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1001 Movies in Chronological Order
#41
94 years ago...

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Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)
Director: F. W. Murnau
Country: Germany
Length: 95 minutes (1.5 hours)
Type: Silent, Horror, Gothic

I must admit I was a little disappointed when finally seeing the famous 'Nosferatu'. It's perhaps an unfair criticism but the film has clearly been so heavily copied and been so influential, that it felt like I was watching nothing new, just the same but done not quite as well. Some later Dracula films are almost scene-for-scene remakes in parts but feature better makeup, better sets, better Cinematography, better VisFX, better costumes, better music, etc (and definitely better acting).

This feeling was really accentuated by me recently viewing the excellent Silent-Dracula edit by Paulisdead2221. It basically is 'Nosferatu' but inventively directed by Coppola (With 70 years more cinematic experience than Murnau) and with a superior score by Phillip Glass.



Next up is a Horror-Documentary about Witchcraft.
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#42
94 years ago...

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Häxan (1922)
Director: Benjamin Christensen
Country: Sweden / Denmark
Length: 73 minutes
Type: Silent, Horror, Psuedo-Historical

I took this opportunity to watch the unusual "midnight movie" 1968 version of 'Häxan' (The Witches) with the William Burroughs narration (re-titled 'Witchcraft Through the Ages'). His flat voice doesn't add all that much to the experience, it's the original images that stick in the memory but the Daniel Humair Jazz score is great.

If I'd been told this was an early Sam Raimi B&W student film I'd have bought it. There is more than a touch of the 'Evil Dead' trilogy about it (I wonder if Raimi has seen Häxan?). Very impressive and hideous full-body creature makeups, stop-motion imp creatures, weird arcane rituals to summon demons, priests appearing to fellate the devil, skeleton horses walking round, babies being sacrificed, naked women being subjected to torture devices by depraved monks, thumb-screws, men-pig-hybrids, self-flagellation... that sort of thing. It was banned in the US... no sh*t.


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Horror cinema starts for real right here.



A fanedit focusing right in on the brilliant creature FX and removing all the documentary/lecture stuff with perhaps some famous Horror scores (The Omen, The Exorcist etc) would be a lot of fun. Shame there doesn't seem to be an HD version available.

Next up is Von Stroheim's first entry in the book.
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#43
^ that looks ripe for subtitling.


and i'z lovez actual footage of demons and medieval happenings.
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#44
94 years ago...

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Foolish Wives (1922)
Director: Erich von Stroheim
Country: United States
Length: 143 minutes (2 1/2 hours)
Type: Silent, Drama

At first I was immediately struck by Stroheim's Directing. Most shots seem to be a different camera-setup, there are POV shots, 360 views around the locations/sets, extensive closeups, tracking shots... in short, like a modern movie. 'Foolish Wives' feels like quite the technical leap from other movies of this period. Stroheim also has fun with the medium. The female lead is reading a book called "Foolish Wives by Erich von Stroheim".

The film centers on a high-society con-artist (Played by Stroheim himself) in Monte Carlo seducing rich women for their money. If a European is drawn to American power, wealth and confidence, then they are in turn, drawn to European sophistication, antiquity and eccentricity (It persists today. See the brewhaha over Trump's proposed visit to the UK  Big Grin ). So in the guise of a Russian Count, he sets his sights on conning the bored wife of a visiting American diplomat. She is of course flattered by the attention of a Monocle wearing, cigarette-holder chomping, cane twirling Count complete with Medal festooned Uniform. His wicked character is all the film is really interested in, cheeky and fun at first but then revealed as a nasty and cowardly cad by the end.

However the pacing of the film is glacial and became a chore after the first hour. There seemed far too few inter-titles, with whole scenes and conversations going on with no explanation of what they are about. I watched a 143 minute "restored" version, compared to the original studio release of 117 minutes and the intended (but unreleased) Director's cut of 384 minutes. Perhaps the film's slim plot worked better in the un-restored short version and the full intent of Stroheim's 6.5 hour cut didn't translate either. I recently watched 'Das Boot's short action-packed Theatrical Cut and it's very long dialogue-heavy TV-Cut and found they were both infinitely superior to the medium-length Director's Cut... so this could be that same situation.



