Friday, May 20, 2011

The World Film Awards - Silent Films

"The Silent Era"

Images courtesy of
© William L. Sinclair

I've decided to create some film awards of my own that will give a retrospective look at cinema's greatest achievements without the limitations of most current awards, such as only one film winner per year, only films released last year, or only films from a particular country or region. Even the Academy Awards® seem to only be open to English language films, as no foreign language film has ever won best picture, hence the need for both the U.S. and Britain to create a special foreign language category.

My awards will go to great films no matter the country, language, or year created, and at times I may give more than one for particular year, such as 1927 (see below), when I thought three classic films worthy of mention, in the last year before the advent of sound pictures. If I don't limit the number, I can come back later and add titles as so many films are made worldwide that it may be years later before one is even made available to the public as new titles are added to digital media annually from years past.

I will likely keep documentaries separate and only award those for special films, not necessarily annually. Same with tv miniseries, as they are basically one long film, usually based on one book, such as Band of Brothers, the Masterpiece Theatre versions of classic novels, and historical stories like John Adams and Longitude, about the inventor of the method of calculating longitude at sea, saving many shipwrecks.

They say "rules are made to be broken" - in my case, I don't have any rules for myself.. ("Freedom, baby.. yeah!" - Austin Powers)

The top 1000 ranking is from our compilation of all film polls I could find, representing over 1500 in all, literally millions of voters, since popular polls such at Internet Movie Database are included in my tabulations. The complete list can be seen in this post

These first 15 for silent films were divided up as follows: Germany (5), U.S. (6), France (2), Russia (2)

[Year].. Film (rank in the top 1000) - Director

[1915] The Birth of a Nation (#68) - D.W. Griffith
Probably the birth of the movie epic, a little hard to take today because it's a story of the Ku Klux Klan and shows racial violence. I know it's just U.S. history, but it doesn't make it easier to bear. Still, excellent filmmaking considering the date. This film introduced Lilian Gish to the world who would act in films for the next seven decades. Perhaps her most memorable: Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter, as she protects two children from a menacing ex-convict played by Robert Mitchum, after money their father stole.

[1916] Intolerance (#64) - D.W. Griffith
Griffith attempted to show, in various stories, how intolerance shaped important eras in the history of mankind. This had some massive sets and effects like many Griffith films.

[1919] The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (#322) - Robert Wiene - Germany
An eerie suspense film, precursor to modern horror films, known for its fantasy elements and surrealistic settings; one man is controlled by a hypnotist into committing murder.

[1921] The Kid (#228) - Charles Chaplin
Chaplin's first feature film, successful blend of humor and pathos that made him a worldwide star, and also one of costar Jackie Coogan.

[1922] Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (#48) - F.W. Murnau - Germany
One of the first freaky vampire films from one of the first great directors of the school known as German Expressionism, this character is truly horrifying.

[1923] Safety Last (#748) – Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
A Harold Lloyd film, the one in which he caused much gasping while climbing a skyscraper and hanging off the hands of a clock, among other incredibly funny stunts. He later revealed he used a hidden scaffold just underneath so he wouldn't fall far if he slipped. Lloyd added his trademark clear glasses and straw hat to create a nerdy 'everyman' who would always get into unimaginable predicaments.

[1924] Greed (#79) - Erich von Stroheim - Germany
Originally a nine-hour film (what was von Stroheim thinking? what audience could sit through that?), the studio cut it down to a reasonable two-hour length, which has now been restored using some stills found back to around four hours. A precursor to the modern mini-series.

[1925] The Battleship Potemkin - Sergei Eisenstein - Russia
Eisenstein was a master at re-creating historical events in Russia, sometimes killing more people during filming than the original events. He wanted to show the root causes of the Bolshevist Revolution in this film and October. Our review at 1000 Dvds to See

[1926] Faust (#585) - F.W. Murnau - Germany
The classic tale told by the master of German Expressionism.

[1926] Metropolis (#23) - Fritz Lang - Germany
Some unforgettable science fiction images show man trapped in a heartless, mechanized world of daily drudgery with no relief, while some underground rebels are working toward a worker's revolt. Above is a production still with an actress inside the famous robot suit, which was an artificial humanoid that would replace workers. From a novel by Thea von Harbou, and fairly prescient as she saw dehumanization resulting from a mechanized industrial world . Our review at 1000 Dvds to See

[1927] General, The (#28) - Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
For my money, Keaton was much funnier and more inventive and lively than Chaplin, and was the king of silent comedies. Actors Diane and Michael Keaton are descendents of Buster's family. In his later days, he was sadly relegated to some embarassing roles, such as running around constantly in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, while less worthy comedians got the choice parts.

[1927] Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (#38) -  F.W. Murnau
This beautiful tale of a romantic triangle won three Oscars® the first year they were presented, most of any film, including the only one ever given for "artistic film", another for its cinematography, and the 3rd for Janet Gaynor as actress (though they listed all her roles that year). Apparently the film was shot to resemble 18th century paintings, because that's how it looks. This was Murnau's first film in the U.S. Our review at 1000 Dvds to See

[1927] Napoléon (#230) - Abel Gance - France
Gance's massive six-hour film was the first part of an intended six part film on the life of the emperor, but he never got the financing to complete the project. This innovative film features a triptych sequence with three projections side-by-side that pre-date extreme widescreen films. If the 36-hr work had been completed, that would have been longer than any modern mini-series, and the epic of all epics. Our Review at 1000 dvds to see

[1928] The Passion of Joan of Arc #51 - Carl Theodor Dreyer  - France
Maria Falconetti's performance as the teenaged warrior who said "God told
me to kill British soldiers" is the most intense of the silent era. It is said that she never recovered emotionally, and made no other films. It's written that after battles, Joan would be drenched up to her shoulders in blood after beheading as many as 15 soldiers with a sword. Burned as a heretic, she was later sainted by the church.

[1929] The Man With a Movie Camera (#78) - Dziga Vertov - Russia
Probably the most innovative silent film you will see. It has multiple exposures, superimposed images, thousands of rapid edits, innocent nudity, and a galloping horse sequence even better than those in 59's Ben-Hur. Also called "Living Russia", it attempts to document a day in the life of urban Russia, using the Black Sea resort city of Odessa. Based on its date and creative techniques, perhaps the greatest documentary ever.
Along with Sunrise, this is my favorite silent film. Our review at 1000 Dvds to See

Lloyd's humor wasn't always visual
Note the sign to the right, an
early use of the double entendre

Note: I suppose, after looking at my award logo, I could call it the Silver Camera

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