1001 Flicks

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

8. Way Down East (1920)

Directed by D.W. Griffith


Griffith and his social portraits of the underdog. Anna is a poor girl from Bum-Fuck New England who is sent by her kindly mother to beg for money from their rich relatives, who live in the city...where else? There a playboy manages to fool her into playing hide the sausage by staging a mock wedding. Silly little hick girl gets herself preggers. Playboy Bad Man tells her to shove off. Her mother dies, her baby dies clutching her dried tit, she gets kicked out of the boarding house because she has no husband and clearly has had sex, hence dead baby. Anna goes and gets a job as a maid in the Bartlett's homestead, a kindly but strict Christian family. Playboy Bad Man is a regular guest at the house, and Bartlett son falls in love with Anna. Anna's secret is revealed when the landlord of her previous boarding house passes by town and recognises her. Anna gets kicked out of the Bartlett's house for being a whore, not before unmasking Playboy Bad Man's fault in the whole thing, while he is dining at the house. She runs off into the ice storm outside, collapses on a slab of ice... silly girl, and gets taken away by the river's current. Bartlett Jr. saves her from crashing to her death on a waterfall, in a death defying hopscotch game in the Ice Plaques of Doom! Everyone gets married, Playboy Bad Man gets commeupance, hilarity ensues.


Probably the worse D.W. Griffith film up until now. This doesn't off course mean that it's bad... it's like saying worse blowjob. The film is frankly quite dull, but the last few moments are incredible... so exactly like a bad blowjob. Griffith continues exercising his social points through his films, I quite admire his social consciousness in what concernes woman's rights, the same can't be said about racial relations, but hey.

Speaking of woman's rights, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms and this film were all about women's place in society and how they should be seen as equal to men. Here Griffith shows how a woman is shunned for having had sex out of wedlock, even when she doesn't know what she was doing, while men get praised "for sowing their wild oats"... making me never look at oatmeal the same way again. Frankly the film missed the points of interest in the other Griffith films, like the huge sceneries in Intolerance, the Civil War background in Birth of a Nation or the orientalism of Broken Blossoms.

Again this film is worth watching for the last 10 minutes more than anything. The scenes on ice are quite spectacular... not something you see everyday and it does make you wonder how it was achieved. Were all those scenes filmed in a real frozen river, if so how many extras died? You can either see it at MovieFlix, but you have to pay or buy it at Amazon, either in the UK or the US.

Final Rating



Don't Miss It! Limited time only! The Only, The Never Seen! MELODRAMA ON ICE!

There's still more Griffith coming! You know you want it.

Friday, May 26, 2006

7. Broken Blossoms (1919)

Directed by D.W. Griffith


A Chinese Buddhist (called either Yellow Man or Chink throughout the film, but we know through the shop's name that he's called Chang Heng) decides to go to the UK to teach the barbarous Brits about living in peace and tranquility. When he arrives he falls into a dissolute life of opium parlors and so on. He falls in love with a girl, Lucy, who is brutally abused by her father. After one of the nights when she is whipped, she takes refuge in the Chinese's shop where she find the first kindness of her life. When her father discovers that she is living with a Chinese man, he goes to his shop while he is out and drags her back home. When the Chinese man finds this, he takes his gun and goes find Lucy. By the times he arrives at her house, her father has killed her with an extreme whipping, and the Chinese man kills him. He then carries Lucy's dead body back to his house, where he commits suicide.


Here's another of Griffiths "Hey, look I'm not racist!" films. He fails badly in that respect by making the "Yellow Man" stooped, while always looking shifty. Also he doesn't even use a Chinese actor, but a "yellowed-up" actor. Otherwise, he does make a non-white the hero of his story for once. Chinese culture is portrayed with respect, particularly Buddhism, and although the "Yellow Man" is often tempted to make a sexual pass at Lucy he always controls himself.

Going now to the film itself, it is a very pretty melodrama more than anything. This is something that Griffith has used us to, his set design is impeccable, the chinese shops and temples are a brilliant exercise in Orientalism, while the London streets look adequatly dismal. Lucy, as the object of desire of the film is made-up and lit-up in a way that most of the light in the screen comes from her iridiscently white face. Again very appropriately, if we take the idea that we are seeing her through the eyes of the Chinese man.

The scenes of violence in the film are actually quite brutal, although you never actually see Lucy getting whipped as the camera tastefully cuts away, in the scene where her father takes her from the Chinese shop there is one of the scariest close ups in film history. Her father is fucking scary.

