Silent Films

Foxbat

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The recent Metropolis thread (and spirited defence of such a fine movie) made me realise that there are probably a few of us that have a hankering for the old silent classics - so I thought I'd start this thread. :)

Here is a place if you want to discuss or recommend movies from the silent era - me? I've just placed an order for 5 from the good ol' US of A - and here they are: Intolerance, Foolish Wives, The Cat And the Canary, Birth Of A Nation, and The Bat. Can't wait. :D

I think my favourite silent movie is probably The Phantom Of The Opera with Lon Chaney (man of 1000 faces!). But there are so many classics!

So, if you want to share your thoughts, loves or hates of the silent era...stick em here. If there's a decent response, I can always make this thread a sticky...if not, it can die a sad and lonely death as it plummets down the page:(
 

Winters_Sorrow

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Well, I must show my filmic ignorance here as I haven't seen a whole of of silent movies (although plenty B&W ones). I'm seen a few Chaplin, Keaton & Laurel and Hardy movies which have stood the test of time well, but on the whole, I find them hard to watch as its film-making from a different era with very exaggerated facial expressions and movements.

Plus, sharp dialogue is one of the things I look for in movies, so Silent films aren't what I'm after! ;)
 

ravenus

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I doubt that you haven't seen at least some of these already but I'd definitely recommend the following:

Friedrich Murnau:
Nosferatu: eine symponie des grauens (very interesting and pioneering if now somewhat creaky vampire movie, scary performance by Max Schreck)
Sunrise (somewhat melodramatic tale of fidelty and seduction, but absolutely arresting visual sense)

Carl Dreyer:
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Stripped-down, moving and intimate protrayal of the last moments of Joan, brilliant lead performance)
Vampyr
(Very interesting slow-paced and extremely surreal vampire gothic)

Benjamin Christensen - Haxan aka Witchcraft through the ages (Brilliant documentary / dramatic recreation / fantasy on witchcraft lore and the persecution of perceived witches THIS IS A MUST-SEE!!!)

And you definitely want to check out films by Guy Maddin, wich are not actually old but modelled to look like they came from the classic silent film era. I realy liked his Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (a balletic retelling of the Stoker story - don't cringe, this is good) and he's supposed to have made some other very interesting movies.
 
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littlemissattitude

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ravenus said:
Carl Dreyer:
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Stripped-down, moving and intimate protrayal of the last moments of Joan, brilliant lead performance)
Vampyr (Very interesting slow-paced and extremely surreal vampire gothic).
These are two of the best films I've ever seen...period, not just of silent films. I just finally got to see The Passion of Joan of Arc a few months ago (and I think I posted a review over on that thread). I'd been wanting to see it since I was about 10 years old and read about it, but never got to do so before. Usually when that happens, I've built the film up so much in my mind that I'm disappointed with the reality. Not so with this one.

I approached Vampyr from a very different perspective. I'd never heard of it and found it on the "foreign films" aisle of the video store quite by accident. I think I spent about an hour speechless after watching it, I was so amazed. Just from the point of view of some of the effects, I didn't know they could do some of that stuff back when Vampyr was made.

I also have to say that the aforementioned Metropolis just amazed me when I first saw it in a film class. It is very stylized in some ways (which is what might have been part of Esioul's problem with it when she mentioned it on another thread, along with the anachronistic score), but that actually is one of the things I like most about it.

I think you'll find Birth of a Nation interesting, Foxbat. I assume you know some of its history, how controversial it was even when it was made, considering who are depcited as the heroes of the piece. Some people here in the States won't even watch it because of its noteriety, and as recently as a few years ago public showings have been cancelled because people threatened violence if the showings went on. That aside, it's an amazing piece of work. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. And, of course, I'm especially intrigued by it because the man who played John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, in the film, was our neighbor when I was young. After we moved from that house and my grandmother moved back in, I can remember him coming down his orchard to talk to Grandma across the fence when I would be staying with her and she was out doing yardwork. Keep in mind that when he jumps from the box to the stage and limps off after he shoots Lincoln, he wasn't just acting. He really hurt his leg when he landed.

And, on a slightly (?) less serious note, I've always loved the old silent comedy shorts, especially Chaplain and the Keystone Kops. Oh, and if you've not seen The Great Train Robbery, you really should, just from a historical standpoint. I'd also recommend some of the silent documentaries, especially Nanook of the North and Grass. Grassis from the same people who later made King Kong.
 

Foxbat

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I think you'll find Birth of a Nation interesting, Foxbat. I assume you know some of its history, how controversial it was even when it was made, considering who are depcited as the heroes of the piece
I've heard a lot about this one so I'm definitely curious to see for myself. I intend to watch it in the same frame of mind you need to use when watching Leni Reifensthal's Triumph Of The Will - for historical interest only.

As for The Passion Of Joan Of Arc - it's a real work of sheer quality - which proves that you don't always need dialogue if your visuals are simply stunning enough to carry the whole story. But, my God, the ending! It was so horrific and realistic. Absolutely fantastic stuff.
 

