Monday, April 30, 2012

The Silent Oscars: 1918

And so now we're back to where we left off, 1918. If I've been a good boy, tomorrow I'll have a post for you about one of the era's greatest directors, Cecil B. DeMille. If not, well, I'll burn in hell. But let's face it, I'm going to burn in hell so many times over, I have a free pass for the rest of my life.

"That should take the sting out of being occupied. Does it, Mister Monkey?"

"You said it. Here's looking at you, kid!"

Postscript: Sometime after I first wrote those words, I changed my mind. I'm going to project forward the rest of the Silent Oscars to 1927 and then post about Cecil B. DeMille. My apologies to Cecil B. DeMille fans everywhere.

winner: Stella Maris (prod. Paramount/Artcraft Films)
nominees: Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru (The Outlaw And His Wife) (prod. Charles Magnusson); A Dog's Life (prod. Charles Chaplin); Old Wives For New (prod. Cecil B. DeMille); Shoulder Arms (prod. Charles Chaplin)
Must-See Movies: A Dog's Life; Old Wives For New; Shoulder Arms; Stella Maris
Recommended Films: Amarilly Of Clothes-Line Alley; Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru (The Outlaw And His Wife); The Blue Bird; The Married Virgin; Tih Minh
Of Interest: Die Augen der Mumie Ma a.k.a. Eyes Of The Mummy; Carmen a.k.a. Gypsy Blood); Hearts of the World; Himmelskibet, a.k.a. A Trip To Mars; The Sinking Of The Lusitania; Tarzan of the Apes

winner: Victor Sjöström (Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru a.k.a.The Outlaw And His Wife)
nominees: Roscoe Arbuckle (The Roscoe Arbuckle Comedy Shorts); Charles Chaplin (A Dog's Life and Shoulder Arms); Elliott Dexter (Old Wives For New); William S. Hart (Blue Blazes Rawden); Harold Lloyd (The Harold Lloyd Short Comedies)

winner: Pola Negri (Die Augen der Mumie Ma a.k.a. Eyes Of The Mummy and Carmen a.k.a. Gypsy Blood)
nominees: Mabel Normand (Mickey); Ossi Oswalda (Ich möchte kein Mann sein a.k.a. I Don't Want To Be A Man); Mary Pickford (Stella Maris and Amarilly Of Clothes-Line Alley); Norma Talmadge (The Forbidden City)

winner: Cecil B. DeMille (Old Wives For New)
nominees: Charles Chaplin (A Dog's Life and Shoulder Arms); Marshall A. Neilan (Stella Maris and Amarilly Of Clothes-Line Alley); Victor Sjöström (Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru a.k.a. The Outlaw And His Wife); Maurice Tourneur (The Blue Bird)

winner: Theodore Roberts (Old Wives For New)
nominees: Snub Pollard (The Harold Lloyd Comedy Shorts); Rudolph Valentino (The Married Virgin)

winner: Dorothy Gish (Hearts of the World)
nominees: Sylvia Ashton (Old Wives For New); Kathleen Kirkham (The Married Virgin); Marsha Manon (Stella Maris); Florence Vidor (Old Wives For New)

winner: Jeanie Macpherson, from a novel by David Graham Phillips (Old Wives For New)
nominees: Frances Marion, from a novel by Belle K. Maniates (Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley); Charles Chaplin (A Dog's Life and Shoulder Arms); Frances Marion, from a novel by William J. Locke (Stella Maris)

Winsor McCay (The Sinking of the Lusitania) (Animation); Walter Stradling (Stella Maris) (Cinematography)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Silent Oscars: 1917

We speak of 1939 as being the greatest year in Hollywood history—and who am I to disagree—but you would be remiss not to count 1917 in the mix. That was the year of the industry-wide adoption of what is now known as "classical continuity editing," Mary Pickford's emergence as the most powerful woman in Hollywood history, Charlie Chaplin's maturation as an artist, and the big screen debut of arguably the greatest film comedian of all time, Buster Keaton.

