My Favorite Movies: 1924/1925
Ringedwithtile last edited by Ringedwithtile
Rules of my favorite movies blog:
- All entries must be one-hundred words or less in length
- Entries are to be ranked in a descending order.
- Every year, save for 1915-1919 must be a top 10.
- Honorable mentions may be included, but they must be less than or equal to fifty words in length.
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.
Honorable Mention: Kino Eye (Vertov)
A unique and powerful free-form documentary from doc/experimental pioneer Dziga Vertov. An experiment in unshackling the camera from its commonly used structure and implementing it in the capture of daily life. Naturalistic, lively images, but a propagandistic structure weakens it a bit. Excellent editing, though.
Honorable Mention: The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of Bolsheviks (Kuleshov)
A satirical slapstick comedy from Russia of all places about perceived Russian stereotypes. Not as well put together as American efforts in the same genre, but there's definitely an appeal to chase sequences in the snowy Moscow streets. Director Boris Barnet as Mr. West's cowboy bodyguard is especially good.
Honorable Mention: Symphonie Diagonale (Eggling)
Much like Richter's 'Rhythm' series, Symphonie Diagonale is an expression in appearing and disappearing form, but instead focused on simple line-based shapes that sit diagonally. Watching a line thread a form then disappear is still quaint and charming in a way. I like it.
10. He Who Gets Slapped (Sjostrom)
One of the greatest directors of the era works with one of the greatest actors of the era, in a film about the embarrassment of clown whose act hinges upon being humiliated, after experiencing the same in his personal life. Lon Chaney plays the titular clown 'He' with sincerity and conviction as would be expected; he's definitely my favorite thing about the film. It doesn't carry the same elemental glory that other Sjostrom films have, but it's a solid, sophisticated psychological drama.
9. The Great White Silence (Ponting)
A very interesting early documentary about an expedition to Antarctica which bears comparison to 'South' from 1919, which I can't help but feel is a stronger film. The Great White Silence announces itself, and comes across as more didactic. That said, it's still a compelling story of adventure and survival. The ending, which tells the story of something that wasn't even captured on film, is some of the best use of titles and still photographs from the time period. It might be overshadowed, but it's no less great because of it.
8. The Marriage Circle (Lubitsch)
Lubitsch's cycle of silent slapstick comedies comes to an end, and his better known, sustained period of smart comedies of manners really hit its stride here. Based on a stage production, this film follows the story of marital infidelities felt by a pair of couples. What became known as the "Lubitsch Touch" (the director's ability to say a lot, especially about sex, with very subtle use of form), is apparent very early, when the first act of cheating is played out as the camera remains fixated on the tabletop in front of them. It's a nicely acted and shot comedy.
7. The Navigator (Keaton/Crisp)
Playing against type, Buster assumes the role of a rich, spoiled socialite who, along with his love interest, ends up whisked away on an abandoned boat during a naval conflict. The large portion of this film is satire of how incapable privileged living can make people, with Buster and the girl humorously struggling to provide for themselves in an uncaring environment. While it still features the stunts and special effects one would expect from Keaton, there's a greater focus on smaller interactions and Buster's ability to work off of another performer, which makes it a more unique watch.
6. The Thief of Baghdad (Walsh)
Though Powell and Pressburger's later adaptation seems to attract more acclaim, Raoul Walsh's earlier outing impresses and entertains me a whole lot more. The silent era had an absurd commitment to set design, and this film is a shining example, accentuated with Walsh's smart, vertical line filled framing. Fairbanks is a charismatic lead as always, and the early special effects (especially the magic carpet) are still pretty sound. Although it's long, it's consistently entertaining and visually compelling.
5. Ballet Mecanique (Leger/Murphy)
One of the most important early works of experimental cinema, and it still feels weirdly new. As the title implies, this film is about mechanical motion in the literal sense, but also in the total sense, meaning the actual flow of images through a projector. There are close-ups of working machinery, fast cutting of geometrical forms, and most interestingly, human motion---which reminds us that even our most natural and complex motions are comprised of smaller, deliberate motions, sort of like how a cinematic second is made up of a couple dozen photographs. It's a complete, beautiful film.
4. The Last Laugh (Murnau)
One of Murnau's best, most beautifully sympathetic films; about a proud, aging doorman at a hotel who's occupation is shifted to bathroom attendant. The doorman's ego begins take hold of him, as he hides his demotion from his family, attempts to deal with his shame, and fantasizes about the job he lost. It's an excellent work of expressionism, made more potent and relatable given its working class subject. It's great to see such a thorough, flamboyant representation of psychology that isn't focused on some insane person or murderer.
