Thoughts On: “Hearts of the World” (1918)

This is a repost of the piece I wrote for the WWI in Classic Film blogathon, which I cohosted with Movies Silently a few years back.  (Hopefully I caught any 4-year-old typos!) I’m still pleased with it, although Current Me probably would’ve added more info on how many battle scenes Griffith had to stage, since feature-worthy combat footage was very difficult to get. FYI, I’ve since discovered that there is indeed a better print of Hearts of the World out there, although for whatever reason it’s not available on DVD (yet!). 

On this day back in 1918, the Second Battle of Noyon began, one of the many battles of the Hundred Days Offensive (which would ultimately end the war). 

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By 1917, World War I had been raging for nearly three years. Europe was reeling from the ever-increasing death tolls and relentless destruction of cities, villages, and farmlands in France and Belgium. The scale of the war, involving all the nations with the most economic power at the time, truly deserved the phrase “unlike anything the world had ever seen.”

The U.S. had managed to stay neutral throughout most of the conflict, which was starting the leave the more battered European nations at their wits’ end. At some point in the winter of 1916 and 1917, the British War Office Cinematograph Committee decided to contact the one person who they felt could change the minds and emotions of the American people…none other than D.W. Griffith, who had recently completed Intolerance. Propaganda films were common at the time, and the Committee reasoned that Griffith, King of Filmmakers, would be certain to turn out an excellent propaganda film that would inspire Americans to finally join in to help defeat Germany.

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“Wake ‘Em Up!”–A Look At 8 WWI Propaganda Films

On this day back in 1918, the Czech-Slovaks declared war on Germany and Britain officially recognized them as part of the Allies.

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As we covered in my first article for WWI in Film Month, film was used for propaganda purposes on a major scale during the Great War–a scale that had never been seen before. Just around the time Edwardian magazine and newspaper writers were declaring, “There are no two ways about it, the moving pictures are here to stay,” government officials across the globe were getting mad gleams in their eyes.

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They basically wanted this, in movie form.

Escapist films (your typical dramas and comedies that had nothing to do with the war) were still big draws for theater-goers, but many filmmakers also put out patriotic contributions to the “great cause,” sometimes by government request (as in the case of D.W. Griffith, who was asked by Britain to make what turned out to be Hearts of the World). Some propaganda was practical, such as sharing tips on rationing food or urging people to buy war bonds, while others famously seized upon the stereotype of the “beastly Hun” to create some pretty hair-raising melodramas. (Ads proclaimed these films were sure to “wake up” audiences to the dangers of Germany.)

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Von Stroheim as the Menacing Hun in The Heart of Humanity (1918).

So here’s a list of 8 typical WWI propaganda films, some obscure, some that you’ve probably heard of before, and a couple that are downright eyebrow-raising.  Continue reading

Thoughts On: “Shoulder Arms” (1918)

On this day back in 1918, the French cruiser Dupetit-Thouars was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine, and the Second Battle of the Marne ended.

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When Chaplin decided in the spring of 1918 that the setting for his next comedy would be the trenches of the Great War, many of his friends and coworkers were concerned. How could anyone insert slapstick routines into such a brutal conflict? How could that possibly be done in good taste?

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As it turns out, they needn’t have worried. The idea was, after all, in the capable hands of Charlie Chaplin itself. The resulting Shoulder Arms (1918) turned out to be both a great success in its time and a classic comedy for us today. Continue reading

Silent Cinema And The Lasting Impact of World War I

This is the first post of WWI in Film Month, commemorating the Great War’s centenary.

On this day back in 1918, the Battle of Soissons in France ended with the Allies retaking Soissons, and Japan landed troops at Vladivostok, Russia.

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When the year 1914 dawned, few imagined it would be the game changer of the 20th century. Certainly the world had been rapidly evolving for some time, right before peoples’ eyes–transportation and communication had been accelerating, economies had been booming and entwining with other economies, and industrialization had been taking place on a huge scale. There was relative peace, most of the recent wars being smaller-scale conflicts. One such war was the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, the first war filmed by a movie camera (wielded by the adventurous Frederic Villiers).

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A street in an Ohio city circa 1914.

For there had also been a rise in new art forms, most significantly, the language of cinema. Youth in 1914 were part of the first generation to grow up with moving pictures, and millions of those same youth would fight in the first major war to ever be captured extensively by moving picture cameras. Continue reading

Lon Chaney, Hollywood’s Finest Character Actor

Per a reader’s request, here is a piece on one of the greatest and most respected silent film legends–Lon Chaney. As you read this, I am currently at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival–and yes, I’ll be recapping every moment of it!

There was a popular, widespread joke back in the 1920s–“Don’t step on that spider, it might be Lon Chaney!” A joke which, of course, referred to his remarkable use of makeup and acting skills to create bizarre characters who stick in the popular imagination. Indeed, Chaney was one of the rare actors who was so skilled that he became a legend in his own time, graced with the title “The Man of a Thousand Faces”–a title which is linked with his name to this very day.

