Thoughts On: “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928)

In honor of Good Friday, and also as a tribute to the great Notre Dame cathedral that suffered such a tragic fire last Monday, I’m reposting this piece on one of the finest artistic achievements of the silent era. This powerful film has extra significance during Holy Week, and is also a remarkable tribute to one of the greatest saints of France.

Silent-ology

Making most lists of the top ten greatest films ever made is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). And indeed, you suspect a spot had always been reserved for it. A critic from as far back as 1929 was moved to declare, “It makes worthy pictures of the past look like tinsel shams.”

Passion of Joan of Arc

Those unacquainted with The Passion might not be prepared for it. It doesn’t lead you from plot point to plot point, but throws you into an experience. It’s intensely, harshly realistic, but within a mildly expressionistic setting. We’re meant to contemplate Joan’s ordeal, linked thematically with the most widely contemplated ordeal in history. A critic I admire said it best: “I know of movies more theologically profound or more pious, but none more evocative of what it means to share the sufferings of Christ.”

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So, About Buster And Charlie’s “Limelight” Scene…

Even casual classic comedy fans are familiar with the most famous scene from Charlie Chaplin’s bittersweet Limelight (1951), where he’s teamed with Buster Keaton onscreen for the first and only time. Playing old comedy partners reuniting for a comeback performance, they do a bit of charming, music hall-style slapstick that ends with Chaplin’s character Calvero succumbing to a fatal injury.

Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin in Limelight (1952)

And they also gave us this gallery-worthy still.

Ever since they filmed those scenes in the early ’50s, rumors have been flying that the arrogant Charlie Chaplin, witnessing humble genius Buster brilliantly churning out gag after gag far funnier than anything Chaplin ever dreamed of, jealously chopped it all out of the film. No one upstages the world’s most famous comedian, by gum! So what’s left are but hollow glimpses of Buster’s mastery, so cruelly squashed by the man who…well, personally hired him to play a role in his deeply personal film.

Nobly enduring the squashing of his brilliance.

Okay, guys, let’s all be honest here–you’ve haven’t actually watched the entire Limelight, have you? No, you just watched the 8-minute clip of Buster and Charlie on YouTube a few times and called it a day. Okay, fine, four of you have seen Limelight, but the rest of you–come now! At least give Chaplin’s thoughtful film a chance (he wrote a 100,000 word novel about his characters just to prepare for the actual filming. No kidding).

Why am I making this assumption? Because once you’ve seen Limelight, the idea that Buster’s character should’ve taken the spotlight in the “comeback” scene makes no sense. Absolutely no sense at all, my friends.  Continue reading

Homme Fatales And Hair Grease: The Phenomenon Of The 1920s “Sheik”

Post #1 of Sheik Month is here! Hope you enjoy!

We’re all familiar with stereotypical 1920s flapper–the fun-loving, trendy young woman who loved Jazz, dancing, and all things “modern.” But arm in arm with the flapper was the 1920s sheik, their male counterpart. There’s plenty of discussion about flappers nowadays, but there’s comparatively little discussion about sheiks, and the sort of factors that lead to their place in pop culture.

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One of John Held Jr’s popular cartoons.

But “sheik culture” is an important piece of the Jazz Age puzzle. Its advent spurred numerous discussions about movie romance, masculinity and female desire. And its impact on American cinema was tremendous–in fact, you could easily categorize screen romance as B.V. (Before Valentino) and A.V. (After Valentino). Continue reading

A Big THANK YOU From Me And Buster!

Yet another wonderful Buster Keaton Blogathon has come to a close. After reading and enjoying all your thoughtful articles and essays,  I want to offer a warm:

Buster blogathon thank you 2019

Not only is this annual event an excellent way to celebrate Buster’s work, but it’s also doing a service to his legacy. Every Buster-themed post in every participating blog introduces his work to readers around the world. Since not everyone is familiar with silent comedy nowadays, events like this are one small way of contributing to a worthy cause–spreading the joy of Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton’s masterful films. Continue reading

The Fifth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon

The big day has arrived!! After 364 days of waiting, it’s finally time for:

Busterthon 5-5

Today and tomorrow, me and many of my fellow bloggers are celebrating the legacy of one of the cinema’s finest comedians–if not the finest. Each year I’m excited about the wealth of creative topics and thoughtful essays in store, and this year is already proving to be just as fantastic. So get cozy on your couch with your laptop/Ipad/phone, my friends–it’s time to start reading about all things Buster!

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Bloggers: Please send me the link to your post whenever it’s ready today or tomorrow (and thanks to those of you who sent me a link early!). I’ll be updating periodically throughout the blogathon. Don’t forget that I’ll be holding a drawing for the participants, the winner receiving a copy of the book Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton  by John Bengtson. The drawing will be held on February 20th–I’ll be in touch with the winner!