Beat that!

winner: The Chaplin Mutuals (Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer) (prod. Charles Chaplin)
nominees: The Poor Little Rich Girl (prod. Adolph Zukor); Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm (prod. Mary Pickford); Terje Vigen a.k.a. A Man There Was (prod. Charles Magnusson); Umirayushchii Lebed a.k.a. The Dying Swan (prod. Aleksandr Khanzhonkov)
Must-See Movies: The Adventurer; The Cure; Easy Street; The Immigrant; The Poor Little Rich Girl
Recommended Films: The Butcher Boy; Coney Island; Down To Earth; Oh Doctor!; Reaching For The Moon; Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm; A Romance Of The Redwoods; The Rough House; Terje Vigen a.k.a. A Man There Was; Umirayushchii Lebed a.k.a. The Dying Swan; Wild and Woolly
Of Interest: Das Fidele Gefängnis a.k.a. The Merry Jail; Furcht; The Heart Of Texas Ryan a.k.a. Single Shot Parker; His Wedding Night; A Modern Musketeer; Over The Fence; Straight Shooting; Teddy At The Throttle

winner: Charles Chaplin (The Chaplin Mutuals) (Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer)
nominees: Roscoe Arbuckle (The Roscoe Arbuckle Comedy Shorts); Harry Carey (Straight Shooting and Bucking Broadway); Elliott Dexter (A Romance Of The Redwoods); Douglas Fairbanks (Wild and Woolly, Down To Earth and Reaching For The Moon); William Farnum (A Tale Of Two Cities)

winner: Mary Pickford (The Poor Little Rich Girl and Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm)
nominees: Vera Karalli (Umirayushchii Lebed a.k.a. The Dying Swan); Doris Kenyon (A Girl's Folly); Ossi Oswalda (Das Fidele Gefängnis a.k.a. The Merry Jail)

winner: Charles Chaplin (The Chaplin Mutuals) (Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer)
nominees: Yevgeni Bauer (Umirayushchii Lebed a.k.a. The Dying Swan); Victor Sjöström (Terje Vigen a.k.a. A Man There Was); Maurice Tourneur (The Poor Little Rich Girl)

winner: Buster Keaton (The Roscoe Arbuckle Comedy Shorts)
nominees: Eric Campbell (The Chaplin Mutuals) (Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer); Sam De Grasse (Wild And Woolly)

winner: Edna Purviance (The Chaplin Mutuals) (Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer)
nominees: Bebe Daniels (The Harold Lloyd Comedy Shorts); June Elvidge (A Girl's Folly); ZaSu Pitts (A Little Princess); Florence Vidor (A Tale Of Two Cities)

winner: Frances Marion, from a play by Eleanor Gates (The Poor Little Rich Girl)
nominees: Charles Chaplin (The Chaplin Mutuals) (Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer); Anita Loos and John Emerson, story by Horace B. Carpenter (Wild and Woolly); Frances Marion, from a play by Charlotte Thompson and a novel by Kate Douglas Wiggin (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm)


Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Silent Oscars: 1916

In case you know nothing about it, Intolerance weaves four separate story lines—the life of Christ, the fall of Babylon, the massacre of the Huguenots, and a modern-day story about the victims of a overreaching reform movement—into a three-plus hour spectacle that might be the most ambitious movie ever made. Accounts vary as to how much of his personal fortune Griffith poured into the production—some say as much as $2 million, the most for any film before Gone With The Wind—but there's no question that this was the most lavish production of the silent era.

Or to put it another way, to show the sack of Babylon, Griffith basically built a full-scale replica of the ancient city on a Hollywood backlot and then laid siege to it.

Structurally, Intolerance is as audacious as anything ever attempted on film—four simultaneous stories linked only by a common theme and the generally rising action—with the editing style growing more complex as the action in each story reaches its climax. The film's last half hour, with quick cross-cut shots between a marauding army, a racing car, a speeding train, the slaughter of the Huguenots and the crucifixion of Christ, has been described as a fugue, a concept borrowed from music where two or more voices entering successively and sung in either imitation or counterpoint to build on a common theme.

