1001 Flicks

Regularly updated blog charting the most important films of the last 104 years.

Friday, June 30, 2006

17. Foolish Wives (1922)

Directed by Erich Von Stroheim


An American diplomat is stationed to Monte Carlo with his wife only to have her fall in the grasp of machiavelic Count Karamzin (Stroheim) who with the help of his two female "cousins" tries to get money off of the couple. The film culminates in a spectacular fire scene where Karamzin and the American wife have been locked in a tower by the jealous maid of Karamzin. Karazim gets killed in the end when after his plot is discovered he attempts to rape the mentally challenged daugther of a forger with whom he had had some deals.


I have been reviewing a good roll of films, and this is no exception. Foolish Wives is probably the most modern feeling of the films reviewed until now. So much so that you soon forget that you are watching a silent film, the use of intertitles is sparse, and all the melodramatic overacting usually associated with silent films is fortunately absent from this film.

For Stroheim less is definitely more in terms of acting, but the same cannot be said in terms of sets. Stroheim rebuilt Monte Carlo on a Universal lot, and it is truly amazing. Yet, even though we have seen such scales of scenery before, as in Griffith's Intolerance for example, we haven't seen the quality of acting that this film shows before. Dr. Mabuse comes close, and also feels very modern, but the subtelty of Stroheim's film is truly amazing, characters react like people would, and a subtle movement is enought to express a whole gamut of feelings. A very welcome change from Griffith's hystrionics.

Also, the plot is fascinating, the way in which the suave European in the character of Karamzin contrasts with the Americans is fantastic. Even though he is the villain, he is colourful, exciting and dramatic while the Americans are dull and uninspiring, even if honest and well meaning. Stroheim was also a master of the visual metaphor, the burning cross at the end, or the dingy place where he spends the night with the American woman are good examples of this, as are the lavish settings where Karamzin finds himself in compared to the duller settings of the American diplomat.
A truly great director, and I am now looking forward to watching Greed sometime in the future. Buy it from Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



Stroheim is a character in one of the Young Indiana Jones episodes. Don't remember which one just now.

From Wiki:

A myth-maker extraordinaire, mystery surrounds his origins. His most recent biographers have written that Stroheim was born in Vienna, Austria in 1885 as Erich Oswald Stroheim, the son of Benno Stroheim, a middle-class hat-maker, and Johanna Bondy, both of whom were practising Jews.

Von Stroheim himself claimed to be Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim, the son of Austrian nobility like the characters he played in his films. However Jean Renoir writes in his memoirs: “Stroheim spoke hardly any German. He had to study his lines like a schoolboy learning a foreign language.”

Later in life, while living in Europe, in published remarks Stroheim claimed to have "forgotten" his native tongue. Whatever the truth, by 1914 he was working in Hollywood.

He began working in movies in bit parts and as a consultant on German culture and fashion. His first film was The Country Boy, in which he was uncredited, in 1915. His first credited role was Old Heidelberg.

He began working with D. W. Griffith, with uncredited roles in Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. But he began playing the sneering German in such films as Sylvia of the Secret Service and The Hun Within. In The Heart of Humanity, he threw a baby out a window.

Following the war, he turned to writing and directing, first directing his own script for Blind Husbands in 1919. As a director, Von Stroheim was known to be dictatorial and demanding, often antagonizing his actors; he was one of the first filmmakers to fulfill the stereotype of the Teutonic tyrant, often wearing a monocle and carrying a riding crop while directing.

Friday, June 23, 2006

16. Haxan (1922)

Directed by Benjamin Christensen


Haxan is a genre defying film, it starts as a documentary on Witchcraft, and it goes from there to an "historic" re-enactement of some witch trials and ends with an almost academic consideration of the factors that led to the phenomenon of the witch trials.


Do you know those new-fangled documentaries where there is a narration by some historian bloke who introduces the subject, and then the documentary suddenly turns into a novelised re-enactment of the building of the pyramids, or something, while sometimes the voice-over of the historian explains some of the elements of the scene? Well, this is it. Only 80 years before these new BBC things.