Readers: Drop by often to see the latest posts–and don’t forget that we bloggers adore comments. (We adore them almost as much as Buster himself. They’re a close second, is what I’m saying.)

And of course, here are the links to the First, SecondThird and Fourth Annual Buster Blogathons.

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The Roster:

Silent-ology | Buster’s Wife’s Relations: Getting To Know The Talmadge Family

MovieRob | Limelight

Silver Screenings | Buster Keaton Goes to MGM

A Person in the Dark| Meeting Buster Backwards: A Hard Act to Resist

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films | Sherlock Jr.

MovieMovieBlogBlog II | Seven Chances and the article Buster Keaton and

Lucille Ball–Together on TV in 1965

Julia Hut | Buster illustrations for posts by MovieMovieBlogBlog II

A la rencontre du Septième Art | Our Hospitality

wolffian classic movies digest | Buster Keaton: The Art of the Gags

Welcome to My Magick Theatre | Spite Marriage

The Stop Button | Hard Luck

Big V Riot Squad | Comique: Roscoe, Buster, Al and Luke

Silver17 Productions | Keaton Vs. Surrealism (video)

       Grace Kingsley’s Hollywood | Humorists All At Sea: Writing The Navigator

Taking Up Room | How To Stuff a Wild Bikini

TheScriptLab | Five Comedy Lessons From Five Buster Keaton Classics

The Wonderful World of Cinema | The Great Buster

Critica Retro | The Saphead

The Thoroughly Lost Art Of The Title Card

A version of this article was originally written for Classic Movie Hub, where I write a monthly column on–you guessed it–silent films. Hope you enjoy!

When you think of jobs that have gone the way of the dodo, certain ones spring to mind right away: chimney sweeps. Switchboard operators. Bowling alley pinsetters. Organ grinders’ monkeys. Almost every flea circus ringmaster. Well, just imagine what it was like to have a career as a title card artist or title card writer in the late 1920s when talkies were coming in–it must’ve been pretty intense.

It must’ve been a little sad, too. For even though titles (or “captions,” or “subtitles,” or “leaders,” as they were variously called–today we often call them “intertitles”) were sometimes considered a tad intrusive even back then, they did evolve into their own skilled artform.

title-forbidden fruit '21

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

Continue reading

Fan Magazine Fun: “Film Titles Travestied” And Other Cartoon Odds And Ends

Today let’s take a gander at Pictures and The Picturegoer, a British movie magazine that first came off the presses in 1911 and had a lengthy run until 1960 (it was eventually called just Picturegoer). The following cartoons, which filled in space at the editors’ whims, are all from October and November 1915 issues. They serve as fine opportunities for “humor archaeology”–in other words, trying to figure out what the heck they meant.

Here, for example, is “Film Titles Travestied.” Can you decipher it?

cartoon percy darling picgoer nov 20 '15

Continue reading

Book Review: “‘Bare Knees’ Flapper: The Life And Films Of Virginia Lee Corbin”

If I tell you to picture a child star from the silent era, two that will come to mind are likely Jackie Coogan or Baby Peggy. Likewise, if I tell you to picture an actress famous for portraying flappers, you’ll probably think of Clara Bow or (I hope) Colleen Moore. But one actress who probably won’t occur to you is Virginia Lee Corbin, a former child star who also managed to transition to flapper roles as she matured. But happily, writer and researcher Tim Lussier is determined to get you acquainted with this overlooked actress with his fine biography “Bare Knees” Flapper: The Life and Films of Virginia Lee Corbin. Continue reading

A Simple Thanks

Since today is Thanksgiving here in the good ol’ US of A, like many others I’ve been musing over what I’m thankful for: my loving family, my good friends, my little apartment, simple pleasures like home cooked meals, the big beautiful outdoors in this fine state of Minnesota, and of course the marvels of modern technology, which allows me to access and research old films like never before. And speaking of the latter, I’m also very thankful for–you!

Thanksgiving pic mot pic Dec '29

Even more thankful than Eddie Nugent and Josephine Dunn are for turkey (Motion Picture, December 1928).

Recently I updated and tweaked the “My Articles” page (which I hadn’t done in–well, let’s just say an embarrassingly long time) and realized that Silent-ology is now over 300 articles strong. 300! And counting. And this is all due to you, reader, whose visits and comments and appreciation keep me excited and motivated to research this fascinating, one-of-a-kind era in art.

And so–thank you! Without you, this blog wouldn’t be what it is today. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing on this fine Thursday, just know that you are in my thoughts today. And it’s not only on Thanksgiving that I’m grateful.

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