3. Entr'Acte (Clair)
A short work, a literal entr'acte commissioned for the ballet, set to the music of Satie. Future magical realist Rene Clair boasts some impressive experimental chops here, playing with different speeds of film, stop-motion, multiple exposure, and rapid editing. Though it's mostly a work of striking imagery, its logic paints Paris as a wild habitat, teaming with life. In its more coherent back half, the film focuses on a funeral procession with an escapist coffin, which is a fun bit of absurdity. It's a lively, transfixing, and surprisingly funny experimental film.
2. Greed (Von Stroheim)
Erich Von Stroheim's epic masterpiece which like a number of his other films was butchered by its studio. It's a searing adaptation of McTeague: the story of a brutish worker whose closest relationships are tainted by resentments surrounding a winning lottery ticket. Von Stroheim's own complimentary, original side-stories were cut and lost from the film, but what remains is still forceful, incredible craft. It moves with a confidence and pathos unlike almost anything from its era, adorned with wonderful direction and performances. Its ending is as well-paced and as utterly desolate as anything in film history.
1. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)
One of the greatest comedies ever filmed. A heartfelt expression of angst and the power of storytelling, Sherlock Jr is about about a lovesick projectionist who is screwed over by a rival when attempting to court a woman, but its enjoyment reaches so much further than its premise. The meat of the film is a series of astounding action setpieces that put just about everything else thus far to shame. A sequence wherein Buster physically battles with editing itself is one of the most brilliantly conceived and executed scenes ever committed to the medium. Buster, baby.
Honorable Mention: The Salvation Hunters (Von Sternberg)
Future master Josef Von Sternberg's first effort; a very odd, almost completely archetypal film about a man, a woman and an adopted child. I don't think it works as a story, but it's wonderfully shot. Its opening sequences set underneath a dredging crane are especially beautiful.
Honorable Mention: The Merry Widow (Von Stroheim)
Perhaps Von Stroheim's least interfered-with picture, this is a pretty fun adaptation of the operetta of the same name. It captures the frothy tone of the material with some very good performances, while still containing the decadence and fiendishness one would expect from Von Stroheim. Overlong, but good fun.
10. Tartuffe (Murnau)
An adaptation of the Moliere play, Marnau's vision is playful and concise. The story of Tartuffe exists as a movie within a movie (likely one of the first uses of such a device) as a young actor shows his grandfather a film of the play in order to warn him of his caretaker who's after his estate. The adaptation of the play itself is funny, and for its time sexy, as a woman tries to win back her fiance from a hypocritical zealot who's indoctrinated him. It's something different from Murnau, and it's worth a watch for sure.
9. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Niblo)
Although Robert Wise's 1959 Oscar mammoth seems to hold a monopoly on the name, this earlier, silent epic is a much more enjoyable watch in my eyes. It's slow-moving and pious, but it has a more unhinged, wilder side to it that's absent in the later version. The famed chariot sequence is just as impressive here, the set design is ridiculous, and it even has some parts photographed in color, including a gorgeous parade scene. There's a greater focus on visual invention here, and I think it results in the best filmic telling of the story.
8. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein)
One of the most important, endlessly canonized films in history, Battleship Potemkin represents the historical mutiny of a military ship off the coast of Odessa and the response from the government and the people. Like Eisenstein's other films, this one is beautifully shot and edited, with groups of characters acting as forces of nature at battle, as opposed to your usual singular protagonist/antagonist relationship. Its oft-referenced, astounding Odessa steps sequence is one of the great stretches of celluloid ever produced. It's an immense technical and artistic milestone for the medium.
7. Strike (Eisenstein)
As massive as Battleship Potemkin is, I actually prefer Eisenstein's first feature: a taut, smartly constructed portrait of a factory worker's strike, and one of his most effective pieces of socialist provocation. What impresses me most in this film is Eisenstein's inspired photography---something that's usually overshadowed by his editing; but If montage is your thing, there's an excellent sequence at the end. Really, I just like how broad the thing is, taking the time to show the shareholders and the communities effected by the strike. Overall one of the best unapologetic works of Soviet propaganda.
