Mini-Review: The Whisperer in the Darkness

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Whisperer in the Darkness

The Whisperer in Darkness was a film I just had to see. After having seen The Call of Cthulhu, which was a short, silent version of a Lovecraft classic, I knew I’d want to see anything this company (known as the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society) did.

In their newest film, and first feature, they tackle The Whisperer in Darkness and shifted from a silent film representation to a monster film of the 1930s approach. In both cases, the style of film that is emulated perfectly suits the work being interpreted.

I firmly believe this to be the case, regardless of your familiarity with either of these very distinct niches. If you are unfamiliar with Lovecraft this is a great introduction as it very faithfully, but also intriguingly in cinematic terms, renders the narrative. Any admirer of film, regardless of what era(s) they prefer, will recognize some of the conventions on display in this film, and as details of the narrative unfold it’ll become clear the choice is an inspired one.

Much of this is a roundabout way of saying that odds are you’ll like this if you go in with the knowledge of what the film is attempting, and you could be a fan of either or neither end of the narrative equation and walk away liking it. However, if you like both it’s rather heavenly, or should I say hellacious? Either way, it’s great stuff.

10/10

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Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: They Still Call Me Junior by Frank Coghlan, Jr.

In 2009 Frank Coghlan, better known by his screen name Junior Coghlan, died. At that time I wrote an In Memoriam for him on the Site That Shall Not Be Named. Owing to the fact that I was looking for new material, and obits tend to be topical, I never re-published it here on The Movie Rat.

Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941, Republic Pictures)

It seems appropriate to do so now as it makes a perfect jumping off point for discussing this book:

Frank Coghlan Jr., who was a child actor in the silent film era passed away quietly last month of natural causes at the ripe old age of 93. He was the kid who brought the phrase “Shazam!” into the American consciousness and played Captain Marvel later on in a serial, the pre-transformation Captain Marvel.

He started at the age of three appearing in a Western serial called Daredevil Jack. He was typically credited as Junior Coghlan and left his mark indelibly in this chapter play Bruce Goldstein, Director of Repertory Programming at New York’s world famous Film Forum lauds it “It’s considered by many aficionados as the best cliffhanger serial of all time,” and continues saying “What a great fantasy for kids: a kid who turns into a superhero.”

Leonard Maltin puts Coghlan’s place in history further in perspective by saying “If you went to the movies in those days, you couldn’t help but know him, even though he was never a major star,” which, of course, places his importance in as much as he made up the tapestry of cinema when films and movie stars whether A-List or not where a part of American culture and something everyone was well versed in.

In 1925 legendary director/producer Cecil B. DeMille signed him to a five-year deal on the strength of his publicity stills. Another small yet important role he had was as the young James Cagney in Public Enemy.

Yet it is Captain Marvel and “Shazam!” for which he is most remembered. For many who toil and seek a serious dramatic career a singular, ubiquitous role, one to which they are always associated can be a burden and later on even a regret and something they seek to forget. Coghlan frequented conventions and seminars in his later years and was always pleased when people recognized him or came to see him. So appreciative was that according to Leonard Maltin he even personalized his license plate to read “Shazam.”

Some people in entertainment don’t realize their good fortune and look a gift horse in the mouth. Frank Coghlan, Jr. was not one of those people and now left with only memories of classic film moments it is we, the film fans, who didn’t know how lucky we were.

Rubber Tires

I cannot say for certain how many of his films I had seen at that point. The Adventures of Captain Marvel was definitely one of them. While in my limited experience I can’t say I agree about it being the very best serial, it is a superlative one. I was impelled to write that obit based on the one the New York Times wrote for him. It was touching to me that he still held that experience dear rather than feeling embittered that he was still identified by that work no matter where life took him.

Since then I have seen quite a few more Coghlan films, and may see more yet. Some of these include titles from when he really was a kid, as he was in his twenties when he made The Adventures of Captain Marvel. I liked him as a performer, and still with that obit in mind I was curious to read his biography.

