A Century+ of Cinema: The 1920s

Tags

,

Marion Davies as ingenue Peggy Pepper watches herself on screen for the first time in Show People (1928), directed by King Vidor.

I thought the 1920s would be an easy decade to cover since I had already seen many of the “classics” before, either long ago in grad school or more recently as I began to undertake this project. But the problem is, like with so many things, once you start looking more closely at something, the more you realize you don’t know. So, when I first sat down to finalize a “canon” for the decade, I realized I needed to add a few more unseen films, along with a few I had blocked from my memory and, while not eager to revisit, decided I must do so in order to accurately represent the decade. At the end of the day, I found myself with a list of a dozen films I felt I absolutely had to watch, including seven I had never seen. And that is not even counting the myriad other “minor” films I wanted to squeeze in. So, yeah, I was already weeks behind schedule and still took the full month of March and some of April to get through these. [Side note: At this point, I’ve decided it’s a bit more important to me to do this thing thoroughly rather than try to stay on my original schedule, so the 1930s will happen when it happens.]

In any case, let’s jump right in!

Buster Keaton’s projectionist character imagines himself literally getting into the pictures in Sherlock Jr. (1924).

To start with, here is my original essentials list for the 1920s:

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Weine, 1920)
Way Down East (Griffith, 1920)
Häxan (Christensen, 1922)
Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922)
Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922)
Safety Last! (Newmeyer & Taylor, 1923)
Greed (Stroheim, 1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (Walsh, 1924)
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Niblo & Brabin, 1925)
The Big Parade (Vidor, 1925)
Body and Soul (Micheaux, 1925)
Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) (Eisenstein, 1925)
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
Lady Windermere’s Fan (Lubitsch, 1925)
Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed)
      (Reiniger, 1926)
The General (Keaton, 1926)
Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg) (Pudovkin, 1927)
Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
Napoléon (Gance, 1927)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
Wings (Wellman, 1927)
La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) (Dulac, 1928)
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (Dreyer, 1928)
Chelovek s kino-apparatom (The Man with a Movie Camera) (Vertov, 1929)
Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (Buñuel, 1929)

Harold Lloyd hangs on for dear life in an iconic image from the cinema of the 1920s. But does that make Safety Last! an essential film?

About half of these selections came directly from the AFI Top 100 and the Sight & Sound 250.* In fact, the only films on those lists that didn’t make the cut are The Jazz Singer (1927) (AFI) and The Last Laugh (1924) (S&S), both of which I had already seen (and rejected as essential) before establishing my own list. In the case of The Jazz Singer—the first “talkie”—the overall quality is just not there. In the case of The Last Laugh, I felt that having three films by the same director (F.W. Murnau) would be antithetical to my goals with this project.

As for the rest of the titles, they mostly came from books on cinema history. All in all, except for a few titles, I’d say this would be fairly close to the standard response you would get if you were to ask for a canon of twenty-five films from the 1920s. In fact, I recently added a tab for the “1001 Movies You Must Watch Before You Die” films to my “all-time lists” spreadsheet, and, although I didn’t have it for reference when I created this list, all twenty-five of my selections can be found among the forty-five films from the 1920s on that list.* [Side note: Although I have numerous quibbles with the lists that appear in various books in the 1001 series, I think this one will prove to be very helpful in establishing more balanced essentials lists going forward.]

In any case, there’s really no doubt that the above list is a good beginning if one wants to explore and get a sense of the cinema of the 1920s. To start with, it highlights the three strongest national film industries of the period—those of Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States. It also features a number of key “first” features and experimental films: animation, documentaries, and surrealist films. In fact, as I sat down to write up the decade, I wondered if I would change it at all. But then, as I looked closer, I started to see the gaps and flaws.

Marion Davies, Jane Winton, and Marie Dressler examine their own gaps and flaws in The Patsy (1928), directed by King Vidor.

The biggest obvious gap is that there are no sound pictures—after all, the “talkie” emerged as early as 1927. Although early talkies were rather crude, they represent the surmounting of extreme technical challenges and therefore can rightly be considered cinematic achievements worthy of essential status. This is a gap that needs to be remedied somehow.

Beyond the glaring oversight of sound, now that I’ve watched all the films on the original list, the lack of genre diversity has become more obvious. For example, there are three similar types of comedies, one each from those who are often seen as the “big three” comic geniuses: Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. While I enjoyed their films above, they are not necessarily my favorite, or the best, examples from these comedians. More importantly, do we need all three to accurately represent this decade in film? In a similar vein, do we need three horror films? Even if all of them are solid selections, that seems a bit much. And there are six war films—that’s one quarter of the list! What about musicals? Or thrillers? Or westerns?

Finally, and this is somewhat related to the above paragraph, why all the dudes? I don’t just mean in terms of directors, but the leading roles in almost all of these films are men. And the women that are prominently featured are fairly one dimensional. Lots of martyrs and witches. Sometimes literally. Where are the comediennes? Where are the complex women?

Seeing so many dudes makes me almost as mad as Francis X. Bushman and Ramon Novarro in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

So, even though every choice on the above list is a fair one, it was clear I was going to have to rethink this to accurately represent the decade in film. I started by thinking about what worked together and what could definitely go.

First to go were Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and Wings. Even this was a difficult decision. These are both solid films that I enjoyed, but I just don’t think they are essential if one is limited to only twenty-five films. However, I want to note here that I actually prefer the 1925 Ben-Hur to the 1959 version, which is the one on the AFI list. Wings was just one war film too many for me, but it merits a viewing if only to admire its incredible technical work, including astounding aerial combat sequences and this bravura shot:

Let’s see, what’s next? Well, speaking of bravura, I think it’s safe to say that Safety Last! is only known for one extended stunt (pictured above). While it’s a great stunt, this rom-com is not even my favorite Harold Lloyd (that would be Girl Shy), so I can’t say I regard it as a must-see beyond that. In fact, since we are losing Clara Bow’s presence in Wings, I would much rather see It (1927)—another rom-com based in a department store—on the list. After all, the original “It girl” really should to be included somewhere.

Another film that is pretty much known for one sequence is Way Down East. But, as with Bow, I think if I take that one off, I would definitely want to put another Lillian Gish vehicle in the mix, probably either Orphans of the Storm (1921), also by D.W. Griffith, or The Wind (1928), a western by Victor Sjöström. Or maybe both, if there’s room.

Preparing to shoot the thrilling “ice break” climax of Way Down East, directed by D.W. Griffith.

So, I guess I need to decide if there is room. How many films do I really want to add?

After thinking long and hard about the gaps I wanted to fill, and what I had seen so far from the 1920s, I came up with the following list:

The Grub-Stake: A Tale of the Klondike (Shipman & Van Tuyle, 1923)
It (Badger & Sternberg, 1927)
The Wind (Sjöström, 1928)
Blackmail (Hitchcock, 1929)
A Cottage on Dartmoor (Asquith, 1929)
Hallelujah (Vidor, 1929)
The Love Parade (Lubitsch, 1929)

The only problem with this list is that it adds seven films when I’ve only made room for four so far. To find out what I finally kept and what I didn’t, and why, read on.

An intertitle from A Cottage on Dartmoor, a silent crime thriller with an extended sequence at the “talking” pictures.

Breaking the Sound Barrier

As noted above, the biggest problem with my list is that there were no sound pictures. I only watched seven early talkies for this project, but they all had some sort of technical merit whereby I could see adding them to this list. Those I considered—but ultimately rejected—were The Broadway Melody (1929), the first sound film to win the Best Picture Oscar; Applause (1929), one of the first sound films to shoot on location around Manhattan; In Old Arizona (1928), nominated for five Academy Awards, and the first major western to use sound and the first talkie filmed extensively outdoors; and Hell’s Heroes (1929), another western and the first sound production of William Wyler.

The three I selected for inclusion—Blackmail, Hallelujah, and The Love Parade—were all a cut above, although I added all three for very different reasons.

When I realized that I had no Alfred Hitchcock on my list, Blackmail sort of became inevitable. I contemplated The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), Hitchcock’s first thriller and my favorite of his silents, but I soon realized that Blackmail was a better choice since it is one of the best representations you can find of the transition from silent pictures to talkies. In fact, the film began life as a silent but morphed into a sound picture early on in its production. Like a number of films of the era, two versions (silent and sound) were made, since many theaters had not yet converted to sound. In any case, it’s a decent thriller with some fantastic sound cues.

Another director who mastered the transition from silent films to sound was Ernst Lubitsch. One of his first sound films was The Love Parade, a musical starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, one of many he would go on to make with the pair in the early 1930s, but I think this first outing is their best. Among other accolades, it received six nominations for the third Academy Awards, the most of any film to that point. While I don’t love The Love Parade quite as much as Lubitsch’s silent adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, I can accept that it should replace that film on the list as one of the first movie musicals with integrated songs (rather than a backstage musical, which was a prevalent subgenre in the early sound period).

