Movies from the ‘Silent’ Category

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Metropolis (1927)

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Metropolis is a brilliant German expressionist film made in 1927 by Fritz Lang.

Set in a futuristic urban landscape it explores the political theme of the day, the social tensions between workers and owners within the capitalist system.

The most expensive silent film ever made, 5 million Reichsmark was the eventual cost.

Metropolis is the name of the city in which the two classes in society live. One in luxurious skyscrapers and and the other below ground. The film tells the story of a dehumanizing society where machines matter more than people and the rich thoroughly exploit workers.

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Alice in Wonderland

Friday, May 14th, 2010

1915 version of the Lewis Carroll book. Directed by W.W. Young and starring Viola Savoy as Alice amongst the animals!

Famed for it’s bizarre and imaginative costume design this was the third film adaption of the book and is generally regarded as one of the best, if not the best versions.

The film is considered a faithful adaption of the book of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland,) an 1865 novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll .

It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar and anthropomorphic creatures. The tale is filled with allusions to Dodgson’s friends. The tale plays with logic in ways that have given the story lasting popularity with adults as well as children.] It is considered to be one of the best examples of the “literary nonsense” genre, and its narrative course and structure have been enormously influential, especially in the fantasy genre.

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The Lost World (1925)

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

The Lost World is a 1925 silent film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s

1912 book of the same name. The movie stars Wallace Beery as Professor

Challenger. This version was directed by Harry O. Hoyt and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O’Brien (an invaluable warm up for his work on the original King Kong directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack). Writer Doyle appears in a frontispiece to the film.

The journal of explorer Maple White is recovered from a plateau in Venezuela featuring sketches of dinosaurs, which is enough proof for the eccentric Professor Challenger that dinosaurs still walk the earth. With that, John Roxton (sportsman), news reporter Edward Malone (who wishes to go on the expedition to impress his fiancée,) Challenger and Paula White as well as an Indian servant, Zambo, and Challenger’s butler Austin leave for the plateau where they indeed find the prehistoric creatures and experience ever more frightening adventures.

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The Joyless Street

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Joyless Street (German: Die freudlose Gasse, 1925) is a film directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst in Germany, based on the novel by Hugo Bettauer, and is one of the first films of the “New Objectivity“ movement. It stars Greta Garbo in her second starring role and bringing her international fame.The film is often described as a morality story in which the ‘fallen woman’ suffers for her sins, while the more virtuous woman gets the happy end.”

In 1921 in the poverty-stricken part of town called Melchiorgasse in Austria inhabited by impoverished gentry and blue-collar workers Mrs. Greifer runs a fashion boutique and a nightclub patronized by the wealthier class of Vienna. Annexed to the nightclub is “Merkl“ hotel, a by-the-hour establishment, in which the women of the nightclub prostitute themselves in order to pay back their debts to Frau Greifer.

The film follows the plights of two women from the same neighborhood in their attempts to pull themselves out of the rubble of postwar hyperinflation: Marie, who lives in abject poverty, succumbs to the lure of prostitution. Grete, from a struggling family used to better circumstances, takes the higher road.

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The Sheik (1921)

Friday, April 30th, 2010

The Sheik is a 1921 silent movie produced by Famous Players-Lasky, directed by George Melford and starring Rudolph Valentino, Agnes Ayres and Adolphe Menjou. It is based on the bestselling romance novel “The Sheik” by Edith Maude Hull.

The Sheik became the movie that defined Rudolph Valentino’s career much to his annoyance. The film was also the picture that propelled him into superstardom. Ironically the first releases had the title credits as, The Sheik…starring Agnes Ayres.

The Sheik became so popular that the word came to be used to mean a young man on the prowl. The object of a Sheik’s desire was dubbed “a Sheba.”

Lady Diana Mayo, part of the British expatriate community in Algiers, loathes the idea of marriage because she believes it means the end of independence for women. Against advice she is making a month long journey into the desert alone. As she discusses her plans Diana notices a commotion going on at the next door casino and asks what is going on. She is told it is a party being thrown by a wealthy and important Sheik and no one but Arabs may enter. Annoyed at being told what to do, and curious as to what’s going on, Diana borrows an Arabic dancer’s costume and sneaks into the party.