This is not surprising as this is an extremely influential film. Not only on documentary makers but on surrealists and even the Beat Generation, the DVD that I own of Haxan has a version narrated by William S. Burroughs for example. The film is a tour de force of imagination, the visuals are just amazing and the special effects are pretty damn good. There is of course an element of shock here, and the impression is that Benjamin Christensen was at times just trying to stick as many shocking images as possible. The sacrifice of babies, an old woman being tortured, the same woman giving birth to demons, lots of nakedness (no boobage though, damn ), crazy dancing nuns, spitting on the images of Christ, stepping on crosses and such. This doesn't detract however from the quality of the film.

Haxan is more than a shock documentary, it has serious pretension to be a teaching tool, particularly in the framing segments. It starts with an explanation of the conceptions of the universe of earlier peoples and ends with an exploration of the role of hysteria in the accusations of witchcraft. Of course most of the affirmations in the film are bollocks, but we have to report ourselves to 1922 and both the study of witchcraft and mental disease have come a long way since then.

The most important thing in the film is, however, its imagery. It is pretty amazing. I've read somewhere on the Internet that it wouldn't be out of place being projected in a rave party and this is indeed true. It is fucking trippy, the devils are particularly well created and some scenes like that of Maria the weaver being tortured or even just eating soup are pretty disturbing.

Well, I fucking loved it. It's available on Google Video and on Amazon US or UK.

Final Grade




From Wiki

In addition to playing Satan, Christensen shows up briefly as Jesus Christ during a scene set in a convent. He also appears as himself in the film's opening credits.

Most of the film was shot at night, ostensibly to enhance the sinister mood of some of the scenes. Such a technique was unheard of at the time of filming.

Haxan Films, the studio that produced The Blair Witch Project, took their name from this film.

15. Nosferatu (1922)

Directed by F. W. Murnau


Ok, have you have read Dracula or seen any Dracula film? That's it, with different names and set in Germany instead of the UK! It is actually quite faithful to the novel, except that "Mina" sacrifices herself to destroy Nosferatu at the end.


Nosferatu a name to stir primordial fear in every man's heart! And Max Schreck is fucking freaky throughout the film. Along with Dr. Mabuse this is probably one of the most watchable silent films to modern audiences, it is really thrilling to see the character of Nosferatu up to his mischievious deeds.

Murnau is arguably the best silent film director of all time, and if we don't watch many German films these days, the silent era was really their turf. The most original, fascinating and watchable films seem to have come from there, either by Fritz Lang or Murnau. Nosferatu is a good example of this. The way in which Murnau uses space to emphasise the terror of Nosferatu really works, and I would consider this to be the first truly Horror movie in the sense that it works. Other Horror films had been done before, like Korkarlen reviewed before, but it was not scary per se, it just described situations which would be frightening fort those involved. The presence of Max Schreck changes all that however and I can imagine the audiences of the time freaking out at the Nosferatu characted but also at the freaky stop motion used for the movements of the chariot or when Nosferatu piles up 5 coffins onto a cart.

Still, it didn't feel as modern as Mabuse for example. Maybe this is due to Mabuse having had a better restoration than Nosferatu and also because the soundtrack in the version of Nosferatu I saw really grated on my nerves... I mean really! Parts of it were quite brilliant, but I honestly don't need fucking synth-art music on my 1922 film, I know post-modernism and all that, but JEEESUS! Bugger post-modernism with a fish-fork!

Really worth watching and actually quite easy to find online. Or buy it at Amazon
US or UK

Final Grade



Influence of Nosferatu from Wikipedia:

