Tuesday, September 29, 2009

18. Our Hospitality (1923)

Running Time: 74 minutes
Directed By: John G. Blystone, Buster Keaton
Written By: Clyde Bruckman, Jean C. Havez
Main Cast: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Ralph Bushman, Creaig Ward, Monte Collins, Natalie Talmadge

Sidenote: To my surprise, I got a call from the library today informing me that Within Our Gates has come in, on my Inter-library loan request. Can't believe it actually came in, because I called them the other day and the lady told me that because only one other library in the entire state of Pennsylvania had the film, it was highly unlikely that it would actually come through. But it did!! So I'll probably knock it off later tonight, so check back at the Within Our Gates post, that I previously constructed, either late late tonight or tomorrow for that review.

Now then...


The first of five Buster Keaton movies as I make my way through the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" text finally pops up and does not disappoint me in the least.

We start out with a brief lesson in the ways of the 1800's, when families used to hold feuds against each other for generations and generations, killing each other and seeking revenge, and back and forth, for no other reason than "that's what their father's did". Our story focuses on two such families: The Canfields and the McKay's.

At the age of one Willie McKay is taken from the violent world that is his birthplace and sent to live with his aunt in New York, without ever being told of the feud that exists between the two families.

All grown up, at the age of twenty-one, Willie (Keaton) receives a letter informing him that his father's estate has gone unsettled, and that he needs to return to claim it and take care of the matter. Willie envisions that the estate will be a nice, big mansion that he can live in and prosper, so he decides he must return. Before leaving, however, his aunt tells him of the feud and warns him that if he should come across any Canfields to beware. On the train ride (possibly the funniest ten minutes of film, I've ever seen) Willie meets a girl: Virginia, the daughter, as it so happens, of Joseph Canfield, the Canfield patriarch, yet Willie doesn't know that at this point.

They arrive back in Willie's birthplace and Willie quickly finds his estate, a rundown old shack, something very different than Willie envisioned. He is eventually invited to dinner by Virginia, still oblivious to the fact that he has agreed to dine with his blood enemies. The Canfields quickly learn of Willie's arrival in to town and prior to the dinner, they try, but many times fail to shoot him, with Willie dodging bullets by accident.

Once at their home, Willie quickly learns that he's dining at the Canfields and due to southern hospitality, they cannot shoot him while he is a guest. At this point Willie makes every excuse possible to stay at the home, knowing that if he leaves he is a dead man. Willie eventually sneaks out and the chase is on, leading to a very suspenseful scene, set on a raging waterfall.

It's movies like this one that make me so glad that I decided to undertake this project, because if I hadn't I probably would have never seen this absolutely brilliant, funny, suspenseful, romantic film. I had a hunch that I would have a good time with the Buster Keaton films and Our Hospitality made that hunch a reality. This film had everything, including some absolutely side splitting comedy. I could tell right off the bat that Keaton was a master of physical comedy and comedic timing, as I laughed more with this film, than I ever would with the curse word after curse word comedies that are served up on a weekly basis today. Keaton was able to make me laugh without saying a single word, and that, my friends, is pure genius at work.

RATING: 10/10 If I could go higher I would, I loved this film and while I said it would be hard to dethrone "Broken Blossoms" as my favorite movie in the book, thus far, Our Hospitality did it.

NEXT UP: Well as I mentioned earlier, Within Our Gates will be the next movie I'll be watching, but after I get that finished...Next up is La Roue...which translates to The Wheel and has a running time of around four hours.

September 29, 2009 4:51pm

Sunday, September 27, 2009

17. Foolish Wives (1923)

Running Time: 143 minutes
Directed By: Erich von Stroheim
Written By: Marian Ainslee, Walter Anthony, Erich von Stroheim
Main Cast: Erich von Stroheim, Rudolph Christians, Miss Dupont, Maude George, Mae Busch

Sidenote: Again we run into a length issue with this film, but instead of myself coming up on the short end of the spectrum, I actually got a hold of a longer cut of the film. The version that I got from Netflix, from Kino DVD, had a running time of 143 minutes, after a restoration of the film, while IMDB lists the running time at only 117 minutes.

The first of two Erich von Stroheim films on my great quest, Foolish Wives, was not one that didn't do a whole lot for me. While there were chunks of the film that kept me engaged, on a whole I found myself bored and unenthused.

Count Wladislaw Sergius Karamzin and his female cousins (or at least he calls them cousins, it's never actually made crystal clear, whether or not they are or not), who are basically con-artists and criminals, find themselves in Monte Carlo and ready to do anything to make a franc.

Upon hearing the news that Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Hughes, an American diplomat and his wife, are arriving in Monte Carlo, Karamzin sees an opportunity to get close to the wife and con her out of some fast cash. While her husband is away on business, Karamzin finds himself at the hotel where the Hughes' are staying and begins to lay on the gentlemanly charm thick. This flatters the lady, who isn't used to this type of treatment and attention.

Meanwhile, while Karamzin is seducing the wife, the cousins and him are receiving counterfeit francs from master counterfeiter Ventucci, that they can pass around the casino's of Monte Carlo and make even more money. Also, in the meantime, we hear of a plan that Karamzin had made with his maid to marry her, but seemingly he's just playing games with her and has no intention of doing anything of the sort.

In the end, when Karamzin finally gains the full trust of the "foolish wife" he begs her for money, claiming that his reputation and life are at rish unless he comes into a large sum of money, which the wife willingly hands over to the Count.

The movie, for me, didn't really seem to go anywhere, as we're left setting up this master seduction the whole time, with Karamzin trying to gain the wife's trust and having to sludge through long, boring scenes, like Karamzin and the wife stranded in a cabin in the middle of the woods, while caught in a rainstorm. While some scenes did engage me (the scenes at the roulette tables, and the scene of Karamzin "crying" in order to gain the maid's sympathy) for the most part this movie left me bored and asking "Why is this included in this book?" Basically this film is way too drawn out to finally get to that inevitable climax, and the payoff just isn't worth it.

