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
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 Méliès Month 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.
That is…until now. The fabulous Flicker Alley, creator and distributor of top-quality silent film restorations, is releasing the first ever Blu-ray/DVD of Behind the Door on April 4, 2017! And you can sign up to win a copy right here on Silent-ology…details below!
(I’ve never done anything quite like this before–the closest would be the little drawings I hold for Buster blogathon participants. Silent-ology’s moving up! *wink*)
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
If you mention Behind the Door to a silent film fan, they’ll react in one of two ways: the blank, racking-their-brains-have-they-heard-of-it-maybe-actually-nope-never-heard-of-it look, or a sudden widening of the eyes and a little gasp: “You’ve seen it?!”
Because it’s that kind of film, my friend. Its notoriety precedes it, and once you watch it you’ll know why. The screen doesn’t show anything graphic, but the implications are crystal clear…and stomach-churning.
“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.
Can you imagine a world without horror movies? Their tropes are so familiar–monsters with bloody fangs, screaming teens, and tired old jump scares–that it’s hard to imagine pop culture without them. Thanks to Halloween turning autumn into an extended celebration of all things spooky, in many ways the horror genre is part of life’s memories.
But while there were macabre films in the silent era, people wouldn’t start using the term “horror” until Universal started releasing its famous monsters in the early 1930s. Before that, spooky films used to be lumped in under the banner of “mysterious” or “mystery pictures.” In the 1900s, at least. The “mystery” distinction might’ve mattered more to exhibitors than the audiences at your basic moving picture show, who probably just felt that some of the (very) short films in the program were more eerily entertaining than others.
To be unable to grow old is terrible… Death is not the worst… Can you imagine enduring centuries, experiencing each day the same futilities…
My favorite vampire film of all time happens to be an homage to film history’s most significant vampire film of all time. You could call it a remake, but the word doesn’t fit…”homage” is far more appropriate. And to use another appropriate word, it’s deeply haunting: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979).
Out of all the silent film genres, one of the most popular is probably horror. Even people who don’t watch anything made before 1930…or, well, 1960…or, let’s face it, 1997…don’t mind tuning into Nosferatu or The Phantom of the Opera. What was freaky then is usually still freaky now, and at any rate it’s always fun to see what used to scare the knickerbockers off our great-grandparents.
But I’ve been thinking. It’s occurred to me that the mere banner of “silent horror” simply isn’t enough. No, I’m going to vote that we add a new genre–or subgenre, if you will. And it shall be called: “Silents That Would’ve Terrified Me as a Child.” Continue reading
All a horror film need promise is horror — the unspeakable, the terrifying, the merciless, the lurching monstrous figure of destruction. It needs no stars, only basic production values, just the ability to promise horror. —Roger Ebert
When I was little, my family had this big book full of pictures of movie stars and scenes from classic films.
Some I knew–I loved The Wizard of Oz so much that once I watched it every day for a week, and I’d grown up with people like Jimmy Stewart and Lucille Ball. But at the beginning of the book, where the pictures of the silent film stars were (all I knew back then were a couple names, Chaplin and Mary Pickford) there was one still labelled “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919).”
You run into it time and time again when reading about film history: “German Expressionism, German Expressionism.” It pops up even more than “French New Wave,” another term that tends to make people’s eyes glaze over. Silent newbies and casual fans probably wonder: just what exactly was this movement that all the film historians go nuts for?
To answer that, we have to glance through a little art history, learn a bit of theater history, reflect on WWI and Germany, and get acquainted with how “the ghosts which haunted the German Romantics had revived, like the shades of Hades after draughts of blood.”
Or something like that. Bear with me, for there’s a lot of pieces to put together to get a good picture of German Expressionism. Continue reading