My Favorite Movies: 1922/1923



  • Rules of my favorite movies blog:

    1. All entries must be one-hundred words or less in length
    2. Entries are to be ranked in a descending order.
    3. Every year, save for 1915-1919 must be a top 10.
    4. Honorable mentions may be included, but they must be less than or equal to fifty words in length.

    Previous Entries:

    •1915 - 1919
    •1920/1921

    A short disclaimer:

    These lists aren't some be-all-end-all. There are obviously a lot of films that I've missed, but I have spent and continue to spend a good amount of effort seeing the really notable stuff from any given year if it is possible for me. These lists are just the opinions of someone who has spent a little too much time watching movies.

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    10. The Electric House (Keaton/Cline)

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    Buster gets the wrong degree, that of an electrical engineer, and is contracted to outfit a mansion with all sorts of fancy gizmos. As always with Keaton, these contraptions are a wonderful blend of the ingenious and the moronic. Comedic setpieces include escalator shenanigans, a mechanized pool table, and a really fantastic kitchen sequence, where the serving of a meal is haphazardly presented by technology. It does devolve a little into Buster getting chased about, but as a work of physical and mechanical movement it deserves to be seen.

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    9. The Frozen North (Keaton/Cline)

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    Keaton's nastiest, most cynical film; a spoof of early western icon William S. Hart's work as payback for Hart's own infamy and his speaking out against Buster's good friend Fatty Arbuckle. Buster plays a low-down gunslinger who arrives in Alaska and stirs up trouble. Keaton is despicable in this one, robbing and killing innocents, the humor instead coming from his ineptitude and the film's context as a mean-spirited lampooning of another actor. Keaton also impersonates Von Stroheim in one sequence, though in a more celebratory light. It's out of character, but still very funny.

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    8. Phantom (Murnau)

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    One of the great directors of the next ten years arrives with a really unique psychological drama. Like some other German works of the time, this one is about a man driven to obsession by his fascination with a woman. Where Phantom achieves success (over films like Backstairs, for example) is in its more empathetic portrait, and its restrained and poetic use of expressionistic visuals. Murnau isn't afraid to let things simmer, with the first half playing as a pretty standard drama which slowly falls apart, like its lead character.

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    7. The Three Must-Get-There (Linder)

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    A Three Musketeers spoof by Max Linder (with a farce of a title no less), which unfortunately doesn't exist in its complete form anymore. It can be a little tough to get the full story, but its scattered nature only seems to help its wackiness. Linder employs a number of really inventive devices here (anachronism being my favorite), but I dig this film just for how acrobatic and charismatic Linder himself is as a musketeer. There's exactly the sort of stunt work and excitement you would expect in a musketeer picture---it's all just a great deal sillier.

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    6. Nanook of the North (Flaherty)

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    Robert Flaherty's pioneering docu-something about an Inuit family in Northern Canada. It's considered an important work of documentary, but doesn't faithfully portray the Inuit people, with a number of scenes that are either dramatized or altered to accommodate a camera. Watching the sequence wherein an entire family piles into a kayak seems especially dubious today. It only half-works as a documentary, but its other half becomes something else: both a cautionary tale of perceived cinematic truth, and also a look into the dominating will of white curiosity.

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    5. Cops (Keaton/Cline)

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    A contrived but beautifully executed Keaton film, which starts with Buster (in a very funny sight gag), being told by a love interest that she is not interested in him unless he becomes a business man. Buster then swindles money from a cop, inadvertently steals a family's possessions, and is mistaken for a bomber in a terrorist attack. Cops moves from one prolonged sequence of mechanical ingenuity to another (which is to be expected with Buster). Less expected are the sequences of crowd direction, which are beautifully timed and executed. It isn't narratively rigorous, but it's damn entertaining.

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    4. Foolish Wives (Von Stroheim)

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    One of the most opulent and infamous films ever made, and for the time, the most expensive. Erich Von Stroheim's butchered classic covers similar ground as his previous Blind Husbands: he plays a maniacal bourgeois adulturer fixated on a married woman at a vacation spot (this time it's a gloriously recreated Monte Carlo). Von Stroheim's character is even more despicable and fiendishly charming, and the film more lavish and excessive. It's hurt a bit by its edit, which was taken out of Von Stroheim's hands. Regardless, it's still a devilishly entertaining and beguiling watch. One of his best.