* 1977– The narrative song "Nosferatu" closes the album Spectres by Blue Öyster Cult.
* 1979– Salem's Lot director Tobe Hooper chose a distinct Nosferatu look for the vampire Barlow.
* 1982– Clips from the film are included in British rock band Queen's (featuring David Bowie) Under Pressure video.
* 1987– The starship of Sabalom Glitz in the Doctor Who episode titled "Dragonfire" is called Nosferatu. Later Glitz acquires a Nosferatu II.
* 1988 U.K. based Gothic Rock band Nosferatu (band) is formed, heavily influenced by classic horror, vampires, and vampyre subculture.
* 1990-2005 – Various entries in the Fire Emblem series of videogames feature a magic spell called "Nosferatu", which allows the caster to absorb the hit points of another unit.
* 1991– "Nosferatu Man" is the name of a song on the album Spiderland by Slint.
* 1991– The vampire Radu from the Subspecies series of films has visual cues from Nosferatu, including the grotesque white face, and over-long fingers and nails.
* 1991 – In White Wolf, Inc.'s Vampire: The Masquerade there exists a vampire clan of hideously deformed vampires known as the Nosferatu.
* 1991 – Millennium Publications releases a four-part comic series, Nosferatu: Plague of Terror written by Mark Ellis with art by Rik Levins that provides an origin for Orlock separate and distinct from Dracula. The series also portrays his career after the events of the Murnau film.
* 1993– From Swedish doom metal band The 3rd and the Mortal, you hear mention of Nosferatu in the song "Salva Me", on their album "Tears Laid in Earth". The Lyrics of mention are: "Cold winds chant Nosferatu".
* 1993. The famous shadow scene is parodied in The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror IV in the scene where Mr. Burns welcomes the Simpsons to his castle.
* 1993– Clips from a Nosferatu re-make appear and he jumps off of the screen in an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? called "The Tale of the Midnight Madness" (Season 2, Episode 2).
* 1994– Metal band Type O Negative referred to "a date at midnight with Nosferatu" in the lyrics to Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)
* 1994–The film Killing Zoe used scenes from "Nosferatu" before, during and after two of the main characters made love.
* 1994-2000– A spoof Nosferatu-type character appears in the British sketch-comedy program The Fast Show. He is seen terrorising a young woman in bed, but he offers betting tips and says "Monster, Monster!"
* 1997- The popular slasher movie Scream 2 includes a character watching a scene from Nosferatu. On an interesting note, that character is played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who also plays Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
* 1997– The video game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night featured an enemy named "Orlox" who resembles Orlock.
* 1997 – The Master, the villain throughout the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was visually based on Nosferatu, having long nails, large bat-like ears, and a bald white head. In the Angel episode "Why We Fight" there is also a Nosferatu-looking vampire on board a submarine, though it is implied he is actually supposed to be Count Orlok. Also in the seventh and final season of Buffy, the protagonists fight a race of ubervampires called the Turok-Han who are also very reminiscent of Nosferatu.
* 1999– Jean-Marc Lofficier wrote a trilogy of graphic novels based on German expressionist film, the second of which was titled Batman: Nosferatu. Batman's costume was remodeled to resemble Orlok's, but most of the plot came from an equally renown German expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
* 1999 - The Swedish Progressive Metal band Evergrey has a track on their 1999 album Solitude - Dominance - Tragedy appropriately entitled Nosferatu.
* 1999 - The Detroit based horror rap group Samhein Witch Killaz release a song called "Nosferatu." As you may have guessed the song was, in fact, about the vampire Nosferatu itself.
* 2000 - The videogame Resident Evil Code: Veronica featured a mutated creature called Nosferatu as a boss in the game.
* 2000– A Hollywood movie called Shadow of the Vampire told a fictional story of the making of the silent version of Nosferatu, imagining that actor Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) was himself a vampire, and that director F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich) was complicit in hiring the creature for the purposes of realism.
* 2000– Several episodes of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command feature the recurring villain NOS-4-A2, a robot that feeds off of the energy of anything mechanical.
* 2001 - In the vampire anime Hellsing a member of the Iscariot Organization refers to the main character Alucard as "Nosferatu Alucard" in reference to his despicable demeanor and his occult supernatural powers which are far greater than any normal bitten vampire. As well Incognito, the Vampire towards the end of the series, are referred to as a "true Nosferatu".
* 2002 - The music video to Farin Urlaubs second single, "Sumisu" is shot in the style of the movie and features Urlaub playing a character bearing strong resemblance to Count Orlok.
* 2002 - Jill Tracy and The Malcontent Orchestra release the CD "Into the Land of Phantoms," selections from their acclaimed score to Nosferatu.
* 2002– Count Orlok also appears in an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants in the episode titled "The Graveyard Shift."
* 2002– The movie Blade II introduces mutant vampires called Reapers that resemble Count Orlok.
* 2002 - The video game Disciples II (and its prequel) feature a character called a Nosferat, a general for the Undead Hordes.
* 2003- A energy weapon in the online multiplayer game Eve Online is called a Nosferatu, it steals energy from another ship and transfers it to your own (also called energy vampires)
* 2004- [Nosferatu.com] Nosferatu.com web site is launched featuring historical information on the Nosferatu and officially licensed Nosferatu merchandise
* 2004- In the issue 14 of the Spectacular Spider-Man, Morbius the Living Vampire is drawn to look like Count Orlok.
* 2004-Jim Carrey plays the role of Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. The likeness of Olaf appears to be modelled on a likeness of Nosferatu.
* 2005– General Grievous, a new Star Wars villain, is based on various aspects of Nosferatu. Rob Coleman (one of the top VFX workers on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) when speaking about movements for the character is quoted as saying, "In fact, we talked about Fagin as well as classic vampire movies, including Nosferatu."
* 2005–2006- Dracula vs. King Arthur, a comic book mini-series seeing Count Dracula transported to Arthurian era Camelot and invading the lands, with many underling vampires resembling the rat-faced look of Orlok.
* 2006– The character Uta Refson (Erica Cerra) [Nosferatu backwards] is introduced in the series The L Word (episode 31) at table 13 of a speed dating session, as a Vampirologist (not a Vampire mythologist) certified by Dartmill University (the certificate being 13 lines long), teacher of a course on the queer vampire in literature & film in a seminar called "Demon Desire" about the vampire as a lesbian predator, and as an appropriately overwhelming love interest for the core character of Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey). Uta Refson is shown to have a bony figure, very intense eyes, long sharp fangs and finger-nails, a casual avoidance of being seen in mirrors, exceptional stamina, a preference to only go out at night, an aversion to discussing religion and far greater strength than her body suggests.
* 2006– In the movie Running Scared, a Nosferatu-type monster is in the background of the bathroom of the pedophiles' house.
* 2006– In the Base Set of Wizkid's Games Horrorclix Battleing Mininatures game, there is a figure named Nosferatu.

