Silent Films

Buster Keaton - The General

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they celebrate Buster Keaton as a superhero who is faster with his locomotive. In the #34 (tied) movie on the list, the union army steals a supply train with a damsel on board, and Johnnie Gray But why is it one of the best movies of all time?

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2011_the artist

Slightly over a year ago, after Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist came home with a Best Picture win and accomplished the unlikely feat of becoming a $100+ million worldwide hit, observations hit the web (ranging from hopeful to snarky) speculating whether or not the critical and financial success of this film would bring about a trend of new silent filmmaking. That the film’s gimmick seemed anathema to any marketing department’s formula for success stood as a provocation to an ever recycling Hollywood, declaring: if you revisit winning formulas, why not this one? Of course, few genuinely expected such a trend to actually come to fruition.  In February 2012, David Denby wrote: “We should be happy that The Artist exists at all, of course. Even after being nominated for ten Oscars and winning numerous awards from critics’ groups and the guilds, the film still seems arbitrary—one of those freaks of idealism which sometimes occur in the movies.” Even after the seeming silent-throwback double bill of The Artist and Hugo, Denby can only imagine a silent film resurgence happening in repertory form: a new emerging interest in old classics rather than an opportunity for new filmmakers to experiment with older forms of cinematic expression. But silent cinema has made something of a soft but notable and innovative return subsequent to The Artist – it just didn’t quite happen in the way we expected. Both Miguel Gomes’s Tabu from Portugal and Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves from Spain were recognized as their respective countries’ official selections […]

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Blancanieves

Blancanieves, Spanish director Pablo Berger’s second feature, will turn to American audiences at an unlikely intersection of tastes and trends. On the heels of The Artist and last year’s near-perfect Tabu, Blancanieves is the latest in a string of European-produced throwbacks to silent-era filmmaking. But the other major element at play here is the film’s classical fairy tale structure: it’s a version of Snow White updated to the world of Spanish matadors in the 1910s and 1920s, which makes Blancanieves a necessary relief from brash but vacant Hollywood retreads of the world of Grimm like Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. But regardless of its potent timeliness, the greatest asset of Blancanieves is its masterful, elegant, and palpably inspired embrace of silent-era styles and techniques. Blancanieves is inventive while remaining nostalgic and familiar, intricately stylized while still retaining the capacity to move you, and completely devoid of audible dialogue while still filling your ears will a rich, diverse palette of film music. Of the handful of silent-era throwbacks to be released in the last few years, Blancanieves, more than any so far, takes a devoted and orthodox approach to silent-era techniques while remaining fresh and surprising. Far from an arthouse gimmick, Blancanieves marries style and story in a way that seems so obvious and fitting that it’s a wonder why this film hadn’t been made before.

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Google Peanut Gallery

This is one of the cooler things Google has put out in a while. Using their new Peanut Gallery, you can make your own versions of silent movie scenes using your microphone and a little imagination. You talk, and it creates dialogue that gets plugged right into the movie. So far they have clips from A Trip to the Moon (which is what I chose to make intertitles for), The General, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Plan 9 From Outer Space and many, many others. Obviously there are public domain reasons for what they’re using, but I can’t wait until they get The Artist on tap as well. The talk-to-text usability isn’t exactly perfect, but it’s definitely close, and the entire program makes for a fun diversion for film geeks and for anyone who wants to rewrite a few classics. If you make one, post it up in the comments section so we can all have a look.

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From placing Citizen Kane in a modern, Murdoch-filled context to getting really close up with Joan of Arc, Landon Palmer and I have been re-examining the Sight & Sound Top Ten, and we’re hoping we learned something. Today, we’ll compare notes and see how the list has rewritten history for silent films, elevated “serious” work and acted as a queue-filling reminder that there are always more amazing movies to discover. Download Episode #155

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Home for the Holidays

Before we’re all full of turkey, mashed potatoes and that experimental vegan dessert Aunt Trina keeps trying to make work, we’d like to take a pre-coma moment out to take stock of what’s worth celebrating this Thanksgiving. Without a doubt, we’re thankful for friends and family and all the good within eyesight (even as the world spins too-loudly out of control), but as we’re a movie website, we’d like to use this space to focus on all the wondrous film stuff that’s currently bringing a smile to our faces. To help out, the Rejects — including Rob Hunter, Kate Erbland, Cole Abaius, Christopher Campbell, Kevin Carr, Landon Palmer, Nathan Adams, Robin Ruinsky, Luke Mullen, Caitlin Hughes and Allison Loring — compiled a list of cinematic things to be thankful for. See if you can guess who picked what (spoiler: everything Magic Mike-related is Hunter). Now, let’s get to thanking!