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    3. The Paleface (Keaton/Cline)

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    A group of Native Americans are about to be kicked off their land by an oil company. In anger, they decide to kill the first white man who trespasses onto their property. Of course it's Buster, as a hapless bug-catcher. They decide to burn Buster at the stake. And they do, though he survives through some contrived use of asbestos, and is made an honorable chief who takes up their cause. Though it relies on stereotypes, I find it pretty earnest and sympathetic towards Natives, especially for its time. Uncharacteristic, but more impressive because of it.

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    2. Nosferatu (Murnau)

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    German director F.W. Murnau's early opus, a film equally beautiful and terrifying, and a film I don't think could be made more effectively in the sound era. There's a mystical quality to the film, perhaps because of the frequent shadowplay and visual trickery, that makes it feel like it comes from another world. Nosferatu himself is a stunning character visually, and one of the best movie monsters; stiff and frail, but able to move in surprising and scary ways. It isn't just one of the great films, but one that's still able to cast a spell on its audience.

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    1. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (Lang)

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    Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece, a two-part gothic crime saga set in Berlin about a multi-talented, devious mastermind criminal. It's undoubtedly influenced by the work of Louis Feuillade, but takes on a much different flavor due to Lang's directorial talents and his dark, gloomy interpretation of Berlin. Mabuse, the crime lord in question, is a master of disguise, a practitioner of hypnosis, and a gambler as well, which all leads to some great cat-and-mouse storytelling, but also a sense of wrath and inescapability. Mabuse is more than a person, he's a portrait of Weimar Germany, as unavoidable as reality itself.

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    10. The Pilgrim (Chaplin)

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    Not one of Chaplin's best films, but one that seems to have gone without much mention. Part of that can be blamed on its length (at under 50 minutes), the other part can be blamed on it being sandwiched between more successful films about The Tramp. This one has Chaplin playing an escaped convict who masquerades as a minister and is welcomed into a Christian household. Trouble ensues when a former acquaintance recognizes him. It features the sweetness and choreography one would expect from Chaplin, but also a very smart and humorous ending that elevates it onto my list.

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    9. Rhythm 23 (Richter)

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    Hans Richter's Rhythm series in the early 20's is considered by some to be the earliest of all abstract film, so I thought I would pick my favorite of the series for this list. The Rhythm series mostly consists of appearing and disappearing quadrilateral shapes, usually by growing and shrinking. Rhythm 23 features more varied shapes that overlap and interact in more complex ways, and almost imply a structure beyond themselves---which can only remind the viewer that simple forms like these comprise pretty much all that we experience.

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    8. Mysteries of a Hairdresser's Shop (Brecht/Engel)

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    A theatrical, experimental short film from stage legend Bertolt Brecht. The audience-performer relationship isn't investigated here, but rather Brecht's unique brand of genre absurdity. It's a situational comedy about a wacky barber which shifts tone and world plausibility drastically. Characters frequently act without purpose, people die and are reanimated, and the film just rolls along like it's all cool. Its unpredictability and dadaism anticipates a good deal of work that would follow in the late 20s and early 30s, particularly the early films of Bunuel.

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    7. Safety Last! (Taylor/Newmeyer)

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    One of the most iconic images in all of silent film is Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock near the top of a building in L.A. Little else seems to hold sand in the public eye, which is a minor shame, because it's a nicely paced, enjoyable comedy, even if Lloyd doesn't have the chops as Keaton or Chaplin. Most memorable is its portrait of the newly burgeoning skyline in Los Angeles, which is worked into several gags and plot points impressively. Doesn't reach the highs of some other silent comedies, but it's still worth seeing.

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    6. Go West (Powers)

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    One of the famous 'Dippy-Doo-Dad' shorts. The story of a disgraced son, who leaves home to go and find himself in a western town. What makes this worth seeing is that the entire cast is animals. The principle actors are surprisingly well-trained and emotive monkeys, but other animals show up in supporting roles that play like punchlines. The image of a monkey in western attire, riding a goat that rears up before storming off is a testament to the kind of detached, unironic, hilarious spectacle that can only arise from this era.