Friday, June 09, 2006

14. Nanook of the North (1922)

Directed By Robert J. Flaherty


One of the first "documentaries", Nanook of the North follows Inuit hunter Nanook in his daily life, therefore there is no "plot" per se. This mainly consists of hunting, fishing, hunting the walrus, hunting the artic fox, hunting a big fat seal, fishing the salmon, so on and so forth. Scenes are present also of building an igloo and going to a tradepost to sell their furs as well as teaching his youngest son to shoot with the bow and arrow and several quaint images of family life. It ends with Nanook unable to find shelter and taking refuge in an abandoned igloo while a North wind blows outside.


Nanook of the North, despite the controversy that it has created, is above all a beautiful film. Not only are the landscape shots amazing, the human relationships in the film are also very touching. For example, the scene where Nanook warms his son's hands by blowing on them.

This is actually one of the few silent films on the list that I had watched repeatedly before doing this review. As an undergraduate I even wrote a 5000 word essay on this and on the controversy that arose from it. Basically this film, even though it purports to be a documentary, is in fact mostly acted out, under Flaherty's instructions. Yet, not all of it is, and the few glimpses that one gets into the life of the Inuit people are truly great. Nanook himself is one of the great actors of the silent era, he plays his part with more natural ease than most professional actors that we've encountered until now. But, in reality, no Inuits were building igloos or not using rifles, those elements were for the sake of "colour" alone.

This doesn't mean however that Nanook didn't know how to make an igloo. It is actually quite clear from the film that he is quite expert at doing all the things that he didn't do that frequently, but Inuits usually stayed in tents, and I am sure Flaherty's crew did the same.

If we consider the film however, for what it is, it is a great piece of fiction/documentary. A bit like a very good The Gods Must Be Crazy and an essential film in the development of the documentary art. In fact we fool ourselves if we think that other documentaries are not representative as much of the director's point of view as of the subject's. So it is a movie that must be seen, not only but also because of its historical importance. You can get it at Amazon US or UK.

Final Grade



The films looks pretty cold.

Not the most PETA friendly of films

Nanook died of starvation not long after the filming

From Wikipedia

Flaherty faced criticism for deceptively portraying staged events as reality in the film. Much of the action was staged and gives an inaccurate view of real Inuit life during the early 20th century. "Nanook" was in fact named Allakariallak, for instance, while the "wife" shown in the film was not really his wife, but was actually one of Flaherty's eskimo wives. And although Allakariallak normally used a gun when hunting, Flaherty encouraged him to hunt after the fashion of his ancestors in order to capture what was believed to be the way the Inuit lived before European influence. The ending, where Nanook and his family are supposedly in peril of dying if they can't find shelter quickly enough, was obviously farce, given the reality of nearby French-Canadian and Inuit settlements during filming, though Allakariallak himself died of exposure two years later after being caught in a snowstorm.

