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The Silent Film Thread


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#1 Izo

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 12:46 PM

I wanted to discuss Judex and didn't want the film to get lost in the "Rate the Last Movie" thread. If you have any capsule reviews, full reviews, or thoughts on Judex or other silent films please contribute.


Last night, I finished Louis Feuillade's immense five-hour, fifteen-minute, twelve-part (plus a lengthy prologue) serial Judex (1916) and my feelings are conflicted. On the whole I recommend the film for several reasons, with some reservations.

To borrow an excellent term from David Bordwell, the film comes from the "pre-classical period", and as such it seems unfair to me to criticize the film's technical limitations. There are no camera movements. Basically, the shot is set up with the camera in a fixed location and the events play before it. However, even with this very rudimentary visual style, one can't help but be struck with Feuillade's composition. Characters are constantly moving in interesting ways and the interior sets are set up in consistently interesting ways with a lot of emphasis placed on depth. Watch the backgrounds. Characters are always doing things, coming through doorways, disappearing, reappearing. It makes for interesting viewing. When the film goes outside, the visuals get even better. Feuillade's exteriors have a gorgeous sort of detached dream-like quality to them that contrasts sharply with the more "realistic" interiors. He opens up his compositions and gets more whimsical. I really loved it when the film had reason to go outside.

My problems with the film were narrative. I realize it's a serial, and it inherently episodic, but for much of the runtime the story didn't work either as a whole or in parts, which was kind of bizarre. I wouldn't have minded, for example, if the two little boys were cut from the film at all. They did nothing but drag it down. On top of this, they had a really bizarre relationship that pulled me out of the movie. The little boy Jean seemed to have been played by a little girl who was cute as can be, but seemed very feminine for the role. On top of this s/he kept kissing, hugging, and clinging to the other boy, which was just...odd to watch. As for the narrative, there is a long section of three or four episodes around the beginning that just drag and are, frankly, dull. It isn't until the second half that the movie really starts to get interesting and the pace picks up considerably. Unsurprisingly, this was when I started to actually enjoy the film more.

I liked the movie a great deal, but you have to know what you're getting into when you go to watch it.

Note: In the Flicker Alley DVD's booklet, the critic goes into the sexual imagery of the film that I think is way, way off base. Yes, there is an erotic undercurrent flowing through the movie, but to suggest that the archway at Judex's castle resembles a vagina is a bit much. I don't know what vaginas the man has seen, but I can assure him that most of them don't look like archways.

#2 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 06:21 PM

For silent movie watchings I will probably put off Judex for awhile. There is still much I want to see before that film.

A couple of good lists to go by:

Silentera.com - Top 100 Silent Films
SilentEra.com's extended list - films ranked 101 through 298

capsule review:

Ben-Hur (1925): A surprisingly strong silent film that is often overlooked when discussing early epic filmmaking. Almost four million dollars was spent making this (the most money spent on a US film at that point I believe) and the sets shown in the chariot race and galley scene are quite good. I always love seeing Technicolor on silent films (two-strip) and this film is a bit reminiscent of Criterion’s King of Kings release in its use. There are many scenes that would not have been shown in post-Hays code (nudity and violence). Beautiful score by Carl Davis. The last half is a bit slow though. Ben Hur was played by Ramon Novarro though I wonder how Rudolph Valentino would have been if he took the role.
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#3 Izo

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 11:30 AM

Intolerance

I've seen The Birth of a Nation two or three times, but I've only just now made it to his apology film, Intolerance. I love baseball, but I don't really feel the need to read the official rulebook. I'm going to risk sounding like a boob, but by that same token, I just don't really care for or about D.W. Griffith's films. He's certainly a trailblazer in narrative cinema, but when I watch one of his movies (I still need to see Broken Blossoms) i can't help but feel that that was really all he had going for him. There's some fantastic (for the time) editing going on in these pictures, but I feel like everything good about these movies has been done better elsewhere. DeMille had spectacle. Feiullades had a wonderful pulp sensibility. Even Melies was doing things with special effects that I still find impressive.

I suppose I don't have much to say about Intolerance. It's too long, though there are some very great images. There are far too many intertitles, and it's all way too heavy handed. Still, I liked (for the most part) all of the sections individually, and they'd each have made good movies. I'm just not so sure they had to be put together. Here's the thing that really bugged me about the movie: when there wasn't some sort of text explaining the history of the era depicted or some intertitle on screen, it was fantastic. But there were just so many scene-stopping explanations and expositions, it just grew boring.

