It is impossible to talk about G.W. Pabst’s 1929 masterpiece Pandora’s Box without talking about Louise Brooks. Brooks’ innocent, irrepressibly pansexual Lulu isn’t merely the heart of the film but the film itself. The story itself dates back much further, and Pabst is one of the great Weimar directors, but Brooks’ image — both the public’s perception of her at the time and the literal image of her face — animates everything about it, then and since.More
Great Movie Project
An ongoing effort to watch each of the film’s in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies series. The Great Movie Project is, first and foremost, an excuse to watch (or re-watch) a set of films that more or less constitutes a canon — the frequently discussed, often-mentioned cinema that has come to define our collective imagination, for better and worse.
These are, by and large, the films that have formed a collective (Western) understanding of what cinema is, what’s important about it, and what it’s capable of achieving. As with any canonical construction, there are omissions and weird inclusions, but the general sense is that these are the films that have laid the groundwork for our wider understanding. By watching them, as much as availability allows, in sequence, I hope to place them in conversation with each other. In a further twist, I have a concurrent series called Great Movies: The Counter-Programming, which will hopefully expand that conversation even further.
Follow along! This is going to take a minute.
It’s relatively rare for a film to begin with a mission statement, but Man With A Movie Camera — Dziga Vertov’s 1929 Constructivist ode to man, machine, and revolution — is not an ordinary film.
Before Vertov presents a dizzying, self-reflexive montage of a day in the life of post-Revolutionary Russia, he informs the viewer:
THIS FILM PRESENTS AN EXPERIMENT IN THE CINEMATIC COMMUNICATION OF VISIBLE EVENTS
WITHOUT THE AID OF INTERTITLES
WITHOUT THE AID OF A SCENARIO
WITHOUT THE AID OF THEATER
THE EXPERIMENTAL WORK AIMS AT CREATING A TRULY INTERNATIONAL ABSOLUTE LANGUAGE OF CINEMA BASED ON ITS TOTAL SEPARATION FROM THE LANGUAGE OF THEATER AND LITERATURE.
The stories of Victor Hugo provided a wealth of material throughout the Silent Era, a source of inspiration that cinema would return to again and again. By the time Universal coaxed German Expressionist master Paul Leni to Hollywood to helm The Man Who Laughs in 1928, a full 53 separate treatments of Hugo had already been released in the previous 23 years.More
Though not the first of his stories to appear on film, The Fall of the House of Usher is perhaps Edgar Allan Poe’s most well-known Gothic tale, and arguably the best suited for cinema. Its central themes — the embodiment of individual interiority in physical architecture, the more or less haunted house, the living grave, the unreliable narrator, the tension between what is seen and what is felt, the rampant doublings of character — all seem appropriate to an imagistic treatment.More
Released in the closing days of the Silent Era, with production wrapping the same month The Jazz Singer premiered, Chaplin’s The Circus is a film that seems to know it’s aesthetic is on its way out the door.
Even with City Lights and Modern Times still to come, there’s an air of finality to it, perhaps most movingly encapsulated by its closing frames: we watch the circus leave the town and The Tramp behind, no better off than when he arrived to amuse the crowd at the start.More
It is an article of faith among your more generous cinephiles that you should never be embarrassed by the classics you haven’t yet seen. Everyone has blind spots, no one has time to see everything, and a gap in your viewing only indicates how much you have to look forward to!More
Metropolis is indisputably one of the most celebrated films of the Silent Era and the generally agreed-upon cinematic pinnacle of Weimar. A dystopian sci-fi landmark distinguished by incredible set design and in-camera tricks, director Fritz Lang’s monumental ode to “the heart” as the “mediator of head and hands” was hugely influential on dozens and dozens of films to follow.More
Sunrise is an undisputed masterpiece of the silent era’s final days, a staggering set of technical achievements in service to melodramatic fairy-tale pathos. It’s also the story of how sometimes the only thing needed to put the spark back in an empty marriage is a little bit of attempted murder.More