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Dwelling in Silence - My Journey Through Silent Cinema

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Dwelling in Silence - My Journey Through Silent Cinema

#1

Post by St. Gloede » May 19th, 2012, 7:21 pm

Through the last year I've gotten more and more enchanted by the beauty of silent cinema, and it rather exploded this past month. I've seen around 50 silents through the last few weeks, it's really been more of a 1920s quest, but as I'm not too keen on early talkies I stuck to the comforting sound of silence, at times accompanied by very suiting music.

I realized that I've stepped past most of the consensus movies and started exploring a lot of silents most people might not have seen, or even heard of. Therefor I've decided to try to give them their time in the sun and spread the word; good, bad or indifferent. Most of the reviews will be retrospective, so they'll be rather short, sometimes perhaps just a few lines. I hope some of these films will catch your interest, keep in mind, just because I'm writing about them doesn't mean I'm recommending all of them. I'll post the mini-reviews in the order I checked them on ICM.

Note: The films I'm presenting are the ones I've seen during the last month. I might delve into films I've seen on an earlier date later on.
Last edited by St. Gloede on May 19th, 2012, 8:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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#3

Post by St. Gloede » May 19th, 2012, 7:25 pm

Rich on May 19 2012, 01:23:48 PM wrote: :o :o
Is that a good double :O or a bad double :O?

:lol:
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#4

Post by Rich » May 19th, 2012, 7:26 pm

Crinderman on May 19 2012, 01:25:23 PM wrote:
Rich on May 19 2012, 01:23:48 PM wrote: :o :o
Is that a good double :O or a bad double :O?

:lol:
I love the silent era so it's pretty good.

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#5

Post by allisoncm » May 19th, 2012, 7:41 pm

I'm doing my thesis on some of the female pioneers of early silent cinema. I think this would be a great journal to read. BTW, perhaps the next poll we can make is top silent films. Might wait until the fall though. I will be gone during the summer and perhaps there can be a silent challenge or something, because I'm not sure a lot of people are up to snuff with silents. I'm sure a decent amount of people are. I just don't want our list to be lame, that's all.

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#6

Post by mightysparks » May 19th, 2012, 7:43 pm

I wish I liked more silents. Out of 87 I've seen, only 10 are favourites :( Maybe I'll see something in here that interests me so I can be more frisky.
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#7

Post by Rich » May 19th, 2012, 7:44 pm

I have an old silent film list on mubi.

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#8

Post by Rich » May 19th, 2012, 7:50 pm

Rich on May 19 2012, 01:44:34 PM wrote:I have an old silent film list on mubi.
That I should (and probably will) update one day.

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#9

Post by St. Gloede » May 19th, 2012, 7:59 pm

Eldorado (1921, Marcel L'Herbier)
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L'Herbier serves us a beautifully lush tale about a dancer, her sick child and the unfair world around them. She shunned by her former lover who will not acknowledge, nor help his dying son. While she dances in the festive tavern her child is lying in the dark and gloomy floor above, packed under his covers, the only "decoration" is a gigantic black cross signaling doom. The visuals are woefully expressive, the style has the heart of avant garde, but the story itself is straightforward.

I've actually yet to see L'Herbier's most famous film, L'argent (1928), but I've been seduced by La nuit fantastique (1943) and thrown into turmoil by Man of the Sea (1920). L'inhumaine (1921) also had a lot of good things going for it, but in the end it just got a bit too simpleminded. Of these I'd proclaim Eldorado as the best film I've seen from him this far. It's story is quite simple, and at some points it might get a bit too melodramatic for some, but as it's all covered in lavish excess, the over the top moments are poetic, touching and beautiful, rather than what could have been the alternative. 8.5/10.


Two example of it's beautiful and expressive visuals:
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Image


I'd also like to give some credit to the beautiful poster:
Image
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#10

Post by Rich » May 19th, 2012, 8:04 pm

I have not seen that but I will now.

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#11

Post by St. Gloede » May 19th, 2012, 8:31 pm

Lursmani cheqmashi / Nail in the Boot (1931, Mikhail Kalatozov)
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Nail in the Boot is an equally unique, captivating and absurd film. It's truly a pearl of Soviet propaganda, with a morality/message we might just find utterly ridiculous, but with tension, execution and visuals almost to perfection. We follow the desperate journey of a soviet army messenger sent for re-enforcements. As he rushes for help he makes the terrifying discovery that one of his shoes has been poorly manufactured, a nail has gotten lose, making it impossible for him to wear it. In the end it makes a statement about how every shoemaker is responsible for the bad shoe, but it's how we get there that is important.