Another musical I decided to add is Hallelujah, King Vidor’s first sound film. Hallelujah is not only an early MGM musical, but also one of the first films by a major studio with an all-Black cast. Vidor, who grew up in the South, was so interested in telling this story that he invested his own salary in the production when MGM balked at producing it. He would go on to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar for the film. Though it does rely on and perhaps perpetuated common stereotypes, the songs and singing are really quite beautiful and I appreciated that they were integrated into the storyline in a very natural way. And I am going to keep an eye out for Nina Mae McKinney going forward, she had a tremendous energy about her.

Daniel L. Haynes admires Nina Mae McKinney in Hallelujah, an early musical with an all-Black cast, directed by King Vidor.

So that more than takes care of both sound and a missing genre, the musical. It also adds a thriller into the mix and gets us another empty slot on the essentials list by (unfortunately) removing Lady Windermere’s Fan. Though, really, if you like Lubitsch, I definitely recommend you seek that one out. He somehow manages to keep the spirit of Wilde while keeping almost none of Wilde’s original text—the “Lubitsch touch” strikes again.

While we’re switching out films by the same director, another “essentials” exchange I decided to make was replacing Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul for Within Our Gates (1920). I definitely think there needs to be at least one “race film” on the list and Micheaux is the obvious director to represent this genre—films made from the mid-1910s to the early 1950s featuring Black casts and produced for Black audiences. Not only was Micheaux the first major African American feature filmmaker, but he was a “triple threat”—writing, producing, and directing more than forty films during this period. While both these titles have qualities to recommend them, I thought Within Our Gates had a better, more cohesive plot: The main narrative tells the story of a young southern woman who travels north on multiple occasions, finding romance and a wealthy benefactor for a southern school along the way, but also uses a series of flashbacks to show her tragic background, including her adoptive father being falsely accused of murdering a white man and the resulting lynching of her parents. It’s a powerful tale of race and racism in the early twentieth century.

Charles D. Lucas romances Evelyn Preer in Within Our Gates, directed by Oscar Micheaux.

All the World Loves a Clown

Some other exchanges I considered making were in the comedy category. When I began this project and came up with my list of essentials for the 1920s, it seemed obvious to include an example each of the work of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. So, I put the usual suspects (The Gold Rush, The General, and Safety Last!) on my essentials list. However, as I watched more movies starring these comedians, in addition to discovering that none of these selections represents my favorite of their films (see rankings below), I also realized that this was a rather odd way of looking at things. For one, is there any other decade where I would say we have to list one film by each of three comedians as an “essential”? I don’t think so. Even if I think that comedy generally doesn’t get the respect it deserves, that seems a bit much when you are choosing only twenty-five films to represent a decade in cinema.

Moreover, if we are going to put three comedies on the list, what about the great comediennes of the silent era? Of course, Clara Bow would be represented by including It, but what about The Extra Girl (1923) with Mabel Normand or Show People with Marion Davies? Both are hilarious send-ups of Hollywood and the Hollywood system. Or, for a different side of Davies, how about The Patsy, where Davies displays her incredible gift for mimicry? The issue is further complicated by the fact that I think that City Lights (1931) is far and away the best representation of Chaplin’s work, but obviously that would be on the 1930s list. Is there room for two Chaplins if we are ignoring these women?

Top 20 Comedies of 1920s
Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, 1924)
The Patsy (Vidor, 1928) (Davies)
The Kid (Chaplin, 1921)
The General (Keaton & Bruckman, 1927)
It (Badger & Sternberg, 1927) (Bow)
Girl Shy (Newmeyer & Taylor, 1924) (Lloyd)
Our Hospitality (Keaton & Blystone, 1923)
The Circus (Chaplin, 1928)
Safety Last! (Newmeyer & Taylor, 1923) (Lloyd)
Show People (Vidor, 1928) (Davies)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (Keaton & Reisner, 1928)
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
The Extra Girl (Jones & Sennett, 1923) (Normand)
The Navigator (Keaton & Crisp, 1924)
The Flapper (Crosland, 1920) (Olive Thomas)
Seven Chances (Keaton, 1925)
The Kid Brother (Wilde, 1927) (Lloyd)
The Cameraman (Keaton & Sedgwick, 1928)
The Freshman (Newmeyer & Taylor, 1925) (Lloyd)
Champagne (Hitchcock, 1928) (Betty Balfour)

All this is to say that, in addition to bumping Safety Last!, I seriously considered replacing The Gold Rush altogether. One reason I almost did so is that there was another “tale of the Klondike” that I wanted to put on the list far more: The Grub-Stake (1923). Not only does this film by female filmmaker Nell Shipman add another action adventure into the essentials mix, one could also consider it a western. More importantly, like The Gold Rush, it also features a bear! And this one gets far more screen time. While lacking the comic touches of Chaplin’s film, the story was far more interesting to me: A young woman is lured to the Yukon with promises of marriage and a grubstake and only realizes she has been tricked when she ends up for sale in a Dawson City dance hall. Instead of meekly accepting her fate, she escapes with her ailing father and an old miner by stealing the dogsled from her erstwhile “husband” and heading into the wilderness where she gets lost in a snowstorm, finds shelter in a bear’s den, and stumbles upon a long-lost gold mine. It all ends with a western-style shoot-out and a literal cliffhanger. You can see why I might have hesitated for so long as to which one to keep, until I thought, why not both?

But keeping both would mean a few more cuts to my initial list if I was also going to add The Wind and A Cottage on Dartmoor, which I really wanted to do. Could I be as strong as Nell Shipman taking on a bear and get the job done? I like to think so.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

First off, why add The Wind and A Cottage on Dartmoor? Well, to start with, The Wind adds a western and a female lead to a list lacking both. It also makes sure another major star and director of the era are represented (with Lillian Gish and Victor Sjöström respectively). The British film A Cottage on Dartmoor does not tick off any obvious boxes, but combines the best of Soviet and German styles (fast cutting, facial close-ups, atmospheric lighting, asymmetrical camera angles) while also providing a story straight out of the works of Graham Greene. Both films are tense melodramas that get down and dirty with the psyche of their protagonists while also being incredibly cinematic and inventive. One example of this inventiveness, and why A Cottage on Dartmoor truly deserves to be on the essentials list, is the theater scene—when the protagonist follows the subject of his romantic obsession and her date to the cinema. This extended set piece in the middle of the film tells us everything we need to know about these characters, but also manages to serve as a commentary on the arrival of talkies and a master class in editing. It is nothing short of amazing.

The audience watches the movie while Uno Henning as Joe watches Sally and her date in A Cottage on Dartmoor, directed by Anthony Asquith.

To keep these two films as essentials, I decided to eliminate (Shock! Horror!) Nosferatu and Un chien andalou. Or should that be (Shock!) Un chien andalou and (Horror!) Nosferatu? Because that is essentially what these two films represent and I think I have that covered elsewhere.

Surrealism and the Avant-Garde

As I said back in the days of The Great Unseen, one reason I resisted silent cinema for so long is that most of my exposure to it was in graduate school. Because my coursework focused on French culture, this generally meant the early films of the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès (discussed in A Century+ of Cinema: The Early Silents, 1895–1909) and the surrealist cinema of the 1920s, including René Clair’s Entr’acte (1924), Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique (1924), Germaine Dulac’s La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) (1928), and Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (1929) by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. However, while I can appreciate the technique and artistry of these films, they just aren’t of particular interest to me and I don’t enjoy watching them.

Nevertheless, I felt I needed to include at least some of them on my essentials list, so I chose La Coquille et le clergyman, which, at just over forty minutes long, qualifies as a feature film, and Un chien andalou, the ultimate surrealist classic whose opening scene has haunted me since my grad school days. [CW: Don’t watch it if, like me, you have issues with incisions of any kind.] I also watched Melville Webber and J.S. Watson’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928),** both because I love Edgar Allan Poe and because it was on one of the “Treasures” DVDs that I had out from the library.

While this type of film is just not my jam, I did find things to appreciate in both La Coquille et le clergyman and The Fall of the House of Usher. I particularly liked some of the visuals in the latter. However, watching Un chien andalou again after all these years, the only thing that struck me (besides the infamous opening) is just how misogynistic and hyper-violent it really is. Of course, surrealism is meant to shock, but I just don’t see a value in doing only that. To me, it’s like Pixar and nostalgia:
—It made me cry!
—Ok, and…?

So my vote in terms of what should stay on the essentials list was for La Coquille et le clergyman, widely recognized as the first surrealist film and which the British Board of Film Classification famously banned, stating “If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.” Today, the British Film Institute lists La Coquille et le clergyman as one of the best feminist films calling it “a visually imaginative critique of patriarchy—state and church—and of male sexuality.” In short, while I considered having Dulac’s La Souriante Mme Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet) on the essentials list, I am happy to represent this pioneering writer, critic, and filmmaker with La Coquille et le clergyman instead.

La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman), literally.

The horror! The horror!

While I actually enjoy Nosferatu quite a bit, as one of two films by F.W. Murnau on the list, the most conventional of the three horror films included, and one of four German films, it just made the most sense for it to be the one taken off.