The film's most unforgettable performance—and for me, the best in any film in 1916—came from Constance Talmadge, sister of the better known Norma Talmadge. In the Babylonian sequence of Intolerance, she plays "the Mountain Girl," a pretty, perky, petulant teenage beauty who finds herself fighting against a palace conspiracy that threatens to topple the kingdom. Wide-eyed and gangly-limbed, Talmadge is as hyperactive as a puppy amped up on kibble and amphetamines, windmilling her way across the screen, and you can't take your eyes off her. Neither could audiences in 1916 and she quickly became a star.

"[I]t's a mark of her skill," Eagan wrote, "that she stands out in a segment filled with orgies, sacrifices, semi-nudity, wild animals, and wholesale destruction."

Working primarily in comedies, Talmadge would excel throughout the silent era
—look for her in The Matrimaniac, the best of the dozen films Douglas Fairbanks made in 1916, a wild, stunt-filled romantic comedy that no doubt later served as a blueprint for the get-me-to-the-wedding-on-time story lines of Harold Lloyd's Girl Shy and For Heaven's Sake—then retired with the advent of sound, famously telling her sister Norma, "Quit pressing your luck, baby. The critics can't knock those trust funds Mama set up for us."

winner: Intolerance (prod. D.W Griffith)
nominees: The Chaplin Mutuals (prod. Charles Chaplin); Hell's Hinges (prod. Thomas H. Ince); Judex (prod. Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont)
Must-See Movies: Intolerance
Recommended Films: Behind The Screen; The Count; The Fireman; The Floorwalker; The Habit of Happiness; Hell's Hinges; Judex; The Matrimaniac; One A.M.; The Pawnshop; Police; The Rink; The Waiter's Ball
Of Interest: Civilization; Flirting With Fate; Hævnens nat a.k.a. Blind Justice; His Picture in the Papers; Hoodoo Ann; Joan the Woman; The Mystery of the Leaping Fish; A Natural Born Gambler; Reggie Mixes In; Snow White; The Social Secretary; Sold For Marriage; 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea; Where Are My Children?

winner: William S. Hart (Hell's Hinges)
nominees: Charles Chaplin (The Chaplin Mutuals); Douglas Fairbanks (The Fine Arts Film Company Comedies); Tyrone Power, Sr. (Where Are My Children?)

winner: Mae Marsh (Hoodoo Ann and Intolerance)
nominees: Marguerite Clark (Snow White); Lillian Gish (Sold For Marriage); Norma Talmadge (Going Straight and The Social Secretary)

winner: D.W. Griffith (Intolerance)
nominees: Charles Chaplin (The Chaplin Mutuals); Louis Feuillade (Judex)

winner: Eugene Pallette (The Children In The House and Going Straight)
nominees: George Fawcett (The Habit Of Happiness); Theodore Roberts (Joan The Woman); Fred Warren (The Matrimaniac)

winner: Constance Talmadge (Intolerance)
nominees: Dorothy G. Cumming (Snow White); Bessie Love (Reggie Mixes In); Musidora (Judex)

winner: Anita Loos (His Picture In The Papers (screenplay), Intolerance (titles), The Social Secretary (screenplay), American Aristocracy (story), The Matrimaniac (screenplay) and The Americano (scenario and titles))
nominees: Charles Chaplin (The Chaplin Mutuals); Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley, from a story by L. Payton and F. Hall (Where Are My Children?)

SPECIAL AWARDS Eugene Gaudio, George M. Williamson and J. Ernest Williamson (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) (Cinematography); D.W. Griffith , James Smith and Rose Smith (Intolerance) (Film Editing); Walter L. Hall (Intolerance) (Art Direction-Set Design)

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Silent Oscars: 1915

It's no wonder the surrealists loved Feuillade—his Paris is simultaneously whimsical and deadly, a place where you can lean out a second-story window and wind up with a lasso around your neck, where every cupboard hides a body, every hatbox a head, and your neighbor's loft conceals a cannon. There's no sense of safety—or sanity—anywhere. People are murdered on trains, in cafes, and even in their own beds. Perhaps that's why I, as a 21st century movie fan, find Feuillade's work so engaging—he anticipated the anxieties that came to define the 20th century and continue to plague us to this day: violence, paranoia, alienation, conspiracy, terrorism.

It also has a wonderfully nutty quality, the sense that anything could happen and often does.

