The most important thing is to enjoy your life - to be happy - it's all that matters.
- Audrey Hepburn

WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Moderators: Sue Sue Applegate, movieman1957, moira finnie, Lzcutter

User avatar
myrnaloyisdope
Posts: 350
Joined: May 15th, 2008, 3:53 am
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby myrnaloyisdope » July 16th, 2009, 5:24 pm

feaito, The Wind is pretty incredible, I think Lillian's performance particularly her complete and abject fear during the climax might be the single greatest silent film performance I've seen. Just marvelous stuff.

I think the absurdity of the happy ending could have been lessened if they spaced out the climax and the denouement. It's such a let down to go from a nerve-wrecking climax to a super happy resolution all in the same scene.

As for me I've watched a few more films the past couple weeks:

The Phantom of the Opera1925 - I'm trying to watch as many of the iconic silents as I can, and this is one of the more well-known ones. I generally like Chaney, but I find the plots of all his films get old...grotesque but ultimately good hearted guy, shunned by society, falls for beautiful woman, but ends up dead and girl-less through an act of self-sacrifice. I mean it's not a bad bit, and Chaney does solid-to-great work every time out, but having seen about 5 or 6 of his films, the impact is lessened with each successive film. As for Phantom, well some of the set pieces are quite nice, and Chaney's make-up is great as always, but the film wasn't his best.

Of what I've seen, The Penalty stands out simply for the sheer awe of Chaney's physicality. Even with the absurdly contrived ending, and the distracting Kino score, it's still a classic simply to see Chaney at his finest.

Sylvester 1924 - A German kammerspiele in the mode of Der Letze Mann, this is one of Lupu Pick's 3 surviving films as director. Pick is probably best known for his role as Dr. Matsumoto in Fritz Lang's Spione. The film follows Die Mann (the man) through a drunken New Year's Eve fraught with disputes between his wife and his mother. The film cuts regularly back and forth between the revelry of the local taverns and the intimate (and increasingly claustrophobic) home of the the man and his family.

The film has no intertitles, and my copy was pretty poor quality...very dark and with a constant flicker, so it made it hard for me to really invest myself in the film. This is problematic given the nature of kammerspiele, which is designed for intimacy and requires the viewer to be attentive, and so my experience was middling at best. I'd like to see this film in a good quality print, as it has quite a reputation.

Cavalcade 1933 - I'd heard nothing but negatively about this film, which given it's status as a winner of the Best Picture Oscar was somewhat surprising. I'd heard the criticisms that it was too stagey and quite creeky, even by the standards of 1933. Well it wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting, I mean there's camera movement, montage and everything. Diana Wynward's performance is on the cusp of being Norma Shearer-esque with her overly earnestness deliverly, exaggerated movements, and constant looking to the camera. She tones it down and by the end of the film is quite believable as an aged woman, but the first few scenes are pretty rough. The plot was your standard let's follow a family through the years, contrasting their lives with important events of the world. The Titanic sequence was little much I thought, though I'd already known about it. The result is essentially an earnest and uplifting affirmation of British middle class values...family, stiff upper-lip et al.

As for it's Oscar win well it's not the best film of 1933, and it's not even the best Noel Coward adaptation of 1933 (Design For Living takes that prize), but it's the kind of picture that the Academy loves. It has a sense of its own importance, it takes place over a number of years, the characters all age on screen, there's tragedy, and there's the backdrop of war and history, oh and it's classy because everyone has a British accent. It's still a lot better than The Broadway Melody as far as Oscar winner's go.

If I Had A Million... (1932) - A fun if wildly uneven ensemble picture from Paramount featuring George Raft, Gary Cooper, Jack Oakie, Charles Laughton, W.C. Fields and a bunch of other Paramount films. The premise is simple, an aging tycoon decides to give a million bucks to random people in the phone book. Each person gets there own sequence directed by the likes of Ernst Lubitsch, James Cruze, William Sieter among others. Some of the sequences are duds, Wynne Gibson and Gene Raymond's episodes were the weakest, but several of them are quite good. Lubitsch's is probably the most famous, featuring Charles Laughton as an office clerk, who upon finding the 1,000,000 dollar cheque on his desk, proceeds to walk into the boss' office and give him a raspberry. It takes about 3 minutes for the entire sequence...Lubitsch touch indeed. I really liked the George Raft sequence, as he plays a small time forger, who unfortunately can't find anyone to cash his check. The more I watch Raft, the more his terrible acting is evident, but somehow I enjoy him on screen.