Like many books and films do it languished on my Amazon Wish List for years. Due to this blogathon, I returned to Amazon resorted the used offers and found a cheap one.

Junior Coghlan

Even more so than with prior reviews in this blogathon I do not want to spoil the surprises in store in this book. There are 76 chapters, most of them quite short, wherein Junior regales you with stories in  what sounds simply like him speaking (as promised in the introduction by William C. Cline). He tells tales from sets, his home life, of other stars, of friendships, transitioning to sound, secrets of the silents, how he continued to work around films, Navy life, family life, other work, and more.

Ultimately, this book, published when he was 74, reinforced that warm and fuzzy feeling that I got reading about how fond he was of his most famous work. Not that he sugarcoats things, or doesn’t relate some sadness, but none of it was a horror story and lamenting the Hollywood system.

Now, while Junior did know Jackie Cooper and Mickey Rooney, in young actor terms he was a generation older so maybe not being pre-pubescent during the Depression and not in a big studio helped, but he still made it OK and recognizes it. Like Ingrid Bergman whom I just wrote, about he freelanced after a five-year deal and in the studio era that’s unusual.

Junior Coghlan (BFI)

There is much to like here, and much to learn, as with any autobiography, or work on film, you won’t agree with 100% of the opinions espoused but it is an interesting, fact-filled journey with a handy, lengthy filmography that should help you track down titles.

It’s very enjoyable overall and worth looking for if interested.

Russia in Classic Film Blogathon – Dziga Vertov: The Man with a Movie Camera in a Gyre of Time and Truth

In preparing this post I naturally watched The Man with a Movie Camera again. In doing so I was reminded of Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, which I had seen more recently but was made first. Due to that fact I got to thinking about my history with this film, and what if anything had changed in my perception of the film.

To accurately try to capture this I must go back to the beginning to where I first heard of the film. For yes, it is still my assertion that every film does have a pre-life in the mind of the viewer. This pre-life ought not effect the perception of the film in the viewer’s mind, but can and does more often than not color it. Furthermore, if I am to accurately map the trajectory of this film through time as I see it I have to go back to my beginning with it, which is in a textbook in an introduction to film history course that tries to encapsulate Vertov’s intention with his experiment.

This introduction was found in A Short History of the Movies by Gerald Mast and Bruce F. Kawin, 7th ed.:

Dziga Vertov, one of the Soviet Union’s pioneers in combining documentary footage with political commitment, experimental cinema with ideological statement, suffered similar artistic strangulation as Stalinism took hold – partly because he was a Jew, partly because his aesthetic stood for the truth, and partly because he didn’t praise Stalin enough in the last film he was allowed to make, Three Songs About Lenin (1934).

Dziga Vertov’s intense energy was evident not only in his documentaries and manifestos, but also in the name he chose for himself, which translates roughly as “Spinning Top.”

Yes, his work had quite an impact:

Vertov began by compiling footage into weekly newreels in 1918-1919, went on to edit full-length compilation films and shoot some of his own footage in 1920-22 (he called the camera his “Kino Eye”). then invented a documentary form that went beyond the reportage of the newsreel into creative journalism: a series of shorts that were called newsreels but focused on specific topics and themes. That series, which ran from 1922 to 1925 was Kinó-Pravda (“Film truth”; the French term, in homage to Vertov is cinéma vérité).

Documentary films are as old as films themselves. However, the very early documentary cinema was very literal, and would only be interested in what happened and that is all. The unseen hand theory of direction was more an iron fist.

This was the first film ever exhibited; a documentary:

Vertov clearly had other ideas in mind, and his revolutionary ideas transcend cinema as his artful treatment of real subject may predate the same concept in prose, like In Cold Blood and the birth of creative nonfiction. Did cinema beat other arts to something? I think it may have.

Next in my journey, I read some of Eisenstein’s works. He was not mum on Vertov’s works. In Film Form has some less sparkling things to say on Vertov.

With regard to the use of slow-motion:

Or, more often, it is used simply for formalist jackstraws and unmotivated camera mischief as in Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera.

