Author Topic: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New  (Read 6201 times)

pixote

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Re: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New
« Reply #70 on: February 07, 2017, 05:33:33 AM »
1919 (Poll)

Films Graded                     Films Remembered                     Watchlist
None!Broken BlossomsFor Better, for Worse
SunnysideMale and Female
The BusherDon't Change Your Husband
SouthDaddy-Long-Legs
The Mother and the Law
J'accuse!
The Doll
True Heart Susie
When the Clouds Roll by
The Oyster Princess
Hawthorne of the U.S.A.
Different from the Others
The Spiders
Back Stage (short)

The choices for this year sort of make me wonder if I should have lumped together all the pre-1920 years as their own group. I feel compelled to revisit Broken Blossoms, for example, even though I'm mostly doing so just to honor the spirit of this project. The 'Something New' choices are a little more appealing, but not nearly at the level of most other years. Male and Female will likely be my choice, since DeMille looms as a pretty major blind spot for me. I definitely want to get to The Doll (Lubitsch) and Different from the Others in future rounds, though. That latter film sounds incredibly fascinating, even in an incomplete state. The Arbuckle-Keaton short Back Stage should make an interesting point of comparison with Keaton's The Play House, so that'll be my Bonus Short for 1919.

pixote
« Last Edit: February 07, 2017, 05:38:04 AM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

pixote

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Re: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New
« Reply #71 on: May 31, 2017, 12:45:06 AM »
1919: Something New



Male and Female  (Cecil B. DeMille, 1919)

It's rumored that DeMille retitled his adaptation of J.M. Barrie's 1902 play The Admirable Crichton to Male and Female because he worried that audiences would think it was about the navy. Well, dammit, he was right. I've heard the title many times before (probably in reference to the 1957 British film with Kenneth More) and always imagined Crichton to be an admiral. Gosh, am I dumb.

It turn out that Crichton is actually a butler, played in DeMille's adaptation by Thomas Meighan. Gloria Swanson, just 20 years old at the time, plays one of the spoiled people in the wealthy loam household that he Crichton waits upon. It's a big house. We spend what seems like forty minutes meeting everyone who lives there. It's pretty boring setup, to be honest, and the flowery intertitles are no help. The real highlight is seeing Gloria Swanson take a bath amid the elaborate art direction. (The sex appeal on display is the more likely explanation of the film's title change.)

After the long introductions, the household takes to the seas, where a shipwreck strands them on an island. The shipwreck sequence is quite cool and well directed definitely one of the highlights of the film. From there, the story becomes one of class inversion (on the island, the once-pampered rich are now helpless, while the resourceful butler is king) intermixed with romance, mostly with a comedic bent. Unfortunately, the cleverness of the writing never matches the cleverness of the art direction (which is impressively inventive), so there aren't many laughs to be had. Then things take a couple of bizarre turns, first with a Babylonian fantasy sequence (visually cool, thematically meh, and narratively just wtf) and then with some random bursts of patriotic fever (USA! USA! USA!). It''s all very silly, and not usually in good ways, but it's also rarely boring, once things finally get moving.

I didn't quite like the film, but DeMille impressed me here. I've always been wary of him, having been burned by The Greatest Show on Earth and finding its direction rather sloppy. I've otherwise only seen The Cheat (1915) but under poor circumstances and with too little context to appreciate DeMille's contribution. Male and Female has shown me what a talented director he really is, and for the first time I suspect that there's something in his filmography from the 1920s that will really appeal to me. Even in 1919, he displays as much or even more finesse with the craft than John Ford, say, shows a half decade later. DeMille's flair for lavish art direction and exciting set-pieces is part of the appeal of Male and Female, but his finesse with his cast (particularly Meighan and Swanson) is the bigger revelation.

Grade: C+

This review was meant to be accompanied by twenty or so screenshots, but I lost my copy of the film before I could gather them. Sad times.

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

pixote

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Re: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New
« Reply #72 on: June 01, 2017, 03:40:18 AM »
1919: Bonus Shorts



Back Stage  (Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, 1919)

Review here.

Grade: C+
      

The Hayseed  (Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, 1919)

Review here.

Grade: C



Two of the weaker Arbuckle-Keaton collaborations, but I'm grateful for the push to watch that whole set.

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

pixote

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Re: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New
« Reply #73 on: July 07, 2017, 02:37:41 AM »
1919: Something Old



Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl  (D.W. Griffith, 1919)

Broken Blossoms presents an interesting test case for what types of elements most date a silent movie in a modern viewer's eyes. Griffith's film runs the full gamut of possibilities, starting with the "Yellow Man" terminology right there in the title. Thematically, the story of a (platonic-ish) love between a Chinese man and a white, English girl might actually be considered progressive, relative to the sociopolitical climate of 1919 but that progressivism can seem like such a feeble gesture, especially when the Chinese character is only referred to in derogatory terms (even The Girl calls him "Chinky", presumably with implied affection). Still, I can more or less give the film a pass on all that.