The film is fun stuff and kind of a unique oddity. Now if only they could have gotten Claudette or Sylvia into a sequence.
"Do you think it's dangerous to have Busby Berkeley dreams?" - The Magnetic Fields

feaito

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby feaito » July 16th, 2009, 8:27 pm

I agree with you Re. Lillian's performance in "The Wind" Justin. You have watched quite a few goodies!

I finished watching "The First Auto" (1927), which has an endearing quality of early Americana. I did not know that Charles Emmett-Mack (Bob Armstrong) died while the film was being shot. It might be the reason why his character disappears and is never seen again? Could it be the reason of including his nearly fatal accident? Russell Simpson does a very fine work as ole' fashioned Hank Armstrong, Bob's horse breeding father. Patsy Ruth Miller gets very little to do. It was a surprise to see Bill Demarest in such an early role. Gibson Gowland and George Bunny -I thought it was John Bunny, they look very much alike- are also featured. Nice comedy-drama.

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » July 17th, 2009, 2:53 pm

Myrnaloyisdope wrote:
The Phantom of the Opera1925 - I'm trying to watch as many of the iconic silents as I can, and this is one of the more well-known ones. I generally like Chaney, but I find the plots of all his films get old...grotesque but ultimately good hearted guy, shunned by society, falls for beautiful woman, but ends up dead and girl-less through an act of self-sacrifice. I mean it's not a bad bit, and Chaney does solid-to-great work every time out, but having seen about 5 or 6 of his films, the impact is lessened with each successive film. As for Phantom, well some of the set pieces are quite nice, and Chaney's make-up is great as always, but the film wasn't his best.


While I agree that the many of Chaney's films follow similar themes, I think that basic criticism can be said about many of the big silent era stars. Pickford's little girl was generally an orphan or raised by a single-parent, overcomes some obstacles, and grows up enough to win a love interest. Fairbanks had his lamb-to-lion run until inventing the swashbuckler, and the lamb-lion theme can even be stretched to apply to many of those films, too. Garbo was forever having to decide between a husband and a lover, Hart was a bad guy with a hint of good, and of course Buster Keaton, (perhaps after seeing the missed potential of the "lamb" character he played in The Saphead) pretty much perfected the lamb-lion theme he inherited from Fairbanks. Chaplin, Lloyd, too.

Of course not all of their films followed their winning formulas, including Chaney's. I think it's interesting that a few of the big name silent stars don't have a formula attached to them. Lillian Gish, for example. And, except for being "the latin lover", Valentino films don't seem to follow any particular pattern (he's a pretty great bad guy in the earlier films).

The Phantom of the Opera, I think, is one of Chaney's best films, despite the rather pedestrian direction of Rupert Jullian. Of course, the film has a wacky history and the 1925 version survives in middling quality. Structurally, The Phantom is a bit awkward, hard to follow, and lacks the Phantom for much of the first half. Jullian has no idea what to do or where to place the camera, and instead films long shots backstage of Snitz Edwards talking to a bunch of ballerinas (who pirouette in terror!). Yet, despite the film's many flaws (which include the "heroes" having to walk through the catacombs with their arms raised above their heads), there are so many spectacular sequences that the film, in my opinion, is one of the great silents. Chaney, who had a tendency to overact (even as Quasimodo he does a few cringe-inducing bits of business), as Eric he is perfect. Plenty of menace, which is maintained despite trying to explain his character's motivations, adds enormously to the overall effect. Of course the Phantom is Chaney's greatest makeup achievement, too, and has never been approached again, especially in any of the remakes. The sets and costumes also go a long way in negating Jullian's direction. It should be noted, too, that there are many accounts which claim that the one brilliantly directed sequence, the Phantom's unmasking, was directed by Chaney himself. But that, too, is marred slightly, because it is blurry. (That may be on purpose, the Phantom comes into focus as he approaches the camera. But for me, the effect of the reveal is lessoned because Chaney's hideous makeup is slightly blurry.)

While the 1929 version cuts out sequences and characters, as well as rearranging scenes, the print is considerable better and the film's pacing is improved. I still prefer the 1925 version (completist that I am), but a case can be made that the 1929 version is "better". Certainly the Milestone Collection DVD, which has both versions of the film (as well as a number of extras and a terrific commentary track going over the film's history) is the DVD to see.