As another plus for this movie, I have to say I absolutely loved the scene where Mrs. Hughes, throughout the film, keeps dropping things and a her always nearby United States officer, who is apparently assigned to be by her side at all times, seemingly refuses to pick them up for her. At the end, we learn that the reason he was so hesitant to help her, was because he didn't have any hands, as he apparently lost them in the war. A very touching moment in the film, and by far the best scene.

RATING: 3/10 That's as high as I can go, for the few scenes that I mentioned. I'm still looking
forward to the other Stroheim film though, Greed, as it looks like a fantastic film.

NEXT UP: Our Hospitality...My introduction to Buster Keaton.

September 27, 2009 1:57pm

16. HAXAN (1923)

Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Benjamin Christensen
Written By: Benjamin Christensen
Main Cast: Elizabeth Christensen, Astrid Holm, Karen Winther, Maren Pedersen, Ella La Cour


After a short break from my journey, I'm back on the road, finding my next film Haxan on YouTube, and being less than thrilled with the outcome of it.
The film is broken into seven chapters, each exploring the world of witchcraft and different notions and ideas that surround it.

Haxan begins with the director's narration (in title cards, of course) showing us various pictures of the preconceived notions and ideas of Medieval and Renaissance era scholars. We're showed drawings of what these scholars thought hell, devils and witches looked like. We then jump into the reenactments, as we're shown a woman who goes to a witch in hopes of procuring a love potion so that she may make a man fall in love with her. It shows her going to the with a second time, getting a stronger potion and then feeding it to the man, in which, afterwards he chases her around the table before catching her and loving her up.

The major part of the film, begins in the third chapter and tells the tale of a man who is struck by dizziness and his family, who are convinced that he must've been cursed by a witch to have such an ailment. They come across a woman, who they believe to be a witch and bring her before the council of the inquisition judges, a group of monks, in the Middle Ages, who found, tortured and eventually executed witches or women who were thought to be bewitched.

The final chapter of the film, and in my opinion, the most interesting, the director tries to make the connection between women who were accused of witchcraft in the Middle Ages and women in present day who are mentally ill. For example, mentally ill people of present day, often cite that they see the devil, or that the devil has forced them to do something terribly wrong driving them to insanity, while in the Middle Ages, "witches" were also cited as seeing devils. We are also shown a somnambulist and a kleptomaniac, as the director tells us that in medieval times, these behaviors would have been thought of as demonic and the ways of the witch, and today they are thought of as psychological disorders. Basically he's saying that women who were persecuted and killed in the middle ages for being "witches", may have been, and probably were mentally ill.

The film is very different and really I can't say that it was a complete loss, because there were parts that I definitely got into. While I didn't fully enjoy it, I can't say I hated it either. The approach taken by Christensen was definitely an odd one, and in some aspects a good one. Part documentary, part reenacted film, Haxan is a piece of work that definitely belongs in the bizarre category, due in part, also because of it's subject matter. The film is also very risque for it's time, showing scenes containing nudity and torture, as well as sexual perversion.

RATING: 4.5/10 Not a great rating, but I've definitely seen worse and I may have to take this one in again someday.

NEXT UP: Foolish Wives...No smart comment, because I'm very happily married.

September 26, 2009 10:19pm

Thursday, September 24, 2009

15. Nosferatu Eine Symphonie des Grauens/Nosferatu, A Symphony of Terror (1922)

Running Time: 80 minutes
Directed By: F.W. Murnau
Written By: Henrik Galeen
Main Cast: Max Schreck, Alexander Granach, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Shcroder


This German feature film helmed by director F.W. Murnau, and based upon the novel "Dracula" by Bram Stoker, is more of a lesson in cinematography than anything else.
Real estate agent Hutter is sent off to Transylvania in order to close a real estate deal with the ominous Count Orlok. Upon arrival in the town, in the Carpathian Mountains, he stops at an inn and even the mere mention of Orlok's name send the townspeople into a frenzy. They put him up for the night at the inn, and the next day he continues his trip to Orlok's castle, and arrives that night. Orlok, waiting for him, serves him dinner and reads over some of the real estate documents that Hutter has brought to him.

One night, after the deal is finalized, Hutter (still staying at the castle) sees Orlok leaving with a load of coffins, one of which he creeps inside of and on his merry way, he goes. Hutter now realizing exactly the dangers that Orlok presents, leaves the castle and rushes home to his wife Ellen. Meanwhile, Orlok boards a schooner and is nearly at his destination, at his new manor, opposite the home of Hutter.

Prior to his arrival, word breaks in the town that a plague has broken out at sea, and back on the vampire infested schooner, we see that all men, save the captain and first mate have perished. Fearing the worst, the first mate goes below deck to inspect the coffins, and is surprised to see Count Orlok rise from his casket, in one of the films most illustrious shots. The first mate comes back to the deck, throwing himself overboard and leaving the Captain as a meal for the Count. Hutter and Count Orlok wind up back in the town and it all leads to a climax fitting of this film.

The photography of this picture is utterly brilliant, with nearly every visual presented being something awe inspiring. Be it beautiful or terrifying, Gunther Krampf and Fritz Arno Wagner (the films cinematographers) certainly captured some amazing imagery, and what, in my opinion, led to the films much praise. The film, while not at all bad, is a bit slow at times, despite its length, a mere eighty minutes. Certain parts, such as, Hutter's employer, Knock being committed and Ellen freaking out while staying with friends, seem to drag on and slow the film down a bit.

RATING: 5.5/10 All in all I would say the very definition of an average film, with the imagery giving the film it's shine, at least in my view, and the rest being of the "take it or leave it" family.

NEXT UP: Haxan...Witchcraft through the ages.

September 23, 2009 10:30pm

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

14. Nanook of the North (1922)

Running Time: 79 minutes
Directed By: Robert J. Flaherty
Written By: Robert J. Flaherty
Main Cast: Nanook, Nyla, Cunayou, Allee, Allegoo


The ultimate goal of a documentary filmmaker, in my opinion, is to draw your interest to a subject, that otherwise, you would have no interest in. Robert J. Flaherty does just that in Nanook of the North.
Nanook of the North chronicles a couple of weeks in the lives of a common Eskimo family, headed by the great hunter Nanook (meaning Master of Bears), as they hunt, fish, build igloos and basically just try to survive in the bitter cold and relentless Arctic.