And with regards to his experimentation:

The young Soviet cinema was gathering the experience revolutionary reality, of first experiments (Vertov), of first systematic ventures (Kuleshov) in preparation for that unprecedented explosion in the latter half of the ‘twenties, when it was to become an independent, mature, original art, immediately gaining world recognition.

Great filmmakers often disagree. Tarkovsky thought Eisenstein’s overemphasis on editing was misplaced, as all arts have editing; so montage, in his mind, did not define cinema, but rather time did. Art is subjective and different perspectives lead to personal and unique works. Vertov acknowledged he was experimenting in title to The Man with a Movie Camera, so as he wrote (both scripts and theory), shot and cut he too developed his own ideas.

The Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

This idea took root after he had seen, and decided to respond to, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. What Vertov seeks that’s different he states straight from the outset:

Man with Movie Camera
A 6 reel record on film
Produced by VUFKU in 1929
Excerpt from a camera operator’s diary

Attention viewers:
This film is an experiment in cinematic communication of real events/
Without the help of intertitles/
Without the help of a story/
Without the help of theatre/

This experimental work aims at creating a truly international language of cinema based on its absolute separation from the language of theatre and literature.

Author-supervisor experimenter
Dziga Vertov

With that in mind the mind instantly opens upon the start of the film. Yet it’s the creativity and positively kinetic nature of the film that makes it a unique experience. Yet, despite some of Eisenstein’s grumbling of the primitive nature of the trickery it’s not the party tricks, or the editing pattern that make this film standout, but the embodiment of statement; the visual unity created through theme that’s so clearly communicated.

Mast and Karwin put it best:

Like everyone else in society, the man with a movie camera has a job to do — his special work being to record and reveal the work of everyone else. And like everyone else in society, the man with the movie camera likes to play. Vertov allows the playful camera to dazzle us with accelerated motion split screens, superimpositions, stop-motion animation — demystifying the cinema even as it gives the audience the visual treats it came to the theater to enjoy. Grounded in daily life as much as in the theory and practice of cinema, this brilliantly reflective documentary renders cinema and life inseparable.

The only way in which the film relies on any other art-form (barring photography, of course) is in the use of music. Even upon its release it, like many other silents, was accompanied by a live orchestra. Since the silent days it has acquired many other scores to accentuate the cuts and changes in composition that this film has.

The Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

This is not to discredit the film in anyway. Music and film have always co-existed. Films need music. Especially this one cites Roger Ebert:

The experience of “Man With a Movie Camera” is unthinkable without the participation of music. Virtually every silent film was seen with music, if only from a single piano, accordion, or violin. The Mighty Wurlitzer, with its sound effects and different musical voices, was invented for movies.

This film seeks to unshackle cinema, and I feel it did, and most importantly it continues to do so as new viewers find it. For film, which relies on motion, both within the frame and in swapping those images out, the parameters must be challenged. Film was once a new toy, vibrant, irreverent and disrespected, looked down upon, and thus somewhat more unafraid to try things on for size. Yes, certain universal narrative precepts needed to be borrowed, but film needed to find its own voice with which to speak. Experiments like this one were crucial in developing that voice not only in documentary but in narrative cinema as well. This restless creative audacity is something that ought not be lost and held onto; the more fertile imaginations; the more impressionable viewers that catch a glimpse of this film the more possibilities the future of cinema has.

For that’s really what is being discussed here. Too often film history, like any history, can be bogged down in facts, dates and events that have happened without discussion the domino effect of influence that events, filmmakers and films can have. The concussive impact of one stellar film can have repercussions throughout time, and not just in the zeitgeist. The Man with a Movie Camera is such a film because it not only tests aesthetic norms and boundaries, but asks the important questions of “Why are we creating this way?” and “What can we do with it?” and most importantly it shouts “Yes, it is important and worthy and should continue!”