As noted in my previous post on the 1910s, Scandinavian cinema was particularly strong in the silent period and I wanted to be sure to include at least one Danish or Swedish film for the 1920s. I considered Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage) (1921) by Victor Sjöström, which is notable for its special effects and advanced narrative structure, but I knew I would probably have another Sjöström somewhere, and Häxan, which I just watched for the first time quite recently, is absolutely astounding. Part documentary essay, part horror film, it charts the history of witchcraft and the superstitions surrounding it, beginning in the Middle Ages through to the present day of the film. It was the most expensive Scandinavian silent film ever made and was banned or censored in a number of countries for its graphic nature.

Why Caligari over Nosferatu, you ask? (Well, you ask if you are familiar with my post on silent horror.) After all, they are both German and you really dislike Caligari. That’s true, but I also dislike Metropolis and yet here we are. Some films are just so influential, you can’t deny them their place on the essentials list. I mean, if I was only including works by German directors I liked, The Cat and the Canary (Leni, 1927) and Diary of a Lost Girl (Pabst, 1929) would be on the list instead.

The Cat and the Canary is one of my favorite silents and yet still didn’t make it on the essentials list. Truly shocking and horrific.

That’s right, I said it. I don’t like Metropolis. It may be “important” and it may have some great visuals, but the acting leaves a lot to be desired, as does the plot and script. If you like Metropolis, I’m glad it’s there for you, but if you don’t, know there are many other entertaining silent films that may be more to your liking.

For starters, any number of the many films I’ve already discussed, or perhaps some of my other favorites on the essentials list that I don’t have time to go into, which includes Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, an adaptation of McTeague: A Story of San Francisco, one of my favorite novels; Raoul Walsh’s The Thief of Bagdad, starring the original swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks; Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed, considered to be the oldest surviving animated feature film; King Vidor’s The Big Parade, the most successful film of the 1920s and noted for its realistic depiction of warfare; Abel Gance’s epic masterpiece Napoléon, one of the most creative uses of the cinematic form ever; and F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, one of the most expressive films of the silent period and one of my favorite discoveries from The Great Unseen.

The innovative silhouette animation technique of Lotte Reiniger’s Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed).

Not to mention some great films that didn’t even have a hope of making the list, including the aforementioned The Cat and the Canary (Leni, 1927); but also The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Worsley, 1923), with its impressive sets and Lon Chaney’s performance as the titular character; The Lost World (Hoyt, 1925), or the fantastic Wallace Beery in a King Kong before King Kong; Chess Fever, a hilarious 1925 short from the director of the much more serious Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg); Paris qui dort (The Crazy Ray) (Clair, 1925), a sci-fi romp through the empty streets of Paris; The Unknown (Browning, 1927), another incredible Chaney performance, this time alongside a young Joan Crawford; The Docks of New York (Sternberg, 1928), a proto-noir from the master of visual style; The Garden of Eden (Milestone, 1928), an underseen rom-com from the underrated and incredibly diverse Lewis Milestone; and Spione (Spies), a Fritz Lang silent I very much like.

Gerda Maurus does what spies do, at least in Spione (Spies) (1928), directed by Fritz Lang.

And, with that, my final list of twenty-five essentials for the 1920s:

Essential Films of the 1920s
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Weine, 1920)
Within Our Gates (Micheaux, 1920)
Häxan (Christensen, 1922)
Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922)
The Grub-Stake: A Tale of the Klondike (Shipman & Van Tuyle, 1923)
Greed (Stroheim, 1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (Walsh, 1924)
The Big Parade (Vidor, 1925)
Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) (Eisenstein, 1925)
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed)
      (Reiniger, 1926)
The General (Keaton, 1926)
It (Badger, 1927)
Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg) (Pudovkin, 1927)
Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
Napoléon (Gance, 1927)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) (Dulac, 1928)
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (Dreyer, 1928)
The Wind (Sjöström, 1928)
Blackmail (Hitchcock, 1929)
Chelovek s kino-apparatom (Man with a Movie Camera) (Vertov, 1929)
A Cottage on Dartmoor (Escape from Dartmoor) (Asquith, 1929)
Hallelujah (Vidor, 1929)
The Love Parade (Lubitsch, 1929)

In short, there are a lot of great silents out there. Have fun! Explore!

For previous posts in this Century+ series, click below:

Film 101—A Century+ Silent Film Resources
A Century+ of Cinema: The Early Silents, 1895–1909
A Century+ of Cinema: Considering the Essentials
A Century+ of Cinema: The 1910s

For more on Battleship Potemkin, Safety Last!, Sunrise, and other silents, see The Great Unseen 1: Matinée Idle.

For my film lists, click below:
A Century+: The Essentials
A Century+: Female Filmmakers
A Century+: Silent Films
Movies of the Decade: 1920-1929

*The movies from the 1920s that I considered for this post are:
AFI Top 100 (1998): The Jazz Singer (1927)
AFI Top 100 (2007): The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925), The General (Keaton, 1926), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
Sight & Sound 250 (2012): Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Weine, 1920), Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922), Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, 1924), Greed (Stroheim, 1924), Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) (Eisenstein, 1925), The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925), The General (Keaton, 1926), Metropolis (Lang, 1927), Napoléon (Gance, 1927), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927), La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (Dreyer, 1928), Chelovek s kino-apparatom (Man with a Movie Camera) (Vertov, 1929), Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (Buñuel, 1929)

Additional films from 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die (all editions): Way Down East (1920), Within Our Gates (1920), Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage) (1921), Orphans of the Storm (1921), Foolish Wives (1922), Häxan (1922), Nanook of the North (1922), La Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet) (1923), Our Hospitality (1923), Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) (1924), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), The Big Parade (1925), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Seven Chances (1925), Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed) (1926), The Kid Brother (1927), The Unknown (1927), The Docks of New York, Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), Blackmail (1929)

Other feature films from the 1920s:
1920: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Flapper, Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World)
1921: The Ace of Hearts, The Affairs of Anatol, The Blot, The Kid, Schloß Vogelöd (The Haunted Castle), The Sheik, Tol’able David
1922: Blood and Sand
1923: The Extra Girl, The Grub-Stake: A Tale of the Klondike, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Woman of Paris
1924: Girl Shy, He Who Gets Slapped, The Marriage Circle, The Navigator, Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac)
1925: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, Body and Soul, The Freshman, Go West, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Little Annie Rooney, The Lost World, The Monster, Paris qui dort (The Crazy Ray), Parisian Love, Stella Dallas
1926: The Son of the Sheik, The Winning of Barbara Worth
1927: The Cat and the Canary, Chicago, It, Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg), The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, Tretya meshchanskaya (Bed and Sofa), Underworld, Wings
1928: Beggars of Life; The Cameraman; Champagne; The Circus; The Garden of Eden; In Old Arizona; The Last Command; Laugh, Clown, Laugh; The Patsy; Show People; Spione (Spies); West of Zanzibar; The Wind
1929: Applause, The Broadway Melody, A Cottage on Dartmoor, Hallelujah, Hell’s Heroes, The Love Parade, Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost Girl)

** This 13-minute short should not to be confused with another surrealist adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher, a feature film also released in 1928, Jean Epstein’s La Chute de la maison Usher.

If I Picked the Oscars

Tags

,

And the Oscar goes to…

After seeing five films nominated for Best Picture as well as the other major nominees,* I hereby present my wish list for tonight’s awards. Even though I loved both Nomadland and Promising Young Woman, I have to say I’m really rooting for Nomadland because I would love to see it sweep and I think it is the better “Oscar” film. As always, mostly I’m just hoping for one or two surprises, and I think this year we are likely to get them. For once at least, the acting categories don’t seem to be set in stone.

With that said, and based on what I’ve seen, here is what or who the oddsmakers think will win tonight (as of last night), what or who I would like to see win, and, in some categories, those I feel should (or shouldn’t) have been nominated. As always, if I propose a “new” nomination, I take a current nominee off the list: This doesn’t necessarily mean the person or film is undeserving (though it can), but it’s easy to say that so-and-so should have been nominated when the reality is that there are only five slots to fill.

Best Picture
Will win: Nomadland
Should win: Nomadland
Should have been nominated: First Cow, La Nuit des rois (Night of the Kings)
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Mank

Barring an incredible upset, this is an easy one. Nomadland is heavily favored to win. As stated above, I’m hoping for a Nomadland sweep (for the most part). The fact that Mank has ten nominations is an abomination.

Directing
Will win: Chloé Zhao for Nomadland
Should win: Chloé Zhao for Nomadland
Should have been nominated: Kelly Reichardt for First Cow
Shouldn’t have been nominated: David Fincher for Mank

I could see an argument for replacing Thomas Vinterberg with a few other people, but since I haven’t yet seen Another Round, or any of his other films beyond Festen, I haven’t done so.