So yeah, I'd still say that Intolerance is the better Griffith film up until now, but this one isn't far behind (also helped by the fact that it is shorter). Definitely not to be missed. You can get it at MovieFlix or at Amazon, either in the US or UK.

Final Rating



From Wikipedia

The most-discussed scene in Broken Blossoms is Lillian Gish’s “closet” scene. Here Gish performs Lucy's horror by writhing in the claustrophobic space like a tortured animal who knows there is no escape (Schickel 392). There is more then one anecdote about the filming of the “closet” scene, Richard Schickel writes:

“It is heartbreaking – yet for the most part quite delicately controlled by the actress. Barthelmess reports that her hysteria was induced by Griffith’s taunting of her. Gish, on her part, claims that she improvised the child’s tortured movements on the spot and that when she finished the scene there was a hush on stage, broken finally by Griffith’s exclamation, ‘My god, why didn’t you warn me you were going to do that?’” (392).

The scene is also used to demonstrate Griffith’s uncanny ability to create an aural effect with only an image (O’Dell, 125). Gish’s screams apparently attracted such a crowd outside the studio that people needed to be held back (Williams, 114).

Yeah, it's fucking freaky shit.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

6. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1919

Directed by Robert Wiene


The whole story is told in flashback by some guy (the hero) to some other guy. It tells the story of a little german town where there's a fair happening. One of the attractions is Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist, Cesare, who predicts the future. Some misterious murders happen in the town and as Cesare had predicted one of them the suspicions fall on him. Later the hero realises that the Director of the local asylum is himself Dr. Caligari, or, more accurately, passing as Dr. Caligari, a mystic from the 1700's who commited crimes by hipnotising his somnambulist. Caligari is arrested and all is well. We cut back to the hero relating the story only to realise that he is in fact an inmate of the asylum who has just made up the Caligari story populating it with the other inmates and placing the director as the villain. Nice twist.


This is a fascinating film. If you like Tim Burton, particularly Nightmare Before Christmas or the Beetlejuice cartoon series this is the silent movie for you. The set design in this film is more Burtonesque than Burton himself. The German town probably has the worst builders in the world, seeing as nothing is straight. The whole point of this is to give us a notion of dementia and that it does.

This film shows an alternative world of dementia like no other film has done before it. The set design, with its skewed windows and houses, painted shadows, incredibly high chairs etc.. is a triumph of imagination. Actually in this film its artistic aspects are much more significant than the plot itself, which is great nonetheless.

In terms of cinema innovations, not much is happening here. Actually it is a throwback to Melies, with the camera being stuck and people playing their parts as if on a stage. So look for Griffith for great camera work, you won't find any here. You will nonetheless find an amazing film which is also the weirdest one reviewed to date. Another particular merit of this film is the fact that it is probably the first zombie film ever made. Cesare is basically a zombie controlled by Dr. Caligari.

So, if you are into Burton, Zombies, set design, histeria and mental disease watch this film. If you aren't you are stupid. So this is a film that is essential viewing, yet I think most films reviewed here are essential, but this is essential essential. There. I cannot unfortunately give it top marks de to the quite unimaginative use of the camera or any particularly cinematic innovations. This is very much like an amazing theatre piece being filmed from a set point in the theatre. But it is a lot of fun to watch.

You can get it at Google Video or at Amazon either in the US or UK

Final Rating



from Wikipedia:

Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler postulates that the film can be read as an allegory for the First World War, with Cesare the sleepwalker representing the German people who committed immoral acts during the war as a result of the influence of a more powerful individual. However, Kracauer's work has been largely discredited by contemporary scholars of German cinema, for example by Thomas Elsaesser in Weimar Cinema and After, who describes the legacy of Kracauer's work as a "historical imaginary".Elsaesser claims that Kracauer studied too few films to make his thesis about the social mindset of Germany legitimate and that the discovery and publication of the original screenplay of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari undermines his argument about the revolutionary intent of its writers. Elsaesser's alternative thesis is that the filmmakers adopted an Expressionist style as a method of product differentiation, establishing a distinct national product against the increasing import of American films.

There's a J-Rock band called Cali≠Gari

To my mind Caligari reminds Cagliostro, also they are both Italian mystics and practically contemporary.

Film best watched while perusing acid.

Friday, May 19, 2006

5. Intolerance 1916

Directed by D. W. Griffith


The film is set in 4 different eras. Ancient Babylon, the events of the Passion of Christ, St. Bartholomew's Massacre and Modern Times (1916). All the stories share the fact that they are set in a time of great intolerance, three of them (those which aren't about Jesus) are romances which are adversely affected by said intolerance. The stories to which more prominence is given are the one set in modern times, where a woman is left alone after her husband is arrested and her child gets taken away by "social services"; and that set in Babylon where a mountain girl uncovers a plot to bring down the King due to religious differences.


