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!

Thankful for World Cinema: The Complete Metropolis (2010)

The first thing that needs saying is that there are conventions that need to be acknowledged if you are going to venture out and watch this or any silent film. Silent film acting, for example, is by its very nature more demonstrative and over-the-top than even the presentational style that dominated after the advent of sound, and most definitely can cause culture shock to those who are used to film actors of the Post-Brando world. It has to be taken as a given.

Some silent actors are clearly better than others but the style can’t be held against the film, it is what it is. While saying that Brigitte Helm is quite good in this film, she may go a little too far when she’s playing the evil robotic alter ego of her character but she is clearly two different people in those scenes. Gustav Fröhlich is an effective lead who portrays the audience’s POV aptly.

The image quality is superb for a bulk of the film, meaning the portions we already knew existed. They look as crisp and clear as they likely did in 1927, perhaps even better. While the transferred 16mm footage doesn’t look quite that good with many lines, which have been dulled and are nearly translucent running through it, they are without question an invaluable addition to the narrative.

Not only did the restorers fully explain the story of the footage’s discovery and how it was added back to the cut they also noted that the image size would change to keep less than knowledgeable patrons from complaining. Better yet they had some fun with the titles. Not only did they digitally create newer, more accurate ones, they added motion to those which referred to the workers underground and the elite up above the city.

The restoration of the original score, as best as it could be replicated, is also a welcome and brilliant touch. The end credits acknowledge the fact that some pieces of the music had to be created by educated guess and rarely could you tell. It was pretty seamless, and, moreover, the impact of the film is enhanced twenty-fold. Typically on DVD releases, especially the cheaper ones, which is how I was accustomed to seeing Metropolis; you get stock, canned, jazzy nonsense that rarely if ever really syncs. You can almost imagine the producers of said DVD sitting around picking a track because it synced in one spot. The score is breathtaking and absolutely draws you into the tale, if all else should fail.

While you should be forewarned that all we know should be in this film isn’t, as there are titles describing the rare scene that could not be saved or found. You will witness here, in greater fullness than ever before, the enormity and vastness of Lang’s vision. His vistas come through and the added running time gives this seemingly simple through-line the time to make the impact it seeks to make. It is, if you dig deep enough, a more complex and involved visual narrative than many may give it credit for. While we today will not be jarred by the seemingly contrasting styles of the sub-plots; there is a grab bag of visual elements worth exploring.

For a modern audience the message of the film, which is repeated on quite a few occasions, may seem a little heavy-handed, again I warn you that it must be taken with a grain of salt. Think of other silents you know and enjoy and consider if they too aren’t very on the head. You know exactly what the message of The Immigrant and The Kid are but they work anyway. Typically, you are told someone’s profession or that they are the hero before you see them, which is also less cinematic than desirable but the language of film was new and it was important to be simple and direct. It bears noting that Metropolis is not overly-laden with titles and it just works.

Seeing this new cut of Metropolis will not be like watching a regurgitated version of something you’ve seen before. It will be like a whole new experience. Not only do you see it on the big screen but you see it sharper and more clearly than you’ve likely ever seen it before. It really is like the saying goes; see it again for the first time.

10/10