I can't help but feel that AFI put this on their 10th anniversary list just so that they could take Birth of a Nation - a better film - out.

#4 cfkane

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 04:49 PM

Griffiths films need to be seen in the context of their time. That is what makes his films so interesting. I have never understood the desire in some quarters to erase "Birth Of A Nation" from public consciousness because of it's blatant racism. I think this is the very reason it should be seen today, so people can learn what racial attitudes were at that time. It should be required viewing for sociology classes and the study of race relations throughout history. Also, many of Griffith's films are worth seeing for the work of Billy Bitzer.
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#5 cfkane

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 04:55 PM

Can someone explain to me why in 2011 there is no DVD, (even oop), of Vidor's "The Big Parade". That is something someone, (Criterion, Flicker Alley, Kino), needs to put out.
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#6 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 05:11 PM

How about Greed as well? I would love to have that on DVD/BD. There are so many silents like The Big Parade which I would love to have (I love seeing them mentioned by so many critics and on so many lists but currently cannot see it).

Don't forget that Birth of a Nation was considered racist even when it was put out (even if Woodrow Wilson liked it) and was quite controversial. Personally the film falls a bit apart for me when The Reconstruction (1867) is displayed with Griffith's vicious tone and his "glorified" view of the KKK.

I think Intolerance is among the best of Griffith's works. I particularly like it more than Birth of a Nation because of its scope (somewhat long) and what it tries to accomplish. You can think of Broken Blossoms as another "apology" film, while I do like the film I do find it sometimes problematic in attitude (yellow face, ethnic stereotypes) but still an interesting watch.

I feel when studying Griffith it is probably best to start with the shorts (Birth of a Nation's attitude would not have been a surprise to those who have seen his civil war shorts) and see a progression of style as he developed.

Watch Buster Keaton's Three Ages soon which is a spoof on Intolerance (yes I prefer the Keaton film).
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#7 clydefro

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 08:33 PM

After having finally seen it all the way through, I can fully endorse the strong reputation of King Vidor's The Crowd. It feels, and I suppose this is a compliment since it's intended as such, remarkably modern. The plot remains relevant but the way Vidor tells the story is really what impresses. The swiftness, economy of filmmaking and emotional pull are all very timeless in feel. Seeing this and, not so long ago, Lonesome, I'm inclined to think that the silent era was particularly good at registering love's spell in a way that has never really been equaled. There's something about these films, and Sunrise and Couer fidele and 7th Heaven and so on, which make romance seem incredibly intimate and evoke heady feelings. It's maybe a distillation of one of our more basic needs through images and situations rather than trying to complicate everything into an artificial fantasy.

#8 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 16 April 2013 - 12:44 PM

Camille (1921: Ray C. Smallwood)

This uneven drama based on the Alexandre Dumas fils titular novel is much less known than the later Greta Garbo Camille, but it contains two stars of silent-era in the Russian Alla Nazimova as Marguerite Gautier and Rudolph Valentino as Armand Duval. Valentino was on his way up, but here Nazimova is the star. Valentino’s acting would improve as he got older, but here he is more of a “face” and does not have the presence you would see in later films like The Son of the Sheik. Nazimova (she goes by this name only in this feature) is an interesting actress who sometimes makes strange choices for facial exp<b></b>ressi&#111;ns and body movements. She studied with Konstatin Stanislavsky so she was immersed with “The Method” but that was only for a few years and by judging her performance here her I think you see more of a theatrical style. However, what is up with her hairstyle which remains almost the same whether she is outside, in bed or gallivanting through Paris.

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The Art Deco sets are exquisite. I wish there were more of them. They are the highlight of the film.

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The plot is basic given the short amount of time to the film. You have a courtesan in Nazimova whom Armand falls in love with. If you are familiar with the novel (or have seen the play or have seen another version of this) or this type of melodrama then you know the relationship probably will not work out. Armand’s dad interferes with the joyous reunion and it is always maddening when people let others dictate their happiness in the name of someone else's happiness.

