Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Watching the 20th Century, 1907-1909

I decided this project was getting too big to fit into one blog post. To review from last November, I'm watching 1 movie from 1901, 2 movies from 1902, 3 movies from 1903, and so on. Now, I just finished 1910. This has been fun!

Le Spectre Rouge (Red Spectre) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvJu9I2Z1Ow

Okay, I cheated here. This particular video pairs the silent film with modern heavy metal music. It works remarkably well. The film itself is a weird combination of bland stage magic combined with special effects and aping the style of Melies. The Red Spectre wears what would make a great Halloween costume. It starts out very subtle, but there’s actually a story going on here about the female spirit that vexes the Red Spectre throughout his show and finally attacks him to get his cape. It’s so tantalizingly underdeveloped that I’m tempted to write some fiction now about the backstory here.

Les Terroristes en Russie (The Russian Terrorists) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWzqG9woWJk

There is a great 90 minute movie encapsulated into the first 8 minutes of this short film. A government bureaucrat is killed by an anarchist with a bomb, but the bureaucrat is also shown to be a family man. The grieving widow confronts the female bomber, with her children, in the woman’s cell. When the anarchist realizes she not only hurt the government, but tore apart a family, she begs for forgiveness. The family shows mercy and forgives her in the end. It’s a powerful message that resonates today, about the dangers of hating others for purely political reasons.

Well, that’s probably where it should have ended. There’s a ridiculous final 2 minutes, where the widow not only forgives her, but helps the woman escape from jail. To atone, the woman goes back and tries to talk her co-conspirators out of another bombing attempt, but when that fails she takes the bomb and blows them all up.


The Adventures of Dollie https://archive.org/details/TheAdventuresOfDollie#

This was D. W. Griffith's directoral debut, and you can see that what he brought to his early pictures was an understanding of pantomime and appreciation that motions had to be big and expressive to convey meaning clearly, something the more muddled films before this lacked.

Known today for his racism nearly as much as his film work, it's interesting what a negative stereotype we see of gypsies here. Thank goodness, 97 years later, we don't fear cultures not our own anymore. Oh, wait. Never mind.

It's an interesting choice, showing us so little of Dollie's face. Now, it's possible that this decision was borne out of a child who couldn't act, but the effect makes Dollie an "every child".

The Assassination of the Duke of Guise https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Assassination_of_the_Duke_of_Guise

Supposedly the first instance of French "high art" in film, but it even fails at pretentiousness. There are three interesting minutes in the middle, surrounded by men just standing around in period clothes talking...which of course, you can't understand because this is a *silent* film.

Sten’ka Razin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stenka_Razin_(film)

This was supposedly a 10 minute film, but only 6 minutes of it remains. Six painfully plodding minutes of people rowing boats or milling around. This is the earliest known Russian film biography. You would think Russian history would be more interesting.

The Taming of the Shrew https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Taming_of_the_Shrew_(1908_film)

I expected more from D.W. Griffith after “The Adventures of Dollie”, but I found this one a confusing muddle. Is the lesson you’re supposed to take away from the Shakespearean play that guys who beat their servants get the girls?

A Visit to the Seaside https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPcHJA2ESAM

The complete film is supposedly 8 minutes long, but I could only find less than a minute of it online. It looks like somebody’s home vacation film, accidentally commercially released.

“Leo Tolstoy on Film” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxHr1ku9DGI

It’s unclear if this was footage shot for a documentary, or newsreel footage spliced together, but it is remarkably clear footage of the final days, and funeral, of Leo Tolstoy.

The Tempest https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaXOapmEWLo

This was not the first attempt to bring Shakespeare to film, but it’s the first one you can sort-of follow without needing to know in advance how the play goes. It’s not, well, Shakespeare -- or even Forbidden Planet!

El Hotel El├ęctrico (The Electric Hotel) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCzru63JBSE

One of the earliest examples of stop-motion animation in film...I’m sure this nine-minute, plotless example was fascinating at the time. Curiously, the only writing in this Spanish film appears to be in French!


A Corner in Wheat https://archive.org/details/D.w.Griffith-ACornerInWheat1909

The modern movie has finally arrived. D. W. Griffith delivers a full story -- character-driven plot, multiple distinguishable characters, complex scenes, and perhaps the best 12-minute summary of what’s wrong with capitalism on film. Interestingly, this silent film might be best to watch with the sound on your computer off; attached is a soundtrack that seems period-appropriate, but doesn’t always sync up with the action appropriately.

A Drunkard’s Reformation https://archive.org/details/ADrunkardsReformation1909

A simplistic tale, as most of these short films are, highlighted by the little girl who stares up at her father with haunting eyes.

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