Everyone, of course, has their basic preconceived ideas of Eskimos. They build and live in igloos, they're always wrapped in parkas, they live amongst the polar bears, etc. Whatever your ideas and cliches of Eskimos may be, you really must experience this movie to get the real truth of the Eskimo people and realize exactly what they have to go through just to survive day to day.

This film held my interest very well, from the building of an igloo, which I found very interesting, to the plotting and capturing of giant seals and walrus', for sustenance. Robert J. Flaherty is considered the "Father of the Documentary", and what a great father figure for that genre to have, as this was one of the best documentary features I've ever seen.

RATING: 9/10 I deducted one point just because I didn't think this movie really felt like a perfect 10, although it was brilliant and comes with my highest of recommendations, from this day forth.

NEXT UP: Nosferatu, A Symphony of Terror...Expect the review of this one later on tonight.

September 23, 2009 6:58pm

13. Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler/Dr. Mabuse Parts 1 and 2 (1922)

Running Time: 229 minutes
Directed By: Fritz Lang
Written By: Norbert Jacques, Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Main Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Alfred Abel. Bernhard Goetzke, Gertrude Welcker, Aud Egede-Nissen

Note: Again we run across the issue of running time with this film, as basically everywhere you look there's a different running time listed for this picture, with the basic consensus being between 270-280 minutes. The version listed on Netflix has a running time of 229 minutes, which was the version that I'm set to review for you here. With a little bit of research, I find out that the only place the entire, 280 minute version of the film was released is in Region 2 DVD countries, thus excluding me from that area, and leaving me to settle with this version.
Now then...


When I arrived at Dr. Mabuse I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was directed by Fritz Lang. I have previously seen "M" and loved it, so was all set and ready to see my second Lang film, Dr. Mabuse. I won't compare it to "M" at this time, because that particular film will be coming up in our journey, down the road. However, I will say that "Dr. Mabuse, Parts 1 and 2, was an absolutely boring and in my opinion, terrible film, that quickly turned my excitement to disappointment.

We kick off with the nefarious title character, and quickly realize that he is a master of disguise, who is bound and determined to cause as much trouble and swindle as much money as he possibly can. The film starts out with an ice breaker crime, to let the viewer know exactly the lengths that Mabuse will go to, to pull off his plans. Mabuse and his men, plot out a grand scheme where they steal a very important trade agreement that will have a huge impact on the stock market. They don't plan to use the information provided in the document, just cause a ruckus, long enough for them to make a few bucks in the stocks.

From there we meet Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, as Mabuse dresses in different costumes and worms his way into any gambling parlor he can find, so that he can, basically mind fuck the other players and cleanup at the table. You see, he has some sort of hold over them, that really isn't fully explained to us, as the viewer, until nearly the end of the entire film. The players, when controlled by Mabuse, hold their heads and seem to be in La La Land, as he cleans up, takes off and they're left trying to piece the puzzle together of why their wallet is now empty.

Then, our hero is introduced, Norbert Von Weck, State Attorney, who has heard complaints of poker players saying that they've been playing with a particular man, and without even realizing what has happened they're broke. He's determined to investigate, so he goes undercover into the gambling parlors. When Mabuse tries to control Von Weck's head, it doesn't work, however Mabuse escapes and leaves Von Weck with definite evidence that someone is fucking over poker players.

The second part, kicks off with a lot of Von Weck trying to track down Mabuse and figure out who he is. I'll leave it at that for now and let you judge by what I've written, whether or not this flick is something for you or not.

To me, there is very little happening in this film and we're left until nearly the end of the movie, asking ourselves how Mabuse is controlling these people's minds. We see shot after shot of Mabuse, in different disguises playing cards and winning all the loot, but we're never told how he's doing it, which leaves each scene, in my opinion, pointless. Also, at nearly four hours, that makes the torture even worse and it is a definite chore to get through this very slow paced film.

RATING: 1/10 Gotta' go to tbe bottom of the barrel for this one, as I really didn't enjoy anything about it, and would welcome another view at the Birth of A Nation over this any day of the week. Hopefully my next Frtiz Lang flick will be better.

NEXT UP: Nanook of the North...The first documentary on our journey.

September 22, 2009 9:21pm

Sunday, September 20, 2009

11. Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Running Time: 150 minutes
Directed By: D.W. Griffith
Written By: D.W. Griffith, from the play The Two Orphans by Eugene Cormon and Adolphe d'Ennery
Main Cast: Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Joseph Schildkraut, Monte Blue, Morgan Wallace


As we bid farewell to D.W. Griffith, we take one last look at his work in Orphans of the Storm, a great movie that uses the French Revolution as a backdrop to tell a heart wrenching tale of two "sisters" (played by real life sisters, Lillian and Doroth Gish).

After being abandoned by her aristocrat parents, Louisa is found and accepted by commoners in the 1700's. The commoners, a man and woman, already have a child named Henriette, so the two are brought up as sisters. After the girls are both grown up, the plague takes the life of their parents and strikes Louisa with blindness. Henriette, however, vows to never leave her side and promises to always take care of her.

So they take off for Paris, to meet with a doctor, in hopes of curing the eyes of Louisa. Once in Paris, they come across Marquis de Praille, who becomes enchanted by Henriette. When she gives him the cold shoulder, he demands to have her abducted and brought to his estate, thus breaking up the sisters and leaving the blind Louisa to fend for herself. However, a noble, gentelman by the name of Chevalier de Vaudrey rescues her from the home of Praille and takes her to safety, only to fall in love with her.

From there, Louisa is taken in by a band of poor scoundrels, with bad intentions. They see Louisa's blindness and innocence as a way to make money while begging on the streets. They mistreat her and abuse her, but use her for their advantage. Henriette continues to search for Louisa, without luck. The aristocrat Chevalier de Vaudrey, determined to marry Henriette, is arrested for disobeying the king's orders and going against his pre-planned marriage.
Then the revolution breaks out and the aristocrats are overthrown by the people, with even the prisoners being set free. The new law decrees that any aristocrat found in the city will be arrested, as well as anyone harboring an aristocrat. Henriette, now a freed prisoner, meets back up with Chevalier, but they are found out and re-arrested and sentenced to the guillotine, leaving us with a super suspenful ending to a great film.