This is available on the Greta Garbo Camille Warner Home R1 DVD. I have not seen the later Camille yet.
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#9 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 11 September 2015 - 11:59 AM

The Marx Brothers Lost Film, Humor Risk: Getting to the Bottom of a Mystery  (Sept. 7, 2015) by Matthew Coniam
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#10 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 11 September 2015 - 12:03 PM

I found this old capsule review:

 

The Monster (1925: Roland West):

 

While Lon Chaney is top-billed this is nowhere near a Lon Chaney film.  It takes about a half an hour before he shows and he is specifically a supporting character.  This is a comedy horror in the Old Dark House and Mad Doctor sub-genres where characters are forced to stay in a spooky sanitarium for the night against there will led by Dr. Ziska (Chaney).  The lead is a nervous and frail looking Johnny Arthur a mail-order detective (and store clerk) who is caught up in the disappearance of a local person.  The lead professional detective assigned to the case ignores him as well as his boss Hal (Hallam Cooley) at the store.  Both him and Hal pine for the same girl Betty (Gertrude Olmstead), though Hal has an edge because of money and self-worth.

 

This is an OK film.  It has some laughs and some interesting odd-ball characters. It is statically directed by Roland West (Alibi) with very little to no camera movement and very little attention to composition.  But one of the benefits of these MOD releases is that we get these films to watch which help in our understanding of many areas of early film and see actors we would not have otherwise (it reminds me of when the Shaw Brothers were eventually released by Celestial decades later).  Here we have a film that predates The Cat and the Canary (1927) on many horror tropes from mad doctor, lunatics (Daffy Dan has an interesting habit), arms coming from hidden areas etc…While it is not as well made as the Paul Leni (both films were based on stage plays), it is always fun to see Lon Chaney.


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My Criterion Collection (408; I Own and Have Watched):
1-16, 18, 19, 20, 21(2nd), 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51(1st & 2nd), 52, 52, 53, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86. 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151(1st), 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164, 165, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 177, 180, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201, 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, 224, 226, 227, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 237, 239, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 260, 263, 266, 267, 268, 271, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 297, 298, 300(2D), 301, 302, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 319, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 335, 336, 338, 339, 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 351, 352, 353, 354, 357, 358, 359, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374, 375, 376, 378, 379, 380, 383, 385, 386, 387, 388, 391, 392, 393, 394, 395, 396, 397, 398, 399, 402, 404, 405, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 419, 420, 421, 422, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 437, 439, 441, 445, 446, 447, 448, 451, 453, 455, 456, 457, 459, 460, 461, 462, 465, 470, 475, 476, 478, 481, 482, 487, 490, 497, 498, 499, 500, 501, 503, 505, 512, 524, 525, 526, 528, 529, 530, 531, 539, 540, 543, 556, 565, 572, 578, 579, 580, 586, 596, 650, 664, 677

Previous Editions: 2,
Eclipse: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 23, 26, 33

“Empty your bladder of that bitter black urine you call coffee.” – The Tick

My HK movie reviews
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#11 masterofoneinchpunch

masterofoneinchpunch

    The Artful Dodger

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Posted 12 January 2016 - 05:20 PM

I've been going through all of the Edison silents in that nice Kino box set (well the set is nice, wish it wasn't in the cardboard type box).  Has anyone else gone through this?  What do you think of Edison as a film company?  Are there Edison films existing that are not in the box set?


Under Construction:
My Criterion Collection (408; I Own and Have Watched):
1-16, 18, 19, 20, 21(2nd), 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51(1st & 2nd), 52, 52, 53, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86. 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151(1st), 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164, 165, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 177, 180, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201, 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, 224, 226, 227, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 237, 239, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 260, 263, 266, 267, 268, 271, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 297, 298, 300(2D), 301, 302, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 319, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 335, 336, 338, 339, 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 351, 352, 353, 354, 357, 358, 359, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374, 375, 376, 378, 379, 380, 383, 385, 386, 387, 388, 391, 392, 393, 394, 395, 396, 397, 398, 399, 402, 404, 405, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 419, 420, 421, 422, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 437, 439, 441, 445, 446, 447, 448, 451, 453, 455, 456, 457, 459, 460, 461, 462, 465, 470, 475, 476, 478, 481, 482, 487, 490, 497, 498, 499, 500, 501, 503, 505, 512, 524, 525, 526, 528, 529, 530, 531, 539, 540, 543, 556, 565, 572, 578, 579, 580, 586, 596, 650, 664, 677

Previous Editions: 2,
Eclipse: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 23, 26, 33

“Empty your bladder of that bitter black urine you call coffee.” – The Tick

My HK movie reviews
My Amazon Reviews




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