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A Journey Through My Collection: 1920's

I never thought I would be this guy, but I have a tendency to make new year’s resolutions. The first was in 2010 when I resolved to write about every movie I saw, something that lasted quite a while, until I started law school and was no longer in the mood for extra curricular writing. So, in 2016 I got back into it, and it really took off. A few years later I added a couple of other monthly blogs, and I realized that it is a good excuse to start some positive habit building.

Last year I noticed my decent sized Blu-ray/DVD collection was 8-9 movies short of having a representative from every year from the last 100 years. I pretty quickly filled in those gaps with some classics from the '20's and '30's. I have also been trying to make sure I rewatch every movie in my collection, so this year I resolved to watch one movie in my collection from each year going back to 1923. These aren't the best or even my favorite movies from these years, but a fun survey of my tastes and what I find to be worth holding on to. Up first is one of those movies I bought to fill in the gaps and the representative from 1923, Safety Last.

Considering that this will be at least a 101 movie project and I intend on writing a little extra per review, it’s only fair to post in installments. The first thought for a post was to bunch all of the silent films together and it just so happens that I don’t have any “talkies” before 1930 and I don’t have any silent era films after 1929. There is only about a year gap from the first talkie to the first talkie in color. That’s one of my favorite useless movie facts that I keep in my back pocket. I just don’t have any color films planned until the 1950’s.

Safety Last (1923)

I'm not exactly a Harold Loyd die hard, and I'm not sure I'm a die hard for any silent filmmaker, but this is pretty fun. I loved that this was the 1923 Criterion release that jumped out at me. I'm a little reluctant with silent comedies, but I like that Harold Lloyd is "the other" silent star. As a Criterion, this has what I want, commentaries, extras, and a good score to silent film. They really do silent films right with incredible instrumentation that doesn't fall into repetition or one piano theme. It blows my mind that one of the scholars on the commentary befriended Lloyd and talked to him about his films. A hundred years (or 101) can seem like it was the stone ages, but it really isn't an untouchable time to have good recollections even at one degree of separation.

The Olympic Games Held at Chamonix (1924)

While going through my collection and looking for a film from 1924, the choice was easy. This is the only one I got. That is a bit of a cop out, one of my favorite films from the 100 Years of Olympic Films Criterion box set is The Olympic Games in Paris 1924, which happens to have been released in 1925, but is directed by the same person, Jean de Rovera. It's a pretty fascinating mystery to think of this filmmaker whose only three directing credits are all in this box set, all shot in the same year. Both films are shot shockingly well. Beautiful framing of every shot, sometimes leaving another filmmaker in frame with action in the background, showing the process of capturing a bobsleigh on film with 100 year old techniques. And those techniques are surprisingly well done, there are a few slow-motion shots that are incredibly impressive, keeping action in frame and capturing amazing action. Often that action includes a competitor breaking both of his legs in a bobsled or ski jump. The action is great, but the spectators are sprinkled across the frame, every shot in crystal clear view. I love the music that Criterion has placed in these films, they're wonderful to listen to on their own. The only things holding back my rating of this are that it is rather short for an Olympic film, even the silent ones, and the Paris 1924 film is so amazing that a comparison is only disadvantageous for this.

The Freshman (1925)

I feel like this kinda treads water by today's standards of pacing and number of jokes per minute, until the football game, but that game is especially incredible. It does leave me scratching my head as to the rules of football at the time, I believe it’s way before the forward pass, but tackling and downs are a complete mystery in this context. I wonder if few enough people had seen football either in real life or on screen they there was a strong sense to fudge the rules to fit the jokes. I love the high tracking shots, this film is amazing for the movement of the scene. The little shaking of the camera from the wheels gives a realistic feel to the slapstick comedy that works oddly well.

3 Bad Men (1926)

There's a special joy of a quiet night to myself with a western. This is as early of a John Ford movie as I am willing to watch and it is riddled with questionable 1920's fucked-up-ed-ness. We've got casual use of at least one hard racial slur as well as an actual baby put in danger for a shot of a stampede. And yet, it's a John Ford film, and it's these early films that inspired Kurosawa before becoming a director. This is a massively scaled western, and still fairly entertaining.

Metropolis (1927)

It's kinda surprising that to get a physical copy of this I had to hunt down an extended version on DVD from Kino Lorber. You would think that even the classics that are more than 90 years old... and silent, would be available from multiple cables on multiple formats thanks to public domain. Metropolis is an excellent dystopian tale with incredible imagery, and I have a 20+ year history of falling asleep while watching it. At least this time I didn't doze off, but I did get a little lost thanks to the antiquated vernacular of the intertitles. Regardless, this was a joy to take in, so many images are breathtaking and the world that was created is so monumental. Now to get into the special features, although I would kill for a commentary track. There must be at least one film studies professor for every University in the country that could go on and on about it. Every film studies survey course has to start somewhere.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

It's just crazy how captivating this very simple movie still is, and as a silent film it somehow manages to capture the old Nirvana mantra of quiet/loud. For almost all of the movie we just have faces and white walls and dialogue purely in text. But, the climax surges with explosive shock as we see Joan burn at the stake under the back drop of chaos, and extreme camera angles. This Criterion release is wonderful for the multiple musical tracks and a great commentary as well.

Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

I've never been one to get much out of Sergei Eisenstein films so it's only fitting that this silent Soviet film from another director would so easily catch my attention for the last few decades, as unsubtle as it is. Beautifully shot with it's own set of special effects for a "documentary," it's only fitting that it has its own genre, "A City Symphony." One funny thing noticed on this viewing is that even in the 1920's, for as serious an art film as this is, it leans pretty hard into the male gaze. While it has scenes of homelessness and factory workers, this also takes some time to watch a woman put on a bra or another sunbathing as the camera lingers.

Final Thoughts

So far, so good! The silent era was bound to be the roughest time period of the last 100 years. Thankfully, I have been pretty picky with my collection, even if it is getting close to a thousand movies, and I have a short leash for boring movies. While I’m not crazy for silent comedies, and I don’t like long title card breaks, the Criterion Olympic box set has some great options, and other Criterion or Kino releases have had good prints and sometimes updates scores. 

Up next!

The 1930’s: All Quiet on the Western Front, Frankenstein, A Farewell to Arms, King Kong, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Bride of Frankenstein, Things to Come, Grand Illusion, The Lady Vanishes, Destry Rides Again.


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