"Feuillade's cinema," said Alain Resnais, "is very close to dreams—therefore it's perhaps the most realistic."

winner: Les Vampires (prod. Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont)
nominees: The Birth Of A Nation (prod. D.W. Griffith); The Cheat (prod. Cecil B. DeMille); The Italian (prod. Thomas H. Ince); Regeneration (prod. William Fox)
Must-See Movies: The Birth Of A Nation; Les Vampires
Recommended Films: Assunta Spina;The Cheat; Fatty's Tintype Tangle; His New Job; The Italian; Posle Smerti a.k.a. After Death; Regeneration; The Tramp
Of Interest: Alice in Wonderland; The Coward; A Fool There Was

winner: George Beban (The Italian)
nominees: Roscoe Arbuckle (The Keystone Comedies); Charles Chaplin (The Essanay Comedies)

winner: Francesca Bertini (Assunta Spina and La signora delle camelie)
nominees: Theda Bara (A Fool There Was); Geraldine Farrar (Carmen)

winner: Louis Feuillade (Les Vampires)
nominees: D.W. Griffith (The Birth of a Nation); Raoul Walsh (Regeneration)

winner: Sessue Hayakawa (The Cheat)
nominees: Marcel Lévesque (Les Vampires); Henry B. Walthall (The Birth of a Nation)

winner: Musidora (Les Vampires)
nominees: Anna Q. Nilsson (Regeneration); Clara Williams (The Italian)

winner: Raoul Walsh and Walter C. Hackett, from the autobiography My Mamie Rose by Owen Frawley Kildare (Regeneration)
nominees: Louis Feuillade (Les Vampires); Thomas H. Ince and C. Gardner Sullivan (The Italian)

SPECIAL AWARDS: G.W. "Billy" Bitzer (The Birth Of A Nation) (Cinematography); D.W. Griffith, Joseph Henabery, James Smith, Rose Smith and Raoul Walsh (The Birth Of A Nation) (Film Editing); Robert Goldstein and Clare West (The Birth Of A Nation) (Costumes); Frank Wortman (The Birth Of A Nation) (Set Design)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Silent Oscars: 1914

It was the Italians who proved most willing to experiment with the long-form film. Italian filmmakers had come late to the party, with the country not producing its first fiction film until 1905. To distinguish their product from the French films that dominated the early marketplace, they focused on subjects with a distinctly Italian flavor, such as the country's recent unification, well-known historical events such as the last days of Pompeii, and notorious figures from Rome's glory days such as Nero and Messalina.

The best of these Italian epics was Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria, a landmark achievement in style and spectacle, and the first truly great long-form film. The culimination of the long-form movement in Italy, Cabiria took two years to film and boasted mammoth sets and elaborate special effects. Its epic scope influenced Griffith's Intolerance and anticipated the pomp of De Mille's later Bible and history spectacles.

"The film was made with limitless scope and ambition," Roger Ebert wrote for his Great Movies series, "with towering sets and thousands of extras, with stunts that (because they were actually performed by stuntmen) have an impact lost in these days of visual effects."

Set during the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage—a subject of great interest to Italian audiences on the eve of World War I—Cabiria is an epic on a grand scale, tracing the life of young woman from childhood to early adulthood against the backdrop of Rome's struggle to establish an empire of its own. The movie opens with the spectacular eruption of Sicily's Mt. Etna, and boasts a tracking shot of refugees trekking across the face of the erupting volcano that rivals any image previously filmed.

"For Cabiria," wrote Cole Smithey, the self-styled "smartest film critic in the world, "Pastrone pioneered the use of deep-focus filming and the since-ubiquitous 'tracking-shot'—two years before D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation would employ similar techniques."

The movie includes kidnappings, piracy, ritual sacrifices, slave revolts and even Hannibal and his elephants. It also introduced the "Maciste" character—the Herculean hero played here by Bartolomeo Pagano in a star-making performance, and later by such actors as Steve Reeves—who proved so popular in low budget sword-and-sandal films between 1914 and the 1970s.

