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!

Silent Feature Sunday: The Kid (1921)

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.

As this series progresses I fully intend to discover new silents through it. However, as I get it started I figure what better way to do so than to start with ones that I know best, and have known for the longest. As a long-time fan of Charles Chaplin it’s hard to say if this is my favorite. I may be more inclined to lean towards Modern Times or, dare I be so blasphemous as to say, The Great Dictator (seeing how it is his capitulation to talkies), but what I can say about The Kid is that it does perhaps do the best of combining Chaplin’s comedic skill, dramatic sensibilities and whimsy. Enjoy!

Short Film Saturday: Rediscovered Short Films of the 1900s

If you saw last week’s post, you’ll see I’m running a theme on rediscovery. These will spin-off into a different kind of post when I start to run into features. As for now, while shorts were king, the films will appear here.

The Death of Poor Joe (1901)

Believed to be the first cinematic work based on Dickens.

Katsudō Shashin (1907)

Believed to be the first Japanese animation.

Running only 3 seconds. Discovered in Kyoto in July 31, 2005.

Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900)

From Wikipedia:

Running only 30 seconds, this is the first recorded detective film and the first to feature Sherlock Holmes. A paper copy was identified in 1968 in the Library of Congress Paper Print archive by Michael Pointer, a historian of Sherlock Holmes films. It was transferred to 16 mm film in the Library of Congress collection.

El hotel eletrico (1908)

Directed Segundo de Chomon a Spanish film pioneer.

Short Film Saturday: Rediscovered Films from the 1890s

Recently I was doing research on another topic entirely and came upon a Wikipedia list of rediscovered films. That is to say films believed to be lost and rediscovered much later. Many of these finds are quite remarkable and unlikely. The fact that many of these films are quite old and in the public domain made me start searching for them. I was thus able to create a few Short Film Saturday, and maybe a few other posts, featuring these films.

This first post contains the oldest: it’s a film from 1897 by George Albert Smith and is quite ingenious.

Short Film Saturday: Trains 18 Years Apart

Here you will find two quick clips that show some early progress in film as a documenting tool.

One of the first shorts ever in 1895 was of a train arriving at a station by the Lumière brothers.

Compare that to this shot 18 years later when a train collision was caught on film. In the meantime, storytelling developed but the journalistic possibilities were always apparent.

Short Film Saturday: Alice in Wonderland

If you saw the new Alice in Wonderland and absolutely could not stand it then this may be the antidote:

The first adaptation of the story on film in the world has recently been restored by the British Film Institute, BFI. It was recently posted on their YouTube page.

This is just some of the amazing and important work that film institutes do and this short encapsulates the magic of cinema. These images shot nearly 109 years ago can still be seen today in a world, especially the film world, these makers could never have imagined.

Here is more information about this particular version of the film from the YouTube description:

“The first-ever film version of Lewis Carroll’s tale has recently been restored by the BFI National Archive from severely damaged materials. Made just 37 years after Lewis Carroll wrote his novel and eight years after the birth of cinema, the adaptation was directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, and was based on Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations. In an act that was to echo more than 100 years later, Hepworth cast his wife as the Red Queen, and he himself appears as the Frog Footman. Even the Cheshire cat is played by a family pet. With a running time of just 12 minutes (8 of which survive), Alice in Wonderland was the longest film produced in England at that time. Film archivists have been able to restore the film’s original colors for the first time in over 100 years.”

Thankful for World Cinema: Les Vampires

Louis Feuillade’s classic six hour plus serial Les Vampires had disappeared from DVD for a while, before it recently resurfaced. I was lucky to have purchased this title at Christmas when it was still readily available – it’s now back in full force.

Unfortunately, Feuillade’s films seem to have disappeared from public consciousness long ago and hence the demand for his titles is less, which is why a company like Criterion would be ideal to shed light upon his lost gems. However, in discussing Les Vampires I would like to illustrate his greatness. First, I do not tout the greatness of this film simply because it is aged enough to be a classic. I like neither old things because they’re old nor new things because they’re new.

The timelessness of this tale of Feuillade’s storytelling is in how captivating his plots tend to be. In both Les Vampires and Fantomas you will see some effects that for the time are very impressive but always keep in mind the era in which he worked. Narrative cinema was still in its infancy and audiences were not yet fluent in the language of film so things are overshot: shots are very wide and there are few close-ups. Very few menial movements are cut. For example, if someone enters a building today we would cut right to them arriving at the location in the building where they needed to be, without giving it a second thought. In the oughts and teens, however, audiences needed to see the protagonist in the lobby, getting on the elevator, and reaching his floor or they would be confused. Today such moments are only shot to build tension if needed.

Having said all that, Les Vampires has everything you could possibly want in a narrative sense. The aim is to always leaving you wanting more at the end of each episode and I always did. What was a little unusual in this one is that the cliffhanger wasn’t the end as it was in Fantomas but there was usually a little denouement just before the chapter closed.

However, the elements that kept me riveted and watching two and three installments at a time and the whole thing in less than two days were all there. The story concerns a journalist Philippe Guérande and his sidekick Oscar Mazamette. They are engaged in an epic battle against an organized crime unit of Vampires known simply as Les Vampires.

This story is full of twists, mistaken identity, seemingly unbeatable villains, chases, hiding places, surprises (seriously I was taken aback by the ingenuity of some), it will always leave you guessing; after a while as it seems the kingpin on Les Vampires is a mist that can never be caught.