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    5. The Faithful Heart (Epstein)

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    Film theorist Jean Epstein's very simply plotted, but very imaginatively filmed melodrama that really exhibits French cinema's affinity for experimenting with visual language. It's nothing special in its story: a girl is married off to an abusive jerk while her true love attempts to whisk her away and support her. The photography, use of associative imagery, editing, camera movement, and use of locations are what make this feel, still, very modern, and bolster the otherwise sub-par writing (excusing the brilliant epilogue). It's a testament to the power of images in rhythm.

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    4 Three Ages (Keaton/Cline)

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    Buster's very funny farce of Griffith's Intolerance, about the repeating story of a runt challenging a bully for the love of a girl across three time periods: the Stone Age, the Roman Empire and present day. It plays more like three separate, elaborated Buster Keaton shorts than it does as a coherent feature, but it works as a triptych, bolstered by the work of Wallace Beery as the bully and Buster himself as the hero. The absurd chariot race in the Roman third makes the film worth seeing by itself.

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    3. The Return to Reason (Ray)

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    An excellent three minute short from pioneering dadaist artist Man Ray. It's fixated on physical textures and contrasts in moving light. Negative images of nails, dilapidated film grain, a fairground at night, a hanging totem, and a naked woman covered in shadows from a curtained window comprise the most of the film. Dadaism is comprised of free-association, but the great works, like this film, seem to zero in on what resides in our mind without our input. This film plays like vivid memories that we didn't put any effort into remembering.

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    2. Our Hospitality (Keaton/Blystone)

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    Buster's best film of the year was this excellent situational comedy that defies the (still fantastic) mechanical and tonal trappings that he was known for as a performer and director, meaning that it's a film that would be great even without his talents. It's the tale of a Hatfield/McCoy feud wherein Buster falls for a girl in the opposing family and is invited into their abode. The contrivance is that they're reluctant to murder him while he's a guest. Keaton's touch is lighter here, balancing an ensemble and more mannered comedy. One of my favorites of his features.

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    1. The Smiling Madame Beudet (Dulac)

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    A chilling, beautifully made short film about domestic living from experimental pioneer Germaine Dulac. In all fairness, it's an ordinary story---the tale of an unhappy wife stuck with an oblivious, annoying husband. They argue passive-aggressively, silently battle over the placement of a vase, and frequently misunderstand one another. But it's got a wonderful central crux: the husband jokes about suicide with an empty pistol, and the wife contemplates loading it. Dulac might have made the first purely impressionistic film here, with visual sequences that express patterns of thought on the part of the wife. It's just fantastic, forward-thinking filmmaking.

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    So that's the last bit of what could be called the early 20's, and we're almost in the big leagues. 1924 is a stacked year, and the late silent era kicks all kind of ass, so stay tuned for some real hot stuff.

    Recommendations, compliments, and complaints are all welcome!



  • Can't say I've seen any films from these years, but some interesting picks nonetheless. :slight_smile:


  • Global Moderator

    I remember Nanook of the North with warmth. It is clear that many bits are "fake" in order to satisfy the viewer (like the scene with the family getting out of the kayak). But it is still a brilliant film worth a watch!

    I also enjoyed Safety Last! Sure its not maybe in class with some Chaplin work, but it is such an icon in many ways and it gave me quite a few laughs

    I also see on this list that there are loads I have missed and need to catch up on! :D

    Love your lists, keep em coming!



  • @Oscillator Thanks! I'd definitely recommend Nosferatu if you're interested in a starting point. It's a beautiful, creepy movie, and it's getting to be the time of year that we celebrate that sort of thing.

    @Lotias Yes, I like Nanook of the North quite a lot too! I just think that its dubiousness is a lot of the draw. That it's a film about what Flaherty 'wanted' to show us makes it super compelling to me.

    And more lists to come for sure! I've finished up 1924, and I only have a few movies left to watch from 1925, so the next entry should be in the next couple weeks.



  • SO much to watch. Thanks!


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