This is a truly amazing film. Not only is it probably the first non-linear film but it also has sets that look truly spectacular even today. The scenes set in the Babylonian Palace are amazing pieces of set and costume design in a scale that was never seen before and probably since. They are amazing even to a 2006 jaded eye. The above picutre is of one of them, there's difficulty in having an idea of the size, you only believe it is not a painting because people move in all different levels of it, in the balconies etc.. The use of tracking shots by Griffith, starting really high up and zooming into particular people on that set are particularly impressive.

The battle scenes in Babylon are also particularly impressive, with 3,000 extras as well as realistic effect of beheadings etc.. Real nice.

The film cost 2 million dollars to make in 1916, a completely unheard of amout of money at the time. Because of its techinque of fast cutting between scenes and thousands of years back and forth it left the audiences a bit confused, which then caused the film to flop and Griffiths company to be bankrupt.

Also, this film has kind of tried to atone for the problems that Birth of a Nation had. It is a film about the evils of Intolerance, probably made as a reply to the criticisms of Birth of a Nation. The message is not offensive in the least and it is really quite interesting for 1916, fighting the hipocrisy of "charity associations" and the idea of religious intolerance.

If I had a criticism to make of this film it would be that two of the stories seem a bit tacked on. Both the Ancient Judea and the Massacre story seem to have been put there as an afterthought and are not nearly as fleshed out as the two other stories. Still this film is fucking impressive. See it! Really.

You can get it for free at MovieFlix

Final Rating



Wow...just wow.

Griffith... come back... all is forgiven.

From IMDB:

The Babylonian orgy sequence alone cost $200,000 when it was shot. That's nearly twice the overall budget of The Birth of a Nation (1915), another D.W. Griffith film and, at the time, the record holder for most expensive picture ever made.

Jenkins and his foundation are modeled after John D. Rockefeller and his own foundation. The massacre of workers at the beginning of the movie is modeled after the Ludlow massacre of 1914, in which Rockefeller was involved.

During filming of the battle sequences, many of the extras got so into their characters that they caused real injury to each other. At the end of one shooting day, a total of sixty injuries were treated at the production's hospital tent.

After filming wrapped, the Los Angeles Fire Department cited the Babylonian set as a fire hazard and ordered it to be torn down. Griffith discovered that he had run out of money and was therefore unable to finance its demolition. The set stood derelict and crumbling for a nearly four year period until it was finally taken down in 1919. By then, it had fallen apart enough for it to be dismantled at a sufficiently low cost.

The massive life-size set of the great Wall of Babylon, seen in the fourth story of the silent film, was placed at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard (in Hollywood, California USA) when the movie was completed. It became a notable landmark for many years during Hollywood's golden era.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

4. Les Vampires 1915

Directed by Louis Feuillade


The film is far far far far far far too long to give an appropriate synopsis here. And I have a migraine. Basically there's this group of amazingly acrobatic cat burglars who call themselves Les Vampires. However, they are not without their nemesis. The nemesis comes in the form of our intrepid reporter Guerande, who spends the whole "film" trying to catch them until he does. All's well that ends in a Waco style massacre.


First things first. This is not exactly a film. Firstly, it's 440 minutes long, yes, not 44...440. Secondly it's broken up into 10 semi-independent episodes, varying from 1 hour long to just 13 minutes long. Also they were not shown back to back in the cinema. They were a series that you had to go watch in the cinema because TV's were so scarce they hadn't been invented yet.

So don't even attempted to watch it in one go. I had to do it in a short span of time, watching two episodes a day and it was too much. Still, you should watch it, it is truly amazing. Probably the first thriller commited to screen it is so influential it isn't even funny! From car chases, to secret passages, to heroines dressed in giant skin tight stockings, to fights on top of trains, all the cliches are here, the comic relief sidekick, glorification of police brutality. But here they were not cliches, this is actually where they started. And for that the "film" is brimming with merit. It is a work of genius.

In terms of characters, Phillipe Guerand, the main actor, is actually quite dull. On the other hand you have two priceless characters in the famous Musidora playing Irma Vep (what a clever anagram) and the precurssor of Stan Laurel in Mazamette, the faithfull comedic side-kick of Guerand, who steals the show in any scene he is in. Some find Mazamette to be hammy... and, well, he is, a big lump of ham who is a lot of fun to watch. The scenes in the first two episodes in which Mazamette repeatedly shows the picture of his children to Phillipe in order for him to understand why he works for Les Vampires are priceless.