At the party women are being gambled off like coins. When she is spotted, an Arab tries to bring her to the front of the crowd, but she resists, causing much commotion. Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Rudolph Valentino) takes notice and intervenes, realizing the woman is white. He realizes she is the woman he had spotted earlier as he entered, and amused, he sends her out of the party. After she leaves, Mustapha Ali (Charles Brinley) tells the Sheik she is the woman he is to guide into the desert tomorrow. The Sheik hatches a plan, telling Mustapha to lead her to him and his caravan.

Diana and her brother venture into the desert. At her insistence, her brother finally leaves, she promising to see him in London next month. Once he is gone Mustapha sends the signal. Then the Sheik’s caravan attacks, capturing Diana. Diana is upset and tries to escape, but is unable to.

During dinner in the Sheik’s sumptuous tent, Diana tries again to escape from the Sheik, this time into a raging sand storm. The Sheik runs after her, saving her from certain death, and tells her she will learn to love him. The Sheik is then told by a servant that the horses have escaped into the storm and he is forced to leave Diana. When he returns, he finds Diana alone in her sleeping quarters. The Sheik initially thinks of forcing himself upon her, but instead is moved to shame for his thoughts by her crying and her prayers.

As Diana and her servant are out on a trip Diana is captured by another caravan.

The Sheik receives the news and goes to find out what happened. He sees Diana’s message in the sand and gathers up his army and goes to attack the rival tribe.

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The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926)

Friday, April 30th, 2010

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, often just called The Lodger, is a 1927 silent film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

It is based on a story of the same name by Marie Adelaide Lowndes about a fictional version of the Jack The Ripper killings. The book itself was allegedly based on an anecdote told to the painter Walter Sickert by his landlady when renting a room; she said that the previous tenant had been Jack the Ripper. This was the third film Hitchcock directed and the first he made a cameo in. It is also the first “Hitchcock Style” film.

Despite all the effort that Hitchcock put into the film, producer Michael Balcon was furious with the end result and nearly shelved the film–and Hitchcock’s career as well. After considerable bickering, a compromise was reached and film critic Ivor Montagu was hired to salvage the film. Hitchcock was initially resentful of the intrusion, but Montagu recognized the director’s technical skill and artistry and made only minor suggestions, mostly concerning the title cards and the re-shooting of a few minor scenes.

The result, described by Hitchcock scholar Donald Spoto, is “the first time Hitchcock has revealed his psychological attraction to the association between sex and murder, between ecstasy and death.” It would pave the way for his later work.

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Intolerance

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Director D.W. Griffith’s expensive, most ambitious silent film masterpiece. Intolerance (1916) is one of the milestones and landmarks in cinematic history.

Many reviewers and film historians consider it the greatest film of the silent era.

The mammoth film was also subtitled: “A Sun-Play of the Ages” and “Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages.” Griffith was inspired to make this film after watching the revolutionary Italian silent film epic Cabiria (1914) by director Giovanni Pastrone.

The film takes place in four different time periods, cutting between the different stories rather than showing them consecutively. The two main stories are a modern story, which takes place in a “western city” in the United States and a story set in ancient Babylon in 539 B.C., chronicling the fall of the empire. Two other stories are featured: taking place in Paris in 1572, during the reign of Charles IX, concerning the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and a story in ancient Jerusalem, which depicts a few incidents from the life of Jesus. According to the title cards, the film is about intolerance and the folly of a group of people discriminating against another group. The subtitle for the film, Love’s Struggle Through the Ages, might offer some clues, but in truth, the themes are somewhat forced and the stories have little connection.

The sets and costumes for the Babylonian story are among the best in film history. The battle scenes equal anything in Birth of a Nation. Griffith’s Babylonian set is so huge it allows for horse-drawn chariots to ride side by side on the road at the top of the towering walls. The camera shot that shows the chariots and the battle many stories below is astounding. There is also the famous camera shot that slowly moves closer and closer the the city steps and gates where hundreds of dancers perform a pagan production number. Extraordinary.

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Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Orphans of the Storm (1921) is a film by D.W. Griffith set in late 18th century France, before and during the French Revolution.

This was the last Griffith film to feature Lillian and Dorothy Gish, and is often considered Griffith’s last major commercial success, after box office hits such as Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, and Broken Blossoms.