Image

Not only does it feature breathtaking montage and editing, particularly the beautiful work of showing the cannons of war firing, but it also manages to create a nervebitingly intense "scene", that I'd say takes up about half the film. The soldiers fight with the barb wired fence, which in it's climax features him pulling on it with all his might in pure desperation, despair, sorrow and fury.

I've noticed that Kalatozov's later efforts; The Cranes Are Flying, Letter Never Sent and Soy Cuba recieves a lot of love on this forum. In all it's silliness I'd actually it's either better or eguall to those three films, though keep in mind I'm not as big a fan of them as some. 8/10.
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#12

Post by St. Gloede » May 19th, 2012, 8:48 pm

allisoncm on May 19 2012, 01:41:23 PM wrote:I'm doing my thesis on some of the female pioneers of early silent cinema. I think this would be a great journal to read. BTW, perhaps the next poll we can make is top silent films. Might wait until the fall though. I will be gone during the summer and perhaps there can be a silent challenge or something, because I'm not sure a lot of people are up to snuff with silents. I'm sure a decent amount of people are. I just don't want our list to be lame, that's all.
Your thesis sounds exiting, don't think I've that many films by female directors lines up (maybe you could help me out with that, my quest is still ongoing) but I hope you'll still stick around and give your input.

A silent poll/challenge would be fun, I might be a bit burned out by the time this challenge is launched though. :lol:

Not sure how much experience ICMers have with silents, you could ask The Magician as he will have the vote history stats(though not everyone votes on IMDb).

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#13

Post by allisoncm » May 19th, 2012, 8:55 pm

Crinderman on May 19 2012, 02:48:05 PM wrote:
allisoncm on May 19 2012, 01:41:23 PM wrote:I'm doing my thesis on some of the female pioneers of early silent cinema. I think this would be a great journal to read. BTW, perhaps the next poll we can make is top silent films. Might wait until the fall though. I will be gone during the summer and perhaps there can be a silent challenge or something, because I'm not sure a lot of people are up to snuff with silents. I'm sure a decent amount of people are. I just don't want our list to be lame, that's all.
Your thesis sounds exiting, don't think I've that many films by female directors lines up (maybe you could help me out with that, my quest is still ongoing) but I hope you'll still stick around and give your input.

A silent poll/challenge would be fun, I might be a bit burned out by the time this challenge is launched though. :lol:

Not sure how much experience ICMers have with silents, you could ask The Magician as he will have the vote history stats(though not everyone votes on IMDb).
Yeah. I have a list of female silent film directors, but part of the problem is that not all of the films that were made are still available. I'll probably post more info on this soon.

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#14

Post by St. Gloede » May 19th, 2012, 9:13 pm

Well, Allison, here's one female director for you:

The Blot (1921, Lois Weber)
Image
Weber serves us a plea for justice in regard to teacher's paychecks. Though most of the film mainly consist of cute romance elements and humor. It does however have darker overtones, and we get to watch the extreme poverty the professor and his family live in, where they barely manage to get by. This is however not felt as strongly as it should, the film as a whole is too light and the message seems forced. It does have some effective scenes, but seeing how it's a film that's seemigly all about the message I do think it was a mistake(in all effects other than commericial) to essentially focus most of the screentime on two guys trying to win the professor's daughter. Still an enjoyable watch, but I did not find it to be anything too special. 6/10.
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#15

Post by allisoncm » May 19th, 2012, 9:27 pm

Yes, I need to see that one.

"Still an enjoyable watch, but I did not find it to be anything too special." - that could be applied to most of the Lois Weber films I've seen!!

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#16

Post by Rich » May 19th, 2012, 9:33 pm

Three I haven't seen. :(

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#17

Post by St. Gloede » May 19th, 2012, 9:52 pm

Grandma's Boy (1922. Fred C. Newmeyer)
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You can probably guess the plot already, as usual there's a girl he has to win, but he's just a bit too meak to take care of the bully who's also trying to win his affection. The new element to the mix is, quite obviously the grandmother. A sweet old lady who helps Lloyd on his way.

The climax of the movie, which features an unusually brave Harold Lloyd is genuinly hilarious, but before this it was quite by the numbers and ordinary. It's a little film, only measuring about 60 mins in lenght, which seem the standard duration of a large selection of Lloyd films. 6/10.

Oh, and did you ever meet grandpa Lloyd?
Image

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#18

Post by St. Gloede » May 19th, 2012, 10:42 pm

The Toll of the Sea (1922, Chester M. Franklin)
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It's been called the first feature successful in it's use 2-strip color, not sure how valid this claim is, but it's use was certainly successful. I'd go as far as calling it gorgeous, and far ahead of it's time, had it not been silent I might even have thought it was from the early 30s.

