Archive for August, 2014

2014: The Year in Reviews (Part II)

It’s been another third of the year, so let’s check in with the films of 2014 that I’ve watched since April.

What I do over the course of each year is, every January, I do my Film Release Calendar. And then, over the course of the year, I watch everything that comes out. (Basically everything. Last year I was running something like 92%.) And then, in December, I recap everything I saw and didn’t see. However, over the course of the year, once in April, once in August and once in December, I throw up quick reviews articles that contain my reaction to watching the films shortly after I saw them. The idea being that I can use these reviews against what I think about the films in December to come up with a true rating for them.

The April article contained all of the films I watched over the first four months of the year, and this article will contain everything I’ve watched between May and August. This does not necessarily include all the films that came out during this time. It’s just what I’ve watched. I will first list (and rate and review) everything I watched during that time, then I will tell you what films I have, but have yet to watch, and then which films I’ve yet to see and haven’t been able to obtain a copy of. This is merely making my life easier come December, that’s all.

And then, just like last time (I won’t be doing this in the next article, just now), I’ll put up a list of what films are most likely to end up in my Top Ten article (either in the top ten, or 11-20, or tiers 2 or 3), or my Unforgivables article. Oh, and I’ll continue to inform you about which films I have deliberately skipped from the year and have no intention of ever watching.

So there we are. Here’s all the stuff from 2014 I watched between May and now: (more…)

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1925 – The Battleship Potemkin

What? Was that not the only way I could have started this article?

Clearly the choice for 1925, Battleship Potemkin is one of those movies that will be on the lists of most important films ever made, best films ever made, all of that stuff. And so far, we’ve been pretty American and European in our selections, even though Russia (Soviet or not) has a very long history of important filmmaking. How do I know? I took a class on it. They have a lot of great shit throughout the years. Some of it’s really, really great. Others, really only important in the context of their history, but still good.

And then you have the important filmmakers that came out of there. But still, an overlooked nation of cinema. Especially when some of the most important names came out of there. Eisenstein, who was and is so important in film theory, and Vertov, and Pudovkin, and Kuleshov, whose eponymous effect explains essentially what editing does.

But this film, speaking only in the context of itself, since you have to, otherwise I’d be going on forever, is a real masterpiece, and I’m not even sure where to begin with it. (more…)


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The Battleship Potemkin - 124

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1924 – Greed

I mean, for lack of a better word…

We’re in for a fun article today. Greed is one of the holy grails of early cinema. The uncut version of this is on par with Abel Gance’s Napoleon. People seek this out. It’s generally regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, certainly of the silent era, if not of all time.

And, the film is also kind of the first example of a Heaven’s Gate. Which is to say – the auteur making his film wildly over schedule and over budget, and turning it into, at-the-time, what was considered a huge disaster. I know Metropolis was also one of those scenarios, and Metropolis actually bankrupted a studio, but I feel like this was more the first one. Maybe this is the Ishtar to Metropolis’s Heaven’s Gate.

Either way, this will be fun. (more…)


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Greed - 11

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1923 – Safety Last!

It’s the image. Pure and simple. If you boiled down silent cinema into a collection of images, this would probably be… number two, maybe. Behind the moon with the rocket in the eye. I’m sure there are others right there, but you get my point.

When talking about some of the most iconic images in film, this one will always be mentioned. Which is strange, since most people haven’t even seen the film it’s from. (Hell, I barely even remember the film.)

Harold Lloyd is one of those comedians who, while he has his share of fans, isn’t really remembered as well as Chaplin and Keaton and others are from the silent era. Older folks may cite him as an influence, but you don’t really get too many people being introduced to his stuff nowadays. Though at the time, his name was as big as Chaplin and Keaton. In fact, his film actually made more money than Chaplin’s films did. (more…)


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Safety Last!

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1922 – The Toll of the Sea

Until about a month ago, the choice for 1922 was not this, but was instead, Nosferatu. But then I started writing up The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for 1920, and I went, “Wait, I’m basically just going to say the same stuff for Nosferatu as I am for this.” The only difference being I’d talk about some framing stuff Murnau does with the arches and stuff. So I looked at what else I could possibly use, knowing that I could always default to, “Well, that Nosferatu shot is iconic, and nothing else was able to top it, so…”

But I quickly found this movie. The Toll of the Sea. And that immediately became the choice because I had stuff to talk about with it. Sure, Nosferatu is the most famous film of 1922, but, since I want stuff to talk about, I’ve decided to make this the film that defines 1922 for this list’s purposes. This is arguably the most important film of 1922, even if you probably haven’t heard of it.

This film is the second movie ever shot in Technicolor. (The first film, The Gulf Between, is considered lost.) It was the first Technicolor feature made in Hollywood. So essentially the first Technicolor feature. (more…)


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The Toll of the Sea - 3

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1921 – The Kid

We talked about Charlie Chaplin already, but we talked about the importance of the Tramp as a character, and his place in silent film history. And, to a lesser extent, we talked about two-reel comedy shorts, which are a very famous section of film history, especially during the years we talked about them.

This, however, is a different animal. This is Charlie Chaplin doing features. And I will be talking specifically about this film, and specifically how Chaplin managed to infuse comedy with drama, and tell a story that makes an audience laugh and cry at the same time. The man was truly a master at eliciting emotion.