Flaherty defended his work by stating that a filmmaker must often distort a thing to catch its true spirit. Later filmmakers have noted that the only cameras available at the time were both large and immobile, making it impossible to effectively capture most interior shots or unstructured exterior scenes without significantly modifying the environment and subject action. For example, the Inuit crew had to build a special three-walled igloo for Flaherty's bulky camera so that there would be enough light for it to capture interior shots. Similarly, while Flaherty staged walrus and seal hunts, the hunting itself involved actual wild animals, though Flaherty insisted that his actors use spears and not the guns with which they normally hunted.

At the time, few documentaries had been filmed and there was little precedent to guide Flaherty's work. Nonetheless, since Flaherty's time both staging action and attempting to steer documentary action have come to be considered unethical among documentarians, as has any sort of re-enactment which is not introduced as or immediately obvious as a re-enactment.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

13. Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, parts 1 and 2) 1922

Directed By Fritz Lang


There's this guy right? He is Dr. Mabuse, criminal mastermind and master of disguise, as well as gifted hypnotist and psychoanalyst. After commiting corporate crime at the spectacular opening of the film, Mabuse turns to making money from hypnotising card players. He does this initially with Hull, an American millionaire, always in disguise. Soon the State Prosecutor Von Wenk becomes involved in the case of the mysterious gambler, who either appears as a youth or an old man or a russian gentleman to his victims and leads them to commit irrational acts. Wenk eventually plays against Mabuse who is disguised as an old man, yet Mabuse hypnotises him with the aid of some Chinese glasses. Hull, the American Millionaire gets killed in an attempt at Wenk's life and his girlfriend, Carozza, a minion of Mabuse is arrested. Countess Told is asked by Wenk to help in the investigations and get some info from Carozza. Which she refuses after meeting Carozza, because she understands she did it for love (of Mabuse). Mabuse then sends her a poison pill, and she commits suicide.

Meanwhile, Mabuse falls in love with Countess Told, an adventurous woman, and kidnaps her while descrediting her husband by hypnotising him in order to make him be caught cheating after a dinner party. With the Countess captive, Mabuse turns to count Told and becomes his psychoanalyst, eventually leading him to cut his own throat with a razorblade. Tired of Von Wenk's meddling, Mabuse organises a show, where he disguises himself as a Rasputin like magician and mass hypnotist. While falling into a trance Wenk discovers that the hypnotist and all the previous criminals are all actually Mabuse, but too late! Mabuse has instilled the order to comit suicide by driving full-throttle into a quarry into Wenk's mind. Wenk's assistants, seeing his odd behaviour when he leaves the show follow him and save him at the last moment, while his car plunges down the quarry, exploding when it hits the bottom (yay!).

Next day, Wenk, the police and the military siege Mabuse's house while he and his minions have a shoot out with the forces of order, by shooting rifles of their windows, Western Style. Eventually, Mabuse manages to escape to his money faking facility through a tunnel in his house and there he goes insane seeing the ghosts of all the people he has killed. Wenk finds him and takes him away.


Phew, that was the very condensed version of the synopsis. In fact this is a 4.30 hour long film.There is loads of stuff I left out, actually, but I can't be arsed. In fact, this is such a good film that you need to watch it anyway so it's pointless to write more about the story. Now it's a question of convincing you of why you should watch a 4.30 hour long silent film.

Simple, it has the best plot of all films reviewed until now and some of the most beautiful set design and makeup ever. The sets are not in the scale of Intolerance by Griffith or anything like that, but they are just exquisite. From the restaurant, to Le Pettit Casino and, especially, the Counts' house, all are masterworks of design and architecture. And the design isn't just the architecture of the building, it's all the decoration and pieces in the sets. Like the collection of African Art and Expressionist Art, side by side in Told's house, or the circular tiny casino which transforms into a burlesque bar in seconds. And yes, there are nipples.

Even better than this is the plot and the characters of the film. Mabuse is an all-round despicable character, but not so flamboyant that you can't suspend disbelief. Mabuse is probably one of the great villains, thoroughly believable and scary. All the more scary because believable. Even Von Wenk' is not the common annoying do gooder, he has a sense of duty more that follhardy stupidness of the main character of Les Vampires for example. Strangely, and probably due to all these reasons, the fim seems quite modern compared with most silent films. You could easily have said that it was filmed in the 40's if it wasn't for the fact that it is silent.