I do agree that The Penalty is one of Chaney's best, and also really like many of his collaborations with Tod Browning, most notably The Unknown and West of Zanzibar. He's also quite good in Tell it to the Marines and Laugh, Clown, Laugh, among many, many others. (Hunchback, too!)
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

User avatar
Gagman 66
Posts: 614
Joined: April 19th, 2007, 11:34 pm
Location: Nebraska

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Gagman 66 » July 19th, 2009, 4:38 pm

:o Have to be honest, I was rather disappointed in the 1939 sound remake of BEAU GESTE which TCM ran on Thusday. I had not seen it before, and I know that the picture was just re-released on DVD. Frankly, The original 1926 Silent Version with Ronald Coleman, William Powell and a great All Star Cast in it's own right, is a much better movie. Far more gripping. And allot darker and gritter. Made me hope all the more that TCM might be finally able to show it sometime too. The Silent version definitely deserves to be seen. Recently added my own score to the old Japanese Laser-disc release, and the movie took on a whole different life for me.

:? The thing is the ending of the sound version lacks the emotional punch of the Original Silent. I liked the 1939 version, but it seemed a rather watered down take of the story. In the Coleman film Noah Beery's Sergeant Lujaun renamed Markoff in the Cooper version, is truly an evil and menacing figure.Many of his soldiers are scared to death of him, and live in constant fear of the guy. I didn't see that in the re-make. Overall I like the entire cast of the 1926 version better than 1939. With the possible exception of Susan Hayward's Isobel It's a toss up there. In the Silent that role was played by Mary Brian. Both were certainly very beautiful young woman. Hayward at that age looked quite amazing. But to say she was any prettier than Brian is not an easy thing to do either.

:| And wasn't Micheal "Beau" Geste supposed to be an Englishmen? What is the story on Gary Cooper not having a British accent in the film? In the Silent Beau always called his brother John "Stout Fellow" a very English Nick-Name. This was a key factor throughout the story. In the '39 version, that is ignored. There has never been an official release to my knowledge from Paramount. Not even in VHS format of the Silent BEAU GESTE. One of that studios biggest films of the 20's and it has gone completely ignored. I'm sure there are good archival prints stashed someplace. Sorry to say I don't know who has them? BEAU GESTE (1926) is a major, major Silent film that is almost never seen. If it were at least in circulation, it would probably find itself on allot of Top 10 Silents lists. It is that good.

Justin,

Don't have any idea what version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA you saw? You don't say. But be sure to read Kevin's post. In any event, PHANTOM is vastly overrated. Wouldn't even make my top 50 Silent films. Although it helps to at least have a good print, and also understand that the original 1925 version has never been properly restored, since it only survives in battered 16 millimeter show at home's from the early 30's. But the original version was 20 minutes longer than the 1929 sound re-issue which has been drastically altered. So much so that it seems like a different film. Sad that the 1925 version can not be restored enough to give us a more accurate picture of what it was really like.

User avatar
JackFavell
Posts: 11946
Joined: April 20th, 2009, 9:56 am

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby JackFavell » July 20th, 2009, 11:13 am

When watching Phantom of the Opera when it appeared on TCM last time, I was amazed at how much more I enjoyed it than on previous viewings. I think this has to do with the version they showed (I don't know which it was). It also became very clear to me that there was a LOT of chopped or missing footage - at one point, I remember Mary Philbin literally jumped from one side of the room to the other with no apparent explanation, she just appears on the other side of the set.... If the continuity were better, perhaps the movie would be as well. Personally, I cannot for the life of me understand how Norman Kerry ever got to be a star....he is so .... boring. Mary Philbin gives a fairly overwrought and weak performance compared to her work in The Man Who Laughs. But Chaney is fascinating.

I am actually not crazy about The Hunchback, but other than that, I am always struck by Chaney's underacting, not his overacting. I have always thought him a rather subdued performer compared to others of his time period, and I always chalked it up to his upbringing. It is one of the pleasures of watching a Chaney movie for me - seeing how modern he seems compared to everyone else.

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » July 21st, 2009, 8:30 am

Finally watched a few of the Mae Clarke pre-codes from a few weeks back.

The Good Bad Girl (1931)
A decent programer with Clarke as a "Gangster's moll" who wants to leave that life behind and marry the handsome guy (she doesn't know he's rich, too, until after she marries him). Predictable complications ensue, but the brisk running time and the performances keep one's attention until the convenient ending.

Three Wise Girls (1932)
Considerable more fun than The Good Bad Girl, here, a stiff, (but somehow still delightful) Jean Harlow comes to the big city, rooms with comic relief, Marie Prevost, and gets a modeling job along side friend Mae Clarke. Harlow and Clarke are involved with married men, with again, predictable results. Clarke is quite amusing making fun of Harlow's undergarments when helping Harlow get her modeling job, but Clarke is best when trying to come to terms with her life's position.

