Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Another detour from silent cinema. I can’t completely control what sends me through the mail... but at least it sends me good stuff. Some spoilers follow.

Would you be afraid of Gort? I’d be afraid. What’s not to fear from a malleable metal juggernaut from another world, with the strength of a tank and a death-ray built into his head? When Gort’s visor rises, he can direct the ray so precisely that it can disintegrate a soldier’s rifle and leave the soldier unharmed. But if Gort wishes, that ray can do the same to any human being, reducing him or her to bubbling slurry on the grass.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Safety Last! (1923)

Joe Shuster, co-creator of Superman, once said there was a “little bit of Harold Lloyd” in his character’s alter-ego, Clark Kent. I can see it. Like Kent, Lloyd’s characters tend to be earnest go-getters; inept at first-glance, but underestimated. They’re unfailingly good men, and though they make bad decisions, it’s usually for the right reasons.

The Boy in Safety Last! is a typical Lloyd character, and as it happens, he also follows a trajectory not so different from Superman’s. Country-raised, he longs to marry the Girl, and so he seeks his fortune in the big city.

Like the red-and-blue hero—and unlike many country types of the silent era—the Boy remains uncorrupted. In fact, he lives city life as cheaply as possible, even going without food so as to afford presents for his Girl, which he mails to her along with letters extolling his success.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Holy Grail?

Is Metropolis finally complete? Ain't It Cool says yes.

Count me among the thousands who'll be buying a ticket to see this one--in the theatre, as God and/or Lang intended--when it arrives in Toronto. Metropolis is the world's most famous silent film, and deservedly so. Not only has it inspired thousands of filmmakers, it's also been the first step to silent film-fandom for hundreds of thousands of cinema lovers, myself included. Love it or hate it (and it does inspire its own brand of passionate haters), Metropolis remains a uniquely accessible silent film. I can't wait to see what I've been missing.

For a story about how I first discovered Metropolis (and by extention, the very subject of this blog), click here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Avatar (2009)

One of my rare forays into the sound-filled and modern. Spoilers follow.

Seeing Avatar is not easy. I twice failed to purchase a ticket to it, finally squeezing my backside into another sold-out Toronto theatre only yesterday afternoon. Had I shown up 20 minutes later, I probably would have been turned away again. This is a three-hour movie that, in Week Eight of its North American run, can still pack a house in a major city, at 3 p.m. on a Friday. That’s impressive. More impressive is how it can do this despite being an all-time low for big-budget Hollywood film-making. I can’t think of a movie that offended me more, and I’ve seen some trash. Just hear me out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Veidt and Lang

First up, a clip from a short film directed by reader Max Sacker:

Nice opening sequence. It's so tempting, I find, for modern directors to portray the silent aesthetic in an exaggerated way. Max didn't do that here. The influence, obviously, is Metropolis, (with a little Frankenstein thrown in, I'd say), but the mad scientist reminds me me of Conrad Veidt. Which got me to thinking: "did Veidt and Metropolis director Fritz Lang ever collaborate?" I couldn't think of any examples, but it turns out there is one:

Anyone seen this? I never have. Lang didn't direct it anyway--as you can see, he wrote it, along with his then-wife, Thea von Harbou, who also wrote Metropolis, among other screenplays.  I have seen (and reviewed) one of Lang's action-adventure pics, Spiders, which is about as close to Indiana Jones as you're going to get in the 1920s. And a pair of future Silent Volume posts will be dedicated to the first and second parts of Lang's lush and violent super epic, Die Nibelungen (1924), which, I imagine, bears some similarities. If you recommend The Indian Tomb (or know of any other obscure silents starring or directed by famous people) let me know.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Fool There Was (1915)

There’s a moment late in A Fool There Was when John Schuyler, former lawyer and U.S. diplomat, now a disgraced, debauched shell, crawls down the staircase of his home, headfirst toward the floor. At one point he stops, eyes round and haunted, and pushes his arm through the spindles of the banister, as though they were bars. Soon, we see ‘The Vampire’ (Theda Bara) looming over him; the woman who seduced him to leave his family and, as her name implies, sucked him dry. She looks ravishing as she sprinkles bits of flower upon him, but it is no gentle gesture—the moment the petals rest on his face, she blows them away.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Go 2 LAMB... fact, thanks for ALREADY going to LAMB. That is, the Large Association of Movie Blogs, via Silent Volume (see button in upper right corner). It seems that my little silent movie blog has respectably ranked on the LAMB Leaderboard, after only one month of contention. Many thanks!

Not much else to report today. I may be catching myself a little vamp tonight--that is, some Theda Bara--for this weekend's feature film. You think Theda'd be a star today? It's an interesting question:

Have a great week, and thanks again for your quantifiable support.


Monday, February 1, 2010

One Week (1920)

One Week was Buster Keaton’s first starring vehicle—a 19-minute short that kicked off a decade of artistic achievement matched by few people afterward, including Buster Keaton. To me, it’s like a commercial for him. Herein you’ll find a set of gags that run the gamut of Keaton’s skills and preoccupations, from the very big, spectacular and dangerous to the small, subtle and satirical. He loved both. Moreover, he was still learning how to do them well, so in One Week, you’ll also see an artist perfecting his craft. The seeds of great films like The General (1927) can be found in One Week; that alone would be enough to recommend it. Fortunately, it’s a funny, well-paced gem in its own right.