Fortunately new versions of the film have quite quite good soundtracks, which help you bear the length of the film. Such as these (shameless plug time!): Amazon US or UK.

Final Grade



Mabuse might originate in the French M'Abuse meaning I abuse myself, which is not a veiled reference to his prolific wanking but to the fact that he brings about his own downfall.

There are other Mabuse films:

* Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (dir. Fritz Lang, 1933)
- English title: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (may also be translated as The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse)
- The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse is a not-very-faithful edited adaptation of Testament made primarily for American audiences. It is truncated, reorganized and redubbed.
- A French-language version was filmed at the same time, on the same sets, but with an entirely different cast (except for one actor who spoke both German and French fluently, and Klein-Rogge, whose dialogue remained in German.)

* Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse (dir. Fritz Lang, 1960 - the first of the Mabuse films that was produced by Artur Brauner. English title: The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse)

* Im Stahlnetz des Dr. Mabuse (dir. Harald Reinl, 1961. English title: The Return of Dr. Mabuse)

* Die unsichtbaren Krallen des Dr. Mabuse (dir. Harald Reinl, 1962.) English title: The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (literally: The Invisible Claws of Dr. Mabuse)

* Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (dir. Werner Klingler, 1962 - remake of the 1933 film. English title: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse)

* Scotland Yard jagt Dr. Mabuse (dir. Paul May, 1963) English title: Dr. Mabuse vs. Scotland Yard (literally: Scotland Yard Hunts Dr. Mabuse)

* Die Todesstrahlen des Dr. Mabuse (dir. Hugo Fregonese, 1963.) English title: The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse (literally: The Death Rays of Dr. Mabuse)

Monday, June 05, 2006

12. La Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet) 1922

Yet another place holder (the last one for a while, at least 6 films). On the upside, I've obtained Kolkarlen and its review will be put up soon. So I think of it not so much as gaining a placeholder but losing another one.

Really weird that this is ungettable (if anyone knows where I can get it I'd appreciate it) as it is the first feminist film...

Saturday, June 03, 2006

11. Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Directed by D. W. Griffith


There's this Countess right? And she gives away her newborn child (Louise) when her house is invaded by revolutionaries in France. Louise is brought up with a sister in a very modest house, by the age of four she becomes blind following a disease. When they are older, the sisters go to Paris to find a cure for Louise's blindness. One of the aristocrats takes a liking to Henrietta, the other sister. Henrietta is kidnapped and taken to a big aristocratic party, while Louise is left alone. When she asks if there is no one noble enough to save her, one of the guests does save her and they start a romance. Meanwhile, Louise has been taken in by an evil woman in rags who makes her sing for alms in the streets while beating her at home. While this is happening, Henrietta unwittingly helps a revolutionary, Danton, when he is being chased by the police. By an amazing coincidence the nobleman that she started an affair with is the nephew of the Countess who gave Louise away. Henrietta discovers this when the Countess goes to her room to ask her not to pursue an affair with her nephew. While doing this Henrietta hears some singing in the street, and recognises her sister, while going to meet her she is arrested by the Count's guards as a way to stop her affair with his nephew.

The Revolution kicks in and Louise is released from jail when all prisioners are released by the revolutionaries. The Count's nephew, even while putting his life in danger, returns to Paris from exile to be with Henrietta, they both get arrested in Henrietta's bedroom for being an aristocrat and sheltering one respectively. They go to trial, and Louise is there and "sees" her sister and her boyfriend being sentenced to the Guillotine. Danton, the revolutionary Henrietta helped, discovers this and at the last moment gets a pardon for Henrietta and her boyfriend. All ends well, Louise gets cured and reunited with her mother, and everyone gets married.


That's a convoluted plot up there. Griffith is definitely more at ease with the historical epic than with any other form of film. And that is why this is a better film than either Broken Blossoms or Way Down East; still, it is probably the worse of his historical flicks. It can be seen as overly long, with some parts of the plot being frankly unnecessary, like the sub-plot of the Count's servant, Picard.

However, this is another great performance by Lillian Gish, who we will see again in Night of the Hunter in 1955 as an old lady. Also a very worthy film as there is a nipple shot at the aristocrat's party, as well as a scene of foot fetishism. So Yay! And these are the scenes worth looking at the big ones with great costumes and sets. And they are indeed great.

