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A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1915 – The Birth of a Nation

Because how do you not pick Birth of a Nation for 1915?

Honestly I could have just ended my article there, because I don’t even need to explain this choice, but I told myself I’m gonna try to write 500 words about each film, so I’ll figure out something to talk about.

It’s based on a book called The Clansman, which already tells you you’re starting off on the wrong foot. It’s kind of weird that D.W. Griffith chose this as his first major feature. I get why he chose it in scope, but starting from the point of view of the KKK… kind of fucked up.

Apparently the title was The Clansman when it came out, but at some unidentified point in time afterward, it was retitled The Birth of a Nation, speaking to the fact that Griffith believes that after the Civil War, we became a unified nation. Which is hilarious, because the end of this movie has a group who hates blacks and would continue to do everything in their power to keep racism alive in the south for a hundred-plus years after the end of that war. Read the rest of this page »

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The Birth of a Nation - 152

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1914 – Mabel’s Strange Predicament

I really saw no other choice with this one.

No matter what movie came out in 1914, all pale in comparison, historically, to the fact that 1914 is the year Charlie Chaplin made his first film, and the year Charlie Chaplin introduced the character of the Tramp to cinema. I’m pretty sure the Tramp is one of the fifteen most iconic characters in the history of movies. In 1920, Charlie Chaplin was the most famous person in the entire world. Because his character transcended language. Which is the beauty of silent comedy. You could understand it no matter where you were.

Now, I’m not gonna talk about the film itself, because Mabel’s Strange Predicament is not a particularly memorable movie. We spend most of the time with Mabel, and we don’t really care about Mabel. We care about Chaplin. Because the Tramp, like the most watchable parts of all movies, is a wild card. You don’t know what he’s going to do at any given moment in time. Which is why, no matter what’s happening on screen, you will always watch a baby or an animal, because you don’t know what either is going to do. That’s what makes the Tramp so great. Plus, everything he does is hilarious. Read the rest of this page »

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Mabel's Strange Predicament

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1913 – Fantomas

I’ll fully admit to this being a bit of a compromise. There was one serial I wanted to have on this list (I’m sure everyone who knows me or the blog knows exactly which one it is), but it wasn’t from 1913. And the year it came out, there’s a choice that has to be used, which means I wasn’t able to.

So, I compromised and put my serial here. Which actually works out. Since 1913 isn’t the strongest of years. There’s no definitive choice. Plus it’s perfectly situated between the two-reel films and features, which works given the type of film the serial is.

And plus, serials are such an important part of film history, and are essentially the forerunners of television, so they had to be represented somewhere. And this serial is really famous and was directed by the same guy who directed the serial I wanted to use, so really it all worked out. Read the rest of this page »

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Fantomas

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1912 – The Musketeers of Pig Alley

This movie is a masterpiece.

I knew nothing of this movie until I took a class specifically on silent film my junior year. It was introduced to me (as I’m sure it’s usually introduced to people), as a huge influence on Scorsese. And when you see it, you can tell. This is the original New York gangster picture. And it really just jumps off the screen, even though it was made now over 100 years ago. It’s absolutely tremendous.

It’s a simple story. Poor couple in New York, in love. He’s a musician, and she… pretty much sits around the apartment with “ma.” (But since all Ma does is sit around in a chair in the center of the frame, we know she’ll be dead before the end of the movie. Which, pro tip… if any character in a movie pre-1915 is sitting lethargically in a chair or laying down in a bed in the front of the frame… they’re going to die.) There’s actually a great shot at the beginning of the movie where we have this whole scene with the two of them talking, and then he leaves and we realize, “Holy fuck, there’s an old woman who’s been sitting in a chair in the room right behind where they were standing the entire time.”

Which is something I like to see in all my movies. Read the rest of this page »

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