Fans of film history–rejoice! For in the Year of our Lord two thousand and seventeen, the library of essential early film books like The Parade’s Gone By and Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory has been expanded by Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy by film historian Steve Massa. It’s been my most anticipated book of the year, and as you can already tell, I was not disappointed.
It’s during these warm days of summer, when the humid, greenery-scented air brings back nostalgic memories, that I find myself turning to Tol’able David (1921). A masterpiece of Americana, it’s also arguably one of the great masterpieces of the cinema. It’s also one of my absolute favorite silent movies.
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 →
When I find myself not liking a film, it’s usually because it just isn’t my taste, or because I find it boring. Maybe the subject matter doesn’t interest me, maybe it’s poorly made, or maybe there’s way too many giant robots and the stupid things all look practically the same.
But then there are a few films, a very very few films, that not only aren’t to my taste but make me want to stand up, grab my little flat screen TV, and throw it straight through the wall. L’Inhumaine (1924) is one of those films.
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 →
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).
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?
Well, if this isn’t the cat’s meow! Let’s get a load of one of the classic flapper flicks of the Roaring Twenties, assumed lost for many years, but happily rediscovered, shined up, and put on DVD at long last. It’s Why Be Good? starring Colleen Moore, released at the very end of the Jazz Age. Did I was!
“Kids these days!” you lament. “All they ever want to do is sit around and watch T.V. On their phones. With the T.V. on in the background. In my day I had to walk barefoot thirty miles just to look at a picture of a T.V.! And phones? Our town had only one gasoline-powered phone and if you wanted to use at 6 p.m. you had to get in line at 6 a.m. And you prayed the phone would work, because sometimes it ran out of gasoline.”
Okay, maybe you have a point as far as cell phones go. Teens and twenty-somethings could probably stand to put their phones down for awhile…just a little while…try 15 minutes…take some deep breaths first…I believe in you…no? Try again in an hour?
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I take it all back!! Sheesh…
But contrary to what you might think, we millennials aren’t the first to be hypnotized by new technology and the latest entertainment. Oh no, not by a long shot. Continue reading →