Sunday, January 15, 2017

And Then There Were None

So it turns out Jesse Walker's top ten film lists end in 1926.  There's just not enough in earlier years to rate.

Fair enough, though a few notes about those early days.

By 1916, film was taking over.  It was beginning to be appreciated as something more than what they showed on white sheets in the back room of the store.  People went to the cinema on a regular basis, and started dreaming about movie stars.  They saw full-length features, and watched great clowns from around the world.

If 1916 is famous for any one title, it's Intolerance.  D. W. Griffith had been stung by the criticism of his blockbuster Birth Of A Nation as a racist film.  Griffith wasn't especially political (and, alas, his politics weren't that far different from many others in his day), and had wanted to tell a rousing story.

With Intolerance, he went even more epic, lashing out, in a way, at the intolerance he felt from his critics. (Artists always have their reasons--it's the result that matters.) He decided to tell four stories at once--at over three hours length.  It's a magnificent work, even if Griffith bit off more than he could chew. (And it's still remembered out here.  The Hollywood & Highland Center was designed as a throwback to Griffith's Babylon set.)

The other most important work in 1916 was Chaplin's.  He was already a great stage clown in his early 20s. When he started making films, everyone could see he was special right off the bat.

He made about a film a week for a year (shorts, of course) at Keystone, then slowed down, took control, and made about one a month at Essanay. In 1916, he signed a contract at Mutual, where he showed he had mastered his art.  He would later go into features, and get better at long-form storytelling, but by 1916 he was as funny as he'd ever be.

He made 12 films at Mutual in 18 months.  They're all pretty amazing.  The first eight were completed in 1916. (The last four, from 1917, are actually the best.)

As for 1906, I've seen a few films from that time (such as Dream Of A Rarebit Fiend).  Very few still exist.  The ones that do show filmmakers still trying to figure out the medium, and doing interesting experiments.

1896 is the dawn of film, and what we get is both a peek into the past, and a glimpse into what would become the future.  It was a time when the mere motion in motion pictures gave the audience a thrill.  And if you put your mind back into that time, you can feel it as well.


Blogger Jesse said...

Are you not a Feuillade fan at all?

7:05 AM, January 15, 2017  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I've only seen a few bits of his stuff, so I can't say much about it. In any case, I date Les Vampires as a 1915 phenomenon.

9:35 AM, January 15, 2017  
Blogger Bream Halibut said...

The only 1916 films I've seen are a couple of Chaplin shorts. I should watch Intolerance but silent melodramas are pretty tough going for me (including Birth of a Nation, which aside from it's other obvious flaws I just found incredibly dull both times I saw it). There are only a few that I've ever enjoyed much. None from 1916, alas.

8:54 AM, January 23, 2017  

Post a Comment

<< Home

web page hit counter