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But enough about the colors, the story has a lot to offer as well - granted most of it is stolen from Madame Butterfly. The story evolves around the romance of a shipwrecked american male of high society and a chinese girl of seemingly high standing as well. It does have some, probably unintended, racism at the core seeing how:
Spoiler: click to toggleShow
him marrying her/pretending to marry her, give her a kid(granted unkowingly) for then to just leave and forget all about her and marry an American women being treated as perfectly ok. The part about him "hearing about a little chinema girl waiting" and from the kindness of his heart he went down there to break it up to her face (after he got married) - now that's rather offensive!
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But it was another time, so I'll let it slide. The movie was quite touching, much thanks to a young Anna May Wong in her first leading role. For those not too familiar with her she's probably most memorable from Shanghai Express. I guess I could have liked this more than should simply because of my love for early color movies, but I'd definitely say it's worth checking out. 8/10.

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#19

Post by St. Gloede » May 19th, 2012, 11:08 pm

Häiden vietto Karjalan runomailla / Karelian Wedding in the Land of the Kalevala (1921, A.O. Väisänen)
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This Finnish film is an ethnological study of the wedding custumes in Karelia(a region currently divided between Finland, Russia and Sweden, not sure how the split went back then, but that's rather irrelevant). It's not a documentary in the sense we think today, but rather an acted reconstruction of an usual wedding, and all the custumes leading up to it.

This film contains two 1st for Finland, not only was it their first ethnological film, it was also their first feature lenght film with a score. It's an interesting enough study, nothing too special or captivating, but it worked well enough. The highlight was the score which was pretty damn catchy and really added some flavor to the sometimes more bland sequences. Not a film I'd say you need to check out, but a good enough film all the same. 6/10.

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#20

Post by brokenface » May 20th, 2012, 12:48 am

Enjoying the thread. The only one I've seen so far is the Lloyd. Silent cinema is a bottomless pit of things I haven't seen!

You should definitely get onto L'Argent. It's utterly great :thumbsup: I'd like to see more L'Herbier.

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#21

Post by allisoncm » May 20th, 2012, 12:57 am

Just checked the Cinematheque's schedule. They are going to be playing a lot of obscure silents when I'm in France. Will have to check out as many as I can!

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#22

Post by Rich » May 20th, 2012, 1:00 am

I really need to visit France.

And, yes, his L'Argent is very good.

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#23

Post by jgwr » May 20th, 2012, 3:47 am

I thought I was fairly experienced with silent cinema, but that Finnish one is completely new to me.

Nail in the Boot is one I want to see. Big fan of Kalatozov's later films, and also of his slightly earlier silent Salt for Svanetia.

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#24

Post by St. Gloede » May 20th, 2012, 8:29 am

jgwr on May 19 2012, 09:47:26 PM wrote:Nail in the Boot is one I want to see. Big fan of Kalatozov's later films, and also of his slightly earlier silent Salt for Svanetia.
I had forgotten he did that one. Wasn't that impressed, but it could just be that I wasn't in the right mood.

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#25

Post by St. Gloede » May 20th, 2012, 8:41 am

Das Weib des Pharao / The Loves of Pharaoh (1922, Ernst Lubitsch)
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Lubitsch was primarily a comedic director, and this one shows thast he could have some problems handling a serious, dramatic epic. It's not too big a problem, but the acting is a bit off, and Jannings delivers an unusually hammy performance. It's also missing a large amount of scenes, some of which sounds good. It's by no means a bad film, just a decent one, and it does have some interesting plot developments. Would have loved to see what someone like Lang could have done with the material. 5/10.

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#26

Post by St. Gloede » May 20th, 2012, 9:04 am

The Ace of Hearts (1921, Wallace Worsley)
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A secret brotherhood of assassins ridding the world of self declared evils and Lon Chaney being reunited with The Penalty director Wallace Worsley - this was in the bag from the very beginning. Kinda odd seeing Chaney pushed a bit more into the backround, and even odder seeing him with long locks of hair. Though I'd call this great, it could definitely have been done better, seems to be playing a bit too much up to the cencors, and some parts are a bit simple, but it's a thrilling viewing. 8/10.
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#27

Post by bal3x » May 20th, 2012, 1:00 pm

Kalatozov is definitely one of my favorite Russian directors, in fact I might even say he's the favorite, considering I've rated 3 of his films a solid 10/10! Need to explore those silents! Sounds interesting!