I gotta tell ya if I had read a review of this film, before going into it, I probably would've dreaded it. I mean, french revolution, aristocrats and men wearing wigs doesn't sound like a great time to me. But I was pleasantly surprised to find this gem and enjoyed it I DID!

Surprisingly I gotta say I'm kinda sad that the Griffith flicks are done, as I was really starting to settle in and enjoy the hell out of his movies. The last three I watched were very well done and Broken Blossoms was the stuff dreams are made of. Orphans of the Storm was also great, with Way Down East coming in thrid, but a noble third indeed.

RATING: 7.5/10 I think when I'm all done with the mission of completing the 1001, I'll revisit Griffith and watch some of his other films. Great movie!

NEXT UP: The Smiling Madame Beudet...Can't find it yet...Stay tuned.

September 20, 2009 8:59pm

09. Within Our Gates (1920)

Running Time: 79 minutes
Directed By: Oscar Micheaux
Written By: Oscar Micheaux
Main Cast: Evelyn Preer, Flo Clements, James D. Ruffin, Jack Chenault, William Smith


Sidenote: The inter-library loan that I had out on this title finally came through and I knock off a movie from the "Unfound Files". As another quick note, this title is coming all the way from Lock Haven, PA from Stevenson Library at Lock Haven University.

Within Our Gates is the earliest surviving film directed by an African American. That African American is Oscar Micheaux and the film he's made is not only historically significant, but also not a bad movie either.

Our tale starts with Sylvia Landry, a black educator, heading North to visit her cousin, Alma. At the time Sylvia is engaged to Conrad, a man for whom Alma also has eyes for. Alma's brother-in-law, Larry is also in love with Sylvia, but alas Sylvia is in love with Conrad and has no interest in Larry. Confused yet? No? Okay...let's keep rolling.

Conrad sends word that he's on his way back from Brazil, where he's been working, but the letter is intercepted by Alma and instead of giving her the letter she arranges for Sylvia to be caught in a compromising situation with another man, and when Conrad finally returns and sees Sylvia, thinking she's with another man, storms off and heads back to Brazil, calling off the engagement.

From there, Sylvia decides to leave the North and head South to the Piney Woods school, a school for black children, where she meets Rev. Jacobs, the man who runs the school. She's happy there, but the funds for the school are rapidly running short and the school is in threat of being closed. Sylvia, wanting to help the school, heads back North in search of someone, anyone who would be willing to donate money to the struggling Piney Woods.

While trying to save a child from being hit by a car, Sylvia herself is struck by the vehicle and put in the hospital. It is here that she meets the driver of the car, an old, rich, kind hearted woman, who upon hearing her story, generously agrees to donate Piney Woods the sum of $50,000. Sylvia sends word back to the South, to Rev. Jacobs, not to close the school that funds are on the way, and once healed up, heads back to the South, to continue her work as a teacher.

The film concludes with Alma repenting for the evil that she's done, in causing Conrad to leave town and putting Sylvia in a compromising situation. She spills everything to Dr. Vivian, a man who fell in love with Sylvia while she was in the North in search of donations. She tells Dr. Vivian the story of Sylvia's family and how when Sylvia was still in school, her father was framed for the murder of a wealthy, white man and lynched for his "crime".

Prior to seeing Within Our Gates, I suspected the only reason that it made it into the book, was because it was of such historical value, being one of the first films directed by a black man. But, upon seeing it, I realized that it also had legs other than it's historical ones. This film weaved together so many details: the love triangle of Sylvia, Alma and Conrad, the Piney Woods school and it's search for money, the story of Sylvia and the murder of her family, and did it so gracefully as this film flowed very well and left me satisfied. There were a few down moments, and nothing but the plot really stuck out as outstanding, but all in all I'd call this a score in the good movies column.

6/10 My original knee jerk reaction of a rating. This film was the answer to D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, and it certainly, in my opinion, was much better.

Korkarlen/The Phantom Carriage...which I still can't find.

Revised on September 30, 2009 5:07pm

08. Way Down East (1920)

Running Time: 123 minutes
Directed By: D.W. Griffith
Written By: Anthony Paul Kelly, Joseph R. Grismer, D.W. Griffith, from the play Way Down East by Joseph R. Grismer, William A. Brady and the play Annie Laurie by Lottie Blair Parker
Main Cast: Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Lowell Sherman, Burr McIntosh, Kate Bruce


Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess team up again, along with D.W. Griffith to bring us this better than average simple story of plain people.
Anna Moore (Gish) leaves her mother in New England to go and live with her more wealthy relatives. Eventhough they don't care for her, they let her stay with them for a short while, or at least until she meets and falls in love with the even wealthier Sanderson (Sherman). Sanderson, a ladies man that will go with any girl who will have him, sees Anna as a beauty and must have her. So he arranges a fake marriage and leads her to believe that they are wed. Anna then becomes pregnant and when Sanderson finds this out, he tells her that they were never actually married by a real priest and takes the first train to Splitsville.

While staying at a boarding house, Anna's baby is born and eventually dies and Anna is thrown out of the joint for not being married, as we're talking 1920's folks when baby and marriage went hand in hand. So she leaves and with nowhere to go, stumbles on to the Bartlett Farm. Squire Bartlett, the patriarch of the Bartlett family, a good, bible thumping man invites her to stay and help out around the house, after some convincing from his wife, Mother Bartlett. After staying there a while and becoming very close with the Bartlett's, especially their son David, who is falling madly in love with Anna, she finds out that Sanderson lives not too far away and is very much acquainted with the Bartlett's.

In private, he insists that she leave, as he cannot have her living so close to his home, even threatening to expose her baby secret to the upstanding Squire Bartlett. Eventually it all comes to a head, truths are outed, loves are proclaimed and the movie climaxes on a frozen river that is quickly thawing, a very grand sequence, considering the time period.

While Way Down East didn't get to me as much as Broken Blossoms did, I still found it quite enjoyable. If I had to pick one thing that was better about this film, than Blossoms, I would have to say that the characters are more fleshed out in Way Down East. There are several characters who you just wanna grab by the neck and choke for their actions, while on the other hand their are characters that you cannot help but sympathize with.

