When I began writing book reviews I decided Silent-ology would be concentrated on nonfiction, with maybe a very rare exception for a well-written historical fiction novel. For one thing, silent fans are always seeking out nonfiction with good info about the era. Plus, I’m come to the sinking realization that I’m turning into one of those awful nitpickers who notices and actually kind of cares if a novel has some minor historical inaccuracies. (“It’s supposed to be 1917 and he just used a slang term that wasn’t popular until 1923? This shall not stand!“) It’s getting bad, folks.
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.”
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.” Continue reading →
Being in the midst of preparing an article for the upcoming issue of The Silent Film Quarterly (have I mentioned that I have a column there now? No? Oh. Well, I do), I decided to do a repost of one of my favorite 2015 articles. It was written especially for Keystone Month, and was a lot of fun to write. Hope you enjoy!
If you’re ever having an earnest discussion about silent comedy (and who wouldn’t), there are a few topics that will often bring out a smile: fake mustaches, cream pies, satirical twirling of said fake mustaches, the Ton of Fun. And there’s one topic that always seems to make people smile: Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties.
Once considered mildly risqué, but now considered surprisingly innocent, the playful, perky, mischievous girls popped up in Sennett’s comedies time and time again. Admittedly the plots would sometimes screech to a halt just for them, but at least half of the theater audiences were too appreciative to mind.
You knew this one was coming! This is the final post for Méliès Month–I hope you enjoyed this extended tribute to one of the essential pioneers of the cinema!
Upward mount then! clearer, milder,
Robed in splendour far more bright!
Though my heart with grief throbs wilder,
Fraught with rapture is the night!
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “To the Rising Full Moon,” 1828
For thousands of years mankind has gazed at the moon. Deities have been associated with it. We’ve written about it in poems and books, mentioned it in songs and plays, and painted and sculpted its likeness.
So perhaps it’s fitting that one of the earliest milestones of a brand-new artform should feature the elusive moon that’s so haunted our imaginations–a craggy, blinking, papier mache variety with seriously wicked eyebrows, that is.
People talk about how everyone is six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Well, I’m here to tell you that as far as cinema history’s concerned, everything’s six degrees of separation from Georges Méliès. Maybe three degrees. If there’s a film trope, storyline, or special effect that you’re trying to trace to its origins, I say give up right now, and just assume it’s Méliès. And by way of demonstration, here are at least six things the French wizard seems to have put on film before they were a twinkle in anyone’s eye. Continue reading →
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 →
UPDATE 4/12/17: The winner of the drawing is Kevin S., randomly selected by Flicker Alley from the many entries for this exciting DVD giveaway. Congrats, Kevin!
We will (finally) return to the last few MélièsMonth posts this Friday. I didn’t want you guys to miss out on a chance to own a free copy of this rare, and distinctly unsettling, early horror film!
Last October I reviewed one of the most disturbing silent films I’d ever beheld: Behind the Door (1919) starring Hobart Bosworth, a film that starts out like your standard 1910s drama and ends up like a murderer’s fever dream. It was a slightly awkward review to write since I knew it had never been put on DVD, was only playing at select film festivals, and that few people would ever get to see it.
Back on Sunday we gave a nod to the day that’s thought to be when Buster Keaton visited Roscoe Arbuckle’s Comique studios for the very first time (or, at the very least, met friend Lou Anger and Roscoe himself on the streets of NYC). While there’s been a bit of confusion about these dates in the past, thanks to Buster’s surviving datebook we can confirm that he absolutely, 100%went to Comique on March 21st, 1917 to film The Butcher Boy! Today, he was captured by the motion picture camera in this very scene below…for all time! (And let’s give a shout out to the patient Mr. Méliès, who doesn’t mind that we keep interrupting his theme month. *wink*)
Originally posted on Grace Kingsley's Hollywood: One hundred years ago today, Buster Keaton was introduced to the moving picture camera. Considering what Keaton did with it, the day really ought to be an international holiday. Childs Restraunt breakfast menu,…
One of my very favorite Georges Méliès films is Les Quat’Cents Farces du diable, literally translated as The 400 Tricks of the Devil. We just call it The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906), which is a title truly of its time. So is the film itself, but that’s why I love it so much.
While not as widely discussed as A Trip to the Moon and more familiar from clips turning up in documentaries on early cinema, it’s one of Méliès’s most elaborate works and a real treat for the eyes. Its plot can be…quite mystifying even if you’re paying close attention, so here’s a detailed recap (I believe some of the information originally came from the Star Film Company’s catalog): Continue reading →