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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.