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: The Snubs – Defunct Categories

Introduction

Oscar Envelope

Film is an ever-changing artform, so it stands to reason that the awards that Hollywood created to help celebrate the industry should evolve. It’s more apparent when you realize that the Oscars began when the industry was in flux as sound was in its infancy.

Film has twice adapted itself in competition with other media arts. Synchronized sound came on the heels of the popularity of radio and a shift in aspect ratio, away from 1:33 to widescreen formats was introduced to distance itself from television. The same competition with television helped push films away from black and white film and towards color. With just these technical changes its natural that some award categories would fall in an out of favor over time, some aren’t so obvious. Some, surprisingly, should have never left. I will discuss the categories that are no longer around.

Best Picture, Production and Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production (1929)

Sunrise (1927, 20th Century Fox)

The Academy Awards began with two different iterations of Best Picture. In 1929 the winners of these two respective categories were Wings (Production) and Sunrise (Unique and Artistic). My interpretation of these trophies is that one is more akin to a PGA (Producers Guild of America) award. Whereas, the logistics, accomplishments and merits of the production are highly impressive and well-executed even if the picture mat not be the best overall. Unique and artistic would then be a more narrative-award with special emphasis on creativity. This is a distinction that could’ve proved highly useful in later years. Imagine if it had been around in 1998 (the first year that jumps to mind) give Production to Titanic and Unique and Artistic to As Good as It Gets or L.A. Confidential or Good Will Hunting. Or earlier maybe How Green Was My Valley could get Production and Citizen Kane can get Unique and Artistic and everyone can leave the former alone already, and stop hating it for something that’s no fault of its own.

Ultimately, I understand how the two awards would forever cause confusion and why they needed merging, but it is interesting to consider.

Best Director, Comedy Picture and Dramatic Picture (1929)

Frank Borzage

The Golden Globes still have Comedy/Musical and Dramatic categories for Films and Actors, but not directors. The directing job is highly different in both aspects. Are comedies far too overlooked when it comes to award shows? Yes. Does each year really merit having both categories? Probably not, and surely enough it was not a category the following year.

Best Title Writing (1929)

The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1927, First National Pictures)

To be quite honest considering that the industry was already in flux awkwardly transitioning from silent to talkie I’m a little surprised this was a category at the first awards. Granted some were trying to dismiss synchronized sound as a fad, but it was clear it was coming. Some categories held on longer, but silent films in the end virtually vanished quite quicker than black-and-white fare or 4:3 aspect ratio films.

Yes, titles were crucial in the silent era, and silents did win Oscars, but it’s slightly unusual that this was actually a category for one year.

Best Cinematography, Color and Best Cinematography, Black and White 1936-1939 (Special Achievement) 1940-1966

Psycho (1960, Universal)

This split became a mainstay of the Academy for 27 editions of the Awards. This is quite a long time and indicates that despite the business-related impetus for color cinematography the necessity of occasionally going into more ethereal monochrome remained and undeniable siren’s call for filmmakers for many years to come.

As wide as the gap between color productions and black-and-white ones have become they are not extinct as recent films like Ida, The Artist and The White Ribbon indicate. Yet, color cinematography in unquestionably ubiquitous enough such that the split no longer makes sense. It most definitely did at one time: color and black-and-white are two different ways of seeing the world. The reason for splitting the two was due to that and the fact that they were fairly equally split. With little equality superlative black-and-white films do have to compete against chromatic ones be it fair or unfair; it’s just a reality.

Best Effects, Engineering Effects (1929)

Wings (1927, Paramount)

The awards for Special Effects were ones that had many names an iterations before becoming a mainstay. A category for “Special Effects, Engineering Effects” existed at the first ceremonies. They returned in 1938 with and Honorary Award. From 1939 to 1962 Visual and Sound Effects shared an award titled Special Effects. In 1963 Special Visual Effects took over. From ’72-’77 it was awarded under Special Achievement Award. The current Special Visual Effects title debuted in 1995.

