Author Topic: Silent Films  (Read 712 times)

Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: Silent Films
« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2014, 08:02:03 AM »
Apart from Chaplin Chaplin Chaplin im surprised no one mention Modern Times?
I went with City Lights because I think it's the best Chaplin to start with even though Modern Times is better.


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Re: Silent Films
« Reply #11 on: August 23, 2014, 02:00:38 AM »
Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd

Dave the Necrobumper

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Re: Silent Films
« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2014, 04:27:32 AM »
I also endorse A Page of Madness and would suggest Nosfertu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.


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Re: Silent Films
« Reply #13 on: November 11, 2017, 05:28:51 PM »

Les vampires  (Louis Feuillade, 1915-16)

I mistakenly watched this for Shocktober, having forgotten what I no doubt learned from Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep long ago — namely, that the Vampires here are a vast criminal network, with nothing supernatural about them; leaches on society but not actual bloodsuckers. They do, however, dress head-to-toe in black when committing their crimes, so there's that.

Episode 1: The Severed Head (1915) — In total, Les vampires runs about seven full hours, making it a daunting watch, but this first episode allayed my fears about getting through the whole serial. Feuillade's page-turner sensibilities are immediately on display, and many of the core elements promise excitement: the intrepid, Clark Kent-style journalist, the secret passageways, the stunts (a long, long climb down a poie, in this case), and the severed head itself, which makes clear that this isn't dainty, drawing room action. There's added interest, too, in studying the filmmaking style and noting when it deviates from its very standard template. Grade: B

Episode 2: The Deadly Ring (1915) — The shortness of this episode (just 15 minutes) makes it an outlier in the series. There's one standout moment — a ballet assassination — which, though good, isn't quite as artful as I thought it might be. It's impressive how much story is packed into the short running time, but it doesn't feel fully substantive; just two somewhat random incidents of crime ring terror. The introduction of Irma Vep gains added significance in hindsight, when she emerges as the most resilient of the Vampires. Mazamette's introduction in the first episode is similarly downplayed, with no hint that he's going to be so integral to story; the same with Moréno in Episode 4. The gradual emergence of all three of those characters makes for a nice surprise in each case. Grade: B-

Episode 3: The Red Cryptogram (1915) — At the end of the previous episode, the Vampires presumably would have thought that our journalist hero Philippe Guérande was dead, which should have worked to his advantage here, but the script fails to capitalize on that story point. But we've gotten to the point where Guérande has no compunction about shooting Irma Vep and another Vampire in the back, which suitably shocked me. It's funny that this vast network of Vampires has exhibited no real purpose except to try to assassinate the lone journalist investigating them, with those attempts being his only real leads in the investigation. The plotting is silly but in a fun way. Here, for example, there are two very complicated plots by the Vampires to recover an encoded notebook that delineates all their crimes. Each of those plots seems foolproof (they aren't, of course), so it's almost illogical the way they unfold simultaneously; but it makes for good excitement. There's one particularly nice shot across some rooftops, and of course that's the one shot that has survived in the worst condition. Grade: B-

Episode 4: The Spectre (1916) — This chapter is noteworthy largely because of the advance in film language since the previous installment: increased camera setups, cross-cutting, judicious camera movement, the incorporation of a flashback, and even an effects shot to show both sides of a telephone call simultaneously (with the Seine dividing the frame). There's also a continued dark maturity to the way the film deals with murder and the handling of a corpse. The story is overly preposterous, as it's revealed that the Grand Vampire also works as a real estate agent and Irma Vep also works in a bank (they each have like a dozen active personae, I guess). Too many coincidences stem from this setup, including the way out intrepid journalist lucks onto the caper. Grade: B-

Episode 5: The Corpse's Escape (1916) — Five episodes in, and the general lack of personality is becoming more and more a problem. Philippe Guérande and the Grand Vampire are both kind of boring. The lack of closeups probably doesn't help, but neither Édouard Mathé nor Jean Aymé has a very strong screen presence, and the screenplay keeps their characters equally faceless. Thank god for Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque), who is emerging as the real hero, despite ostensibly being something of a comic sidekick. His glances towards the audience amuse me pretty much every time. Moreno, the criminal rival of the Grand Vampire, is also becoming a more and more interesting figure, adding a nice complication to the narrative. Fernand Herrmann plays him well and injects the movie with some much-needed charisma. The advances in film technique continue to intrigue me. I don't think the first episode would have been capable of a shot like the one here, where a moving camera captures rich party guests banging futilely on a locked door as they're being gassed. Grade: B-

