• Lady Windermere's Fan

    Lady Windermere's Fan

    ★★★★½

    LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN (Ernst Lubitsch, USA, 1925, 9 [was 8] R)

    Andrew Sarris once wrote that this was an improvement on the Oscar Wilde original and I can more than see why he’d say that. Wilde and Lubitsch are total kindred spirits (much like Stillman and Austen) but because he’s making a silent movie, Lubitsch can’t just replicate Wilde’s quips. Instead he gets across the film’s spirit cinematically — via framing (the old lord closing in on Mrs. Erlynne as…

  • The Divine Voyage

    The Divine Voyage

    ★★★

    This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    THE DIVINE VOYAGE (Julien Duvivier, France, 1929, 6)

    Spent some time with a friend of a friend the night before, during which he disparaged a film as the worst film ever because (among other reasons) it was “a Christian allegory” [/SpittingContempt]. I wasn’t remotely perturbed (I’ve acquired passive natural immunity), but I was amused the next day thinking of (and seeing) this person sitting through this movie, which isn’t even an allegory. Duvivier just made a straight-up Marian prayer account.…

  • Smouldering Fires

    Smouldering Fires

    ★★★½

    SMOULDERING FIRES (Clarence Brown, USA, 1925, 7)

    Basically a sex-switched story of a bimbo’s rise based on her (here, “his”) sex appeal to a much older (fe)male executive, who wasn’t THAT much older. The looks-sexism here is reversed too, helped by a male actor (Malcolm McGregor) who looks and plays much younger than his IRL 33. Pauline Frederick as the “old” woman does indeed look 40 but it really stands out in this era of flapper leads. (The last film…

  • Salt for Svanetia

    Salt for Svanetia

    ★★★★

    For the performance at the San Francisco Film Festival, SALT FOR SVANETIA was paired with a Georgian SSR public-health film directed by a man who’d acted in an earlier Kalatozov film. But it doesn’t have its own Letterboxd entry, so I’m reviewing it here (also there’s a tie-in joke).

    ——————

    TEN MINUTES IN THE MORNING (Aleqsandre Jaliashvili, USSR [Georgia], 1930, 6)


    Some of the more paranoid takes on Michelle Obama “Let’s Move” campaign … only for real. And with a…

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    ★★★★

    THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (Wallace Worsley, USA, 1923, 8 [was 7] R)

    It’s easy not to remember how, despite Lon Chaney’s star billing (and iconic performance) that Quasimodo is largely absent from the middle section of the movie and that the principal conflict is over Esmerelda and claims on her by several men, the hideous Quasimodo very much not among them. 

    Other surprising revelations on what was not my first view of this film (one of the first silents…

  • History of the Civil War

    History of the Civil War

    ★★

    THE HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR (Dziga-Vertov, USSR, 1921, 4)

    Ken Burns shooda made this in my opinion. Though there’s obviously historical value in the footage, it’s only even really a movie in the most formal of senses. It’s more like a slide show or a power-point presentation in which the slides happen to be moving. It’s practically all explanatory/expository title card, followed by footage that wouldn’t otherwise stand on its own. Without sound, the speeches and (show) trials can’t…

  • The Street of Forgotten Men

    The Street of Forgotten Men

    ★★★

    THE STREET OF FORGOTTEN MEN (Herbert Brenon, USA, 1925, 6)

    A really odd but oddly-intriguing movie … “STELLA DALLAS, but what if a man?” The final scene and shot are even identical to the [later] Stanwyck film (there is an earlier silent version which I don’t remember as wel).

    All sorts of narrative plausability holes (going blind from a fist fight) and the lead actor Percy Marmont looked more like Eric Idle than is wise for a melodrama. But the…

  • A Sister of Six

    A Sister of Six

    ★★

    A SISTER OF SIX (Regnar Hylten-Cavallius, Sweden, 1926, 4)

    Could I get a flow chart please? Imagine SOME LIKE IT HOT if half of Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators had back stories involving further identity deceptions, occasionally also touching on Joe and Jerry’s thread.

    Some amusing lines and moments in isolation (I *am* comparing it to a great farce after all), but it just never built any momentum for me.

  • In the Night

    In the Night

    ★★★★½

    DANS LA NUIT (Charles Vanel, France, 1929, 9)

    What is it with actors named Charles who make sone of the most effective thrillers of all time … in his one turn behind the camera? And why should DANS LA NUIT have fallen into such obscurity — after all NIGHT OF THE HUNTER didn’t and each film is conventionally entertaining, not a cultural vegetable at all.

    Vanel is best known to me for his role in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s THE WAGES OF…

  • Limite

    Limite

    ★½

    LIMITE (Mario Peixoto, Brazil, 1931, 3)

    If LIMITE had been 20 minutes, it might’ve been an all-time favorite of mine, alongside Deren’s MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON. But by about the 45 minute mark, the film had worn out its welcome … reached my limites, one might say. LIMITE lasts two minutes short of two hours. Which is to say, it became excruciating.

    Some of the shots are indeed incredible … in their staging, in the camera movement, in the tricks…

  • The Fire Brigade

    The Fire Brigade

    ★★★★

    THE FIRE BRIGADE (William Nigh, USA, 1926, 8)

    Oh the toxic masculinity on display here in the opening …

    An even better example of MGM’s commercial Hollywood craftsmanship at its peak, a real and “relatable” story married to (at the time) state-of-the-art special effects that still hold up quite well. It’s one thing to see stills of the amazing handspiegel(?) color process in this, but watching it in motion (it’s mostly used for red flames) in a theater as the…

  • Skinner's Dress Suit

    Skinner's Dress Suit

    ★★★½

    SKINNER’S DRESS SUIT (William A. Seiter [Reginald Denny], USA, 1926, 7)

    A very enjoyable sitcom, a kind of silent comedy that gets less ink than the slapstick masters because nobody reached the heights of Keaton or Chaplin. (Other examples from the silent wra include Charley Chase from the 20s, and Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew from the 10s.) Denny’s upper-middle-class persona is essentially Dick Van Dyke (with Laura La Plante here as Mary Tyler Moore) in a domestic-and-work situation. Social…