6. Go West (Keaton)
Probably Keaton's least characteristic of all of his features, it's about an inexperienced Buster getting a job at a cattle ranch. It doesn't have the high-flying stunt work that he's best known for, it's instead focused more on mannered, gesture-heavy comedy. Also uncharacteristic is Buster's love, a cow he's affectionate for and becomes protective of. Regardless of its more dramatic, low-stakes leanings, Keaton still formulates one of his most memorable and intricate finales.
5. Chess Fever (Pudovkin/Shpikovsky)
A very odd and silly Russian short directed by the noted, and usually quite dour, Vsevolod Pudovkin. The film concerns the country's obsession with chess, as it follows a man who is continuously sidetracked by his love for the game on his wedding day. It's a kind of madcap comedy, quickly paced and full of slapstick. The more compelling spin is the formal precision and experimentation characteristic of Soviet filmmaking being used for lighter effect. Parts of the film are even comprised of documentary footage of the world chess championship which is pretty cool too!
4. Visages d'enfants (Feyder)
A beautiful French drama about a boy grieving his mother and coming to terms with his new step-mother and step-sister. Set in the Alps, this film makes full use of its location, imbuing even the most unassuming scenes with timeless grandiosity. But it's a lot more than a tragedy with an elemental backdrop, it's one of the great early films about childhood, one that sincerely values a child's viewpoint and features convincing performances from its young cast. It deserves to be better seen and known than it is.
3. Lazybones (Borzage)
One of the great romantic filmmakers of old Hollywood, Borzage makes his first entrance on my lists with this unique film. It's about a man in the country who's lazy and has trouble courting a woman because of his image, but the film quickly abandons itself to focus on more uncomfortable subject matter. Borzage should be best remembered for his sincerity: his ability to capture expression and gesture; the warmth of the characters in his frame. This graciousness allows him to maneuver such tricky material without pitfalls, making the work both engaging and thought-provoking. It's a gem.
2. Seven Chances (Keaton)
Buster plays a man who stands to inherit a fortune, as long as he is married by 7 o'clock on his birthday, which is the same day he hears of the contrivance. After being rejected by the woman he loves, he sets about town to marry anyone willing, which results in several very funny scenes of situational comedy, and finally, one of the best action sequences Keaton ever shot. Buster gives one of his best performances here, and his ability to make even the most inane and expository scenes inventive and charming is unparalleled. Tight, funny, excellently crafted stuff.
1. The Big Parade (Vidor)
One of the great war movies of any period, The Big Parade tells a fairly standard World War I story about a soldier who enters the war, makes friends, finds love, and then sees battle. Though it's become cliched by now, there's something still very unique and genuine about The Big Parade. Its reluctance to fall into propaganda paired with its impressive scale and affecting storyline really make it special. My favorite aspect is the romance: a relationship that develops without words due to a language barrier---perfect for a silent film.
I feel like film as an art form really found its footing in the mid-20's, with 1924 being one of the first really excellent years across the board. American, German, Russian, and French film were doing wonderful things. The next entry (1926/1927) marks the end of the silent era, which is a pretty interesting time!
Recommendations, compliments, and complaints are all welcome!
Oscillator last edited by Oscillator
Seven Chances sounds promising. Will add it to my list!
Love your lists as always! I can tell that I have missed a lot of film from this period!
However I am happy that you put Kino eye in honorable mentions. It is not his strongest film/doc, but Vertov is one of my favourite directors/film makers from this era! I even wrote a 5 page essay on him at university.
He Who Gets Slapped
This is how "IT" started? (joke).
The Great White Silence
I love documentaries, especially from this time in history when the world were bigger and unexplored on a greater scale. I can't put my finger on it but something with this film makes me feel good when I watch it.
I was not sure what to feel when I watched this film (possibly because I was quite young at the time). Its interesting how they play with the camera and editing almost as the film surrounds it rather than it surrounding the film. I really enjoyed this absurd piece of art.
Can you do anything else but love Keaton?
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Never been a fan of the Ben-Hur story to begin with, but this one is almost a "must see" film anyway just because of how it tells the story.
I feel so terrible that I havent watched this entire film! It is one of those films that everyone MUST see that follows film history in any shape or form. I keep hearing so much amazing things about this that I need to really sit down and watch all of it.
Another Keaton film that had me in stitches so many times. This is in class with some of Chapplins best films and its one of those films that had me smiling long after it finished.
The Big Parade
As I am a big fan of war movies this also feels like one of those I really need to sit down and watch at some point.