Silent Films and Documentaries in 2016

Silent Films

With apologies to Movies Silently, I didn’t watch that many silent films in 2016, but the ones I saw were exceptional. (I also saw lots of Buster Keaton shorts and shorts from the Pioneers of African American Cinema set, collections I hope to complete in 2017.)

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Fantômas (1913-1914) Louis Feuillade

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Sunrise (1927) F.W. Murnau

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L’Inhumaine (1924) Marcel L’Herbier

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Faust (1926) F.W. Murnau 

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Destiny (1921) Fritz Lang
Netflix streaming (1:38)

When a young couple in love stop at a small village inn, Death (Bernhard Goetzke, left) takes the young man (Walter Janssen). The woman (Lil Dagover, right) urges Death to allow her to save him. He gives her three chances, permitting her to go to three different settings during three different time periods in history in which she must rescue her man from similar circumstances to those she has just faced with Death.

The film is simply stunning in every way, certainly visually, but also in its manner of storytelling. German Expressionism (which can often mean different things for different people) is on full display here with gorgeous sets and wonderful experimental photography. I could tell you more, but just see it. It’s a wonder. The film is currently streaming on Amazon, but Kino has just released a Blu-ray edition that looks quite impressive.

Documentaries

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The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2014) Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane

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The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (2016) Ron Howard

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Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (2007) Kent Jones
Supplement on the Criterion Blu-ray release of Cat People (1:17)

A good documentary (narrated by Martin Scorsese), probably a little more subdued and mysterious than the 2005 documentary Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy, available in The Val Lewton Horror Collection DVD boxed set (now out of print). Both are worth your time, but if you want to find out more – much more – about Lewton, I highly recommend the book Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Career by Edmund G. Bansak.

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Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood (TV 2009) Karen Thomas
Warner Archive DVD – library (1:55)

Originally a PBS documentary, Cinema’s Exiles charts the journeys of several European filmmakers and actors to America to escape Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. Classic film lovers will see such familiar names as Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Peter Lorre, Robert Siodmak, Franz Waxman and others. Their stories are fascinating, yet so are the ones of people you may never have heard of. For all the ones you have heard of, there were many who simply could not earn a living in Hollywood.

One of the most moving moments in the film comes when Casablanca (1942) is examined, taking a brief look at many of the film’s actors who were highly regarded in Europe before the war, now reduced to playing bit parts in Hollywood. Some of those stories turned out to have happy endings; others did not.

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Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, the film is mostly effective but sometimes stumbles in its playing of clips, unable to find good stopping points and/or transitions. Still its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Anyone interested in history and film history will want to see it. (I watched the film on the Warner Archive DVD which had a running time of 1:55, although IMDB places the running time at 1:30.)

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3 thoughts on “Silent Films and Documentaries in 2016

  1. Pingback: 2016: The Year in Review | Journeys in Darkness and Light

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