Adapted Screenplay
Will win: Nomadland
Should win: Nomadland
Should have been nominated: I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Shouldn’t have been nominated: One Night in Miami…

Adapted Screenplay is one of the closer categories where it really comes down to who has the momentum at the moment of voting. In the final days, Nomadland is on a downward trend with the oddsmakers and The Father on the uptick, but it is really anyone’s guess as to which one will come out on top. I think that enough people are strongly behind Nomadland as the Best Picture that it will prevail here. I can’t imagine I’m Thinking of Ending Things was an easy adaptation—in fact, I had assumed it was original—so I would have given that one the nod over One Night in Miami… since I always see adapting a play as easier somehow (whether that’s justified or not).

Original Screenplay
Will win: Promising Young Woman
Should win: Promising Young Woman
Should have been nominated: Palm Springs
Shouldn’t have been nominated: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Original Screenplay is less close, but The Trial of the Chicago 7 still has a small chance of pulling an upset here. I hope not because I think that the script of Promising Young Woman is impeccable. Another impeccable script, and one that really needed to be in order to make the film work, is Palm Springs. I’m happy to put it up for consideration in place of what I presume is Sorkin being Sorkin.

Actor in a Leading Role
Will win: Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should win: Anthony Hopkins for The Father

Even though Best Actor probably should go to Hopkins based on what I have heard, and I personally would have voted for Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal, I can’t argue against the late Chadwick Boseman’s win here, despite the fact that I think it is mostly for sentimental reasons—it is a strong performance. In fact, even though I would have loved to see John Magaro or Orion Lee from First Cow on this list, or Delroy Lindo for Da 5 Bloods, I can’t really argue with any of the nominees, who all gave strong performances.

Actress in a Leading Role
Will win: Frances McDormand for Nomadland
Should win: Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman
Should have been nominated: Sidney Flanigan for Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Woman

This category is probably the most up in the air of any of them. An argument could be made for four different winners. Oddsmakers give Mulligan and Viola Davis a slight edge over McDormand and Andra Day but I wouldn’t be surprised at any of the four winning. Still, I suspect McDormand will pull it out; however, this is one category I hope Nomadland won’t take since I think Carey Mulligan is long overdue for Oscar recognition and her turn in Promising Young Woman was fantastic. Nothing against Vanessa Kirby, but she’s obviously not in the running in any serious way and Sidney Flanigan’s powerful debut performance really deserved to be recognized.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Will win: Daniel Kaluuya for Judas and the Black Messiah
Should win: Paul Raci for Sound of Metal

Actress in a Supporting Role
Will win: Yuh-jung Youn for Minari
Should win: Yuh-jung Youn for Minari

I have to admit, I am completely uninvested in the supporting categories this year. I even don’t care about what I suspect is category fraud with Kaluuya, because he’s just so good in everything I see him in.

Film Editing
Will win: Sound of Metal
Should win: Nomadland or Promising Young Woman

I have no arguments with the likely winner, but I thought both Nomadland and Promising Young Woman were likely make or break in the editing room (for very different reasons) and so I would probably have given it to one of them myself.

Cinematography
Will win: Nomadland
Should win: Nomadland
Should have been nominated: First Cow, La Nuit des rois (Night of the Kings)
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Mank

Sorry, the black & white photography in Mank looked like trash (although I feel I should note here that it is second in the running with the oddsmakers). I haven’t seen The Trial of Chicago 7 but it is dead last in the running and I needed two slots for two films who really deserved to be in this category.

Original Song
Will win: “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami
Should win: “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Should have been nominated: “Double Trouble,” “Jaja Ding Dong,” “Lion of Love,” and “Looking in the Mirror” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Everything but “Husavik”

I mean, I think I’ve been pretty clear on this. “Husavik” is the only one of the nominated selections that is an integral part of the film and not just something played over the credits. In fact, I think I would rather nominate four other songs from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga rather than having any “credits” music in this category.

Production Design
Will win: Mank
Should win: Mank
Should have been nominated: Birds of Prey
Shouldn’t have been nominated: News of the World

As much as I hated Mank, I did think it had fantastic production design. In fact, that is one reason I particularly disliked the cinematography because, given the gorgeous sets and sweeping western landscapes involved, I thought black & white was an extremely poor choice. The set design of Birds of Prey was one of my favorite things about it, so I would have liked to see it on the list over News of the World.

Costume Design
Will win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should win: Emma.

Emma. is another film I didn’t particularly like, but I thought the costumes were brilliant—very thoughtful choices in terms of colors and designs that worked well within the directorial vision.

And with that, I think I’ve exhausted the categories I really care about, so I will just leave you with the odds-on favorites for the final categories:

International Feature: Another Round
Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Original Score: Soul
Sound: Sound of Metal
Visual Effects: Tenet

Animated Feature: Soul
Animated Short Film: If Anything Happens I Love You
Live-Action Short Film: Two Distant Strangers
Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher
Documentary Short Subject: A Love Song for Latasha or A Concerto Is a Conversation

Oscar Statues

Who would you like to see take home one of these golden boys?


*Oscar-nominated features I’ve seen to date: Da 5 Bloods, Emma., Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Greyhound, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, Minari, News of the World, Nomadland, One Night in Miami…, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal


Other 2020 features that I considered for this post: Birds of Prey, First Cow, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, La Nuit des rois (Night of the Kings), Martin Eden, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Palm Springs, Shirley, The Old Guard, The Rhythm Section, WW 84. I also watched Blow the Man Down and Undine, two 2020 films that were not on the AMPAS “eligible” list.

Oscar Nominations: The Trial of the Hollywood 8

Tags

And so the race for the 93rd Academy Awards begins.

The nominees for Best Picture are…

The Father (6 nominations)
Judas and the Black Messiah (6 nominations)
Mank (10 nominations)
Minari (6 nominations)
Nomadland (6 nominations)
Promising Young Woman (5 nominations)
Sound of Metal (6 nominations)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (6 nominations)

You can see a full ballot list here.

My first thoughts on this list? Yay? Sort of. I mean, the fact that Mank got ten nominations is appalling, but the rest I can live with. In my memory, we’ve never had such a balanced slate in terms of the total number of nominations for each Best Picture nominee. Not that this list wasn’t fairly predictable, but I wouldn’t have guessed that The Father and Promising Young Women would get as many nominations as they did based on the general awards conversation. Of course, I haven’t yet watched either of those films. Nor have I seen Judas and the Black Messiah, Sound of Metal, or The Trial of the Chicago 7. But I’ve been spending so much time watching films from the 1920s for my Century+ project that we only just now began going through our Independent Spirit Award screeners (an added bonus to having the Math Greek here full time). Minari and Nomadland are great!

And with that, let’s get up close and personal with the rest of the nominations, shall we?

The Good

“Husavik”! By far, this was my biggest moment of joy while watching the nominations announcement. If you are a longtime reader, you know how much I dislike the category of Original Song, mostly because it often leads to nominations from lackluster films that happen to have a decent song in the closing credits. And sometimes not even decent. But this year I was really rooting for Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga to get at least one nomination in this category because its songs were just so on point throughout the film. Plus, the movie is extremely entertaining and comedies and rom-coms almost never get recognized by the Academy.

I was also pleased to see Emma. in the Costume Design category. While I didn’t love the adaptation itself, I thought its costumes and sets were glorious. Sadly, it did not get into the Production Design category, but it did score a nomination for Makeup and Hairstyling.

Other than that, my biggest squeal came from realizing that someone was not nominated, namely, Aaron Sorkin for Directing (though he did get a nod for Writing). I assumed he would be in the directing category since he was on the DGA list, but Thomas Vinterberg snuck in there for Another Round! I haven’t yet watched that film, but I’ve heard good things and I just love when one of the foreign-language feature directors gets a nod. Naturally, I was also thrilled to see two women among the Directing nominees, but I had somewhat expected that given the DGA list.

The Bad

The acting lists, as usual. These were fine overall, and I’m really happy to see more diversity in these categories, but they are still mostly pulled from the Best Picture nods and I’m always sorry that stellar performances in small films go unrecognized. Some people I had hoped to see are John Magaro or Orion Lee from First Cow, Jessie Buckley from I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and Sidney Flanigan from Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Also, where the f*ck is Delroy Lindo from Da 5 Bloods?!? Frankly, looking the nominations over, I realize I’m not super invested in any of the acting categories this year. Perhaps that will change when I’ve watched more of these films. However, maybe it won’t. Since I’ve already watched Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, beyond the Best Picture nominees themselves, there are only five more films for me to see to fully cover all four categories.

In terms of other categories, I’m crushed that La Nuit des rois (Night of the Kings) from Côte d’Ivoire did not make it onto the International Feature list. When I saw it confirmed on the shortlist, I thought it would take the whole thing. While I didn’t publish an official round-up of 2020 films, La Nuit des rois is currently at #3 on my running list.

First Cow is #1 on that list, so naturally I’m rather sad to see it get completely shut out by the Academy. I think it could have gotten five or six nominations easily if it hadn’t come out so early in the year (though that was one reason I was able to see it in an actual theater). Oh well, I guess we will have to wait a little longer for Reichardt to get her due from the Directors branch.