Both films feature Marie Prevost, who seemed to survive the transition to sound quite well, adapting the "best friend" role as her own. While her "weight" is evident, she still looks terrific and didn't deserve her awful fate. (Or to remembered, mostly, by a song by Nick Lowe.)

Final Edition (1932)
Clarke is very good as a tough (and funny) female reporter, who uses her intelligence to outsmart both the bad guys and the good guys, particularly the hammy (but fun), Pat O'Brien. Nothing great or terribly original, but Clarke shows she's quite good at the 1930-ish banter.
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » July 22nd, 2009, 2:39 pm

I started re-watching The Origins of Cinema series and, as I seem to have misplaced Volume I, I started with Volume II. They are all American Mutoscope and Biograph films from 1903 to 1908, and all of them are fantastics. Highlights include:
The Story the Biograph Told (1904) A movie camera is placed in an office, and a young lad secretly films as an officer worker and his secretary play a little more than footsie together. That night, the office worker attends the cinema with his wife, and low and behold, what's on the screen but.... The next day the wife comes into the office, physically removes the woman secretary and replaces her with a male.

Personal (1904) A man is awaiting a response to his personal ad, only to have an army of women show up (sound familiar, Buster Keaton fans?). The chase is on, and the fascinating thing is that all of the women are dressed in their Victorian dresses, complete with huge decorative hats, all of which need to be held firm as they run over fences and down hillsides. Not a hat flies off!

Grandpa's Reading Glass (1902) Two minutes of pure delight as two beautiful young girls borrow their grandfather's magnifying glass and look--a close-up of their kitten, and then some birds, and their mother, and their mother's eyeball! 1902 and a film developed specifically for close-ups. And I thought it was Dreyer's idea...

The Tired Tailor's Dream (1907) and The Sculptor's Nightmare (1908) are similar films in that they use trick photography. In Tailor's Dream, a suit is made by itself (the scissors are pretty darn cool), and in Sculptor''s Nightmare, the dreamer's busts' sculpt themselves into various people (including Taft and "Teddy" R), and then the heads start talking to each other.

The Moonshiner (1904) is a real corker, with some great action sequences, including plenty of moving camera shots, and a plot which holds together nicely.

The Hero of Liao-Yang (1904). Hard to believe this was made in 1904, it seems so far advanced. Set during the Russo-Japanese War, a Japanese soldier is sent on a dangerous mission, is wounded and captured. His hospital bed needed, he is simply buried alive. Fortunately one of the gravediggers saves him when the other's leave, and he is able to escape. There are some terrific battlefield effects and, coupled with the film's opening (you see him at home, with his brother, practicing marshal arts), there is some character development. All of the Japanese roles appear to be played by Asians and not white men in "yellow-face", which makes the film all the more compelling.

All 15 films are quite good and use camera movements to varying degrees (lots of pans and a few tilts, too.) Of course a lot of the fun comes from seeing the dress and backgrounds and these films offer plenty, as most were filmed on location. A few cars, but lots of horse-drawn carriages of varying sizes, and the roads... No more complaints about potholes. ("chuck"holes for those of us in the midwest.)

Great collection.
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » July 24th, 2009, 9:22 am

Volume III of The Origins of Cinema continues with a number of shorts from American Mutoscope and Biograph from 1905 to 1908. Some highlights include:
The Great Jewel Mystery (AKA: The Mystery of the Missing Jewel Casket) (1905)--a jewel thief is smuggled aboard a train in a casket. During the train's journey, he leaves the casket, kills the security guard, and steals some jewels. Don't worry, though, he and his cohorts are soon captured.

A Kentucky Feud (1905)--the story of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. Despite the tableaux titles, the film is still difficult to follow, but also still very interesting.

A number of films based on actual events include:

The Silver Wedding (1906)--opens in a room filled with scammers and con-men (and women) who put on their dark glasses and pick up the "I am blind" sign, or put on the fake cast and grab the crutches, ready for the day's work. A bigger plot is followed as a wedding party is crashed, the guests are locked in a room and the table of gifts is bagged and stolen. Don't worry though, they are soon captured.

The Black Hand (1906) and The Paymaster (1906) also feature crimes, including kidnapping, with the bad guys getting apprehended.

Two extraordinary films feature goofy plots staged in hair-raising actual locations.
The Tunnel Workers (1908) has footage of an actual tunnel being dug under the Hudson River. The real workers entering the tunnel give cursory looks at the camera, with a few doing some mugging. The "plot" features a cave-in and rescue.