However, going back to the original trophy it puts me in a mind that perhaps the Academy does need to encourage and reward different kinds of effects work. Maybe split it between practical and computerized. It actually would encourage creativity and be fair. For example many of the most impressive feats in Inception (like the spinning hallway) were done practically. This could highlight those creative moments but still reward highly-creative, ever-evolving computerized effects work.

Best Writing, Achievement 1930

The Patriot (1928, Paramount)

This was the category introduced for the 2nd Annual ceremonies and for that year only. It was an attempt to transition away from three categories (Original, Adaptation and Title Writing) to just one. The only other award I ever saw merge all screenplays into one category was my own for a while. However, adaptation and original screenplays are games with similar rules but different approaches and need different skills. They should be separately awarded and this change is one that was needed.

The Juvenile Award (Awarded intermittently from 1935-1961)

The Window (1949, RKO)

This is an award I’ve already written about at length here. In that post I chronicled those young people who were honored by the Academy. I also followed-up on that by listing who since 1961 would have earned the honor, or could have, if it was still something awarded. Since my personal BAM Awards have started offering parity (meaning the same categories for mature and young performers) I have become convinced the Academy could fill a roster of five nominees a year for a category with this same concept. The term juvenile may be dated, and have poor connotations now, but the idea is one worth revisiting.

Best Short Subject, Cartoons (1932-1957) Short Subject, Comedy (1932-1937), Short Subject Novelty (1932-1937), Short Subject Color (1937-38) Short Subject One-Reel (1937-1957) and Short Subject Two-Reel (1937-1957)

The Dot and the Line (1965, MGM)

You can almost always look to the Academy for some kind of indication as to what the state of the art at least in terms of trends. One thing that would be apparent to someone looking solely at the Oscars with no other film knowledge would be that short films used to be a much more integral part of Hollywood films than they are now. For six years Live Action films were split into Comedies and Novelties, which featured, as the name implies varied subjects and approaches. Starting in 1937 animated films (then referred to as Cartoons by the Academy) were split off and Live Action films were bifurcated by length either one-reel (about 10 minutes or less) or two-reel (about 20 minutes or less). In 1958 Live Action was introduced as the only short subject category for live action, Cartoons still the term used, and the category changed to Best Short Subject, Animated Films in 1972. It is notable that serials never had a category somehow. Maybe because Poverty Row and “lesser” majors specialized in them.

Best Assistant Director (1933-1937)

Imitation of Life (1934, Universal)

Assistant Directors back at the beginning of the film industry had a far different role than they do as the industry and art evolved. There used to be far more directing for assistant directors. First ADs now are far more administrative and keep the production running, most of their direction geared at background performers. Therefore, its interesting that the Academy once underscored the greater level of responsibility this job had with an award.

Best Dance Direction (1936-1938)

Show Boat (1936, Universal)

There are a few instances of the Oscars highlighting the elevated place that the film musical once held. This category specifically aimed at choreography on film is one.

Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration Black-And-White and Color 1940-1966

Christmas in Connecticut (1945, Warner Bros.)

This is the second of three categories that for year offered two prizes owing to the unique challenges and distinct differences in working in black-and-white and color. In simplest terms in color there are temperature, palette and tone considerations but in monochrome there is a transliteration of actual colors to gray tones for desired effect that must be considered and calculated by all department heads.

Best Music, Scoring of a Drama or Comedy (1946-1957) Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (1942-1945) and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (1942-1957)

 

bernard-herrmann5

Here’s one more testament to the potency the musical once hand in the cinematic landscape of Hollywood’s output. In 1958 the distinction in scoring ended. For 16 ceremonies musicals were a category apart. They were so prevalent, significant, and thought to be so different that it had its own category for scoring.

The issue with genre-splitting is: where does it end? Comedy was excluded for three years, and then added. If musicals had stayed at their zenith would further scoring splits have occurred? Unlikely, but it may have been clamored for. Clearly, the loss of a category did not shut the door on the musical winning Best Score, The Sound of Music jumps immediately to mind, but it’s fascinating that it was a class apart for years.

