• Film

    Hometown, Kenji Mizoguchi

    Her heart is slightly broken, with tears on her disheveled face as her man walks out the door. The camera pulls out, only to cut back in, unable to leave her crying. Hometown, Kenji Mizoguchi’s first sound film (it was actually about half silent), involved a lot of fancy camerawork in search of a plot. The story was about a man who gave up his art and his wife in search of fame and fortune. It was unclear how being a famous singer was getting in the way of his singing, but it was quite clear how his rich patroness was getting in the way of his home life. He eventually…

  • Film

    Underworld (1927)

    The beast is sleeping. Passed out from too much booze and too good a time. The gangster’s ball is over, and all that is left is him passed out on a table, and his woman about to be assaulted by the man’s enemy. He is warned of the danger. Shook. He is still sleeping, or in a stupor. He slowly raises his eyes, aware of the danger, aware of the alcohol poisoning his system, aware that his body cannot move like it should. He is awakened, he screams. He grabs at himself, trying to force himself out of the chair. Staggering through a hallway filled with confetti up to his…

  • Film

    Dancing Mothers

    With her husband cheating on her, and her daughter, Clara Bow, going to speakeasys in adorable outfits, what is sexy 30-something Alice Joyce to do, but pretend to be French, seduce the man trying to seduce her daughter, and then leave her husband and the man she seduced for the great unknown. Yes, that’s right. Clara Bow wears cute outfits. There’s also an underground speakeasy, that somehow looks like a lifesized pirate ship: Which leads one to ask. Why isn’t life really like this? P.S. Alice Joyce is also pretty cute, especially when she’s pretending to be French. P.P.S. I saw this at the Niles Film Museum

  • 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

    The Mark of Zorro

    Zorro needs no introduction. Though Douglas Fairbanks, the first Zorro, might. The Mark of Zorro was made in 1920, one year after the publication of The Curse of Capistrano, the original short story from which it was based. Douglas Fairbanks was at that time one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood. He made the move from Vaudeville to film in 1915, with a series of comedies that highlighted his acrobatics and athleticism. While his comedies stood out for his upbeat humor and unrestrained athleticism (he enjoyed jumping through windows), they were, in the end, fairly generic 1910s comedies.  It was only with the Mark of Zorro, and the series of…

  • 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 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…