Like his earlier films, this used historical events to comment on contemporary events, in this case the French Revolution and the rise of Bolshevism. The film is about class conflict and a plea for inter class understanding and against destructive hatred. At one point in front of the Committee of Public Safety a main character pleas, “Yes I am an aristocrat, but a friend of the people.”

The film is a remake of the lost Theda Bara film The Two Orphans (1915.)

Henriette and Louise, a foundling, are raised together as sisters. When Louise goes blind, Henriette swears to take care of her forever. They go to Paris to see if Louise’s blindness can be cured, but are separated when an aristocrat lusts after Henriette and abducts her. Only Chevalier de Vaudrey is kind to her, and they fall in love. The French Revolution replaces the corrupt Aristocracy with the equally corrupt Robespierre. De Vaudrey, who has always been good to peasants, is condemned to death for being an aristocrat.

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The Birth of a Nation

Friday, April 30th, 2010

The Birth of a Nation is a 1915 silent film directed by D. W. Griffith. Set during and after the American Civil War, the film is based on Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman,
a novel and play.

The Birth of a Nation was the highest-grossing film of its day, and is noted for its innovative camera techniques and narrative achievements.

The film is controversial due to its interpretation of history. The film suggests that the Ku Klux Klan restored order to the post-war South, which was depicted as endangered by abolitionists, freedmen, and carpetbagging Republican politicians from the North.

W. E. B. Du Bois and other black historians vigorously disputed this interpretation when the film was released. Most historians of all backgrounds today agree with them, as they note African Americans’ loyalty and contributions during the Civil War years and Reconstruction, including the establishment of universal public education.

The film was originally presented in two parts separated by an intermission. Part 1 depicted pre-Civil War America, introducing two juxtaposed families: the Northern Stonemans, consisting of abolitionist Congressman Austin Stoneman (based on real-life Reconstruction-era Congressman Thaddeus Stevens), his two sons, and his daughter, Elsie, and the Southern Camerons, a family including two daughters (Margaret and Flora) and three sons, most notably Ben.

The Stoneman boys visit the Camerons at their South Carolina estate, representing the Old South. The eldest Stoneman boy falls in love with Margaret Cameron, and Ben Cameron idolises a picture of Elsie Stoneman.

When the Civil War begins, all the young men join their respective armies. A black militia (with a white leader) ransacks the Cameron house. The Cameron women are rescued when Confederate soldiers rout the militia. Meanwhile, the youngest Stoneman and two Cameron boys are killed in the war. Ben Cameron is wounded after a heroic battle in which he gains the nickname, “the Little Colonel,” by which he is referred for the rest of the film. The Little Colonel is taken to a Northern hospital where he meets Elsie, who is working there as a nurse. The war ends and Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at Ford’s Theater, allowing Austin Stoneman and other radical congressmen to punish the South for secession, using radical measures Griffith depicts as typical of the Reconstruction era.

Part 2 depicts Reconstruction. Stoneman and his “mulatto” protegé, Silas Lynch, go to South Carolina to observe the expanded franchise. Black soldiers parade through the streets. During the election, whites are shown being turned away while blacks stuff the ballot boxes.

The film continues in a similar vein but ultimately ends on a suppsed message of reconciliation.

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For the term of his natural life (1927)

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Often considered to be the greatest Australian silent film, this epic 1927 production For the Term of His Natural Life is set in the “Down Under” penal colony of Vandeman’s Island. The time is 1827, long before Queen Victoria abolished this hell-on-earth isle.

The film stars George Fisher as Richard Devine/Rufus Dawes/John Rex and Eva Novak as Sylvia Vickers and was adapted, produced and directed by Norman Dawn, who later went to Hollwood and made classic B-grade movies like “Bowanga Bowanga” and “Two Lost Worlds.”

Also noted as the most expensive Australian film of it’s time, reportedly costing 50 times the average budget.

Taking the blame for a murder to save the reputation of his high-born mother, a young man (Arthur McLaglen) is shipped off to Vandeman’s, where he stoically accepts the worst that life has to offer at the hands of his sadistic jailers. Even under these trying circumstances, the hero manages to fall in love with the warden’s daughter (Eva Novak,) and she with him and proceeds to plot his escape.

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