Costume Design Black and White and Costume Design Color (1948-1966)

Jezebel (1938, Warner Bros.)

If there’s one thing that you can laud the Academy for it’s that there was uniformity in when categories stopped being subdivided by color and black-and-white. In all cases when there was such a division, either from the inception of a category like costume design, or later in the game like with cinematography, that split ceased after the 1966 Awards.

Similar to Cinematography and Art Direction costuming for both media is a different game. Black-and-white requires a more abstract understanding of colors and textures and how they’ll read when exposed. Thus, its a bit more intuitive, at times counterintuitive, and far less literal than working in color. Again the time had surely come for the category to merge due to ubiquity but the task is by no means an easy one in monochrome.

Conclusion

 

Oscars (AMPAS)

In most of the these cases it is just interesting and important to note how far the artform and industry have come. It’s important in aesthetic appreciation to note some things that used to be taken for granted and to acknowledge different trends and forms of the past. However, in some of these cases these categories could still be highly useful and be brought back today.

Silent Feature Sunday: The Gold Rush (1925)

When I first posted this series part of the idea was to get to watching more silent films. However, that has yet to pan out (yet?). And rather than skipping an opportunity to post one such that its easily accessible where it may not be expected simply because it’d be “Yet another Chaplin film” I posted, I decided to share it.

I keep the spiel simple here. Lost in the debating that film enthusiasts have about Chaplin’s place (read ranking) in film history is the fact that he wrote, directed and even scored many of his films. However, this is not meant to draw another comparison, but rather just something that needs to be noted. The appeal of The Gold Rush is fairly apparent. Enjoy!

The film can be seen at the following link The Gold Rush (1925).

Chaney Blogathon: By the Sun’s Rays (1914)

Note: You can view the film in its entirety below, as I do discuss the plot liberally feel free to view it prior to reading.

In order to be able to participate in another wonderful blogathon hosted by Movie Silently and the Last Drive-In, I volunteered to discuss By the Sun’s Rays. This is an 11-minute short film from 1914 released in Universal’s infancy that features Lon Chaney as a villain.

The reason this was a preferable selection for me is because I didn’t manage to squeeze in a Chaney title during my last theme 61 Days of Halloween (though I wanted to) and my current theme Thankful for World Cinema features films produced abroad. Therefore, the fact that this was presented as an option allowed me to buck my theme slightly to discuss it and I’m glad I could.

Here’s a fairly succinct synopsis of the film from an IMDb user:

Frank Lawler, a clerk for a mining company, colludes with a bandit gang about the timing of gold shipments with a mirror signal system and has designs on Doris Davis, the daughter of the local branch manager. The company’s main office dispatches their top detective John Murdock, who goes undercover to expose the scheme and rescue the Doris from the unwanted advances of the dastardly Lawler.

Chaney plays Lawler, and there are a few interesting things about the film. First, the appropriately florid description of the nature of Chaney’s character may paint the picture in a reader’s mind of a dastardly, handlebar-mustache twirling lothario if they’ve not seen the film. What’s refreshing, and what makes the film work in my estimation, is the fact that Lawler’s villainy, thanks to Chaney’s portrayal, is fairly subdued. In the segment of the film where Dora (Agnes Vernon) is distracting him from his intended rounds with her feminine wiles you can, even in a fairly wide shot, read the inner-monologue of Chaney’s struggle. It’s not over-the-top but is present and convincing enough that you understand the struggle he faces.

Similarly he lurks in the background in a few frames eavesdropping and plotting, awaiting his moment. To take his reactions and manifestations of character too far would render the film far too comedic for its intended western/action tone. Therefore, even here nearly one hundred years ago a few acting styles removed from what is considered modern and acceptable practice you have here similar truths about applicable acting styles for genres.

It has also been noted that this is Chaney’s earliest extant film and that is of significance too as it is the earliest indicator, in a small dose, of his ability, and is valuable and worth examining from that perspective as well. Enjoy!