Shoegaze99

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ravenus said:
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Stripped-down, moving and intimate protrayal of the last moments of Joan, brilliant lead performance)
Easily one of the great films ever made, silent or not. Stunning to behold in every way, from the torn, tortured dialogue to the disturbing, disorienting closeups to the mounting sense of dread to the stunning ending. I can't possible say enough good things about it. Everyone who loves film should see this.

Lots of other good ones already mentioned (I'll put in a second for Nosferatu, too), so I'll try to touch on some titles not yet brought up:

First, if you like Alfred Hitchcock but have yet to explore his silent era (yes, kids, Hitchcock was a silent film director!), it's worth checking out. The Lodger is widely considered his best from that period - very good film that shows much of what he would become - while The Pleasure Garden, The Ring, Champagne, Easy Virtue and The Farmer's Wife are all available on very affordable DVDs. (You can get all those titles, plus everything else from his British era, for about $30 U.S. through Brentwood. Check Amazon.com for the sets; there are two of them, about $15 each).

For "important" silent works, Battleship Potemkin is pretty vital to see, establishing some new stylistic approaches to storytelling still in use today (the montage, of course, being the most famous example).

The original silent version of Ben-Hur was pretty good; very epic, with massive fights and good action.

And for sheer entertainment, almost anything with Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton is well worth watching. Stuff like Keaton's The General hold up very well today as fun, daring, adventure-filled humor.

Finally, here's one that might be a little more comfortable for those of you new to silent film, since it was made in 1976. Yeah, 1976. Mel Brook's "Silent Movie". It tells the story a director trying to produce the first major silent movie in some 40 years. Hmmmmm.... coincidence? Great stuff.
 

littlemissattitude

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Foxbat said:
I've heard a lot about this one so I'm definitely curious to see for myself. I intend to watch it in the same frame of mind you need to use when watching Leni Reifensthal's Triumph Of The Will - for historical interest only.
Triumph of the Will is truly one of the most frightening films I've ever seen. Then again, the real stuff is always scarier than fiction. It shows, I think, how easy it is to pull people in to any sort of cult of personality such as the one Hitler and his henchmen created in Germany, how easily people are led.

Shoegaze...I can't believe I forgot to mention Battleship Potemkin.

And as for Silent Movie, I've always loved the fact that the only one to speak in the movie was Marcel Marceau. Priceless.:D
 

Foxbat

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Just been watching The Cat And The Canary from a fledgling Universal Studio (1927). Right from the start when a gloved hand wipes away cobwebs to reveal the title, this movie oozes atmosphere. Telling the tale of a homicidal maniac stalking the inhabitants of a Gothic Manor, this film became the template for many a haunted house flick that followed.

Most enjoyable...and I finally know where all those Scooby Doo stories came from:D
 

ast

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I have never been able to get into silent films as a rule, with the exception of Metropolis and Harold Lloyd. Laurel & Hardy never really appealed to me along with the others. Keystone Cops always seemed too silly to me.

Any thoughts??
 

Winters_Sorrow

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Well, lots of thoughts - mainly agreeing with you! As a keen film fan, I enjoy seeing the "early" growth of cinema and a lot of the groundwork was laid in these movies for the later ones. But, having said that I find early B&W movies hard to watch precisely because they've been pastiched! Intellectually, I understand that these 'were first' but emotionally, you're sitting there wondering why they don't react in 21st century ways.

Still cool seeing the "birth of cinema", though. :)
 

Foxbat

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Well, lots of thoughts - mainly agreeing with you! As a keen film fan, I enjoy seeing the "early" growth of cinema and a lot of the groundwork was laid in these movies for the later ones. But, having said that I find early B&W movies hard to watch precisely because they've been pastiched! Intellectually, I understand that these 'were first' but emotionally, you're sitting there wondering why they don't react in 21st century ways.
Very true. A couple of things (I believe) you must keep in mind when watching one of these films

1) The need to convey information without the use of sound - hence the much exageratted expressions, dramatic music etc.

2) You need to detach yourself from all the clutter in this century and look at these (almost) with a historian's eye to get the best out of them. I would recommend anybody starting out to have a look at some early German cinema which (I believe) is some of the finest made....even against much of today's work!

In fact, silent movies is becoming a 'runt of the litter' - with most folk drunk on Dolby Digital and such like. For that reason, I'm gonna give the runt a bit of a helping hand and make this a sticky. Any thoughts or recommendations can be put here:)
 

McMurphy

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Coffee is an addiction, black-and-white horror fil
John Barrymore's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The 1920's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film starring Drew Barrymore's great grandfather, John Barrymore, as both transformations is a silent film I have on DVD and have enjoyed repeated viewing.

The make-up job on Mr. Hyde, which, to me, seemed to be in the tradition of the appearance of 1922's Nosferatu. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is surprisely violent and creepy for its time (for example, Hyde beating someone to death with a lead pipe), and the super-imposed image of a giant spider crawling over the foot of the bed and entering Jekyll's mind was brilliant.

