My Top 10 Favorite Silent Films (So Far)

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)

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Thoughts On: “La La Land” (2016)

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!

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Thoughts On: “Nosferatu”

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?

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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

Thoughts On: “The Cat And The Canary” (1927)

“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.

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Thoughts On: “Intolerance”

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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.

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Thoughts On: “Synthetic Sin” (1929)

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?

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Thoughts On: “The Freshman”

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!

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Thoughts On: “Ghosts Before Breakfast” (1928)

If ever there was a film that you could point to and say, “This is surely everyone’s favorite short experimental animated German Dadaist film,” it would have to be artist Hans Richter’s endearing Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928). (And yes, I know it’s perfectly impossible to choose a favorite German Dadaist short.) If you roll your eyes at modern art, which admittedly describes what my own eyes do 85% of the time (don’t even, Damien Hirst), never fear. Somehow, Ghosts Before Breakfast manages to be both over-your-head artsy and charmingly accessible.

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Thoughts On: “Stella Maris”

This is the slightly belated final post for Mary Pickford month (thanks, combo of extra time at work and Internet issues!). I really hope you enjoyed March’s extended tribute to a fantastic–and immensely important–early actress! 

If we could take all the qualities that Mary Pickford’s work was celebrated for–drama, sweetness, comedy, tragedy–and sum them up with just one of her films, we’d probably mull over Sparrows or Daddy-Long-Legs, or perhaps her classic Stella Maris (1918). But if we were going to prove what an incredible actress Pickford was, we would definitely choose Stella Maris.

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