Silent Feature Sunday: Waxworks (1924)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

Waxworks (1924)

I initially planned on including this film as a literal 61 Days of Halloween selection because I have a DVD of it that I’d been meaning to watch. As it happens, after I saw it on the DVD I learned that it is available online so I decided to feature it here. One reason I did is because it’s a good chance to discuss different versions of Silents available. Most of it has to do with image quality. This YouTube version is the newly restored cut but the compression is not as good as a professionally manufactured DVD. Movies Silently has a wonderful, comprehensive post on this very topic that is worth reading.

As for the film, for an anthology it has quite an unusual structure. Two of the stories are in excess of 30 minutes in length, while the last is just 10 or so. However, due to the way the stories are handled it works. The third is the most expressionistic and visually arresting. The entire film uses tinting to great effect. I had not gotten around to seeing Paul Leni’s work, which are few yet highly regarded, and this film is a good start to the viewing. Enjoy!

Silent Feature Sunday- Haxan (1922)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

Yes, folks, I missed this post last week. The reason was I had a feature I’d not seen scheduled and I didn’t have the time to see it. This weekend I wanted to get you at least one title I had already seen. Thankfully, in researching I found I had neglected Häxan. In fact, it’s a title I previously wrote about. Here are some of my thoughts on it when I discussed its DVD release.

Häxan is a fascinating piece of cinematic history for a number of reasons – the first certainly being that it is one of the earliest films to straddle the line between fact and fiction; narrative and documentary. Second, because it is one of the earlier (#134) releases by the Criterion Collection.

The film tells its tale of witchcraft and satanism from the middle ages through the modern times. It cleverly uses vignettes (dramatizations if you prefer) and slides, illustrations etc. It goes from a title describing reasoning and custom behind an act or belief to a scene in which it is depicted or to an illustration where typically a pencil held by an unknown person indicates to us the area of interest.

The film goes along chapter by chapter revealing reason and the cause and effect of the hysteria concerning witches and the devil. Although, we at one point find out that several trials involve people from the same household there is little by way of a through-line, and that is by design. However, it does make it slightly troublesome to follow in part because you expect it to come back to one scenario or another but it doesn’t. Alas, one of the perils of blending fact and fiction, it moves and is structured like a doc but is portrayed as fiction much of the time so the audience member expects similar conventions.

Towards the end it does do a fascinating feat of simulacrum and tell the audience its reusing actors, does demonstrations and the titles take on a very analytical approach but it is some of the more enjoyable stuff in the film.

Criterion gets very high marks for this particular release for a number of reasons. First, there are two versions of the film on this DVD – one the 1922 silent, and then a 1968 re-score, voice-over included re-do by avant-gardists called Witchcraft Through the Ages.

In the former Criterion did a great job re-recording the score and returning the film to its original intended tinting. Tinting was a fabulous technique which was widely practiced in the silent era because it gave you the wonderful contrast and grain of black and white but it was bright and lively. It was also a tremendous tool for symbolism of time, place, emotion and so forth as colors hold many associations for people.

The original Häxan is very much worth watching.

I scored Häxan a 7/10. Enjoy!

Short Film Saturday: The Haunted Castle (1896)

As I have been wont to do here on the site and in the Short Film Saturday theme, I love to feature the work of Georges Méliès. As it is also the time of year when the Movie Rat runs its 61 Days of Halloween theme, I figured I’d tie in the shorts in the horror milieu as well. I use the word milieu because this is a humorous take, but is still considered by many to be the first horror film. Horror, especially as many children experience through the Halloween holiday, has its whimsy and flights of fancy too; so enjoy!

Silent Feature Sunday: Nosferatu (1922)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

Nosferatu (1922)

While 61 Days of Halloween is going on this will be a horror-themed post as well. This will allow me to see some horror silents I’ve not yet viewed. However, I figured I’d start with a staple. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of this film. However, I do like it. It’s not quite another Freaks for me, I like it better than that. It’s just quite meet the hype when I saw it, which was a while ago. Next week, however, I will have a film I love…a lot. Regardless, enjoy and may the horror begin!