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#28

Post by St. Gloede » May 20th, 2012, 1:13 pm

Blade af Satans bog / Leaves Out of the Book of Satan(1921, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
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With his usual visual mastery Dreyer brings us into the tormented world of Satan. Cursed by god he is doomed to walk the earth and do evil whenever possible. The epic scope of the story, told through four chapters covering massive "historic" events; the temptation of Jesus, the Spanish Inquisition, the French revolution, and the Russo-Finnish war of 1918, is simply astonishing. Even more so because it was only his third feature.

Image
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This massive production, a gigantic prestiege project for Nordisk Film Company, took more than two years in production. Dreyer was certainly a perfectionist, and the careful and detailed work gave wonderful results. Every frame seems composed through perfection, and each story works just as well for itself as it does as a whole. I do have to say that the last segment set to the Russo-Finnish war was a bit weaker than the rest, the plotting is more familiar, the event itself less memorable in an historic perspective - though just 3 years in the past at the time of this films release - and the way the film chooses to resolve the story felt somewhat simple.


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But the three segments that preceeded it were simply phenomenal, and the 4th is quite strong on it's own terms. It posseses a certain melancholy that slowly sinks over you as you view the majestic images - but it also has a tense and boiling core - and in the middle of it all we find the tragic figure of Satan. He's always lurking in the shadows, only a supporting character in his own tale. Helge Nissen plays the role in all the four segments, though always in a different persona, always trying his best to get humanity to give in to his temptations, while inside hoping they do not. I love how Dreyer can say so much with so little. He doesn't need to state anything straight out, but we still know and feel it. 9/10.
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#29

Post by allisoncm » May 20th, 2012, 1:15 pm

Crinderman on May 20 2012, 03:04:02 AM wrote: Lon Chanet
Whoops!

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#30

Post by St. Gloede » May 20th, 2012, 2:52 pm

allisoncm on May 20 2012, 07:15:42 AM wrote:
Crinderman on May 20 2012, 03:04:02 AM wrote: Lon Chanet
Whoops!
His French cousin. :lol:

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#31

Post by St. Gloede » May 20th, 2012, 3:36 pm

Othello (1922, Dimitri Buchowetzki)
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Something must be wrong with me, I keep preferring the silent Shakespeare adaptation. Emil Jannings does a great job in the lead, and even though the make-up is a tad obvious it didn't detract from my viewing pleasure. The whole thing is masterly put together, and makes me wonder why Buchowetzki isn't talked about more, granted Sappho(which I will write a few words about later in this thread) wasn't on this films level, and as I only got a sample of two his other work could be underwhelming, who knows. Anyways, it's not much to say about this film, you all know the story, all you need to know is that this one tells it pretty darn well. 8/10.

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#32

Post by St. Gloede » May 20th, 2012, 4:00 pm

Oliver Twist (1922, Frank Lloyd)
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Child star Jackie Coogan takes on the role as the title character in one of the earlier OT productions. Was hoping for more Chaney, but he was still pretty great, and almost unrecognizable in the role of Fagin. Certainly not as good as David Lean's version, but I dare claim it a worthy competitor. Like with Othello above it's simply a good retelling of a great story, which I again assume most of you know. It's worth noting that Coogan delivers a very fine child performance, of course his talent was evident in The Kid, but this proves that it wasn't just a fluke. 8/10.
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#33

Post by St. Gloede » May 20th, 2012, 4:28 pm

Le brasier ardent / The Burning Brazier (1923, Ivan Mozzhukhin)
Image
Now this is an odd one! It's best described as oddball comedy meets expressionism, avant garde and delicious visuals. It starts out in a nightmarish world, pulled straight out of a horror movie - for then to suddenly become a more fuzzy comedy with a private investigator following an elderly man's younger wife. Never letting go of the more surreal aspects, comedy does take the backseat in more cases than not. It's hard to find the words to describe exactly what it is, but enjoy the ride, it will most likely be a highly enjoyable one! 8/10.

More pics:
Spoiler: click to toggleShow
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#34

Post by Local Hero -- aka MestnyiGeroi » May 20th, 2012, 11:13 pm

Crinderman on May 19 2012, 03:13:51 PM wrote:Well, Allison, here's one female director for you:

The Blot (1921, Lois Weber)
Image
Weber serves us a plea for justice in regard to teacher's paychecks. Though most of the film mainly consist of cute romance elements and humor. It does however have darker overtones, and we get to watch the extreme poverty the professor and his family live in, where they barely manage to get by. This is however not felt as strongly as it should, the film as a whole is too light and the message seems forced. It does have some effective scenes, but seeing how it's a film that's seemigly all about the message I do think it was a mistake(in all effects other than commericial) to essentially focus most of the screentime on two guys trying to win the professor's daughter. Still an enjoyable watch, but I did not find it to be anything too special. 6/10.
I appreciated this one more than you did, and I think it's too seldom mentioned.