The Ugly

Mank with 10 nominations. This film should have been right up my alley, but, sorry, it just wasn’t any good. The performances were fine given the script, but Marion Davies deserved better. And don’t even get me started on the cinematography. Aside from the black & white not even looking good (and there have been too many gorgeous black & white films lately to get away with that), there just didn’t seem a point to it. And I really missed color at times, given the rich interiors of San Simeon, the desert vistas, etc. My only consolation is that I don’t think it will come out of the ceremony with very much. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll just grin and bear it.

Oscar Blitz Plans

So, what will I be running out to see?

Well, nothing obviously, since we are still under shelter-in-place rules and there’s no way I am setting foot in a theater until I am vaccinated.

Luckily, as noted above, we have easy access to many of the major nominees via streaming. Unfortunately, I don’t see a way to stream either The Father or Judas and the Black Messiah currently so I’ll probably knock off the other three Best Picture nominations first: I’ve been looking forward to both Promising Young Woman and Sound of Metal for some time. I see The Trial of the Chicago 7 as somewhat of a chore, but to have only one “chore” Oscar Blitz film is pretty good considering recent years.

Speaking of which, I have zero desire to watch Hillbilly Elegy (2 nominations), but I guess I will since I see that the Math Greek has already put it in the Netflix queue. Do I want to watch Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2 nominations)? Definitely not. Will I? Probably not. We’ll see.

And I really don’t care about Mulan (2 nominations) or Soul (2 nominations). Or rather, I don’t care enough to subscribe to Disney+ for them. I might check out Pinocchio (2 nominations), but that would be mostly for the Italian rather than because of general interest. I’m definitely not paying for Tenet (2 nominations) though, that’s for sure.

Otherwise, the remaining films with multiple nominations that I will almost certainly get to are One Night in Miami…  (3 nominations), which is available on Amazon Prime, and Another Round  (2 nominations), available on Hulu.

I really want to see News of the World (4 nominations) but it is only available as a $20 rental at the moment, so that’s probably off the table for now, what with everything I want to get through for my other film projects. Damn, because you know I love a western. I hope it moves to a major streaming service soon, or at least before the awards telecast, which will air on Sunday, April 25.

What are your thoughts on the nominations? Feel free to add them in the comments and stay tuned over the next few weeks for my Oscar Blitz series with more details on all the major categories.

A Century+ of Cinema: The 1910s

Tags

,

The film within a feature film goes at least as far back as Hoodoo Ann (1916), written by D.W. Griffith and directed by Lloyd Ingraham.

I think it’s safe to say that, before this project, the 1910s was probably my weakest decade in terms of exposure to the classics. Or any films at all really. Of the films that ended up on my essentials list (see my previous post on Considering the Essentials), I had only seen one of them prior to 2019—The Immigrant, a Charlie Chaplin short. So, even though many of the industry developments during this period were well known to me from my dissertation research, I had a lot to learn about the films of this decade.

But let’s start with what I knew.

To begin with, the defining characteristic of the 1910s is probably its transitional and inconsistent nature, with dramatic changes in the film medium as well as modes of production, distribution, and exhibition.

Although the first narrative features emerge in the middle of this decade,* until 1919, popular films could be anything from a one- or two-reel comedy (about 25 minutes) to grand epics of more than two hours to ten-episode serials with episodes of varying lengths. Many multi-reelers were episodic in nature and more like one-reelers strung together, for example, the grand epics Cabiria and Intolerance both have multiple narrative threads. My essentials list reflects this variety: There are eight shorts, sixteen features, and one serial. The sixteen features on my list have running times from 50 minutes to almost 200 minutes, although the majority run between 50 and 65 minutes. [Side note: For purposes of this project, I am using the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences definition of a feature, that is, a film with a running time of 40 minutes or longer.]

Production in the 1910s also experienced seismic shifts. At the beginning of the decade, French companies controlled the vast majority of film production: Before World War I, 60–70% of films imported into the U.S. were French. Gaumont was the largest studio in the world, with Louis Feuillade in charge and cranking out his popular crime serials Fantômas (1913–14), Les Vampires (1915–16), and Judex. Also in Europe, Scandinavian directors began experimenting with narrative continuity and, in 1913, Victor Sjöström directed the social drama Ingeborg Holm, which used long takes, precise compositions, and nuanced performances in what is often considered the first true narrative feature.*

The death of the family patriarch, which sets the film’s plot in motion, in Ingeborg Holm (1913), directed by Victor Sjöström.

At the beginning of the decade in the United States, production was still based in New York and New Jersey and primarily controlled by the Edison Trust. It was here that the star system emerged when Carl Laemmle revealed the identity of “the Biograph girl” (aka Florence Lawrence) to the world. While the trust’s monopoly would eventually end the European domination of the industry—with a large assist from the onset of war—it was also one reason many independent filmmakers shifted production to the West Coast. In Los Angeles, not only was there abundant sunlight and diverse geography for exteriors, but the distance from New York made it harder for the trust to exert control through patents and fees. The trust would eventually be dismantled in 1918 in the wake of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. While the Hollywood studio system wouldn’t fully develop until the 1920s, by the war’s end, Los Angeles had become the epicenter of film production and directors such as D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille had already made their mark there. More on them later.

Unsurprisingly, these production developments also affected the distribution and exhibition of films. As the United States entered the 1910s, it was the age of the nickelodeon—the first type of dedicated indoor cinema space where patrons paid a nickel for entrance. However, as longer films became the norm, people wanted more comfortable venues for watching them, leading to the death of the nickelodeon and the rise of the cinema palace. These purposely built cinemas represented a full evening’s entertainment, and it is at this point that we see the establishment of the newsreel. Longer, narrative films also led to a shift in the use of intertitles: By the mid-1910s, dialogue intertitles had begun to outnumber expository titles, and the concept of screenwriter was born.

In short, this was a turbulent but exciting time for the industry. Nevertheless, I was somewhat dreading looking at the films of this period, mostly because I didn’t really know much about them beyond The Birth of a Nation (which I have deliberately excluded from consideration as part of this project). I had seen a few Chaplin shorts, I had watched Suspense when I originally got the Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers collection out of the library, and I had made it through the first couple of episodes of Les Vampires when I did my Great Unseen project back in 2017; however, everything else was new to me.

The innovative triple split screen of Lois Weber’s Suspense (1913).

Despite the fact that I think the 1910s is likely to be one of the weakest cinema decades when all is said and done, I’m happy to say I discovered some real gems.

Favorite Feature Film: Shoes (1916) by Lois Weber. I first watched Shoes on Valentine’s Day 2020 and it was love at first sight. While ostensibly strictly a “social” film inspired by Jane Addams’s book A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil about the problems faced by underpaid working women, it is also a proto-Sex and the City that opens with our heroine crushing on a pair of shoes in a shop window. We eventually learn that our heroine wants them, not just for a fashion statement, but because she has worn out her own soles working in a five and dime. However, her family is destitute and all her earnings must go to support them. Like an O. Henry story gone very, very wrong, she eventually trades sex for the shoes. The story is great, if bleak, but this film also stands above the rest for its innovative camerawork.

In Lois Weber’s Shoes (1916), a woman crushes on a new pair of shoes she can’t afford and takes desperate action.

Favorite Director (Drama): Cecil B. DeMille. After Shoes, one of my favorite discoveries of the 1910s was DeMille’s Male and Female (1919), which quickly replaced The Cheat (1915) on my essentials list. Not that The Cheat isn’t good, it is, but I had seen a sound version of it previously and so I already knew the story. Plus, Male and Female is simply on another level, both technically and artistically. The film, which is a drama about gender relations, a satire of social class, and an adventure story all rolled into one, is based on a play by J. M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame) and stars Gloria Swanson as a spoiled aristocrat who looks down on the attentions of her butler until she finds herself and her family stranded on a deserted island with him. It is best known for an elaborate fantasy sequence about ancient Babylon. If you are an opera lover, I would also recommend DeMille’s Carmen (1915), which stars American soprano Geraldine Farrar in the title role alongside film star Wallace Reid, popularly known as “the screen’s most perfect lover.”

The Ancient Babylon sequence in Male and Female (1919), directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

Favorite Director (Comedy): Ernst Lubitsch. This wasn’t even close. I really enjoyed all three Lubitsch features that I watched for this decade. My favorite was Die Puppe (The Doll) (1919), somewhat based on the ballet Coppélia, but also Hoffmann’s short story “Der Sandmann” (later adapted into the opera Les contes d’Hoffmann). Ossi Oswalda, the star of all three Lubitsch features I watched, is incredible here as the daughter of the dollmaker who acts as “the doll” hired by the protagonist to fool his rich uncle into thinking he has gotten married. In Ich möchte kein Mann sein (I Don’t Want to Be a Man) (1918), Oswalda is an independent young woman who enjoys both playing poker and smoking (heavens!). When a new strict guardian arrives, she sneaks out on the town disguised as a young man. However, she soon discovers that her newfound freedom is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Finally, there was The Oyster Princess (1919), about a spoiled rich girl who absolutely insists her father find her a royal husband. Hijinks ensue. I didn’t like the broad comedy of this one quite as much as the other Lubitsch films, but it has an incredible foxtrot scene towards the end that is certainly worth watching.