Episode 6: The Eyes That Mesmerize (1916) — The longest chapter yet — just about a hour — contains the most advanced filmmaking but also the most convoluted story. It's too much, especially with the overly silly hypnotism element (hi, Dr. Mabuse!), however minor it turns out to be. The flashback to the Napoleonic era is fascinating, and there's one moving camera shot with a horse stunt that's impressive, but the episode as a whole is underwhelming. It ends well, though, and had me eager to see the resolution, even though I worried it would be another "the bullets were blanks" twist. This is the episode that made me fully appreciate the way Moreno was introduced as an anonymous mark for the Vampires but turned into a main character. Very nicely done. Grade: C+

Episode 7: Santanas (1916) — Ah, so the Grand Vampire isn't the real Grand Vampire. I kind of figured that, but it's a relief nonetheless because this new guy, Santanas, actually has screen presence. Plus, he's got 'satan' in his name, so you know he means business. The film provides him a strong hook scene (something the other guy never had). Lest there be any further doubt about his villainous credentials, he presses a button in his apartment, a secret compartment opens in the wall, and a full-sized cannon wheels itself out. It's a jaw-dropping moment, like an anachronistic parody of a Bond movie, simultaneously wonderful and awful and representing the series' first full embrace of camp. The majority of this episode is devoted to a single caper, the thrill of which has eroded over time. The new dynamic with Moreno continues to add interest, though I wish Irma Vep wasn't still under his hypnotic spell. It's funny to see Mazamette morph into a lothario and almost sad to see Guérande demoted to goofy sidekick. The final surprising moment of action is redemptive but the misses outweigh the hits here. Grade: C+

Episode 8: The Lord of Thunder (1916) — Yay, the cannon is back! I thought it might be a one-hit wonder, but, no, here it is again, creating a huge ship explosion and underscoring just how dramatically the scope of the story has increased since the first episode. Musidora, as Irma Vep, is perhaps at her best here, though I feared for her safety in the exciting shot of her under a moving train. She possesses a slightly weird screen presence — the way she stands proudly before the warden with her hand on her hip, for example — but those eyes, those big, dangerous eyes. The scene where she returns to the cabaret represents an epiphany for Feuillade's filmmaking. Meanwhile, the introduction of Mazamette's kid feels like a sitcom adding a character in season eight to freshen things up. It works, but as a viewer I'm now very ready to get this thing wrapped up. Two episodes left. Grade: B-

Episode 9: The Poison Man (1916) — The second half of this chapter contains by far the best sustained cinematography (and editing) of the entire series, along with the most compelling action sequence. The location photography in the series generally tends to be more inspired, as the filmmakers can't rely on standard setups, like they too often do when filming indoors. But the final reels here are impressive in the absolute sense, not just relative to the rest of the series. Unfortunately, getting to this sequence involves too many story shenanigans that lack enough sense. The first half isn't wholly without merit, especially when the Vampires try to poison the guests at an engagement dinner, but the film doesn't fully capitalize on the potential suspense there. Like too often, things just sort of happen. Grade: B-

Episode 10: The Bloody Wedding (1916) — The series culminates with some very good action and stunts — Irma Vep's plummeting out the window tethered to a rapidly unfurling rope; the collapsing balconies, dismantled by Guérande — but this final chapter is marred by storytelling that's silly to the point of carelessness. The first third is also hurt by a bad performance by Germaine Rouer, as Augustine, who keeps looking at the camera as if for direction; or perhaps she was just trying to imitate Marcel Lévesque. Irma Vep's farewell makes for a nice scene. I'm glad that one of the many bullets fired in this chapter finally hit its mark. Grade: C+

So, in the end, our hero journalist never does any actual journalism. That's disappointing, since I was looking forward to that aspect of the story. He might as well have just been a police officer; same difference, the way things play out. He's a tragic figure either way, the way he's so completely overshadowed by Mazamette, a character who begins the series of something of a throwaway punchline. I had dumbly thought Fritz Lang pioneered this style of crime drama in the 1920s; I had no idea how indebted he was to Louis Feuillade. Feuillade himself has maybe the best arc of any character in Les vampires, seeming to grow as a director — and in pioneering ways — with every new episode. I'll be curious to see if that trend continues through Judex.

Grade: B-

I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.


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Re: Silent Films
« Reply #14 on: November 11, 2017, 09:58:35 PM »
That's quite a commitment.  I don't think I would follow through to that degree.
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