The Skyscrapers (1906) Think Lloyd's High and Dizzy but without the forced perspective. These guys are actually straddling I-beams, non-challantly smoking their cigarettes while bantering and a-hammerin' and what ever. Yea, there's a plot: "Dago Pete" starts a fight, is fired, steals, is caught, another fight, this time high in the air (he tosses the foreman over the side---lucky for the foreman there are plenty of I-beams on the way down), and is caught.

At the French Ball (1908) Features actor D.W. Griffith attending a costume party dressed as a monk meeting up with a woman dressed as a nun (I believe she is played by Griffith's real wife, Linda Arvidson). The two canoodle some (which is fairly scandalous, considering their dress). They agree to meet later, and Griffith changes his costume with his roommate, becoming a clown, while Arvidson changes with her maid--a black woman (a white woman in blackface). So, the "new" monk and "new" nun meet and just before they kiss, their true identities are reveled.
Pretty saucy stuff, especially for 1908. Oh, and for the record, as an actor D.W. Griffith is a great director.

Speaking of acting D.W. Griffith, I also recently watched the 1987 film, Good Morning, Babylon. The epic story is about two Italian brothers who leave Italy for the States and find themselves working on the set of Intolerance. While the story itself needed to be either longer or shorter, the sequences involving Intolerance and Hollywood in general are quite fun (although there is a scene featuring the filming of a pie fight. More pies were hurled representing early Hollywood comedies than ever graced the faces of the silent clowns...) The standout performance is by Charles Dance who plays D.W. exactly as I picture him to be: the Southern gentlemen, with a quiet dignity that demands respect, and a wisp of a sense of humor (that I wish found its way into his actual films more). There's a terrific scene, right at the bottom of the stairs of the Babylon set, where Griffith hosts a dinner for the newlywed Italian brothers and their visiting father.
Not a great film, but still quite good.
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » July 27th, 2009, 5:19 pm

Last night I watched an old VHS of Buster Keaton Skits From TV. It is quite fascinating, although uneven, opening with an "infomercial" for Kodak, which sets Keaton in silent sketches as a photographer in various eras, starting in the mid-1800's and going to the present (mid 60's judging by the length of the women's skirts.) Naturally the sequence in the 20's is the most fun, where Buster dons a full-length raccoon coat and, as he leaves his apartment, he grabs his trademark porkpie hat.

There are a few beer commercials, a delightful scene "A Day in a Park" with Lucille Ball (it's silent but filmed before an audience, or at least, has a laugh track), a re-enactment of the molasses sequence from Keaton's first silent short (and he does the prat falls!) and a very funny sequence where he and his partner try to hang some billboard posters (the aged Buster, again, takes some wicked pratfalls.)

And then there's the devastating final program called The Silent Partner from the TV series Screen Director's Playhouse from 1955. Essentially a tribute to the neglected silent stars of the past (and very much an apology, too), Keaton plays an unrecognized silent film star who is in a bar watching the Academy Awards (Bob Hope actually hosts). Hope gives a special achievement award to a director played by Joe E. Brown. Brown accepts the award, but gives a special thank you to the silent comedian who gave him his start. This allows for an amusing flashback, where Brown is directing a "serious" movie. The heroine (played by Evelyn Ankers!) is upstairs in a burning building yelling for help. Buster (I don't remember his character's name) thinks the fire is for real, and goes to rescue her. During these flashback scenes, Keaton is wearing a toupee that really makes him look like his ol' self (with a bit more weight, of course), and his comedy is still brilliant. There is another sequence, supposed to be a clip from one of the silent films Brown directed, which again features Buster, and as they watch, the bar's patrons begin to recognize the old man sitting at the bar. Keaton's dramatic performance is nearly as good as his comedy. None other than Zasu Pitts has a prominent role, and many of the things she says to Keaton's character could apply to herself.
Unexpected, a little clumsy, but quite moving, this was by far the highlight of the collection.
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

User avatar
phil noir
Posts: 148
Joined: March 18th, 2008, 7:11 am
Location: England

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby phil noir » July 29th, 2009, 11:31 am

I’ve recently watched:

Haxan - which I admired a lot for its visual flair and historical detail. For me, it really came to life near the end when the making of the film came under investigation, with the director explaining that the elderly actress playing the woman accused of witchcraft herself believed in the devil, and had a book of illustrations by which she could identify him if he came to visit her. I also liked Christensen's comparison of the modern hysterical (so called) woman with her medieval forebears, and how the same problems gave rise to different symptoms and diagnoses, many centuries apart. I would have liked the film to have gone further along this route.

