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WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

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drednm

Postby drednm » May 28th, 2008, 6:20 am

No Jeff I don't remember but I think it was from that guy who sells unwatchable films so phfft....

LILAC TIME survives in a decent print even without the restoration, but HER WILD OAT is held in the AMPAS archives and has been shown once (that I know of). in Los Angeles.

And yes you're right, I guess I forget how lucky we are to have so many films in our collections from these unjustly forgotten stars. I still haven't watched Norma Talmadge's KIKI, SECRETS, or THE LADY.

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charliechaplinfan
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Postby charliechaplinfan » May 28th, 2008, 7:07 am

:D Jeffrey, I haven't watched Ella Cinders yet but I'm looking forward to it. I've seen a bad copy about a year ago. I can't wait to watch the one you sent me.

Design for Living is very naughty and that's what makes it so good. I think the are a remarkable threesome :D
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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charliechaplinfan
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Postby charliechaplinfan » May 28th, 2008, 7:42 am

I've been busy watching two Lon Chaney discs. I've reviewed Ace OfHearts the first film on the disc already.

The Unknown costarring Joan Crawford and Norman Kerry is an extrordinary film. It's directed by Todd Browning Lon Chaney plays a murderer who disguises himself in a circus as an armless man who throws knives with his feet as part of his act. Joan Crawford is the lovely lady who stands there whilst he throws the knives, she is also the object of his love. Nanon (Joan's character) is afraid of men touching her. Lon Chaney murders her father, Nanon sees but doesn't see his face, she does see hisdouble thumb. In one of strangest filmsI have ever seen. Lon Chaney's character Alonzo decides to have his arms amputated for real and then returns to Nanon. Nanon has overcome her fear of being touched and it to marry the strongman (Norman Kerry). Chaney's face when he realises is a masterful piece of acting. He decides to sabotage the strongman's act so he dies and he can have Nanon, hissabotage goes wrong and Alonzo dies instead.

Laugh Clown Laugh is said to be Chaney's favorite film. It costarsthe beautiful Loretta Young in her first film.In the accompanying documentary she tells of how supportive Lon was to her, she was 15. She plays a foundling who Lon brings up but secretly loves. Nils Asther a rich, bored young man is also in love with her. It's a sweet film but doesn't have the drama of The Unknown.

I think I like the bad Lon Chaney. Nobody plays bad men like him.

There is an accompanying documentary which is an enthralling look at the very private man and the actor. The disc is worth getting just for this.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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MichiganJ
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Postby MichiganJ » May 28th, 2008, 9:15 am

I agree that this is a great collection. While a secondary character in Ace of Hearts, Chaney gives a standout performance. I have a little trouble with Leatrice Joy’s character, however. She plays Lilith, the sole woman committed to the “cause”, only to completely renounce the “cause” after a night of love. She’s best (and director Wallace Worsley gets a lot of mileage out of) the early sequence where she deals out cards to select the person who will commit a murder...

In my estimation, The Unknown is Tod Brwoning’s greatest film. (But let’s face it, the guy needed a few sessions on the couch.) Because the film runs under an hour, there’s no time to consider the wackiness of the plot, allowing Browning to pile on the (implied) gruesomeness. Chaney gives a bravura performance, particularly during the sequence when he learns that his “sacrifice” was for naught...

Laugh, Clown, Laugh has an inherent problem, that is only overcome because of Chaney’s delicate performance. Chaney plays the clown Tito, who finds and raises Simonetta as his daughter only to fall in romantic love with her when she becomes older. The creepy factor is increased when Simonetta falls for the more appropriately aged (not to mention, non-related) Nils Asther, but opts to marry Tito (aka, her stepfather!) instead. Fortunately Chaney’s devastating performance helps to rescue, what might otherwise be, an unnerving film.

It should be noted that the set also includes a reconstruction of London After Midnight (using extensive production stills, which “move”, Ken Burns style). Limited to the photos, the complicated plot is often confusing but does give a sense of what the film may have been like, which is probably not that good. (Robert Israel provides an impressive score, which helps the stagnant and repetitive photos “move”.)

Kevin Brownlow’s documentary is (redundantly) wonderful. For obvious reasons he uses fewer contemporary interviews, but has enough in his (and others) archives to provide a meaningful portrait of the reclusive actor.

Chaney biographer Michael Blake provides commentary tracks for the three features and they are all wonderful. His conversational delivery is like watching (or re-watching) these films with a knowledgeable friend.

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Postby Ollie » May 28th, 2008, 10:26 am

By the mid-60s, I understood there was a concerted effort to find LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, something that essentially disappeared early in the '50s and, for the next decade or so, no one noticed or paid attention that it wasn't being shown, broadcast, distributed, etc.

I remember Forest Ackerman writing about this - it was probably my introduction to chemistry, time and lost films. I thought Colman's LOST HORIZON suffered so much because of the needed Stills that were used to fill in the lost footage, but that's nothing compared to the fragments of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT that are barely cobbled together.