Look at the sequence in this movie where they come to take the kid away, and the Tramp runs across the rooftops to get him back. It’s so heartbreaking. The whole thing. Chaplin really manages to turn the movie on a dime. He gets you invested in the characters through comedy, and then makes things dramatic on you. And it works. You don’t turn on the film at all. Instead, you’re really invested in what happens to the characters. And that’s a really great skill to have that not many people can do correctly. There’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy, and Chaplin really manages to know exactly how and when to walk that line. (more…)


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The Kid - 13

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1920 – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Caligari. Our first horror movie. Possibly the first horror film.

There were some scary/horror shorts made earlier, like The Haunted Castle, and a 1910 version of Frankenstein, but in terms of straight up horror features, nobody had the ball rolling quite like ze Germans did. German Expressionist filmmaking is not only the basis for all horror movies of the next few decades, but also of other genres, like noir. And 1920 was really the year where horror movies took off, mainly with Caligari as well as Der Golem. (I could say THE Golem, but, no I can’t.) And of course, Nosferatu, two years after this as well, is another very famous early horror film.

Mostly I’m here to talk about the impact of German Expressionism on later film. Caligari is a great film in its own regard, but it’s really its style that would resonate most throughout film history. (more…)


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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - 65

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1919 – Broken Blossoms

1919 is a rough year for film. I thought 1917 was tough… nothing compared to 1919. Almost everything I could have chosen would have led to me talking about the same stuff I’ve already talked about. So I just defaulted to Broken Blossoms, which is the most famous film of 1919, getting a D.W. Griffith bump, and, as it turns out, it actually ended up being a good choice, since I did find something really interesting to talk about.

Full disclosure – I’d never seen the film before I started this feature. And my requisite for choosing any film was that I’d had to have seen it, because otherwise, how do you talk about it?

So I watched this film, and… first off, I thought it was about white slavery until I did. Am I confusing this with another Griffith movie? I thought maybe it was Orphans of the Storm, but that’s not it. I don’t know. For the longest time I thought this movie was about white slavery. Maybe after Thoroughly Modern Millie, every movie with Chinese people is somewhat about white slavery for me.

Anyway, I figured out pretty quickly what I’m going to talk about with this film, and that’s good old-fashioned Hollywood racism! (more…)


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Broken Blossoms - 5

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1918 – Stella Maris

Here’s something fun to talk about. This one’s not so much about the movie as much as it’s about the star system. One of the most important parts of film history and classical Hollywood.

When films began, you really had no idea who was in them, and people weren’t even credited. Most people didn’t even differentiate the faces in the film, only watching the characters. But then, at a certain point after 1908, right when D.W Griffith started his run at Biograph, people began to notice a certain face appearing in a lot of the films. She was Florence Lawrence. And Biograph, refusing to give out her name, caused people to simply refer to her as “The Biograph Girl.” Which was basically the early version of the “It” girl. She became insanely popular as The Biograph Girl, and eventually built a career out of that popularity.

Now, cut to Mary Pickford. Mary Pickford started working for Biograph, playing bit parts and lead roles, depending on the films, from age 16. Very quickly, she understood that film acting was a different style than stage acting, and as such turned in naturalistic performances. Making her a favorite of D.W. Griffith. Not only that, with the amount of films that were churned out, she was playing all sorts of roles – different races, ethnicities, social types. In one week, she could play a slave, an older matriarch, and a prostitute. (more…)


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Stella Maris - 55

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1917 – Coney Island

This felt appropriate for many reasons. Mostly because 1917… probably the hardest one of these early years. I couldn’t really find anything that wasn’t a retread of something I’ve already talked about. And then I came across this film. I actually think it was Colin who suggested it, and provided enough reasoning for me to run with it and come up with more as to why it was the right choice.

Coney Island is a short film directed by and starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Even if you don’t know his work, you’ve heard the name Fatty Arbuckle. The man was a comedic powerhouse in this era. Arbuckle and Mack Sennett are probably the two biggest comedy directors going at this point in time. Now, it’s memorable for that alone, because two-reel comedies are a huge draw in this era, even with the advent of features. Features at this point weren’t yet the norm, but were getting there. They were more spectacles. Birth of a Nation, as I said, was a roadshow. They brought it from town to town and you went out to see it. If you were going to the movies on a Thursday, chances are you were watching something like this.

The other reason this felt like a good choice – it’s one of the first films of Buster Keaton. Technically his fifth, but what makes this memorable is that it’s before he created his on-screen persona, so this movie actually features him smiling on-screen, which, to people who know Buster Keaton, it’s like, “Whaaat?” That’s like hearing Arnold Schwarzenegger cried on screen. You’ve just never seen it. (more…)


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Coney Island

A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1916 – Intolerance

It was hard, having to post back-to-back D.W. Griffith films that are very similar in terms of what I’d talk about, but I had no choice. Intolerance is such a major film I had to do it.

I’m not going to spend most of the time talking about it’s importance in film history and all of that, except to say – it cost $2.5 million, which made it by far the most expensive film ever made, and it would continue to be as such for a number of years afterward. And it also became a flop, I guess because costs were so high.

Now, what I do want to talk about in regards to this movie is the idea of the epic film. And specifically the epic silent film. Because this film was a tremendous undertaking, and required a lot of sets and costumes and people (over 3,000 extras). It’s a behemoth film, running somewhere between just under 200 minutes or just over 200 minutes. So, about the same length as Titanic. And, just watching it, you go, “Holy shit, look at the scale.” You rarely see this type of scale in filmmaking, and it’s made all the more impressive because you know they had to do it all legitimately. You couldn’t fake any of this and make it on a computer. Everything was done for real. (more…)


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Intolerance - 60

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. (more…)


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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. (more…)