RATING: 6.5/10 Well Griffith's two for four and has one last opportunity to leave a good impression on me, with Orphans of the Storm, which is coming up shortly in the book. Certainly cannot go the full monty on this one, but it definitely blows Intolerance and The Birth of A Nation away on the enjoyment scale.

NEXT UP: Within Our Gates...to date I cannot find this one...but I'm still trying

September 20, 2009 3:58am

Saturday, September 19, 2009

07. Broken Blossoms (1919)

Running Time: 90 minutes
Directed By: D.W. Griffith
Written By: Thomas Burke, D.W. Griffith
Main Cast: Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Donald Crisp


When I was finished watching this movie, I stepped outside, lit a cigarette, and actually tried to find something wrong with this movie. I have previously watched two very boring, difficult to sit through Griffith films, and was not looking forward to watching a third. Thought, at only ninety minutes, I knew it would probably be much easier to get through than previous efforts. I sat there thinking of anything I could think of to nitpick at this film and found absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Our story begins in China, as a young man (played beautifully by Richard Barthelmess) known in the movie only as, The Yellow Man, is getting ready for a journey "across the seas" to teach the Anglo-Saxons the ways of the Buddha, the ways of peace, instead of violence. He winds up in the town of Limehouse in England, and with his original motives going unplanned. Instead, while in England, he owns a small shop and keeps to himself.

Enter Lucy Burrows (Lillian Gish, the Samuel L. Jackson to Griffith's Quentin Tarantino, if you will, to put it in modern terms) and her drunk, child abusing, boxing father, Battling Burrows. Lucy, it seems, can do no right in his eyes, cowering in fear at every move she makes, making sure she talks and does everything her father approves of, to avoid a beating with his dreaded whip.

One day after Battling gives her a good beating, she runs from the house in fear and ends up passing out inside The Yellow Man's shop. The Yellow Man with his peaceful ways and kind heart takes her in, makes her a bed, gives her a robe and treats her like a queen. A treatment that is completely foreign to Lucy. Everything is going swimmingly until one of Battling's friends discovers Lucy staying in the upstairs of the Yellow Man's shop. He of course relays the news to Battling, and after a very entertaining boxing match, film wise, Battling storms from the ring and straight to the Yellow Man's shop, giving Lucy the worst beating he's ever given her, even chasing her home and finding her hiding in a closet. With the use of an axe he busts through the door (think Jack Torrance in The Shining) and uses the whip to finish Lucy off.

I believe I've truly realized the definition of a true, great silent film. It's when you don't recognize the music or the title cards, or when you don't realize that, yes, the actor's mouth's are moving but no words are coming out. It's when you are blind to all these elements and yet you still feel the passion, the love, the anger and the sadness oozing out of these characters, through the screen and right into you. This movie did that for me and I'll always remember it for that. Even if the ability to record voices was invented at this time, I think the actor's talking could've only decreased the absolute beauty of this film. It plays better when you just watch and realize the horror, and yet at the same time, the beauty that is unfolding before your eyes. Broken Blossoms is a great film and any ill words I've voiced towards D.W. Griffith are hereby retracted.

RATING: 10/10 This movie deserves to be given the full monty of ratings. Unquestionably the best film I've seen thus far and it's gonna be hard to top it.

NEXT UP: Way Down East...More Griffith...and for the first time, I look forward to it.

September 19, 2009 5:12am

Friday, September 18, 2009

06. Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

Running Time: 71 minutes
Directed By: Robert Wiene
Written By: Rudolf Meinert, Erich Pommer
Main Cast: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Fehrer, Lil Dagover


Finally a movie comes along that I can really sink my teeth into and something that I really, genuinely enjoyed!

Let's jump right into it, shall we...

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari starts out with a man (Francis) recounting a tale of horror that he was fortunate enough to live through, to another man, who has claimed to have been chased from his home by "spirits". Francis insists that what he's seen is much worse than spirits and begins his story.

Dr. Caligari, on one afternoon, marches into the town clerk's office and requests a permit to feature an attraction at the annual fair. The town clerk (sitting on a ridiculously high stool) grants him his permit, but not before asking him what the sideshow attraction is, that he plans to bring to the fair. A somnambulist, or basically, a zombie.

At the fair we see crowds of people lining up to get a look at this strange, living dead creature. Francis and his friend Alan are there as well and after paying their toll, they enter, the cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to see his freak.

Then murders begin happening in the town, as two people (including Alan, Francis' friend) are found dead. Francis quickly suspects Caligari and his somnambulist (names Cesare) have something to do with this. He begins to trail Caligari, even spying on him as he sleeps, but is never able to quite catch him in the act of committing or having anything to do with the murders.

I'll go ahead and leave the plot alone from here on out, as I really don't wanna spoil the ending, which may, in fact, be the first twist ending in film history.

Suffice it to say, this movie is fantastic. I'm so glad to discover that I wasn't just being ignorant to silent cinema and hating EVERYTHING I saw, and something finally breaks out and knocks me for a loop. The ending is spectacular and totally hit me off guard, as I didn't even think the phrase "twist ending" existed in 1919. Another thing I love about this film...the sets. It's like something out of a Tim Burton film, as if someone let their very creative child go crazy with finger paints and cardboard. Dr. Caligari also has a very menacing appearance, with long grey, unwashed hair, wrinkles, a bit of a hunchback, a staff, a top hat and a big cloak.

RATING: 8/10 An "8/10" was my initial knee jerk reaction of a rating. However, I could definitely see this one rising higher with a little time and maybe another viewing. Do yourself a favor and check this out before you die, because it's really good and far superior than anything else I've experienced pre-1920's.

NEXT UP: Broken Blossoms... Fuck, Griffith's back.

