• Film

    The Cameraman

    The Cameraman is a movie about doing stupid things for love. About the smell of a woman’s hair, and measuring the distance from her house to yours. That stubborn way the world tries to keep you apart, and the little tricks that you use to keep the two of you together. It’s also one of the funniest movies ever made. Buster Keaton was another one of those 1920s actors who could perform physically in a way that was mostly lost after the transition to talkies. His stunts tend to be considerably more acrobatic (and dangerous) than other comedians of the time. Never turn down a chance to see Buster Keaton…

  • Film

    Erotikon

    In one climactic scene of Erotikon, a woman is shocked, SHOCKED, to find out that a man thinks that she is having an affair. Of course she wants to be having an affair, with him, but no such thing has happened yet. Her husband, for his part, is in love with his niece (it’s the times), or at very least her cooking. These two questionable love affairs make up what has to be one of the more charming romantic comedies that was ever made. And perhaps the first to ask the eternal question “what the hell is wrong with the sex life of Swedish people.” The film is notable for its overlapping…

  • Film

    The Docks of New York

    The crowds are overflowing at the bar. They seem to be in a constant state of riot. Or is that dancing? Either way, the man pushes them aside, sometimes violently, without thought, as he approaches his date. She raises her head. Curious and kind of sad. The Docks of New York has little more plot than this. It’s the story of an uncertain one-day romance between a suicidal good time girl, and a brutish sailor who stopped her from drowning herself. It was by far my favorite film of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The way George Bancroft treads through the water-like flow of human bodies in the bar…

  • Film

    South

    Britain’s attempts to explore Antartica during the first part of the 20th century, included some of the more epic failures of human endeavor, and, luckily for us, some of the best recorded. Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to cross the continent from one side to another failed to even reach the continent he was trying to cross. Somehow, the entire crew survived nearly two years in isolation, most of the time sitting on floating pack ice. And they had a filmmaker with them. Much of the appeal of early documentaries, such as this one, or the work of Robert Flaherty, is the ability to see things which simply can no longer be…

  • Film

    The Canadian

    Orphaned, and sent to live with relatives in the farm country of Canada, Nora is trapped. She does not know how to survive on a farm. She is not welcome with her relative’s wife, and she cannot return to the world she knows. To escape her relatives household she sets up a sham marriage with a tenant farmer, where he gets someone to cook and clean for him, and she can be more or less alone. The rest of The Candian (1926) is about those two people getting used to each other. The conflict between these two characters, and the director’s masterful use of space, really makes this film a…

  • Film

    The Spanish Dancer

    The Spanish Dancer is a 1923 film starring Pola Negri, Anthony Moreno and Wallace Beery. It only existed in fragmented form until a reconstruction in 2011 brought together several disperate, and sometimes unknown segments. It showed up at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival as part of its roadshow. The movie can be extremely funny at times, particularly Moreno’s execution scene, where everyone is drunk and hilarity ensues. But the more impressive parts were the larger set pieces involving Negri. The way Negri commands her companions to dance with a wave of her arm while she tells Moreno’s fortune, or how she runs through the crowds at carnivale escaping Beery’s…

  • Film

    Felix the Cat

    Felix has to be seen to be believed: My favorite thing about Felix’s 1920s cartoons is that he operates by a straight forward and immediately logic, that is completely different from what we in the real world usually call logic. Partially that’s “Cat logic” (lets go on a date at the back fence), partially that’s cartoon logic (lets use my tail as a gocart), and it all makes a whole lot of sense despite not resembling human logic in any shape or form. The cartoons are also quite adult at times, as seen in the one above. The six shorts shown at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival had slightly…

  • Film

    The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna

    The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna is a 1929 Brigitte Helm film, which has a very very similar plot to Camille (except without tuberculosis). Brigitte Helm is a fun actress. She is best known for her performance as the robot in Metropolis, as well as a number of G.W. Pabst films, and the notable 1928 film L’argent, where she played a seductress who acted an awful lot like the robot in Metropolis. She has a very physical acting style, which makes good use of her long body. Though this film was more restrained than L’argent and Metropolis, there are a few scenes where she bends backwards over furniture while backing away in a…

  • Film

    Mantrap

    The first time I saw a picture of Clara Bow was in my history textbook junior year of high school. She had a two page spread as a representative of the Jazz Age. She was by far the most popular screen star of the era, and her films freely used her sexuality and the attention given to her sexuality, to discuss the changing role of women, and the rapidly changing structure of society. But none of this matters as much as the sheer energy she puts into her performances. You can (and should) see an example here. It is this sort of giddy, nearly frantic, performance, that brings up images…

  • Film

    The Loves of Pharaoh

    The Loves of Pharaoh is a 1922 German spectacle film, about a cruel ruler who falls in love and loses his Kingdom. The film features really quite impressive sets, large well managed crowds, and an ever charismatic Emil Jannings. Which easily helps you overlook the plot holes you can drive a truck through. Emil Janning really carries away the whole film. Particularly towards the very end, when he is begging for death, or grasping towards his throne. His operatic performance style is quite fitting for the story (the plot is similar to Aida), and shows off some of the very interesting things that could be done with silent film that would…