More troubling is the casting of the white Richard Barthelmess as The Yellow Man. Modern sensibilities aside, this is still horrible casting, with Barthelmess' attempts to play Asian generally being very distracting. It's almost comical the way he tries to keep his eyes halfway open the whole time but keeps closing them by accident. He doesn't look Chinese so much as narcoleptic. And then he maintains a hunched posture that's actually a little bizarre, and always moves very languidly because, you know, opium. That's the sum of his entire performance.

The performances of Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp offer another chance for the film to feel dated just by virtue of being silent-era performances of the typical histrionic style. Crisp here plays a standard heavy, the kind you can imagine terrorizing Keaton or Chaplin. It's an over-the-top portrayal, but I rather like it. I can see why some would balk at it though. Gish, however, is so marvelous here that she might make a convert of even the most skeptical modern eyes. Granted, at 23 years old, she never succeeds in seeming a girl of 16, but that's not a fatal flaw like with Barthelmess's challenges. Gish is nonetheless incandescent. And magnetic. And visceral. It's almost as if she's not playing a character so much as capitalized abstractions like Purity and Innocence and Sorrow and Love and her eyes, face, and Billy Bitzer's camera make it work.

What most dates the film in my eyes, actually, is its high-falutin' posturing, its desperate yearning to be Art. The loftiness of the title cards is occasionally suffocating: "There he brings rays stolen from the lyric moon, and places them on her hair; and all night long he crouches, holding one grubby little hand." That's not the best example, but having just read the source short story by Thomas Burke ("The Chink and the Child", sigh), the film's intertitles seem restrained by comparison. (Burke's prose is overheated to the point of self-parody.) And I'm not positive that audiences in 1919 would be any more forgiving of that self-congratulatory, artsy tone. I can imagine them rolling their eyes the same way and looking forward to seeing it mocked in a future two-reeler.

Despite all these problematic elements, the tragic melodrama of the film nonetheless works. The appealing simplicity of the narrative, together with the innocent splendor of Gish's performance, Bitzer's photography, and Griffth's direction turns Burke's awful, two-bit short story into a very decent movie. (Decent might be the wrong word, actually, given its double-meaning.)

Grade: B

pixote
« Last Edit: July 07, 2017, 02:41:07 AM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

pixote

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Re: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New
« Reply #74 on: July 07, 2017, 02:53:59 AM »
1929 (Poll)

Films Graded                     Films Remembered                     Watchlist
Lucky Star (B-)Man with a Movie CameraMarianne [talkie version]
Blackmail [silent] (B-)Diary of a Lost GirlPandora's Box
The Love Trap (B-)Un Chien Andalou [short]Queen Kelly
Blackmail [sound] (C+)HallelujahEscape from Dartmoor
Hell's Heroes (C)The New Babylon
The Iron Mask
Asphalt
My Grandmother
The Last Warning
It's a Great Life
Mother Krause's Journey to Happiness
Woman in the Moon
Arsenal
Old and New
Why Be Good?
Seduction
Piccadilly
White Hell of Pitz Palu
Applause
Laila
The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna
The Love Parade
The Four Feathers
Bulldog Drummond
The Skeleton Dance [short]
Rain [short]
A Straightforward Boy [short]
I Graduated, But... [short]



There's no real question what my Something Old needs to be this round: Man with a Movie Camera. It's been forever since I've seen it, and I'm fairly optimistic that I'll be as enamored of it now as I was then.

All of my Bonus Shorts so far have been first-time watches, but I really need to see Un chien andalou again, so I'll definitely be sneaking that in there as well (possibly along with the Ozu shorts).

The Something New selection is much trickier. I had a great deal of trouble paring down this watchlist, and just as much difficulty narrowing down the top selections, settling on the ones in bold. From that group, I ultimately decided on Laila, but I'll be excited to return to 1929 soon to catch up with the others.

Has anyone here seen Laila, by the way? It's not mentioned anywhere in the 1929 poll thread, not even in the poll itself.

pixote
« Last Edit: July 07, 2017, 02:57:15 AM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

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Re: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New
« Reply #75 on: July 07, 2017, 09:35:53 AM »
I've never heard of Laila, but at 2hrs and 45min I'm not surprised it's so obscure.

Looking at your list, my favorite that you don't have bolded is Asphalt, but I don't have a strong case for you to consider it.

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Re: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New
« Reply #76 on: July 07, 2017, 09:44:28 AM »

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Re: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New
« Reply #77 on: July 08, 2017, 06:47:47 AM »
I haven't seen Laila, but I made a note of it when it was released on DVD by Flicker Alley in 2011 and Mubi wrote about it. The film industry in Sweden and in Danmark was more prolific than that in Norway in the 20's and that condition prevails almost one hundred years later.
I might remember it all differently tomorrow.

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Re: Year-by-Year: Something Old, Something New
« Reply #78 on: July 19, 2017, 02:12:07 AM »
A case for Dartmoor

Added to my watchlist for next round.

Meanwhile, I just reclassified Killer of Sheep as a 1978 film, which leaves 1977 as a blindspot year, in terms of graded films. Adding it to this first round. Annie Hall was far overdue for a rewatch anyway.

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