September 18, 2009 4:53am

Thursday, September 17, 2009

05. INTOLERANCE (1916)

Running Time: 148 minutes
Directed By: D.W. Griffith
Written By: Tod Browning, D.W. Griffith
Main Cast: Mae Marsh, Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Constance Talmadge, Gino Corrado, Douglas Fairbanks

Quick side note: The version I watched of this film, which was a rental copy from Netflix, was only 148 minutes. In doing some research, I find that the film is actually nearly 180 minutes, and even the small slip cover that comes with all Netflix movies lists Intolerance as "2 hours, 58 minutes". So I'm not entirely sure about the whole versions, and different lengths thing, but this is the one I watched and I'm not watching it again. So there...


I'll say right off the bat, that it doesn't look like I'm gonna be buying any D.W. Griffith box sets anytime soon. These incredibly long, incredibly slow silent films are taking their toll on me and thank God my next film is just a little over an hour.

So, Intolerance weaves the tales of four stories, from different periods of time, together to show love's struggle throughout the ages. We get a modern tale, a tale set during the last years of Christ, a tale from ancient Babylon and a tale set around the time of the St. Bartholomew's massacre.

The one that I found the most interesting was the modern tale, which tells the story of a young girl falling in love with "The Boy" and having a baby, only to see her baby taken away from her, for suspected neglect and her husband framed for a murder he did not commit. The story ends with the girl racing towards the train which carries the governor and begging him to pardon her husband, who is only seconds away from the noose.

I also found the Jesus Christ story quite interesting, and at least something that was recognizable, as we are treated to screen depictions of Jesus turning water into wine, and the "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone" ordeal, before he's taken away and crucified. My only beef with the Jesus story, is that there wasn't enough of it. The modern tale took up most of the movie length and the Babylon story followed shortly behind.

Basically, in a nutshell, I didn't care for Intolerance. I found it to be very boring (much like Griffith's previous, "The Birth of A Nation") and very hard to sit through. Now, hey, I'm all for giving the guy his credit and slapping him with the title "landmark filmmaker", and I respect him and all that jazz, but I'm sorry...the guy's movie's are just so hard to sit through and when you're done all you wanna do is go to bed and sleep, because they just sap your energy to sit through them.

So there, I've said it, and call me Mr. Unknowledgeable Film Man, for shooting down Griffith's work, I don't care. I know there's much better movies out there, and much more enjoyable ones.

If I had to say one positive thing about this flick, it's that it was quite grand for it's time. It had absolutely spectacular sets, great costumes and with over 3,000 extras, I thought it was quite a feat for 1916.

RATING: 3/10 I went ahead and just sat it right beside the Birth of a Nation on the ratings scale.

NEXT UP: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari...Who directed it? Robert Wiene? Hey, that's not Griffith, so we're all good!

September 17, 2009 1:59pm

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

04. Les Vampires (1915)

Running Time: 399 minutes
Directed By: Louis Feuillade
Written by: Louis Feuillade
Main Cast: Musidora, Edouard Mathe, Marcel Levesque, Jean Ayme, Fernand Herrmann, Stacia Napierkowska

As a quick sidenote, before the review, here's a little story for ya': So as I mentioned previously, I have researched every movie up through the thirties for their availability. For this particular movie, I had found it on Netflix streaming, and only streaming, as they did not have it to rent. So I get all geared up Sunday night to sit down and tear into the 399 minute epic, I head over to Netflix, click on "Les Vampires" and realize that they only have the first two parts of this ten part serial. So I figure, I'm fucked. So I buzz through the internet looking for possible leads to a link where I can watch the entire thing...and nothing. I head over to Amazon at one point, just to see if it's available on VHS (as I assume the DVD is unavailable, since Netflix doesn't have it) and see that it IS available on DVD and it's somewhere in the neighborhood of $15. Well, I really don't wanna have a budget for this little journey I'm taking, so that's really not an option...plus I'm broke as a joke. Then I'm thinking if the damn thing's available and only $15, why the hell doesn't Netflix carry it? Anyway, after a few moments of cursing Netflix, I head over to the Internet Archive website, a nice little site that has a bunch of links to old movies for free. I type in "Les Vampires" and a link pops up, however, on the bottom it says: "Warning, this is not the entire film, just the first 30 minutes". Well GREAT!! So for some odd reason I get the idea to type in the name of just one of the parts, as each part of the ten parts has it's own title. And guess what...it fucking worked baby!! They had the entire ten parts split up into their own link. So all ended well in the magical land of make believe.
And now I am forever indebted to Internet Archive, for saving my mission from skipping a movie, after only watching three.

Now then...on to the business at hand...

If I were to sum up Les Vampires in one word, I think I'd have to pick...LONG. At an overwhelming 399 minutes, I can say that this one was not an easy task to sit through. Although, it wasn't bad at all. The time does get to you after a while, and you just wanna rip your hair our and move on to something different. I started this thing Sunday night and just finished it today, meaning it took me about three days and five sit downs to put this sucker away. Now that I've vented about the length, let me tell ya a bit of the good about this flick.

So as I mentioned above Les Vampires is broken up into ten parts, which are each named, which helps a lot in getting through it. Here are the episodes and their names and times:

Each episode really doesn't tie into the next all that much. While the main heroes and their principle mission stay the same, the villains tend to switch back and forth between several different characters, with only Irma Vep (an anagram of Vampire and played by Musidora) being a bad "girl" that appears in every episode. Also each episode is different in that the villains have a different plan to thwart the good guys or a different treasure to steal or something in each part.

For me to layout this entire plot to you, would take me as long to write as it took me to watch Les Vampires, but I'll give you the just of it.

Phillipe Guerande is a newspaper man, who's sole mission is to hunt the Vampires, a gang that is terrorizing Paris, France. No, they're not ACTUALLY vampires, that's just the name they go by. As I said above, the bad guys tend to switch out, as they are either captured or killed, by the police along with the support of Guerande and his trusty (and very funny) sidekick Mazamette. You got the Grand Vampire, Juan-Jose Moreno, Satanas and lastly, Venomous taking on the job of terrorizing Guerande. Basically, they want him off their case and they'll do anything to get what they want, including capturing his mother, wife and friends. But it seems they are always outsmarted by Guerande, as he always one ups them at every turn.