Ossi Oswalda gets her drag on in Ich möchte kein Mann sein (I Don’t Want to Be a Man) (1918), directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Favorite Discovery: The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912) by Władysław Starewicz. I am no fan of animation, so I wondered whether I even wanted to include this Russian stop-motion animated short that uses dead insects as its protagonists, but it showed up on so many lists that I figured I’d give it a go. OMG! The detail! The drama! I’m linking to a subtitled version below since, if you’ve never seen this, you must watch it right now. It even contains the classic “movie with the movie” bit (which just goes to show you that almost nothing is truly new).

Favorite Epic: Cabiria (1914) by Giovanni Pastrone. Where to begin? Cabiria is an Italian epic set during the Punic Wars with a plot revolving around a young girl (Cabiria) who gets separated from her family during the eruption of Mount Etna and later is kidnapped and taken to Carthage, where she is destined to be sacrificed to the god Moloch. Although she will continue to reappear, the story really isn’t focused on Cabiria but rather the great historical events of the day, including the alpine trek of Hannibal, the defeat of the Roman fleet at Syracuse, and Scipio’s North African campaign. In addition to being extremely entertaining (really, the 180 minutes just fly by), it is also extremely innovative, featuring the extensive use of a moving camera, including a type of dolly tracking shot initially referred to as a “Cabiria shot.” Cabiria was the first feature film shown at the White House and was a major influence on D.W. Griffith. I had already seen Intolerance by the time I watched Cabiria, and, frankly, Cabiria blows that film out of the water.

One of the quieter moments of Cabiria (1914), when Sophonisba dreams of triple-eyed Moloch.

Favorite “Social” Film: Traffic in Souls (1913) by George Loane Tucker. This is one of the first films of the decade I actually saw since I found it looking up which silent classics were on Kanopy. As shocking as it may sound for the time, Traffic in Souls is a frank crime melodrama about forced prostitution (aka white slavery). It is also one of the first examples of a narrative feature in the U.S. Like a number of social films during this decade, it takes on the plight of the naïve immigrant and the difficulties faced by working women. Gretchen the Greenhorn (1916), which stars Dorothy Gish, is another example of this genre, though a somewhat more romantic one. Both were enjoyable despite their grim subject matter, featuring exciting chase-and-rescue sequences. Gretchen the Greenhorn also features the legendary character actor Eugene Pallette, in an early role as the villain.

Favorite Mary Pickford: The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) by Maurice Tourneur. I watched a bunch of Mary Pickford films for this project, including some of her early shorts under the direction of D.W. Griffith at Biograph, the best of which is The New York Hat (1912), from a screenplay by Anita Loos, and co-starring Lionel Barrymore. However, although Stella Maris (a 1918 film where Pickford plays the dual roles of wealthy invalid and orphan servant) is surely her acting tour de force, I have a fondness for The Poor Little Rich Girl, where she plays a fun-loving but neglected daughter of rich parents. This feature, adapted by Frances Marion from a Broadway play, was a certified box office hit. The production used forced perspective and other tricks to make it appear that the diminutive Pickford was an eleven-year-old girl. Unfortunately, the success of the film meant that Pickford got pigeon-holed in child roles for much of the rest of her career, even playing the lead in Little Annie Rooney in 1925, at the age of 33.

Mary Pickford is quite the charmer in Poor Little Rich Girl (1917), adapted by Frances Marion and directed by Maurice Tourneur.

Favorite Film That Changed the Course of Film History: Snow White (1916) by J. Searle Dawley. Snow White was another pleasant surprise. One reason I watched this was that it apparently had a major influence on Walt Disney, who saw this movie as a teen in Kansas City and recalled it as “a perfect story.” But, influence aside, I really like this version of the tale, which is based on a 1912 stage production where the witch and the evil stepmother are separate characters. Fun fact: The dwarves in this version are named Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, and Quee. Dawley also directed the earliest known screen adaptation of Frankenstein in 1910, which you can find on YouTube but I wouldn’t particularly recommend (see below).

Marguerite Clark is justifiably suspicious of her visitor in Snow White (1916), directed by J. Searle Dawley.

Favorite Film to Feature a National Park: The Dragon Painter (1919) by William Worthington. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon the existence of The Dragon Painter, but when I saw that the library had a DVD copy, I jumped on it. The story is a sort of fairy-tale about a young Japanese painter who lives in the mountains and believes his true love has been captured and turned into a dragon. A visiting surveyor sees his artwork and convinces the painter to go to Tokyo to be mentored by a celebrated artist he knows (by telling the painter that his dragon love can be found there). There, the painter falls in love with his mentor’s daughter, but loses his ability to paint. Hijinks and much melodrama ensue. The film stars Japanese acting power couple, Sessue Hayakawa and Tsuru Aoki, and was produced by Hayakawa, who had risen to fame as the star of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat. The easter egg for me was when I started the film and slowly but surely realized the painter lived in Yosemite National Park!

Sessue Hayakawa and Tsuru Aoki in The Dragon Painter (1919), positioned (appropriately enough) at Artist Point in Yosemite National Park, with Half Dome in the background.

Favorite Hero: Judex (1916) by Louis Feuillade. As I noted in my post on Considering the Essentials, I had watched the first few episodes of Feuillade’s Les Vampires (1915–16) during my The Great Unseen project, but I just couldn’t get into it at that time. However, I knew I should watch at least one of Feuillade’s serials for this decade and so chose Judex. Judex was a direct response to Feuillade’s earlier serials, which focused on criminal gangs and had been criticized for glorifying crime. With the character of Judex (Latin for judge), Feuillade essentially created a proto-Batman, a character who, in response to the death of his father, decides to make his life’s work seeking revenge on a villainous financier and his network. He has a secret identity and lair, multiple gadgets and disguises, and mad fighting skillz. Of course, along the way, he falls in love with the banker’s innocent daughter. The total length of this serial is five hours, but they really do fly by, in part because of the fantastic characters we meet along the way. My favorite was Le Môme réglisse, aka The Licorice Kid.

The Licorice Kid explains what’s what to his new friend in Judex (1916), directed by Louis Feuillade.

The Genre of the Decade: The Western

Like many genres, the western has been around since almost the beginning of film history, with Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery appearing in 1903 and The Story of the Kelly Gang, an Australian bushranger film often considered the world’s first full-length narrative feature,* appearing in 1906. [Side note: Unfortunately, only 17 minutes of the latter film are known to have survived.] About 1908 or so, the popularity of the genre exploded and, by 1910, one-reel westerns would account for 25 percent of U.S. production. Part of me actually wonders if the popularity of westerns is one reason for the industry’s move out to California, where obviously location shooting for this genre would be greatly facilitated. In any case, I love westerns, so I was happy to find so many during this period.

Though he wasn’t the first to make them, the producer most associated with the western genre is Thomas Ince. Ince leant a new authenticity to the genre, notably by bringing in Native Americans (primarily Oglala Sioux) to play Native American roles—groundbreaking! In 1912, he purchased a ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, which would become his first studio, featuring stages and elaborate sets, offices and prop houses, and even labs for printing film. Sadly, his legacy as Hollywood’s first producer and studio head has been overshadowed by his death after a trip on the yacht of William Randolph Hearst. For this project, I watched one of his early pictures, The Invaders (1912), a very serviceable cavalry western.

With the emergence of multi-reel westerns in the middle of the decade, one actor emerged as a key player: William S. Hart, often an uncredited director on his films. Even though he was almost fifty at his film debut, Hart had starred in a number of westerns on the stage. In 1915, Hart began production on Hell’s Hinges (1916), nominally directed by Charles Swickard, but helmed by both Hart and producer Ince. Hell’s Hinges was Hart’s sixth feature and one of the most famous of the early westerns (along with The Virginian, by Cecil B. DeMille). The film has a slow build, as an East Coast preacher moves out to a wild frontier town and gradually becomes corrupted by some of the locals who are plotting to get rid of him. In the meantime, one of the local gunslingers falls in love with the preacher’s sister. It all ends in a literal blaze of glory and/or hellfire, take your pick.

Hell’s Hinges was one of five westerns to make their way onto either my essentials list or my favorites list. The others were Le Railway de la mort (The Railway of Death) (1912), a dark western from France that reminded me of Frank Norris’s McTeague; ’49-’17 (1917) a light western that plays on nostalgia for the Old West (and directed by a woman who hails from my hometown!); Bucking Broadway (1917), an early John Ford western that starts off with the beautiful landscapes of the West and ends up with horses galloping through Manhattan; and Out West (1918), a two-reel western comedy directed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and co-starring Buster Keaton. I also watched Wild and Woolly (1917), another comedy, written by Anita Loos and starring Douglas Fairbanks, and The Battle of Elderbush Gilch (1913), directed by D.W. Griffith. Like many of Griffith’s films, the basic plot was good but you have to be willing to overlook the egregious racism to appreciate it. (I’m not willing.)