Even though the finished film wouldn't premiere in theaters until April 1914, word of Pastrone's project leaked out of Italy and directors worldwide scrambled to make their own long-form films.

winner: Cabiria (prod.Giovanni Pastrone)
nominees: Gertie The Dinosaur (prod. Winsor McCay); Judith of Bethulia (prod. D.W. Griffith); The Perils Of Pauline (prod. Pathé Frères); Tillie's Punctured Romance (prod. Mack Sennett)

winner: Henry B. Walthall (The Avenging Conscience: or "Thou Shalt Not Kill")
nominees: Charles Chaplin (The Keystone Comedies)

winner: Blanche Sweet (Judith Of Bethulia)
nominees: Marie Dressler (Tillie's Punctured Romance); Pearl White (The Perils Of Pauline and The Exploits Of Elaine)

winner: Giovanni Pastrone (Cabiria)
nominees: Cecil B. DeMille (The Squaw Man); D.W. Griffith (Judith Of Bethulia and The Avenging Conscience: or "Thou Shalt Not Kill"); Mack Sennett (Tillie's Punctured Romance)

winner: Bartolomeo Pagano (Cabiria)
nominees: Roscoe Arbuckle (The Rounders)

winner: Mabel Normand (Tillie's Punctured Romance)
nominees: Mae Marsh (Judith Of Bethulia)

winner: Hampton Del Ruth, Craig Hutchinson and Mack Sennett, from a play by A. Baldwin Sloane and Edgar Smith (Tillie's Punctured Romance)
nominees: D.W. Griffith, Grace Pierce and Frank E. Woods, from a poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (Judith Of Bethulia); Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel, from a play by Edwin Milton Royle (The Squaw Man)

Winsor McCay (Gertie The Dinosaur) (Animation); Segundo de Chomón, Eugenio Bava, Giovanni Tomatis, Augusto Battagliotti, Natale Chiusano and Carlo Franzeri (Cabiria) (Cinematography); Segundo de Chomón and Eugenio Bava (Cabiria) (Special Effects); Camillo Innocenti and Luigi Borgnono (Cabiria) (Set Design)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Silent Oscars: 1913

One of my favorite of the early silent directors, Louis Feuillade, made a big splash in France with Fantômas, five interlinked feature films (each running between fifty and ninety minutes) based on a series of novels about the eponymous master criminal, one of film history's first anti-heroes. Feuillade alone of the great early directors anticipated the chief maladies of the coming century—violence, anxiety, paranoia, alienation—and even this century's scourge, terrorism. His film serials Fantômas, Les Vampires and Judex directly influenced filmmakers as diverse as Luis Buñuel, Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock. Throw in the fact that Feuillade's films are extraordinarily entertaining—not just as film history but in a 21st century sense—and he winds up, along with Charlie Chaplin, as my favorite director of the first three decades of film history (1888-1918).

winner: Fantômas (The Complete Saga) (prod. Romeo Bosetti)
nominees: Der Student von Prag (prod. Deutsche Bioscop GmbH); Sumerki zhenskoi dushi a.k.a. Twilight Of A Woman's Soul (prod. Aleksandr Khanzhonkov); Suspense (prod. Rex Motion Picture Company); Traffic In Souls (prod. Jack Cohn and Walter MacNamara)

winner: Roscoe Arbuckle (The Keystone Comedies)
nomiees: René Navarre (Fantômas); Ford Sterling (The Keystone Comedies); Paul Wegener (Der Student von Prag)

winner: Hilda Borgström (Ingeborg Holm)
nominees: Lillian Gish (The Mothering Heart); Mabel Normand (The Keystone Comedies)

winner: Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley (Suspense)
nominees: Yevgeni Bauer (Sumerki zhenskoi dushi a.k.a. Twilight Of A Woman's Soul); Louis Feuillade (Fantômas)

winner: Louis Feuillade, from the novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre (Fantômas)
nominees: Victor Sjöström, from a play by Nils Krok (Ingeborg Holm); Walter MacNamara, from a story by George Loane Tucker (Traffic In Souls)

Nikolai Kozlovsky (Sumerki zhenskoi dushi a.k.a. Twilight Of A Woman's Soul) (Cinematography)