I was quite surprised by the cleverness of this 1915 film. For some reason I thought it would be very cut and dry, but on the contrary the plot was very well developed and very intricate and the characters, for the most part, were interesting. The character of Mazamette provided the most enjoyment for me, providing comic relief for the movie. I can't, however, say that it wasn't a chore to sit through this nearly seven hour film, because it was. Like I said, there were times when I just wanted to get on to the next movie, but I still had four hours of Les Vampires left to watch, so I couldn't.

I'm not sure whether this film is a must see before you die or not. I could really argue for both sides. On the one hand, if you don't see it, I really don't think you're missing a WHOLE LOT, and you're saving yourself from having to watch a very, very long film. On the other hand, if you do decide to check it out, I think you'll find, that for 1915, it's quite good and quite intriguing in most parts. So you make the call for yourself on this one...but don't say I didn't warn you about the length.

RATING: 5.5/10 I couldn't decide between a five or a six, so I called it right down the middle.

NEXT UP: Intolerance...More D.W. Griffith FUN!! Hopefully I'll have this review up later tonight, as I'm planning to watch it here in a little bit. Till then...adios!

September 16, 2009 7:51pm

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Just wanted to throw up a post and give a few thoughts and make a few things clear...

*I may try varying my writing style a little bit in the posts to come. I can't decide whether I want to totally recap the film, like I've been doing or just give some thoughts on the film and what I liked or disliked about it. I'm not a writer, nor have I or will I ever claim to be, but like I said in the beginning, this is just basically a diary for me to keep for myself, on this incredible journey through cinema that I am undertaking. If someone happens to stumble across it and leaves a comment or two, that's awesome, but really this is just for me. I feel that recapping the film, may help me to really cement these films into my head, so I may stick with that technique.

*I'd like to post a top ten list every now and then, maybe after every 50 or 100 movies I watch, posting the ten that I've enjoyed the most at that point. I'm also keeping a written list of the movies I watch, so that I know how many I've viewed as I go.

*I'm getting most of the movies from Netflix. A lot of them are there and a lot of the ones that aren't there to get mailed to you, they still have on the site streaming, so you can watch them right there. I've basically went through the book all the way up through the thirties and looked researched the availability of each movie. There's a few that I can't find, and I will continue to search for them. If I get to a movie that I have been 100% unable to find, then I'll still leave a post for that movie, detailing the cast, director, etc.

Basically, thats it. I just wanted to post those few thoughts. Like I said...

...Les Vampires is next, which I'll be watching streaming on Netflix, possibly tomorrow, if not Monday.


September 13, 2009 3:01am

03. The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Running Time: 187 minutes
Directed By: D.W. Griffith
Written By: Frank E. Woods, D.W. Griffith, from the novel The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, the novel The Leopard's Spots, and the play The Clansman by Thomas F. Dixon Jr.
Main Cast: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, Miriam Cooper, Mary Alden, Ralph Lewis, George Slegmann, Walter Long


Well after many years of being a self proclaimed movie buff, I finally sit myself down and watch The Birth of a Nation. A movie that I had heard was a pioneer in film making, and yet very controversial at the same time. Well now I can say I've seen it...

...OH! You want my opinion?...Okay.

Well it was a hell of a chore to sit through, I'll say that right off the bat. Not counting the two that I've previously watched from the book, it's only the second silent film I've ever seen (the other being The Gold Rush by Charlie Chaplin, which we'll get to later on down the road).

We start out in the pre-Civil War days and two families are introduced: The Camerons of the South and the Stonemans of the North. They are two families who are acquainted, and who are good old chums. We see them visiting each other and Ben Cameron falls in love with a picture of Elsie Stoneman.

Then the Civil War breaks out and that goes on for quite sometime. It takes us through to about the ninety minute mark of the film, when the North wins the Civil War and Lee surrenders to Grant. From there, we are taken to the Ford Theatre (sound familiar?) where President Lincoln is shot dead and Mr. Stoneman takes up as "Greatest Power in the Nation".

Then we head into the Reconstruction. This is where the film takes a rather devious and evil turn. Mr. Stoneman and his protege Silas Lynch (who is of a mulatto skin tone) head south to make sure that there agenda goes as planned. The blacks are now given the sole right to vote and take over the House of Representatives and are painted as vicious tyrants who oppress the white people.

One day Ben Cameron gets an idea to form a group of men who will go around and terrorize the black people and hopefully, eventually gain back their power. They call themselves the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

So, in short, from there the "heroes" of the film, the KKK, run rough shot over the land and eventually regain their stature in society. A parade is thrown for them and they are lauded.


Despite the incredibly racist tones of this movie, you have to give it something for being an innovator. Considering the film is 90 years old, it is unbelievable the things that Griffith achieved with this 187 minute epic. The battle scenes, the extras, the camera work...it is all fantastic and I won't take anything away from it, in that respect.

The two big thins I will take away from it, is the fact that (1) It's an extremely racist film and one that I cannot condone and (2) It is very hard to sit through this thing. It gets very boring in some parts and very tedious to watch.

So the final verdict: Yes, see it once for historical value. I really don't think you can call yourself a film buff until you've seen this landmark picture. I'm very glad that I got a chance to see it in my lifetime, and after all that's what this mission is all about for me. But I will warn you one last time, it is quite boring.

Rating: 3/10 When adding up all the factors, I really cannot go higher than a 3. If anyone's reading this, I know I'm probably gonna get scolded beyond belief for that rating and be told I have no right to be watching films if I can't appreciate Griffith's masterpiece, but based purely on my enjoyment level a 3/10 is appropriate.

NEXT UP: Les Vampires....OH THE HORROR!!!

September 13, 2009 2:20am

Saturday, September 12, 2009

02. The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Running Time: 12 minutes
Directed By: Edwin S. Porter
Written By: Scott Marble, Edwin S. Porter
Main Cast: "Bronco Billy" Anderson, George Barnes, Walter Cameron, Frank Hanaway


Steven Jay Schneider proclaims in his text, that many people have challenged the fact that, The Great Train Robbery was the first western, on the grounds that it is either not a western or it simply wasn't the first. He retorts by saying that, while it may not actually be the first true Western, other Westerns that preceded it, lacked a fully developed narrative. And answers the claims that it's "not a Western" by saying: "...train robberies since the days of Jesse James have been a part of Western lore, and other elements such as six shooters, cowboy hats and horses all serve to give the film a genuine Western feel."