Hell’s Hinges, the story of a preacher and his sister who move out west to a lawless town.

Personal Highs and Lows

One of the pleasant surprises for me in this decade was the strong presence of women. To start with, there are the directors: Alice Guy-Blaché, who was head of production at Gaumont until her marriage and founded her own studio in the U.S. in 1912; Lois Weber, who by the middle of the decade was Universal’s highest-paid director; and Mabel Normand, who was the first to direct Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character. Additionally, about half of all films written before 1925 were written by women. In fact, from 1915 to 1935, Frances Marion, who had been discovered by Lois Weber, was the highest paid screenwriter of all, eventually winning two Oscars in the 1930s (The Big House, The Champ). Finally, in a field that would long be dominated by women, there was editing. Perhaps the best known editor of the period is Margaret Booth, the editor for D.W. Griffith.

I like to direct, because I believe a woman, more or less intuitively, brings out many of the emotions that are rarely expressed on the screen. I may miss what some of the men get, but I will get other effects that they never thought of.

—Lois Weber (Lois Weber in Early Hollywood, p. 72)

Speaking of Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin, I watched a lot of comedy shorts for this decade, many coming out of Keystone Productions, where both Normand and Chaplin got their start under Mack Sennett. I also watched some early Harold Lloyd shorts directed by Hal Roach. I have to say, not being a huge vaudeville/slapstick fan, I don’t really “love” any of these, but, if that is your sort of thing, I think you would like most any of the following: Mabel’s Dramatic Career, Mabel’s Blunder, Mabel’s Busy Day, The New Janitor, Dough & Dynamite, Mabel and Fatty’s Wash Day, One A.M., The Rink, A Dog’s Life, Bumping into Broadway.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Mack Sennett argue while watching Mabel Normand onscreen in Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913), a short directed by Mack Sennett.

And, at long last, we get to D.W. Griffith. I haven’t said much about him here because, frankly, I didn’t really like most of his features in this decade. I tried to watch The Birth of a Nation but turned it off after about fifteen or twenty minutes because I found it so utterly boring that I thought, “Why stick it out just to get to the super racist parts?” Broken Blossoms is a powerful story with some fantastic acting by Lillian Gish, but also incredibly racist and disturbingly violent. Intolerance is a tremendous spectacle but I don’t think it holds a candle to Cabiria. In fact, given that he didn’t actually invent the many things he gave himself credit for (close-ups, cross-cutting, etc.) and that others mistakenly credit to him as “firsts” even to this day, I even considered removing him from the essentials list altogether; however, I didn’t think I would quite get away with that. And I would recommend some of his shorts, including The Girl and Her Trust, The Musketeers of Pig Alley, and The New York Hat. In any case, we will be talking about Griffith again for the 1920s.

Mary Pickford, with co-star Lionel Barrymore, admires a hat in a shop window in The New York Hat, directed by D.W. Griffith.

Finally, a few adaptations that I was looking forward to but ultimately missed the mark. Oddly enough, these films were all released in 1910. They are all about a dozen minutes long.

As noted above, J. Searle Dawley, the director of Snow White, directed the earliest known Frankenstein. Like another adaptation of his the same year, A Christmas Carol, I could follow the story, but only because I knew it, and there were a lot of missed opportunities. In both, however, he was able to do interesting things with effects. Still, I thought R.W. Paul’s Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901), which is the first known use of intertitles, did a much better job at condensing Dickens in half the time. In a similar way, Edwin S. Porter’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fun version of the Lewis Carroll story with great effects, but it really could have used better intertitles to tell the story for those unfamiliar with it. Lastly, if you want to see some truly bizarre sh*t, check out The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Otis Turner. This is the first surviving film of the Oz story and the story is surreal: the scarecrow is alive from the beginning in Kansas, Toto is a big puppet dog (and there’s also a cow and a mule for some reason), everyone line dances at one point, and the finale features an appearance by the unionized women workers of Emerald City.

Alice at the end of the trial of the Knave of Hearts, just before she wakes up from her dream in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1910), directed by Edwin S. Porter.

Additional Resources

In addition to the resources listed in my original post on the subject back in January 2020, for this period of cinema history, I highly recommend the documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time, currently streaming on both The Criterion Channel and Kanopy. The documentary tells the tale of the discovery in the 1970s of a treasure trove of silent films buried in the permafrost of the Yukon Territory and explains how and why they got there.

For podcast lovers, check out Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcast. In 2018, she did a whole series on fact-checking Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, which included episodes on D.W. Griffith, Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, and Thomas Ince.

For more on Lois Weber, see Shelley Stamp, Lois Weber in Early Hollywood (UC Press, 2015).

Finally, a boxed set that didn’t make my original post: Lubitsch in Berlin by Kino Lorber. This includes seven early Lubitsch features, including the three I discuss above.

Essential Films of the 1910s
Afgrunden (The Abyss) (Gad, 1910)
The Cameraman’s Revenge (Starewicz, 1912)
A Fool and His Money (Guy-Blaché, 1912)
Le Railway de la mort (The Railway of Death) (Durand, 1912)
Ingeborg Holm (Sjöström, 1913)
Suspense (Weber/Smalley, 1913)
Traffic in Souls (Tucker, 1913)
Cabiria (Pastrone, 1914)
Mabel’s Blunder (Normand, 1914)
Hell’s Hinges (Smith/Hart/Swickard, 1916)
Intolerance (Griffith, 1916)
Judex (Feuillade, 1916)
Shoes (Weber, 1916)
Snow White (Dawley, 1916)
Bucking Broadway (Ford, 1917)
The Immigrant (Chaplin, 1917)
The Poor Little Rich Girl (Tourneur, 1917)
Terje Vigen (A Man There Was) (Sjöström, 1917)
Out West (Arbuckle, 1918)
Stella Maris (Neilan, 1918)
La Cigarette (The Cigarette) (Dulac, 1919)
The Dragon Painter (Worthington, 1919)
J’accuse (I Accuse) (Gance, 1919)
Male and Female (DeMille, 1919)
Die Puppe (The Doll) (Lubitsch, 1919)

For those that took up my Century+ challenge oh so long ago, did you manage to see anything on my essentials list? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

For previous posts in this Century+ series, click below:
Film 101—A Century+ Silent Film Resources
A Century+ of Cinema: The Early Silents, 1895–1909
A Century+ of Cinema: Considering the Essentials

For my film lists, click below:
A Century+: The Essentials
A Century+: Female Filmmakers
A Century+: Westerns
A Century+: Silent Films
Movies of the Decade: 1910-1919

*The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) is considered the world’s first full-length narrative feature. Said to have an original running time of 70 minutes, only 17 minutes are known to survive. Therefore, it is hard to know if it is truly a narrative feature. Otherwise, I have found no mention of any other films of this length until the 1910s.

Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.

A Century+ of Cinema: Considering the Essentials

Tags

,

Contemplating the essentials in Bucking Broadway (1917), by John Ford.

It’s true! At long last I am getting back to my Century+ project. This past January, I managed to catch all the “essential” films I had planned on watching for the 1910s and I’m ready to state whether or not they are indeed essential. [SPOILER ALERT: #NotAllEssentials]

Before we get to my overview of the decade, however, I wanted to spend a minute or two considering the very idea of essentials. One reason for the delay in posting about my “January” films is that I went back and forth on whether my final essentials list for each decade should remain at twenty-five selections or not. I thought having a list of three hundred films was rather unwieldy—and it certainly is in some ways—so I initially decided that, as I went through the year, I would cut each decade’s list down to ten films, for a final total of 125 films, or approximately one film for each year of cinema history.

This was fairly easy for the first couple of decades, however, once I started thinking about what I would do for the 1920s, I realized that cutting down the lists like this would somewhat defeat one of my main purposes in undertaking this Century+ survey, that is, coming up with a more diverse list of essentials than one usually finds out in the wild (Sight & Sound, I’m looking at you). Of course, just by spreading the films out over the entirety of cinema history there would be selections you don’t usually find on these lists,* but, in cutting the number so drastically, it was going to be difficult to include the wider array of films I had planned on.

At the same time, as I started to finalize my list for the 1910s, and think about the one for the 1920s, I realized I was constantly wanting to include personal favorites. Sort of how favorite films always sneak into my Oscar Pool selections, even if I know they don’t realistically have a chance of winning. I just can’t bear to leave a movie I loved out of the running. This problem became more acute when paring the lists down even further.

Of course, this is a problem for any “best of” cinema list: Do I take into consideration the enjoyment a film might provide me (or anyone else), or do I only consider its “importance” or “quality” (however I decide that might be judged)? Both aspects seem important since another purpose of this project is to emerge from it with ready answers to questions like “What are the top five films of the 1950s?” or “What are your three favorite westerns?”

In the end, I decided to keep my essentials list at twenty-five films per decade, for a total of three hundred, and I also created a new series of lists, one for each decade starting with the 1910s. These decade lists will rank my twenty-five favorite films of the decade, whether they are deemed “essential” or not. You can find links to each list in progress on my main essentials list. [Side note: I also have an ongoing ranked list of silent films that covers every feature of the silent era that I have watched in the last five years.]

