Sometimes one of today’s films will take you by surprise. Judging by the trailer, you expected it to be pleasant and entertaining enough, but it turned out to have more depth than you’d thought. When it came out on DVD you ended up buying it, and found yourself re-watching it from time to time. One day you realized it’s become one of your go-to classics.
In other words, you’ve fallen for Hugo (2011).
Released during the brief Silent Film Awareness Renaissance of 2011 (when The Artist won Best Picture, remember), Hugo was a film that took many people by surprise. For one thing, it was a magical 3-D family film by Martin Scorsese, of all people, creator of Raging Bull and Gangs of New York among many others. And contrary to what the trailers implied, it was a little less about the boy Hugo himself and more a tribute to the life and work of Georges Méliès. Continue reading
Well over a century old and only over a minute long, Un homme de têtes is one of Georges Méliès’s earliest and best-known works. I think the French title literally translates to “a man of heads,” but we know it today as The Four Troublesome Heads. Either way it’s one of your oddly blunt 1890s silent film titles. Classic 1890s cinema, am I right? Haw!
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)
There really aren’t a ton of movies I’ll see in the theater. Big blockbuster extravaganzas like The Force Awakens or Dr. Strange? Of course! The usual marvelous offering by Pixar? I’m there! An occasional indie might peak my interest, and naturally I’m attracted to any silent or classic film showing like a bee to the can of pop you’re holding. (If only those showings weren’t so few and far between.)
But when I caught wind of a brand-new musical drama set in modern-day L.A. that included–could it be?–subtle homages to Hollywood’s Golden Age, I thought: “Yes, please!”
Why do we hold such reverence for Nosferatu? Why does a film with such simple special effects and occasionally humorous acting linger in our minds? Why, when Hollywood offers a wealth of svelte–even sexy–vampires, do we keep turning to the gaunt, bushy eyebrowed Count Orlok with his protruding rat teeth?
It must be more than simple curiosity to see one of our earliest vampire films, although that’s probably a big factor for many. According to some of my non-silents-accustomed friends, its style and film speed can make it effectively creepy. That said, I’ll admit that plenty of people find it hysterical. Continue reading
“On a lonely pine-clad hill overlooking the Hudson, stood the grotesque mansion of an eccentric millionaire…”
It’s a dark, rainy October evening as I type this. And what could be more fitting, when I’m writing about The Cat and the Canary (1927)? If you’re looking for entertainment to pair with spooky autumn weather, you can’t go wrong with this archetypal “old dark house” movie. Just look at that title card I quoted up there.
Looking for something light and entertaining to watch on a quiet evening? Something in the realm of the “chick flick,” perhaps, but not too chick flicky? Allow me to suggest the charming Constance Talmadge comedy Her Sister From Paris (1925).
In our minds, we picture Intolerance differently than most films. Say the title, and we usually don’t see the faces of the Dear One or Brown Eyes or run shots from the four storylines through our minds. We picture the photo of the massive hall of Babylon. We see the sharp-edged archways, the curves and ridges of the immense pillars, the white elephants with their peculiarly defined muscles and curving trunks. We also see the masses of tiny people on the floor of the hall, clustering around the feet of the elephants, and lining the top of the archways. There is an awed sensation when you think of this dense image. Perhaps there is also a sense of remoteness.
But recall the actual scene itself, how the camera slowly, smoothly moves forward, closer and closer until we can clearly see the people, see the details of their clothes, and can see their faces in their matte makeup.
One of the most delightful things about watching a 1920s flapper film is that it’s always happy to confirm all your expectations about the Jazz Age…or the shined-up Hollywoodland Jazz Age, at any rate. The moment you pop in that DVD or plunk down in your seat in the (independent) theater, the bobbed hair, flasks, short-ish skirts, greased-back hair, Charleston dancing and snappy slang come roaring back to life. And what better way to revisit that exciting, “Ain’t We Got Fun?” era than with the vivacious Colleen Moore?
Nearly every major 1920s comedian couldn’t resist putting their own spins on certain characters and comedy situations. Everyone from Stan Laurel to Buster Keaton showed up as inept boxers, white-clad street cleaners, and waiters in busy cafes–and sooner or later, most of them went to college. In 1925 it was Harold Lloyd’s turn, and the result was one of his biggest moneymakers: The Freshman!