The acting is superb and seldom, if ever, are you left wondering what a conversation is about for lack of a title. Few things if any are ever introduced solely by titles. The film tells its tale visually. Musidora, who plays Irma Vep, which is now an immortal anagram because she became a worldwide star after this serial, and you can easily see why.

This serial is the definition of classic storytelling, good versus evil battling it out with drama, suspense and excitement building throughout each episode. Each episode does have its own arc, and its own characters on occasion. You can watch them separately and it almost becomes a TV show you just need back-story and you’re good to go to the next episode, except this is so much better. On the version I watched I don’t believe the score is original, packaging usually isn’t good about removing those doubts, but the score does fit most of the time and it’s very good. If you have a chance check out this excellent film. If you haven’t seen Feuilllade’s work be sure to suggest it to Criterion. There is too little of this filmmaking legend’s work available to modern audiences.

Short Film Saturday- The Hearts of Age

Here’s another short that comes from a cinematic legend’ school days. This is a silent (the score, which is very appropriate was added later on), surrealist piece by Orson Welles made when he was 19.

There are commonly referred to images throughout and it’s tonal more than anything else and effective being as such. There will be some discomfort for modern viewers as there is an actor in blackface, my assumption is that it’s done for effect and commentary.

Here’s the blurb from the site that hosts it:

The Hearts of Age is the first film made by Orson Welles. The film is an eight-minute short, which he co-directed with William Vance in 1934. The film stars Welles’ first wife, Virginia Nicholson, as well as Welles himself. He made the film while attending the Todd School for Boys, in Woodstock, Illinois, at the age of 19. 

The plot is a series of images loosely tied together, and is arguably influenced by surrealism. This once-rare film is easily seen today thanks to DVD extras and sites such as YouTube. Many point to it as an important precursor to Welles’ first Hollywood film, Citizen Kane. Welles and Vance were college friends. The latter’s only other film on record is another student short – an adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1932.

To view click the link below:

http://ubu.com/film/welles_hearts.html

Welcome to 61 Days of Halloween 2012 and The Call of Cthulhu

Alas, the time of year I long for most has come. There will be a heavy focus on horror from here through October 31st, but rest assured that pieces discussing current/recent theatrical releases are still being worked on, Short Film Saturday will continue to be full of variety and the Mini-Review Round-Ups will also offer films outside the genre if it happens not to be your cup of tea. Enjoy the standard intro and this piece!

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Every once in a while there is a film that just stands out so far it not only deserves to be noticed it practically demands it, it screams to be noticed. Such is the case with The Call of Cthulhu.

This is a film that screamed from the shelves of a Best Buy at me. It is produced by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society, also known as the HPLHS. The cover art was so convincing – once I had discovered it was actually “a new silent film” I nearly gave up on it. However, I decided to give it a chance, first for their dedication to the idea and second, because how often do you get to watch a new silent film?

The film is short, under an hour, and highly decorated but having seen it this is the absolutely perfect treatment of the Lovecraftian mythos and a true delight for any fan of the author or the genre to behold. It takes his most difficult and ‘unshootable’ film and aside from one shot which I imagined when reading the tale handles it deftly, in fact, far better than I thought possible. All the conventions of the silent film are present and amplified. The end with close on text in journal could not be more perfect.

Throughout the use of forced perspective, miniatures and compositing is accurate to style and also rather effective. The film is also framed perfectly going through several locales with ease and not dependent on titles, in fact, not once is a title unnecessary or left wanting. It is truly a well-crafted film.

It is likely Lovecraft’s most globetrotting tale and it is certainly aired out well. The execution of the narrative is so accurate you are sure to forget about its being silent after a time if it does bother you.

The HPLHS is working on a new project Whisperer in Darkness. Their site features many links to their and other companies’ wonderful adaptations of the master’s work, available radio broadcasts and even a musical adaptation called Shoggoth on the Roof, both as a play and documentary about the play. One can only hope this group continues to bring HP Lovecraft the kind of appreciation and representation he deserves.

10/10

Book Review- The Complete Greed

There isn’t too much I can personally say about The Complete Greed that hasn’t already been said by those cited on the back cover of the book, namely: The New Yorker, Fritz Lang, Take One, Sight & Sound, Maurice Bessy (at the time director of The Cannes Film Festival), Henri Langlois (at the time curator of the Cinémathèque Française), Peter Bogdanovich and Jean Renoir.

However, one unique perspective is that I, unlike all those cited on the back of the book, have yet to see the extant, eviscerated version of Greed. I remember my interest being piqued in film school but also accompanied by a built-in reticence to see something that was less than von Stroheim’s grandiose vision for it. That combined with the fact that it is currently only available via re-seller on VHS in the US has put it low on the priority list for me. However, when I was on Amazon one day and saw that a used, though in great shape, copy of this book was available for the staggeringly low price of $4 I had to jump on it.

After having read it I must say it is quite a feat indeed. Having never seen the film I now feel like I have and what’s more it conveyed both the wonder of the story as it exists and the agony of the seeing the version the world has been robbed of.

The more complete cuts of Greed are among the holiest of holy grails in the film world. I now have a sense as to why that is and add that to a growing list of cuts I wish to see unearthed.