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Passion of Joan of Arc

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius are using the Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the greatest movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they gush over the brilliant courtroom drama from Carl Theodor Dreyer that pitted Joan of Arc and her passion against judges hell bent on sending her to the next life. The Passion of Joan of Arc is a stunning piece of work, and there’s good reason to think of it not only as a horror film, but the most well-respected horror film ever made.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? Lawrie Brewster’s style is difficult to describe. It’s homegrown CGI mixed with animation and live-action that’s been tossed in a blender set to homage. We previously experienced the bizarre world of Turnip Head, but this short is a new breed with similar sheep’s clothing. It’s a salute to Abel Grance’s 1927 war epic Napoleon by way of Guy Maddin. It’s also a jarring, pristine experience. What will it cost? Only 8 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films

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The Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars never agree. Well, almost never. In 28 years of co-existing, the two organizations have only agreed once before – on Oliver Stone’s Platoon back in 1986. It’s not surprising since the Spirit Awards focus on celebrating a particular method of filmmaking that is often overlooked by the red-carpet-ready Academy Awards, but if both honor prestige movies, it seems at least likely they’d agree from time to time, right? They didn’t until last night. The more-than-two-decades-long drought was finally broken when The Artist took home Best Picture less than a week after bringing home the top Spirit prize. It became the first movie since 1986 to win both the Oscar and the Indie Spirit Award. One was in an ornate theater, the other was in a tent on the beach, but the implication is clear: independent movies are breaking more and more into the mainstream.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? With the celebration of classic movies currently going down at the Oscars, it was the perfect year for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore to share its love of silent films, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a familiar cartoon tune. No wonder it was nominated for Best Animated Short. What former Pixar employee William Joyce and co-director Brandon Oldenburg have done here is nothing short of amazing. They’ve used the newest technologies to create a wondrous, incredible, transportational fantasy story that reaches back to the roots of motion picture history. It’s a movie that’s imagination is only trumped by its beauty. What will it cost? Only 14 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films.

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With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us? The Twilight Zone (Episode #78): “Once Upon a Time” (airdate 12/15/61) The Plot:  A cranky man of 1890 uses a time machine to head for 1962 to find out that things got a lot louder, faster, and more dangerous. The Goods: The absolute guts of this show continue to astound. Imagine if a modern seriesdecided to do half of an episode as a silent film. Black and white they already have, but it’s still a bold step. Rod Serling beamed an antique directly into the living rooms of his fans. That’s right. Not only is this a story where a man from the late 19th century hops into the middle of the 20th, it’s a time travel story for its audience by using modern television filming techniques alongside the earliest methods. And who do you get to guest star when half your episode is done as a silent film? Buster Keaton. Not a bad choice.

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Why Watch? Charlie Chaplin‘s first film, Making a Living, features the man who would go on to be the planet’s biggest star donning a top hat and the creepiest face he could muster. It’s the earliest example of his potential for genius, and one of the few where we get to see a talent that’s still in the raw. By his next film, Kid Auto Races at Venice, he had debuted his Little Tramp character and launched a career in earnest. So, what better way is there to spend Labor Day than to watch how Chaplin worked? What does it cost? Just 9 minutes of your time. Check out Making a Living for yourself:

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Director Michel Hazanavicius’s newest film The Artist made a big splash at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Not only did it walk away with some decent praise from critics to plaster on its ads, it also earned the film’s star Jean Dujardin the Cannes award for Best Actor. That’s nothing to sneeze at. And also nothing to sneeze at is the visual ecstasy that is the new US trailer for this French film. The Artist is shot in black and white, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. The story takes place in late 20s Hollywood, and it tells the tale of a romance between a big star who is entering the twilight of his career and a bright young starlet who is just coming into the prime of hers, as the movie industry in general transitions from silent films to talkies. Not only is it set in old Hollywood, it’s made like a film would have been in old Hollywood, complete with no sound and including all of the old school, broad stage acting that one would have expected from silent films of the time. So why it would need a trailer specifically for the US is beyond me, but let’s continue.