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Was Chaplin Really That Sentimental?

You see it pretty often on the Interwebs–folks who, usually while embroiled in one of those “Chaplin vs. Keaton” debates, will state that they like Charlie Chaplin well enough, but he’s “too sentimental.” They will then declare their allegiance to Buster Keaton, or else sigh: “They’re both so awesome, I just can’t choose!”

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Harold Lloyd sits patiently on the sidelines, as usual.

While I guess I understand this viewpoint, I scratch my head over it at times–and not just because I feel that Chaplin’s so-called “sentimental” stories are crafted with sincerity and taste. I’d venture a guess that most people today who watch Chaplin tend to focus on his 1920s-and-beyond work, the favorites being The Gold RushCity Lights, and Modern TimesAnd yes, these films are the go-to examples of his much-analyzed use of “pathos.”

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People can’t get enough of “pathos,” as my scientific graph demonstrates.

But this fabled “sentimental Charlie” we’re familiar with today wasn’t the character that 1910s audiences went crazy over. Quite the opposite, in fact! My friends, if you’re leery of supposed sappiness in Chaplin’s work I must urge you to get acquainted with…Keystone Charlie. Continue reading

A Little Tour For New Readers

Hello all! As Silent-ology continues to try and spread the joy of silent cinema to anyone who happens to stumble by, I’m considering writing brief “welcome” posts like this every once in awhile. I know what it’s like to visit a new blog and feel like someone who just popped into a trendy new cafe and is trying to figure out the complicated chalk-written menu.

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“The menu includes ‘add ons’ AND ‘extras.’ Aren’t they the same thing?!?”

Of course, the “About” page of a blog always helps, but it’s nice to know you’re in the writer’s thoughts right here, right now.

So here’s the most basic tour: I’m interested in pretty much every detail of the entire silent era, so if there’s a topic you’re interested in, there’s a good chance I’ve got it covered–and if not, it’ll likely be written about in the future! Take a look at the My Articles page, or simply use the Search box. I gravitate toward silent comedy a bit more than drama, so searching for “comedians” or “silent comedy” should bring up a lot of results. (There’s oodles of Buster Keaton, by the way–especially since I host an annual Buster blogathon!)

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Buster’s obviously psyched about being so well-represented.

I like to do theme months a couple times a year, and so far these have included: Forgotten comedians, Georges Melies, Mary Pickford, the Comique shorts (made by Roscoe Arbuckle and co-starring Buster Keaton) and my latest, Flapper Month. I also enjoy covering German Expressionism and other silent horror-type films every October, so there’s plenty of tags for those topics too.

If you’re brand new to silent films, you might appreciate these early articles:

But let’s say you already like silents, and are specifically interested in Really Super Old silents. Consider checking out:

Or maybe you want to know more about the early moviegoing scene. You’ll probably enjoy:

Or perhaps you’re looking to learn more about silent era actors. I try to cover both the big personalities and the obscure ones. Here’s a few:

Gravitate toward the artsy side of the era? Take a look at:

Planning a trip to Hollywood? Looking for some tips on finding silent-related sites, and how to get there? I’ve got you covered!

And as long as we’re on the topic of visiting silent Hollywood, if you’re as interested in research as I am, you’ve no doubt heard of the prestigious Margaret Herrick library. Plan on going there one day? Here are some tips on how to do research there:

A Newbie’s Visit To The Margaret Herrick Library

There’s a lot more, of course, but I hope this brief tour was helpful. And as always, feel free to leave comments (even on older articles). We have a very friendly crowd here, so don’t be shy!

Happy reading!

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Fan Magazine Fun: “Lips Cannot Lie”

Proving once more that movie fan magazine writers could turn anything into an article, presumably if deadlines were looming darkly enough (see: Kneeology), here is a 1918 Picture-Play Magazine article all about…movie star mouths.

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Now now, do not laugh. For this is some hard-hitting journalism right here. Face it, without this article you likely never gave the psychology of movie star lips a second thought. But now you’re thinking about it, and that’s a thought that wasn’t in your brain a mere few minutes ago, so…hooray!

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“The Muse Of The Reel”–The Pioneering Work Of Director Lois Weber

When the history of the dramatic early development of motion pictures is written, Lois Weber will occupy a unique position. 

Thus spoke a journalist in a 1921 Motion Picture Magazine article. At the time, Weber was one of the most familiar and respected directors in the film industry–and the most prominent of the few female directors overall. Today, from our vantage point of nearly a century later, it may seem like that journalist’s prediction hasn’t quite come true. Weber certainly does have a unique place in cinema history, but that place has been largely overlooked for many decades.

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However, thanks to new restorations of her work being shown at film festivals and a wealth of online resources for film scholarship, Weber’s slowly but surely being restored to her place in the early filmmakers’ pantheon–a place she had certainly earned, with the goal of nothing less than the moral uplift of mankind. Continue reading