and never thought to write the most basic one of all–a “my favorite silents” list. So allow me to tell you a little about myself.
Needless to say, picking just ten films was a task akin to scaling Mount Everest. I don’t know if my list is the most surprising one in the world (no worries, it’s not smugly crammed with obscure social dramas from Finland or something), but here it is, in no particular order–except for #1! (Links are included for the ones I’ve reviewed so far.)
10. Metropolis (1927)
What more can I say? It’s epic, it’s operatic, it’s a triumph of the imagination, and its art direction is second to none. Sci-fi, religion, surrealism, allegory, expressionism, fantasy, drama, dreams–it’s all here, and once you see it you’ll never forget it.
9. Good Night, Nurse! (1918)
I’m obsessed with the Comique shorts, so choosing my favorite is like a mother having to choose a favorite child. They’re all so fresh, so unpretentious, so hilarious and full of energy, that I nearly rent my garment with despair. But this one gets a little edge for that fantastic scene where Buster and Roscoe “flirt” in the hallway (err, it makes more sense in context).
8. Tol’able David (1921)
A milestone piece of Americana worthy to be ranked with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and your grandmother’s apple pie recipe. A simple, dramatic David-and-Goliath story with a small cast of vivid characters and an idyllic rural setting–it’s tailor-made for me.
7. The Kid (1921)
Chaplin’s beautiful, gritty, heartstring-tugging masterpiece. I might call it his greatest film. He took his comedy to a new level, inspired by his actual life experiences. It doesn’t have the self-consciousness of some of his later work. Plus, the reunion scene between the Tramp and the Kid never fails to turn me into a blubbering mess.
6. Ménilmontant (1926)
Exquisite, impressionistic, poetic, daring, bittersweet, delicate, raw, experimental, timeless, artistic, meditative, lyrical–if I keep going eventually I’ll run out of descriptive words.
5. Broken Blossoms (1919)
Pure poetry, blended with harsh realism. And by the way, Lillian Gish is the First Lady of the cinema.
4. Faust (1926)
This film just stuns me–its style, its boldness, the plot of the old tale that taps into nothing less than the eternal struggle of good vs. evil…a masterpiece. I love Murnau’s Nosferatu as much as the next person, but will give Faust a slight edge.
3. The Scarecrow (1920)
So I nearly put The General here, then thought–but what about Buster’s shorts? So I put down The Scarecrow, then thought–but One Week‘s one of the greatest things in life! And then I put down One Week, then thought–aw heck, they’re all mindblowing but The Scarecrow‘s my favorite.
2. Intolerance (1916)
One of the grandest spectacles ever put on film, now and forevermore. I love its ambition, its huge cast of characters, its grand themes, its attention to detail–everything about its big beautiful bloated self.
1. True Heart Susie (1919)
This pastoral tale encapsulates so much of what I love about the silent era. It’s both a nod to an old-fashioned time gone by while being charmingly old-fashioned itself. It’s sweet and sentimental, but never cloying. The cinematography of the rural setting is simply lovely. And Lillian Gish, Bobby Harron and Clarine Seymour are every bit as talented and sympathetic as they were back in 1919.
Just for the pure heck of it, here’s my next ten favorite silent films (a list that’s somewhat eccentric):
The Butcher Boy (1917) – More classic Comique fun!
The General (1926) – Buster’s feature-length masterpiece.
City Girl (1930) – A bittersweet romance set in my home state.
Fatty’s Tintype Tangle (1915) – The short that introduced me to Louise Fazenda.
Ghosts Before Breakfast (1926) – The best bit of German Dadaist avant-garde ever.
The Freshman (1925) – Harold at his best!
Egged On (1926) – Probably my favorite Charley Bowers short.
Way Down East (1920) – A grand melodrama I never get tired of.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1929) – A profound religious experience.
The Female of the Species (1912) – Biograph at its most masterful.
So! What about you? What’s your top 10 favorite silents list?