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Why Watch? Because we all get mistaken for murderers from time to time. If you read Rob’s DVD column, you already know that there’s a new collection of Buster Keaton short films out on the market, and buried inside that treasure trove is the glistening jewel known as The Goat. While the quality is most likely better in the new collection than what we can find on the internet, it’s still worth a trip back to 1921 to check out a case of mistaken identity that sets Keaton on a crazed adventure. That adventure spotlights comedy so simple that it hits at a primal level and physical stunts that prove why Keaton is the best of his generation (sorry, Chaplin fanatics). Thrilling and funny, Keaton is close to the top of his game here, and his is a talent that truly can’t be replicated. Plus, this short has the iconic distinction of featuring a classic Keaton image: a train speeding toward the camera that stops close enough to show that Keaton has been riding the front of it the entire time. Insurance for a project like this must have been astronomical. What does it cost? Just 23 minutes of your time. Check out The Goat for yourself:

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Why Watch? Because this is what the past thought of its own future. This silent short is a piece of propaganda filmmaking from 1916 made in response to a bombing that took place during a Preparedness Day Parade (the country was on the cusp of joining WWI). The opening is an animated message that claims either the giant angel of prosperity will rain money down on the city or a dark, dark cloud of terror will engulf everyone. Then it points the finger of blame for the latter option. This is followed by images of the parade, and footage that was taken directly after the bombing (which killed 10 and injured 40 in the worst terrorist attack in San Francisco history). What Will It Cost? Just 6 minutes of your time. Does it get better any better than that? Check out San Francisco’s Future for yourself:

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Why Watch? Because you shouldn’t fear black and white silence. It’s a coincidence that this is going up the same day as a very thoughtful exploration of G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, but it’s also great to see another initialed, iconic director’s early silent short works. This one, the story of a wheat king looking to monopolize production and crush the poor, was made back in 1909. That’s right. This short film is over 100 years old. Pretty amazing. It features some early advents of the cross-cutting and montage techniques as well as some stunning black and white imagery, and a final shot that’s as poignant as it is bittersweet. What Will It Cost? Just 14 minutes of your time. Does it get better any better than that? Check out A Corner in the Wheat for yourself:

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Criterion Files

Welcome to the third installment of Guest Author month at Criterion Files: a month devoted to important classic and contemporary bloggers. This week, Catherine Stebbins, writer for CriterionCast and Cinema Enthusiast, takes on G.W. Pabst’s silent classic Pandora’s Box (1929). Tune in every week this month for an analysis of a different title from a new author. The first time I saw G.W Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, I thought I knew what Lulu, the character played by Louise Brooks, would be like. All I knew was that Lulu destroyed the lives of those around her. I expected her to be a typical femme fatale, with perhaps a bit of the vamp in her; sexy, manipulative, cold, calculating, powerful. I expected her to be a scheming woman with a plan for destruction. Lulu is a very complicated character because she is in many ways the direct opposite of the femme fatale despite the amount of damage she inevitably causes. I chose to write about Pandora’s Box because it means a great deal to me. Most importantly, it introduced me to Louise Brooks. I idolize her for all she had to endure, for never compromising and for the enigmatic personality she brought to the screen which has never been matched. By looking at Lulu as a character, I hope to give at least a little insight into her performance in Pandora’s Box and the complicated and ultimately symbolic character she portrays with Lulu.

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Every Sunday, Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents the controversial story of how the KKK saved the south and how D.W. Griffith invented every camera trick you love.

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Every Sunday in October, Old Ass Movies will be teaming with 31 Days of Horror in order to deliver a horror film that was made before you were born and tell you why you should like this. This week, Old Ass Horror presents one of the first zombie films ever committed to moving pictures – a horrifying man, a troubled hero, and the constant threat of death at the hands of a living dead puppet. Come along as we open up The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

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The biggest star of the silent era puts on one hell of a last silent show and manages to pay homage to the exciting new technology of sound.

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