On IMDB, the statement says this film may have existed up to 1967 when a fire in the MGM Vault destroyed so many, but I had a sense that Ackerman's articles were written before that. Maybe he was complaining that it was "rare" and then he wrote that it was "lost" in that fire.

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Postby charliechaplinfan » May 28th, 2008, 2:10 pm

Thanks to Ollie who recorded this masterpiece on TCM I was able to see J'Accuse. It's quite a long film running at 168min broken into three acts. The story follows the life of two men one of them Francois husband to Edith, one of them her lover, Jean. Francois is a brute and Jean is a gentle man and a poet. War breaks out and we see the men of the village signing up and going off to war. Jean doesn't go straight away but when Edith is kidnapped he joins up joining the battalion were Francois is serving. It is a story of the effect of war on these two men. It humanises Francois makes him less of a brute and Jean in turn realises that Francois loves Edith in his own way. A friendship grows between the men after Jean takes on a mission meant for Francois. When Jean becomes ill he is invalided home, in time for his mother to die and Edith to return with a young daughter the product of her rape by German soldiers. When Francois comes home on leave he suspects that the child staying with Jean is Edith's. Enraged he tells Edith the child is dead, Edith's reaction confirms her parentage, not by Jean as Francois suspects but by a German. Francois comes close to killing Angele, the child but calms down. He goes back to war but is worried about leaving the lovers together, he reveals his feelings to Jean and Jean understanding signs back on in Francois's unit. Francois is injured and dies in hospital next to Jean. Jean, clearly mad goes back home and gathers the relatives of the dead. In one of the most amazing shots of early cinema the dead revisit the living 'J'Accuse' how are they living without their loves ones. The dead want to know that they died for a reason. It's haunting.

I'm sure I haven't done this film justice.

I'm not the right person to talk of how good Gance was as a director but he did make a powerful pacifist film at the time that the war was ending. I've watched The Big Parade and other silent films dealing with the Great War but this film came out of France where the war was fought, were villages were destroyed and the message is a pacifist one, now I need to watch the accompanying documentary to see how this film was received in it's time.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Ann Harding
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Postby Ann Harding » May 28th, 2008, 3:39 pm

Tonight I watched two silents. First, I saw G.W. Pabst's Geheimnisse einer Seele (Secrets of a Soul, 1926) with Werner Krauss. This is probably the first psychoanalytical film ever made after Freud's theory. It shows a man who suddenly becomes scared of knives and has violent impulses of murder. Pabst uses incredibly well the camera for a haunting dream sequence where the man has a violent nightmare. The second part where he receives therapy and is explained his dream is less startling, but visually this film is certainly a must see of the German expressionism. I recorded it on Arte TV, but I think it's now available from Kino in US.

Then, I plunged direct into Gance's mammoth Napoléon (1925-7) with the Carmine Coppola score. (The film seems to be a trifle too fast there probably at 24 fps.) I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it! The 3h50 flew extremely rapidly. This is a giant epic which doesn't forget the human element and even contains a good lashing of humour! Gance treats history like Alexandre Dumas: he recreates events adding his own spicing and always seems to slightly wink at us as he is doing it. This is certainly not a film to watch totally 'seriously'. You have to take it like you take The Three Musketeers: history married with humour. That said, this is really a fantastic epic technically with some incredible feat: camera on horseback or suspended on a pendulum. Gance centers his film from Napoléon's childhood in Brienne when he studying in a military school up to the Italian campain. This is a short period of roughly 15 years. We only see the slow rise of a unknown young man, but not his ascent to the throne nor his later decline and defeat. So most of the film takes place during the Revolution. The choice of actors is brilliant. Even Gance, himself, performs the revolutionary Saint-Just in a very amusing fashion. Gina Manès is Joséphine and brings a very welcome sensuality to her character (how good she must have been in Feyder's Thérèse Raquin!!!! alas, it's lost... :cry: ). Albert Dieudonné gives the performance of a lifetime in the title role. The ending of the film with his huge triple screen display is quite amazing for its flurry of images. What an amazing feat of editing!!! :shock: I hope one day to be able to see the more complete Brownlow/Carl Davis version on a big screen where such a film should be seen. But in the meantime, thanks a lot Jeffrey for this copy!!!! :D

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charliechaplinfan
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Postby charliechaplinfan » May 28th, 2008, 4:26 pm

Now I must plunge into Napoleon myself :D

I meant to congratulate MichiganJ for doing more justice to the Lon Chaney discs than I did. :D
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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myrnaloyisdope
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Postby myrnaloyisdope » May 28th, 2008, 8:52 pm

I saw some clips of J'Accuse in a documentary series on silent film in Europe. It looked pretty interesting, and I am very interested in WWI, so I'll have to check it out.