Next up is the first (of many) Buster Keaton films in the book. I'm looking forward to it having just re-watched the BBC's 'Paul Merton's Silent Clowns' series.

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#45
93 years ago...

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Our Hospitality (1923)
Director: Buster Keaton & John G. Blystone
Country: United States
Length: 75 minutes
Type: Silent, Comedy, Slapstick

'Our Hospitality' is only Buster Keaton's second Directorial feature but he clearly already knew what he was doing. The opening 8-9 minutes feature no humour by design, so the deadly threat at the heart of the plot is setup as real (and so the rest of the movie is even funnier). Then Buster steps into frame and the madness begins. The second half of the story centers on the conceit that due to the famed "Southern Hospitality" you can't murder a guest in your house, even when you have sworn deadly vengeance against their whole family.

The first part follows Buster on a ramshackle early "Rocket" type train journey. The best gag being that as the train is so slow, Buster's dog is able to trot along beside it all the way across America. Buster's double-take is priceless when he sees his own dog waiting on the platform for him (tail wagging) at the end of the journey. As the first feature-comedy in the book, 'Our Hospitality' sets the genre off in style.



Next up is Abel Gance's first entry in the book.
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#46
93 years ago...

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The Wheel (1923)
Director: Abel Gance
Country: France
Length: 270 minutes (4.5 hours)
Type: Silent, Tragedy, melodrama

Knowing this was 4.5 hours, I wanted to watch it in the best quality available, so I imported the Restored TCM/Flicker-Alley double-DVD set from the States at some expense. This version was restored in 2008 (or 1980, it's a bit unclear?) using 5 different sources (of massively varying quality. 35mm to 9.5mm) to make the longest version seen since Abel Gance's first 7-9 hour 3-night Premiere version.

However, the main source was a great looking 35mm print of Gance's own 2.5 hour-ish 2nd cut of the movie, that he made for general distribution. The shorter Gance approved cut has virtually vanished following this version. I can only find it on a few rare VHS tapes on eBay. The DVD set comes with an enthusiastic quote on the front by Director Jean Cocteau...

Quote:There is cinema before and after La Roue as there is painting before and after Picasso

...but as he died in 1963, he was talking about the short version in such glowing terms. So have the curators of this version restored the movie, or have they ruined it? I'd like to track down one of those VHS tapes one day and find out.

I certainly found the 4.5 hour run-time patience-testing at times but when it's good, it's beautiful stuff. Unlike the 360 setups of Stroheim, this still has the tableau-like POV of many Silent films but the editing is much more modern in pacing and shot selection. Moving from closeups, wide shots and mediums in a natural way and even getting daring with some rapidly edited montages. The lighting and framing is often gorgeous. I found the second Mont Blanc half better than the train-yard first. Robert Israel's 2008 score is outstanding, especially during the emotional bittersweet finale.





Some swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks next, I might watch it right now! Big Grin
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#47
93 years ago (Almost to the day Wink )...

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The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Director: Raoul Walsh (and an uncredited Douglas Fairbanks)
Country: United States
Length: 140 minutes (2 1/3 hours)
Type: Silent, Romance, Adventure

'The Thief of Bagdad' isn't just the best silent film I've so far watched but must now be one of my favorite films overall. It's an early example of pure "Hollywood" in all the best senses. A dashing and handsome male lead, beautiful women, lavish sets and costumes. dazzling VisFX, danger, suspense, romance, heroes and villains. Magic and adventure abounds everywhere including a flying carpet, a crystal ball, an enchanted rope, a winged horse, a giant killer sea spider, a cloak of invisibility, armed legions conjured from thin-air and of course a magic Lamp.