Camille - a rarefied version of the famous story - the sets and costumes by Natacha Rambova were highly stylized, and I suppose drew on Aubrey Beardsley, art nouveau, the Ballets Russes? I liked the exaggerated acting style of Nazimova - Valentino was as graceful as ever, and sometimes it was as though they were dancing rather than acting their parts. Rambova’s designs were always arresting, but I wonder whether they called slightly too much attention to themselves? And yet, at other times, her touch was very light: Valentino’s character did not slick his hair back until after he had had his heart broken, and had embraced the corrupt ways of the city; newly arrived from the country, he wore it in a much simpler style; that seemed to me a subtle visual clue to his journey from innocence to sophisticated despair.

The Merry Widow - this was only the second film I’ve seen with Mae Murray (the other: A Delicious Little Devil). Given her - rather disastrous - decision to marry a prince in real life, the story had interesting parallels with her off-screen existence. I thought her performance was fine, although her beauty does not perhaps translate very well to today; Roy D’Arcy was good value as the grinning villain, and John Gilbert was handsome and dashing as the Prince. And yet, I was very slightly underwhelmed. I’m beginning to wonder why von Stroheim had such a thing for these operetta-like fantasies of European royalty; I much prefer him in Greed mode.

User avatar
myrnaloyisdope
Posts: 350
Joined: May 15th, 2008, 3:53 am
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby myrnaloyisdope » July 30th, 2009, 5:00 pm

Phil, I still have yet to watch Camille, have you seen the Garbo version? I thought there was some fascinating things in Haxan, I would have preferred it to be a straight documentary though. The Merry Widow is the weakest Stroheim I've seen, it's like he was neutered for that film. Not surprisingly though, by stifling his eccentricity, MGM was able to wrestle a technically proficient easily accessible picture out of him, and it was a huge hit, by far the biggest of his career.

As for me well I've watched a bunch of films in the past few weeks, so I'll do some quick hits to start:

They Had To See Paris (1929) and Bad Girl (1931) - I've been working through some of the talkies in the Borzage Fox set in order to determine if its worth my while to buy. Based on these two films it's a definite no. Paris is a Will Rogers vehicle about an Oklahoma family who strikes it rich and in order to attain culture and significane move to Paris. Rogers is the family patriarch who tries to keep a level head as his wife and 2 kids end up corrupted by the European life. It's not very good, kind of stagey, and very predictable. Fifi d'Orsay does provide some spark as an enthusiastic floozy who takes a liking to Rogers. But ultimately it's quite forgettable. Bad Girl features Sally Eiler as an alleged bad girl (apparently sassing creeps is 'bad') who falls for tough talking James Dunn. The first 10 minutes is fun with Eiler giving snappy one liners to everyone and everything. But once she meets Dunn, she basically loses all her spark, and the film turns into a crummy marriage melodrama, where everything would work out fine if they would just tell the truth. It's junk.

Clash of the Wolves (1925) - I'm working on watching all the films in the National Film Registry, so that's why I was watching this one. The film wasn't exceptional by any stretch but is entertaining enough, as the film traces Rin Tin Tin's transformation from wild killer wolf to faithful friend, and features a very young Charles Farrell in the lead. The film featured a lot of location shooting that served it well, really giving a sense of ruggedness and danger. For a Warner's silent it actually looks like it has a budget and that some time was put into it. I suppose since Rin Tin Tin was probably their biggest star at the time it makes sense that they would make an effort. Solid work all around.

Rosita (1923) - I managed to track down a copy of this through Jeffrey, as I've recently been digging Mary Pickford, and I'm always up for some Lubitsch. Sadly this version has Russian intertitles (though on a positive note, I found someone with an English copy, that I'll have soon). Obviously the absence of English intertitles hindered my viewing, but I was able to follow along well enough (in part thanks to the Wikipedia synopsis). Pickford is Rosita a poor but popular street singer in Seville who earns the attention of the King (Holbrook Blinn after writing a critical song about his policies. She ends up being arrested where she falls in love with a rogue captain, Don Diego (George Walsh), before being wooed by the King. She is pressured by her family to accept his advances, not knowing the Diego has been sentenced to death for killing a soldier while trying aid Rosita. Complications ensue as Rosita is torn between a life of wealth and a life with Diego. Off course being a Pickford film, things end up happily, and of course being a Lubitsch film, there's sex and intrigue.