Griffith is therefore in his environment here, he gets thousands of extras to play the rabble, there are impressive scenes of the taking of the Bastille as well as huge sets, like the front of Notre Dame and the streets of revolutionary Paris. I wouldn't say this is as essential viewing as Birth of as Nation or Intolerance but it is still well worth your while.

You can get it as MovieFlix or at Amazon US or UK.

Final Grade




Friday, June 02, 2006

10. Korkarlen (The Phantom Carriage) 1921

Directed by Victor Sjostrom


Ok, this is not an easy one to "synopsise", it's all non-linear and such. It's just not linear at all. But, here goes: it's New Year's Eve, three drunkards are sitting in the graveyard looking at the church tower waiting for the end of the year. One of the drunkards, David Holm starts telling a ghost story, and in a meta-meta narrative tells of how one year ago he heard a ghost story from Georges, another drunkard, the ghost story was about the phantom carriage, a carriage which every year takes the person who dies closest to New Year to be its driver and gather the dead of that year. Curiously, Georges dies right on the stroke of 12. Meanwhile, back at the present time, Sister Edit, a Salvation Army volunteer, who has taken good care of David Holm and caught consumption off him is now dying and wants to see Holm before she does. Holm refuses to go see her because he is an asshole and he gets in a fight with his mates who want him to go see her. He dies at the stroke of 12. Georges with scythe accessory shows up in the phantom carriage and talks to Holm. He takes Holm to go see Sister Edit and in an extended flashback shows him his life, where as a drunkard he had driven away his wife and children, and has since then been looking for her all over Sweden, for revenge! Through the flashback he understands the error of his ways and as a ghost sees his wife preparing a mass-suicide tea (available from the best tea-shops) for her and the children. How Swedish! Holm goes back to his body and he is actually not dead, he runs to his wife and kids and all ends well! It's a wonderful life after all!


Well, it was a good film, and with great special effects. I say great, what I mean is realistic looking. Basically ghosts are made by simple double exposure, which although simple is very effective. And it has been extremely influential, the image of the ghost getting up from the body has been done endlessly from this film onwards.

Also plot-wise, its the old Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life thing, the main character is taken on a trip of his life where he realises something about himself and comes out as a reformed character. Thing is, this is the first film version of this and it is damn cool. The carriage looks great, with its ghostly horse as does Georges the Death-Helper. I can only imagine what it looked like for cinema viewers in the early twenties. It must have looked good because it was quite the box office hit at the time.

Still, the story is not that exciting, it is important however and as one of the most influential horror films it is quite good. The acting is much more contained than Griffith's hystrionics and the director Victor Sjostrom plays a throuroughly dispicable main character in David Holm, one of the best bad guys in the films reviewed until now. Still there is a kind of religious morals to it that just seem a bit silly to the modern secular mind, you just snigger a bit at the obviousness of it. Buy it at Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From wiki:

Victor Sjöström , in US sometimes known as Victor Seastrom (born September 20, 1879 – January 3, 1960), was a Swedish actor, screenwriter, and film director.

Born in Silbodal, Värmland County, Sweden, he was only a year old when his family moved to Brooklyn, New York where he remained until the death of his mother when he was seven years old. Returning to live with relatives in Stockholm, he was 17 years old when he began his acting career on stage as a member of a touring theater company. From this, he went on to become one of the most important forces in the development of the Swedish film industry.

Drawn from the stage to the fledgling motion picture industry, he made his first silent film in 1912 under the direction of Mauritz Stiller. Between then and 1923, he directed another forty-one films before accepting an offer from Louis B. Mayer to work in the United States. In Sweden, he acted in his own films as well as in those for others but in Hollywood, he devoted himself to directing. In 1924, using the Americanized name, Victor Seastrom, he made Name the Man, a dramatic film based on the Hall Caine novel. He went on to direct great stars of the day such as Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Lillian Gish and Norma Shearer in another eight films in America before his first talkie in 1930.

Uncomfortable with the modifications needed to direct talking films, Victor Sjöström returned to Sweden where he directed two more silent films before his final directing effort in 1937, an English language drama filmed in the United Kingdom titled Under the Red Robe. For the next fifteen years, Sjöström performed a variety of leading roles in more than a dozen films and worked as director of the "Svensk Film Industri." At age 78 he gave his final acting performance, an acclaimed effort in the 1957 Ingmar Bergman film, Wild Strawberries.