This film is one of my favorite silent films I have ever seen.
 

Foxbat

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Ah yes. I have a copy of this one as well (I got it as part of a box-set which also includes The Golem, The Lost World and The Thief Of Baghdad. It's a good example of the fine quality that exists in these really old movies (and why we shouldn't forget about them):)
 

GrownUp

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Re: John Barrymore's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

McMurphy said:
The 1920's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film starring Drew Barrymore's great grandfather, John Barrymore, as both transformations is a silent film I have on DVD and have enjoyed repeated viewing.

The make-up job on Mr. Hyde, which, to me, seemed to be in the tradition of the appearance of 1922's Nosferatu. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is surprisely violent and creepy for its time (for example, Hyde beating someone to death with a lead pipe), and the super-imposed image of a giant spider crawling over the foot of the bed and entering Jekyll's mind was brilliant.

This film is one of my favorite silent films I have ever seen.
Oh I concur. They showed it on the TV a while ago. It was dark, and violent, but I was most absorbed by how the complexity of the story was portrayed.

The subtlety of it was an eye-opener certainly. It is not what you expect from a silent film. A thinker. Makes you think about it for a while afterwards.
 

Quokka

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I was rapted watching Nosferatu, brilliant. After meaning to watch it for years it was watching Shadow of the Vampire (a fictional telling of the making of Nosferatu) that made me finally chase it down.

One movie that unfortunately we can no longer watch that I would really love to see, is The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), This movie was originaly over 70 minutes long, leading it to often being referred to as the first feature film, unfortunately only about 9 minutes of it remain.
 

iansales

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Spione by Fritz Lang is an excellent silent film. And last night I watched Pandora's Box. Louise Brooks was... amazing. The documentary about her on the DVD was also fascinating.
 

j d worthington

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Tried posting before on this, but somehow it got et! (Either that, or someone saw the size of the thing, let out a squawk, and sent it off into the void. Even I'm not going to try to retype all that a second time around.)

Anyway, here goes:

Keaton: in addition to The General, I'd highly recomment The Cameraman, Spite Marriage, and Steamboat Will, Jr.

Harold Lloyd: Quite a few to choose from; his most well-known probably being Safety Last, and well worth seeing.

Charlie Chaplin: just about anything post-1916 (when he began to have near total control of his own work).

Since this is a science-fiction and fantasy forum, the 1916 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (containing some of the earliest underwater cinematography ever done) and 1926(?) Mysterious Island, with Lionel Barrymore. Both drag in spots, but both have some wonderful stuff as well. There's also Willis O'Brien's The Lost World (1926), showing some great early stop-motion animation. And in addition to Metropolis, try Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse films, or Die Niebelungen (Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge). There's also, as mentioned, The Golem (1920); and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for a truly surrealistic (or, more precisely, impressionistic) experience. Conrad Veidt is wonderful in both this and The Man Who Laughs (which also comes highly recommended by Ray Bradbury). (Incidentally, for trivia buffs, Veidt's appearance in this film is what inspired Keane to create The Joker for the Batman comics.) In addition to The Cat and the Canary, a wonderful blend of horror and comedy, is The Monster (1925) with Lon Chaney -- very dated in spots, but parts of this are still quite effective in creating an eerie atmosphere. And along with Nosferatu, try F. W. Murnau's Faust (1926).

If you can find a copy, see Abel Gance's Napoleon -- though it's not as effective on the small screen, and we are missing some of the reels of film. (I had the very good fortune to see this one in public exhibition, with Carmine Coppola directing the orchestra; three screens set side-by-side, as part of the film is panoramic and part also uses different images on all three screens, each visually contrasting and commenting on the others. For the panoramic views, Gance had to mount three cameras one above the other, as no panoramic motion-picture cameras existed at the time. If you ever have a chence to see this film this way -- jump at it!)

I had a whole list of other films to suggest along these lines, but I'll have to reconstruct it now; I'll try to be brief. (One note: with films like The Thief of Bagdad, The Phantom of the Opera, or Ben-Hur, look for copies that have restored the two-tone technicolor sequences. The ballroom scene in Phantom, with Chaney as the Red Death, is absolutely gorgeous!)

For those who don't know: much of early silent film was hand-cranked, the speed being adjusted to fit the mood of a particular scene. It wasn't until the 1980s, when Kevin Brownlow helped invent a projector for silent films, that this was done again; projectors normally having a single speed. This is where some of the jerky motion comes from. Most silents on DVD have now used this process, but not all; if you can, find out if the one you're looking at does; it makes a huge difference in a film's impact.

(Oh, and yes, Louise Brooks was amazing. Pandora's Box is a film that should only be shown on asbestos screens; she produces enough heat in that film to set anything else on fire!)
 

Foxbat

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There's also Willis O'Brien's The Lost World (1926), showing some great early stop-motion animation.
I recently picked up a copy of this and, considering how old this movie is, O'Brien's special effects are very impressive indeed :)
 
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