The film is easily Pickford feature, and is among the rarest Lubitsch's pictures. So given the rarity, it's kind of taken on a mythical reputation. Now having seen the film (though not in an ideal form), I can say it's well crafted and doesn't do a disservice to either party. Pickford is fun and engaging as Rosita, particularly when she dances and sings with her guitar. She has her typical playfulness, though unlike most of her films she has an awareness of her own sexuality. There's a cute sequence early on where she's performing, and a soldier throws a flower, which she catches in her mouth. She acknowledges the soldier, but seeing him as less than suitable, she seeks out another solider, whom she hands the flower too. She knows what power she has.

Lubitsch's direction is good, though outside of the early performance sequences with Pickford which feature some interesting angles including a bird's eye view, it's more competent than stylized. The set design is really striking, as the castle and the town settings feel very authentic. Also the film is somewhat muted in its sexuality, particularly given that the film opens with a shot of the King smiling, while 4 sets of female hands seductively grasp at his hands. Aside from that opening sequence, and the sequence I described above, the film never really becomes a Lubitsch picture.

Now with Rosita out of the way, Forbidden Paradise moves to the top of the list as my most wanted existing silent film.
"Do you think it's dangerous to have Busby Berkeley dreams?" - The Magnetic Fields

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » July 31st, 2009, 7:52 am

Certainly one of the odder films from the silent era, Häxan is often brilliant, but does suffer some from the episodic structure. The opening is rather a snooze, and the closing episode with the kleptomaniac seems out of place. But the meat of the film is great fun. The sets and costumes go a long way in providing some terrific atmosphere, and who can resist Christensen's performance as the devil (with that darting tongue of his). The 1968 re-issue (re-titled Witchcraft Through the Ages) is even more surreal as it features narration by William S. Burroughs.

TCM recently aired one of Christensen's Hollywood films, Mockery, starring Lon Chaney. While it's a pretty good programer, my expectations were far greater considering the pairing of Lon Chaney with the director of Häxan.


Camille I see as an early art film. It's over-powered by Rambova's art direction and Nazimova's acting is very "stylized". But it is fascinating, and with each viewing I become more and more interested in Nazimova and would love to see more of her silents (Salome is brilliant). She should get credit for the casting of Valentino (even though he is absent from Camille's death scene.)

I recently watched the pre-code The Strange Love of Molly Louvain and what a corker. Ann Dvorak is left by her sugar daddy lover, hooks up with a gangster, has a baby, shacks up with a young man who wants to marry her, and falls for an amoral reporter (played brilliantly by Lee Tracy). Director Michael Curtiz keeps the 72-minute film flying.
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

User avatar
phil noir
Posts: 148
Joined: March 18th, 2008, 7:11 am
Location: England

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby phil noir » July 31st, 2009, 11:02 am

myrnaloyisdope wrote:Phil, I still have yet to watch Camille, have you seen the Garbo version? I thought there was some fascinating things in Haxan, I would have preferred it to be a straight documentary though. The Merry Widow is the weakest Stroheim I've seen, it's like he was neutered for that film. Not surprisingly though, by stifling his eccentricity, MGM was able to wrestle a technically proficient easily accessible picture out of him, and it was a huge hit, by far the biggest of his career.


I haven't seen the Garbo version yet. It's on the same disc, and I meant to watch it a few days after the Nazimova-Valentino version, but it went completely out of my head. I must watch it. I'd also like to see the Norma Talmadge-Gilbert Roland version from 1927, but apparently that's locked away in an archive.

MGM couldn't neuter von Stroheim completely though, could they? There's a very strange detail in the scene where John Gilbert takes Mae Murray to dinner in the back room of a brothel (she doesn't realize where she is), and in the bedroom adjoining - in which he is evidently planning to seduce her - a teenage boy and girl are playing a musical accompaniment. They are both wearing blindfolds - so as not to witness subsequent events, I assume. I'm amazed that got past the censors!

MichiganJ wrote:Certainly one of the odder films from the silent era, Häxan is often brilliant, but does suffer some from the episodic structure. The opening is rather a snooze, and the closing episode with the kleptomaniac seems out of place. But the meat of the film is great fun. The sets and costumes go a long way in providing some terrific atmosphere, and who can resist Christensen's performance as the devil (with that darting tongue of his)...

Camille I see as an early art film. It's over-powered by Rambova's art direction and Nazimova's acting is very "stylized". But it is fascinating, and with each viewing I become more and more interested in Nazimova and would love to see more of her silents (Salome is brilliant). She should get credit for the casting of Valentino (even though he is absent from Camille's death scene.)