I'm not sure Hollywood would be comfortable making this in the same way today, with noble Muslim heroes, evil Chinese villains and enlightening quotes from The Koran. The script, story and characters are so tight and well written and was clearly a heavy influence on Disney's Aladdin. For anybody unsure about watching silent movies, this is the place to start (Especially the pin-sharp blu-ray I watched from Eureka! Video). I'm sure even young kids would love this adventure romance.



A Soviet era film next
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#48
91 years ago...

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Strike (1925)
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Country: Russia
Length: 88 minutes
Type: Silent, Propaganda, Communism

Sergei Eisenstein is a famous name in Cinema but this was the first film of his I've so far watched. The quick montage editing is undoubtedly "revolutionary" but the politics are infantile. Released just 3-years into the new 'Soviet Union', this is pure propaganda with the complex message of Workers=Good/Bosses=Bad. A shareholder using the worker's list of demands to clean his spilled cocktails off of his expensive shoes, gives you an idea of the level of subtlety.

The frequent use of footage of animals being mistreated was unpleasant. Dead Cats hanging from gibbets, sad eyed chained Bears forced to dance, Cows slowly having their throats ripped out etc. Obviously these are supposed to symbolise the workers plight but they are only actors pretending to die, the animals are not. Sadly the AHA "No Animals Were Harmed" film disclaimer is quite some years off at this point.



Another Stroheim film next.
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#49
92 years ago...

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Greed (1924)
Director: Erich von Stroheim
Country: United States
Length: 143 minutes (2.5 hours)
Type: Silent, Drama, Tragedy

Apparently the first feature shot entirely on location, taking two years (including two arduous months in Death Valley) and 85 hours of footage to complete, the making of 'Greed' is at least as interesting as the film itself. The first "assembly" cut was 8 hours, then Stroheim trimmed it to a manageable 4-hours but finally the studio took it away from him and cut a 2.5 hour version for release. The rest of the footage is now lost.

In 1999, a 4-hour version was re-created, using still photos to fill in the missing 1.5 hours. I had no interest in seeing that fractured reconstruction but it's sadly very hard to get any other version these days, such is the supremacy of these so-called "Director's Cuts". Luckily I did mange to find an old Italian VHS transfer of the 2.5-hour studio version (I also found some English subtitles to work with it). It may not exactly be Stroheim's original vision but at least it's a finished cut of the movie, and the version people were quite happy with until 1999.

The movie is pretty damn dark, chronicling the slow slide of a happy married couple into greed, drunkenness, resentment, bitterness, hatred, violence and eventually murder when the wife wins the lottery. The acting is mostly very naturalistic (with some exceptions) to match the gritty realism of the story, script and tone. It all builds towards a beautiful blackly-comic finale. It would be great to see an HD release of this shorter cut one day, to more fully appreciate the cinematography.

If I was going to watch the 4-hour "reconstruction" I'd probably go with this fan version synced to the music of Jonny Greenwood...




Next is another Buster Keaton comedy to lighten the mood after all that moral squalor Wink .
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#50
92 years ago...

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Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
Director: Buster Keaton (and Roscoe Arbuckle uncredited)
Country: United States
Length: 45 minutes
Type: Silent, Comedy, Satire, Surreal

'Sherlock, Jr.' rivals 'Airplane!' in the gags-per-minute department, cramming every type of inventive comedy into 45 minutes. Many of these jokes revolve around clever subversions of established film-making conventions/techniques, which feels very modern.

A film projectionist dreams of being a great detective and when he falls asleep in the booth we literally see his dreams, as he imagines climbing up into the Cinema screen and becoming the heroic sleuth. His friends and enemies in real life become players in this imaginary movie. The stunts are astonishing, including Buster jumping through a window and into a full costume in a split second, exactly mirroring another actor's walk and actions for a seemingly impossible time, and a set piece involving a train where he actually broke his neck (and carried on with the shot anyway).

'Sherlock Jr.' ends with the projectionist copying the film character's actions, to romance his real life love... only due to film censorship of the movie he's watching, he ends up a little confused as to where the babies came from?! Genius.



More Murnau next.
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