Great log, Crinderman! You've seen some films I've been wanting to see. Like you, I have been on a big silent film kick "lately," but for me that means the last two or three years, not months. I find I can't watch any one genre or era at the pace you do or my ability to appreciate each one nosedives.

Anyway, even though I don't read reviews of films I haven't seen yet (I like to be surprised), I will very much enjoy this thread as it moves forward.

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#35

Post by Local Hero -- aka MestnyiGeroi » May 20th, 2012, 11:16 pm

Crinderman on May 20 2012, 03:04:02 AM wrote:The Ace of Hearts (1921, Wallace Worsley)
Image
A secret brotherhood of assassins ridding the world of self declared evils and Lon Chaney being reunited with The Penalty director Wallace Worsley - this was in the bag from the very beginning. Kinda odd seeing Chaney pushed a bit more into the backround, and even odder seeing him with long locks of hair. Though I'd call this great, it could definitely have been done better, seems to be playing a bit too much up to the cencors, and some parts are a bit simple, but it's a thrilling viewing. 8/10.
Yes, this is on odd one, but goofy fun, and for me anything with Lon Chaney in it is worth seeing!

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#36

Post by Local Hero -- aka MestnyiGeroi » May 20th, 2012, 11:19 pm

How did you see Nail in the Boot and The Burning Brazier??
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#37

Post by monty » May 20th, 2012, 11:46 pm

Local Hero -- aka MestnyiGeroi on May 20 2012, 05:19:36 PM wrote:How did you see Nail in the Boot and The Burning Brazier??
KG, of course.

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#38

Post by St. Gloede » May 21st, 2012, 12:37 am

monty on May 20 2012, 05:46:56 PM wrote:
Local Hero -- aka MestnyiGeroi on May 20 2012, 05:19:36 PM wrote:How did you see Nail in the Boot and The Burning Brazier??
KG, of course.
CG actually, I'm cheap that way. :P

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#39

Post by St. Gloede » May 21st, 2012, 12:46 am

Local Hero -- aka MestnyiGeroi on May 20 2012, 05:13:51 PM wrote:Great log, Crinderman! You've seen some films I've been wanting to see. Like you, I have been on a big silent film kick "lately," but for me that means the last two or three years, not months. I find I can't watch any one genre or era at the pace you do or my ability to appreciate each one nosedives.

Anyway, even though I don't read reviews of films I haven't seen yet (I like to be surprised), I will very much enjoy this thread as it moves forward.
Thanks! I'm more periodic in my viewing habbits, sometimes I'll only feel like watching films from certain eras, countries, genres, etc. Hence why I was so happy when the challenges was first introduced here, sadly I learned that I really can't control my viewing urges to that kind of degree.
Yes, this is on odd one, but goofy fun, and for me anything with Lon Chaney in it is worth seeing!
Same! Definitely one of my favorite actors of all time, and certainly my favorite of the silent era.

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#40

Post by St. Gloede » May 21st, 2012, 1:17 am

Orochi / Serpent (1925, Buntaro Futagawa)
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This is the first silent I've ever seen accompanied by narration from a Benshi, a rather unique experience. Seeing how ir popularity was essentially the sole reason why Japan kept producing silents long into the 30s I've always been curious to how I would react to it myself. Part of me always feared it would annoy me and that I'd see it as a gimmick that distracted me from the art at hand, but it was quite enjoyable. At least in this case it did get slightly grating towards the end, but it was like a fun book reading with illustative pictures, I can certainly see the two arts going hand in hand - though I'll probably always prefer the safe old fashioned music score.

Orochi is a chambara parable which sets out to prove it's point that not everyone who are defined as vilains are so. To do so we follow the story of Heisaburo Kuritomi, played by the then huge star Tsumasaburô Bandô. Heisaburo is an honorable, but short tempered samurai who keeps getting into situations were he's either wrongfully accused or acts with good intentions at heart. These situations gets more and more extreme as he falls further down the barrell and starts to become what everybody thinks he is, though he maintances his honorable heart and gets to show it in the end.

This is a fairly sad and melancholig film. It's point feels a bit forced, and sometimes I rather felt that the character was to blame for his own downfall because he must have been rather oblivious if he did not believe some of the actions would get him in trouble. But overall this is a pretty good film, especially recommended for Samurai fans who wants to experience chambara from this period. Sadly I believe this is the only silent chambara I've seen this far, and it does not appear many of them survived. 7/10.
Last edited by St. Gloede on May 21st, 2012, 1:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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