I think Haxan does have a problem with the pacing. There is far more medieval reconstruction than modern parallel-making, and although I liked the last part more than you do, I think, the imbalance does make the modern part feel a bit tacked on. And what are we to make of a director casting himself as the devil, I wonder? (Psychologically, I mean.) It was certainly the best acting part in the film.

I see on imdb.com that Nazimova also made a version of A Doll's House around this time, which would be very interesting to see - but seems to be lost. I agree: she is a fascinating figure.

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » August 1st, 2009, 7:21 am

I watched the 1984 Giorgio Moroder version of Metropolis and it holds up quite well, despite, or maybe even because of the "contemporary" soundtrack. Obviously the latest Kino restored edition (and the forthcoming even more restored edition) are better representations of the film as Lang intended, but in its day, the '84 Moroder version was the most complete, and the story, well, it's as wacky and nonsensical as ever. The print looks quite good, again, for its time, and the film is tinted (called "color" in the credits) and Moroder uses a few motion stills (the Ken Burns move) when footage is missing. Interestingly, if the intertitles are explanatory, they stay simply as intertitles, whereas dialogue appears as subtitles under the speaker. This actually works quite well, making it feel almost like a "foreign" film (which, of course it is, too), and not a silent (for 1984 theater goers averse to seeing a silent movie.) It also really helps to keep the pace up (the film runs 80-some minutes).

And then there's the soundtrack. Oddly, all the synths and "pop" music date this 1927 futuristic film squarely in the middle of the 1980s. Moroder's choice of songs is sometimes too on the mark, but frankly that only adds to the fun. Pat Benatar, Freddy Mercury, Jon Anderson (sans Yes), Adam Ant, Bonnie Tyler, Billy Squire (!) and (drum roll, please), LOVERBOY, are all featured, as are some well-placed sound effects (which really work quite well during the flooding sequence).

Again, this is not a purists version of Metropolis, but boy-oh-boy is it ever fun.
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

User avatar
myrnaloyisdope
Posts: 350
Joined: May 15th, 2008, 3:53 am
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Contact:

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby myrnaloyisdope » August 2nd, 2009, 6:21 pm

MichiganJ, I'll have to check out the Moroder version. As it is I'm not really big on Fritz Lang's silents (Metropolis is the best I've seen), even though I love a bunch of his talkies, and think he's one fascinating character. I hate to use the word boring to describe his silent work, but that's what I feel. They tend to drag on and on, so in spite of the occasional flourishes of brilliance...the magic carpets and dancing letter in Der Mude Tod, the crazy technology of Spione, the mind control of Mabuse...I don't really want to sit down and watch 'em again. Whereas M, Fury, You Only Live Once are among the films I could watch over and over.

As for me I've watched a couple in the last few days:

Civilization (1916) - Thomas Ince's pacifist epic released the same year as Intolerance, sadly about 5 reels are missing on the extant version, which was a 1930 re-release re-edited by a church group in order to hammer home the message of Jesus Christ. And boy does it ever. The final half hour drags on for ever, as the apparition of Jesus leads the evil general throughout what must be every battlefield ever to show him the error of his war-mongering ways. The first hour is quite good though, with some great sequences, particularly the submarine sinking, replete with flickering lights, tonnes of water and drowning men. It's a very realistic sequence. The battle sequences were well done as well, and though some of the homefront scenes fall victim to pantomime, they still are affecting in their way. The version I saw was a rip from the old Kino VHS, and contains a wonderful score that really enhanced my enjoyment of the film...there's just something about a good silent score that can turn something from boring to engaging.

The Wild Party (1929) - Clara Bow's first talkie, I'd recently read about this film in a brief essay on director Dorothy Arzner's work...which noted that it's possible to read the film with lesbian undertones. I'm not sure I see it, but I like how the article put it: "the girls just seem to be having so much fun, until the men show up". The film itself is a lot of fun, if alternately funny, cute, sexy, terrible, stiff, stilted, wildly uneven, and with some of the worst line-readings this side of Fay Wray in Thunderbolt. I'm not a huge Bow fine, but each successive picture piques my interest just a little bit more. Here she's a cute college student who tries to catch the eye of her hunky new professor, Fredric March. But somehow it's engaging in spite of itself. Arzner's direction keeps the film moving. Jack Oakie appears briefly as a drunken lech, and Joyce Compton is wonderfully slimy as the nosy classmate who's always snooping around.
"Do you think it's dangerous to have Busby Berkeley dreams?" - The Magnetic Fields


Return to “Silents & PreCodes”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 38 guests