So, the basic plan for each decade is to make a list of twenty-five films that are seen as canon, watch them if I haven’t, and decide whether or not I agree. At the same time, I have a number of additional films I will try to get to if I can, and I will consider whether or not they (or anything else I have already seen) deserve to supplant what is on the canonical list. The twenty-five films that best represent the decade in cinema will go on the final essentials list and my twenty-five favorites will go on a separate ranked decade list.

Let’s see exactly what that means when it comes to the 1910s.

Contemplating the essentials in The Immigrant (1917), by Charlie Chaplin.

My original list of essentials was as follows:

Afgrunden (The Abyss) (Gad, 1910)
L’Inferno (Dante’s Inferno) (Bertolini, 1911)
À la conquête du pôle (The Conquest of the Pole) (Méliès, 1912)
The Cameraman’s Revenge (Starewicz, 1912)
Ingeborg Holm (Sjöström, 1913)
Suspense (Weber/Smalley, 1913)
Traffic in Souls (Tucker, 1913)
Cabiria (Pastrone, 1914)
The Cheat (DeMille, 1915)
A Fool There Was (Powell, 1915)
Les Vampires (Feuillade, 1915)
Hell’s Hinges (Smith/Hart/Swickard, 1916)
Intolerance (Griffith, 1916)
The Ocean Waif (Guy-Blaché, 1916)
One A.M. (Chaplin, 1916)
Shoes (Weber, 1916)
Snow White (Dawley, 1916)
Where Are My Children? (Weber/Smalley, 1916)
Terje Vigen (A Man There Was) (Sjöström, 1917)
The Poor Little Rich Girl (Tourneur, 1917)
Stella Maris (Neilan, 1918)
La Cigarette (The Cigarette) (Dulac, 1919)
J’accuse (I Accuse) (Gance, 1919)
Die Puppe (The Doll) (Lubitsch, 1919)
Die Austernprinzessin (The Oyster Princess) (Lubitsch, 1919)

Some of these titles were mentioned in my film books (though I have very little on silent film), others I came across doing further research, and still others were added after watching the first segment of The Story of Film. Some were added simply because I knew I would be able to watch them in the boxed sets I took out of the library and mentioned in my resources post. All in all, I think it was a good list to start with. However, as I watched, it was clear I would need to make some alterations to it.

In the first place, I switched out Les Vampires (which I just couldn’t get into) for Judex (1916), another multi-episode crime serial by Louis Feuillade. Judex is lesser known, but I had read good things about it and, in fact, ended up liking it enormously. Otherwise, I watched all the films on the original list.

A few of these films came off the list immediately after watching them because I really, really didn’t like them and they weren’t innovative enough to keep despite that. These are L’Inferno (Dante’s Inferno), A Fool There Was, and Where Are My Children? [Side note: It’s a real shame that most of Theda Bara’s films are considered lost, because I did like her “vamp” character in A Fool There Was, I just didn’t like the film itself. Like many silent film fans, I would love to see her Cleopatra.]

A few other films got replaced by better examples of the directors in question. DeMille’s The Cheat made way for his Male and Female (1919), Chaplin’s One A.M. got bumped for The Immigrant (1917), and Alice Guy-Blaché’s A Fool and His Money (1912) replaced The Ocean Waif. In the two former cases, I not only preferred the final selections but thought they had more to say overall. In the latter case, it was simply a question of historical importance: A Fool and His Money is the oldest known film with an all-Black cast. Ever the pioneer, our Alice.

Other films I came across that I decided had to be added were Le Railway de la mort (The Railway of Death) (1912), a bleak French western short shot in the Camargue; Mabel’s Blunder (1914), a gender-bending comic short directed by former Gibson Girl turned comedienne turned Keystone director Mabel Normand; Bucking Broadway (1917), an early John Ford western that features a finale with horses galloping through New York City; Out West (1918), a very fun, smart send-up of westerns starring Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle; and The Dragon Painter (1918), a Hollywood motion picture partly filmed in Yosemite, but set in Japan and starring the Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa, who also produced the film. These new additions unfortunately also meant knocking À la conquête du pôle (The Conquest of the Pole) and Die Austernprinzessin (The Oyster Princess) off the original list.

Contemplating the essentials in J’Accuse (1919), by Abel Gance.

Here is my final chronological list of essentials for the 1910s:

Afgrunden (The Abyss) (Gad, 1910)
The Cameraman’s Revenge (Starewicz, 1912)
A Fool and His Money (Guy-Blaché, 1912)
Le Railway de la mort (The Railway of Death) (Durand, 1912)
Ingeborg Holm (Sjöström, 1913)
Suspense (Weber/Smalley, 1913)
Traffic in Souls (Tucker, 1913)
Cabiria (Pastrone, 1914)
Mabel’s Blunder (Normand, 1914)
Hell’s Hinges (Smith/Hart/Swickard, 1916)
Intolerance (Griffith, 1916)
Judex (Feuillade, 1916)
Shoes (Weber, 1916)
Snow White (Dawley, 1916)
Bucking Broadway (Ford, 1917)
The Immigrant (Chaplin, 1917)
The Poor Little Rich Girl (Tourneur, 1917)
Terje Vigen (A Man There Was) (Sjöström, 1917)
Out West (Arbuckle, 1918)
Stella Maris (Neilan, 1918)
La Cigarette (The Cigarette) (Dulac, 1919)
The Dragon Painter (Worthington, 1919)
J’accuse (I Accuse) (Gance, 1919)
Male and Female (DeMille, 1919)
Die Puppe (The Doll) (Lubitsch, 1919)

And here is my ranked list of twenty-five favorites for the 1910s:

The Cameraman’s Revenge (Starewicz, 1912)
Die Puppe (The Doll) (Lubitsch, 1919)
Shoes (Weber, 1916)
Judex (Feuillade, 1916)
Male and Female (DeMille, 1919)
The Dragon Painter (Worthington, 1919)
Snow White (Dawley, 1916)
Traffic in Souls (Tucker, 1913)
Cabiria (Pastrone, 1914)
’49-’17 (Baldwin, 1917)
La Cigarette (The Cigarette) (Dulac, 1919)
Stella Maris (Neilan, 1918)
Gretchen the Greenhorn (C. Franklin/S. Franklin, 1916)
Hell’s Hinges (Smith/Hart/Swickard, 1916)
The New York Hat (Griffith, 1912)
Out West (Arbuckle, 1918)
The Broken Butterfly (Tourneur, 1919)
The Poor Little Rich Girl (Tourneur, 1917)
Hoodoo Ann (Ingraham, 1916)
When the Clouds Roll By (Fleming, 1919)
Ich möchte kein Mann sein (I Don’t Want to Be a Man) (Lubitsch, 1918)
Bucking Broadway (Ford, 1917)
The Ocean Waif (Guy-Blaché, 1916)
Carmen (DeMille, 1915)
Fanchon the Cricket (Kirkwood, 1915)

To read more of my thoughts on the cinema of the 1910s, see A Century+ of Cinema: The 1910s.

To see my revised list of potential essentials for the 1920s (i.e., viewing for this month), read on.

Contemplating the essentials in Shoes, by Lois Weber.

In light of the above, I will be revising each decade’s original list of selections as I move on to focus on that decade.

For the 1920s, I will be considering the following as “canon” to start with:

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Weine, 1920)
Way Down East (Griffith, 1920)
Häxan (Christensen, 1922)
Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922)
Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922)
Safety Last! (Newmeyer & Taylor, 1923)
Greed (Stroheim, 1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (Walsh, 1924)
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Niblo & Brabin, 1925)
The Big Parade (Vidor, 1925)
Body and Soul (Micheaux, 1925)
Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) (Eisenstein, 1925)
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
Lady Windermere’s Fan (Lubitsch, 1925)
Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed)
   (Reiniger, 1926)
The General (Keaton, 1926)
Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg) (Pudovkin, 1927)
Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (Napoléon) (Gance, 1927)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
Wings (Wellman, 1927)
La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) (Dulac, 1928)
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (Dreyer, 1928)
Chelovek s kino-apparatom (The Man with a Movie Camera) (Vertov, 1929)
Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (Buñuel, 1929)

Again, these are the films that I have determined are considered “canon” for the decade, based on film books, major critical lists such as the Sight & Sound 250 and the AFI Top 100, and other research.

Tune in at the end of the month to see what makes my final lists!

Contemplating the essentials in Lady Windermere’s Fan, by Ernst Lubitsch.

For previous posts in this Century+ series, click below:
Film 101—A Century+ Silent Film Resources
A Century+ of Cinema: The Early Silents, 1895–1909

For my film lists, click below:
A Century+: The Essentials
A Century+: Female Filmmakers
A Century+: Silent Films
Movies of the Decade: 1910-1919

*There are only four silent movies on the AFI list and only twenty-one on the Sight & Sound 250, and of course, the Oscars only start up just at the end of the silent period.