It certainly felt like a Western to me. In fact, one of the fun things about watching this completely silent short film (no music or anything) was making up a score in my head. I could hear the exciting, fast paced music as the robbers entered the telegraph station. I could hear the old-time, swinging saloon style music as the, yet unformed, posse danced the night away, and I could certainly hear the climax of the music pumping up as the robbers and the posse had their final shootout, in the middle of a wooded area.

Perhaps the greatest scene in the movie, came at the end, when one of the robbers fired point blank directly at the screen. A menacing man, with an evil looking mustache firing right at me, as I finished off the second film in my 1001 journey, was the cherry on top of a great film.


Yes. Again, I have to fault it for length, as it just wasn't long enough to really drag you in and hook you. It left me wanting more, as I could've gone on for much, much longer than 12 minutes. I hope you'll take the time to check this one out for yourself, as I've included a link to The Great Train Robbery at the bottom of this post. A great piece of cinema history, that I'm glad I was able to see, as I thought it was very gripping for such short length.

Rating: 7/10

NEXT UP: The Birth of A Nation...My introduction to Griffith

Link to The Great Train Robbery on Google Video

September 11, 2009 11:01pm

Friday, September 11, 2009

01. La Voyage dans la lune/A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Running Time: 8 minutes
Directed By: Georges Melies
Written By: George Melies, from the novel Le Voyage dans la Lune by Jules Verne
Main Cast: Georges Melies Victor Andre, Bleuette Bernon, Jeanne d'Alcy, Henri Delannoy


We begin our journey, traveling backwards in time 107 years, to 1902...

A Trip to the Moon begins with a professor named Barbenfouillis, trying to convince some of his colleagues to accompany him on a trip to the moon, after some talking, five of his pals agree. They go to work building a giant cannon that will propel them to the moon, where they will land, explore and return with tales from a netherworld. Once shot out of the giant cannon, they land directly (as if it were a bullseye) in the moon's eye, which is made to resemble a face. After exploring the surface, they discover a cave filled with mushrooms and also inhabited by the Selenites, fantastical non-human creatures that capture them and take them to their King. However, the creatures are apparently vulnerable to being slapped on the head with umbrellas, as when this is done, they disappear in a puff of smoke. Managing to escape their captors, our hearty group of professors make their way back to their cannon and fall back to Earth, landing in the ocean. They are then rescued and all is well again.

Prior to this period many films, only normally running about two minutes in length, focused on everyday life, while Melies (who wrote, directed, starred in, produced, did the cinematography for and designed the costumes and sets) made a movie that broke that mold, and delved into the realm of science-fiction. A Trip to the Moon is actually said to be the first movie in the sci-fi genre.


Despite it's incredibly short length, A Trip to the Moon, is kind of fascinating to watch. To be able to view this picture and realize that it is over 100 years old is quite something in itself. While, I wouldn't call it something that is fabulous, I would say, by all means, see it. At only eight minutes in length, there's really no reason not to see it. And if this is the only movie you see out of the 1001 text, at least you'll be able to say that you saw a movie that was made in 1902, and that in itself, is a nice little bragging right.

RATING: 5/10 We'll cut it straight down the middle and call it an average flick. I believe its short length, yet historical value balance out to be something that should be seen.

NEXT UP: The Great Train Robbery...the western is born!

September 11, 2009 6:40pm


During a trip to "Barnes & Noble", I come across a book (a big book, to be more precise) entitled, "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die". I'm intrigued by the title and my first thought is, "I MUST see them?" Mr. Steven Jay Schneider (the author of the book) seems to be a little bossy doesn't he. I mean, who has the right to tell me what I MUST see? I'll see what I please and if Mr. Schneider doesn't like it, well I guess that's just too bad. And then I realize, after flipping through the pages and spotting some familiar faces (Pulp Fiction, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Buffalo '66, Clerks, Sideways...among others) that maybe this guy's on to something. Maybe I am lacking some classic and foreign viewing in my movie habits. Maybe I haven't seen everything that is truly worth seeing. I myself have worked in three video stores and DO consider myself somewhat of a movie buff. I mean, I've seen a lot of flicks!

"The real usefulness of...1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, is that it provides good ideas for DVD rental. I have, by the way, seen 943 of the 1001 movies, and am carefully rationing the remaining titles to prolong my life"

The above piece was written by Roger Ebert and appears on the back jacket of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. So I start thinking...If I see all these films, I'll have seen more movies than Roger Ebert. Well, not really, as I'm sure he's seen other movies besides the ones collected in this 5th Edition of Steven Jay Schneider's text. But I could be one up on Mr. Thumbs Up! I could go up to him, on a rainy day in Chicago and say "Hey, Rog' I saw 'em all baby!! All 1001...943?...pathetic!!"

So I slapped down my $35 and bought the book. Not just to spite Ebert, but also to advance my knowledge of film.

So why am I telling you all this? I was hoping you'd be interested in joining me on my journey. This is a diary of my adventure into the history of film...the history of essential film, and I'd like you to come along. Lets travel all the way back to 1902 and make our way, together, to 2007. Now I must warn you...I'm not your typical critic. There are some so-called classics out there that I have been less then impressed with. For instance, "2001: A Space Odyssey" bores me to no end and I am of the opinion that "Requiem for A Dream" is a very overated mess. But I have the balls to tell those movies that, to their faces. I don't stand quivering and say "Yes, Requiem was good, I enjoyed it!", just to get a pat on the head and fit in with the rest of the crowd. I tell it like it is. If I don't like it, I say it and if I do...well I say that too, of course.

So let's go...let's have fun. Let's watch some movies and see what we haven't. Relive what we have...good or bad. Maybe we'll form some new opinions on flicks we previously thought of as stinkers...or maybe they'll stay stinking.

This is the beginning of my journey. My diary into cinema...

September 11, 2009 2:44am

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #66: La piscine/The Swimming Pool (1969)

Running Time: 120 minutes Directed By: Jacques Deray Written By: Jean-Claude Carriere, Jacques Deray, Alain Page Main Cast: Alain Del...