I really liked Gance's Napoleon, the snowball fight is fantastic, and the finale with the 3 screens is like Cinerama 30 years in advance. I would be interested in seeing the 6 hour version(if it ever gets released).

I didn't like Gance's La Roue nearly as much. It's a mediocre love story blown out to 3 hours(the original was 8 hours). It is notable for some of the camera work, and the use of montage editing even before Eisenstein. Gance is really inventive, but I just didn't like the movie that much.

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Synnove
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Postby Synnove » May 29th, 2008, 12:29 pm

Thank you for writing these reviews! I'm very intersted in seeing J'Accuse and Napoleon now.

This week I've watched three films: Bulldog Drummond, The Blue Light and a documentary about Abel Gance.

Bulldog Drummond (1929) is about a detective who starts out on the same premise as the one in Dorothy Sayers's books: he's too rich to work, and too intelligent to play, so he solves crimes. Since this is his first case, he makes a few huge mistakes, but doesn't come off looking stupid.

Ronald Colman plays Drummond with class, he is very natural in the role. It's such an early talkie, yet he does an excellent job. Everyone else hams it up, but he doesn't, thankfully.

Lilyan Tashman is a memorable villainess. At first we're led to believe the evil plot is all the work of an insane doctor, but eventually it turns out she's the brain behind it all. She's quite a likable villainess too. All of the villains do a great job actually, and the doctor, Lawrence Grant, wins for creepiness.

I was surprised by how entertaining and well paced this movie was, considering it was made in 1929. I also loved how the hospital was filmed, like an early film noir. This is one of the most entertaining movies from the early talkie era that I have seen so far.

The Blue Light is one of the few fiction films directed by Leni Riefenstahl, and the only movie she directed before she began working for the Nazis. It's difficult, but not impossible, to tune out the memory of what she did later while watching this film. It's beautifully shot, and the editing and sountrack are also perfect. This is also a movie that impressed me with its modernity, even more so because it was the first film Leni Riefenstahl made. She didn't make it herself of course: she collaborated with the writer Béla Balázs and Hans Schneeberger, but when the film was re-released in 1938 she tuned down Schneeberger's efforts, and erased the name of Balázs entirely from the credits, since he had fled from Germany. She also erased the name of her backer and former lover Harry Sokal, who had helped her become famous. Sokal was jewish.

This is a beautiful movie with a fairy tale feel. Since it is a fairy tale, it is also a bit distanced from the characters, but it still works. It's a very intersting and, as I said, gorgeous film, well worth seeing.

Finally, I saw Abel Gance, the Charm of Dynamite. Since it's from 1968 it doesn't have the same great picture quality as later documentaries made by Kevin Brownlow, but it is still a good documentation of the work of this great innovator. It makes me want to see more of his work.

Thank you to my friends, Christine, Alison and Ollie, for letting me see these films!

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Ann Harding
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Postby Ann Harding » May 30th, 2008, 2:35 am

I am glad you enjoyed Bulldog Drummond, Synnove! :D You are absolutely right to single out Lilyan Tashman is this film; she is indeed a very nice actress. I also saw her -in a very different part- in Cukor's Girls About Town (1931) where she was equally superb. Alas, she died in 1934. :(

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Synnove
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Postby Synnove » May 30th, 2008, 7:35 am

I enjoyed her performance, and I was surprised by the outcome for her character. That movie was very much a precode. I'm sorry that she died so young.

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charliechaplinfan
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Postby charliechaplinfan » May 30th, 2008, 2:18 pm

I'm glad you liked The Blue Light Hedvig. It has a fairytale quality, thank you for providing some background information :D
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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charliechaplinfan
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Postby charliechaplinfan » May 30th, 2008, 4:18 pm

I've now finished watching Napoleon it has taken me three nights but three hugely enjoyable nights.

I can only add to what Christine has said. I don't find films with battles the easiest films in the world to watch but there is something about how Gance films these battles that keeps the eye trained directly on the film.

If I was to see one silent on a large screen it would have to be this one. It's fabulous, the split screen ending is mesmerising and early on the snowball fight is such a visual joy.

Josephine is presented in a very sensual light. One of my favorite effects in the film is when Napoleon kisses the globe, someone asks if he is kissing Paris. No he is kissing Josephine's mouth. Josephine's head is superimposed on the globe and with some fabulous photography as Napoleon turns the globe her head turns. He is a man of two passions one for Josephine and one for the revolution.

The film deals quite a lot with the Revolution and finishes with Napoleon's campaign in Italy. How I wish someone had given Gance the money to carry on. Not only do I want to see some more of Gance's work but I wish he would have brought more of Napoleon's fascinating life to the screen :D
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Synnove
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Postby Synnove » May 31st, 2008, 11:27 am

I am watching it right now, and so far I agree that it's an amazing film. I particularly like the revolution segments. They are very chilling and effective. The quick montages that everything gets transformed into at the climaxes of many scenes can almost make you go into a trance. The whole movie moves like music. I haven't seen anything like it before.


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