Victor Sjöström died in Stockholm at the age of eighty and was interred there in the Norra begravningsplatsen.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

9. Within Our Gates (1920)

Directed by Oscar Micheaux


The film relates the story of Sylvia, a black teacher from the South of the US who has come to Boston, but after being shunned by her fiancee (who witnesses her talking to a white man in her room) she returns to the South where she becomes a teacher in a school. The school has no money to keep working and therefore Sylvia returns to Boston in order to get some funds for the school. After being ran over by a philantropist -- if I had a quid for each time I get ran over by philantropists... -- she eventually gets the money and the problem is solved. The film doesn't end however, without explaining who the white man in Sylvia's room was. So we get a flashback to the history of her family. They were all lynched in good Southern fashion after her adoptive father being wrongly accused of murdering the landowner, and she survived because she was actually the daughter of the landowner's brother. The man in the room was therefore her father.


This is a very interesting film, and one which was very hard for me to get. In fact I think it should be companion viewing to Birth of a Nation. Filmed only 5 years after it, Within Our Gates works like an answer to the racism in Griffith. Micheaux is not as accomplished a director as Griffith but not only is his message much more palatable and interesting, it also has more interesting characters and a better plot, as well as 2 hours less of film. On the downside however, it is extremely fragmented and a bit hard to follow which can probably be explained by the existence of only one copy of the film which hadn't been seen in 70 years.

The issues explored in Within Our Gates are as relevant today as they were 86 years ago, the problems with choosing faith over education, the fear of intellectualism, the attempt to keep people down by denying them education are all issues which are unfortunately still relevant today and have a particular relevance to the US, as do the more general issues of racism. The scene where the black reverend preaches that black people should not get an education because being informed is the way to hell, and afro-americans should remain pure and not meddle in the affairs of whites who will all go to hell, is an example of how religion was used to serve white interests, even through black reverends.

So, it is a truly fascinating film. Unfortunately it isn't easy to get and the version I obtained had no soundtrack at all, which isn't really that strange seeing as the film was only discovered in 1990 probably with no soundtrack sheets attached. Still, a truly important film, not just for the fact that it is one of the first films with black actors, by a black director, about black rights 40 something years before Luther King, but also because it is just a very good film irrespective of message.

Buy it at Amazon US. You might also want to get it at eBay, which is what I did.

Final Grade



From Wiki:


Within Our Gates was banned in Chicago when it was released, the authorities claiming that the vivid lynch and rape scenes would spark further rioting in the racially tense city. Nevertheless, when it was finally released, large audiences lined up to see it.

Today, the film is generally considered an important document of African American life in the years immediately following World War I, when racism was still rampant throughout the United States. Despite its occasional shortcomings (see below), it has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


'Within Our Gates can be criticized on aesthetic grounds. The story is convoluted, with many unresolved threads, and the acting is often weak. Critics have questioned Micheaux's skill as a film-maker, calling his plots "strange" and comparing him unfavorably with Ed Wood. The film's weaknesses may be excused by Michaeux's extremely limited budget and punishing schedule, and by the fragmentary nature of the only surviving print in which several scenes have been lost.

Representation of racism

The film attempts to portray the many different faces of contemporary African American society as perceived by the director. There are heroes and heroines, like Sylvia and the minister, but there are also criminals like Larry and lackeys like a minister that Mrs. Stafford supports, who tries to encourage the African American population to reject voting privileges. Mr. Gridlestone's servant Efram attempts ingratiate himself with the local white population by denouncing Mr. Landry as the murderer, even though he did not actually see the crime committed. Though he celebrates his relationship with the white community, he is eventually lynched, when the mob fails to find the Landrys.

As a novelist, Micheaux recognizes the complexity of African American life, particularly in the Deep South, but he is reluctant to place the onus of blame for the impoverished condition of Blacks solely on the white population, and points to other Blacks who help to perpetuate their condition for reasons of personal gain.

Some critics have challenged what they considered to be the inherent racism that Micheaux displays in the film. In addition to his scathing critique of Black society, Micheaux seemed to prefer lighter-skinned Blacks as his heroes and heroines, and may have modelled Sylvia after characters played by Lillian Gish. In fact, Evelyn Preer, who played Sylvia, was instructed to wear chalk on her face to make herself appear lighter-skinned, and she and the other positive characters appear to be attempting to "pass" as white.