I also enjoyed the smart use of the titles with little flying letters in order to make anagrams and coded messages clear. Very clever.

So, I really liked it. But it needs to be taken in small doses. Fortunately you can do that for free with google video! Yay!

Final Grade

8/10 (probably 9 if I wasn't a bit sick of it by now)


"It is vital to be photogenic from head to foot. After that you are allowed to display some measure of talent."

There's ladies in skin tight clothing. What are you waiting for?

For the ladies: Mazamette is a Hunk.

Friday, May 12, 2006

3. Birth of a Nation (1915)

Directed by D. W. Griffith


It's the story of two families, the northern Stoneman and southern Cameron. The two eldest sons are best friends, who are in love with each other's sister's. They get caught up in different sides of the Civil War. After the war, they reconcile and keep going after their respective love interests. Lincoln is killed. In the South black people take power and Cameron decides to found the KKK. Eventually the government chases the KKK and punishes whoever is making those stupid gowns to death. This leads to the Cameron family being imprisioned, which in turn leads to Stoneman killing a black Unionist. Suffice it to say that in the end all the black forces are routed by the KKK, which saves the day. Each of them marries his intended, and the next elections have the KKK on horseback threatening black voters, next to the ballot boxes.


This is one of those typical cases of love the art, hate the message. The same will happen with Riefenstahl etc.. The message in this film is moronic to the point that the white people come off much worse than any black in the film. And although the hero is the founder of the KKK, their disproportionate use of force would only make him a hero for an audience as racist as the film. Which I imagine was not hard to find in 1915 USA.

So let's put that aside for a moment. Technically the film is great. The huge steps taken since 1903 are gigantic. This now looks and feels, except for the fact that it is silent and has an appaling message, like a modern film. The cutting, editing, framing, close ups, huge battle scenes are all there. It is a three hour long historical epic. I had not watched this film before, and I had no idea that the stage of development was this advanced, this early on. When the hundreds of KKK riders near the end are riding to town, they are seen face on and the camera is riding with them. This is film making at a scale never before seen, and interestingly most of the techniques were invented in this film.

So for all intents and purposes this is the father of modern cinema. Such a pity that the story is the most disgusting propagandist drivel on the face of the planet. But from several accounts, it doesn't even seem that Griffith was that bothered with the message. He was mostly interested in technical innovations. Of course this doesn't excuse him in the least. He could have done those same innovations in a fim which was not all about gloryfing the Ku Klux Klan.

The presence of the KKK is not all that's wrong in this film. The stereotyping of the black characters is horrible. A lot of the black people seem to really enjoy slavery, while the most evil of all are the mulattos, also there is the obligatory nice "Big Momma" and the Uncle Tom character, who of course SUPPORT the KKK! What the fuck?!

Still, it's something everyone should see - firstly, it's not going to convince anyone that the KKK is great. Secondly it is truly a masterpiece of direction.

I streamed this film from Google Video.

Final Grade

8/10 (for its techical merit only)
-1/10 (for its message)


from Wikipedia:
Riots broke out in Boston, Philadelphia and other major cities in response to the film's historical distortions, and the film was denied release in Chicago, Ohio, Denver, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Minneapolis. It was said to create an atmosphere that encouraged gangs of whites to attack blacks. In Lafayette, Indiana, a white man killed a black teenager after seeing the movie

Although the film made use of some black actors, some were played in blackface. In particular, any actor who was to come in contact with a white actress was played in blackface. For example, the Camerons' maid is both white and obviously male.

This film is seriously fucked.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

2. The Great Train Robbery 1903

Directed by Edwin S. Porter


A train robbery happens! Yay. The robbers dressed in Cowboy hats and stuff rob the station and tie up the station master, sneak into a train, kill the money guard, take all the money, detach the engine from the train, rob the passengers, escape in the engine, run through the forest. Meanwhile the station master gets free from his ropes , helped by a little girl who looks like a goblin, warns the rabble at the saloon, they chase the bandits and kill them all. At the end some guy shoots repeatedly at the camera. Don't ask me why.


Again a very short film, about 12 minutes long. It is at the same time better and worse than A Trip To The Moon. It is definitely not as interesting or trippy, although it has its moments. However, the variety of locations and scenes make it a much more modern looking film, although only a year has passed since Melies'.

It is a particularly funny film to watch today. Firstly, whenever anyone dies there's a big scene with them spinning around before slowly lying down, arms outstreched. You can almost hear "Oh, Woe is me" or "So long, cruel world" each time someone gets shot. Also particularly fascinating is the little hooded girl, reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood, who releases the station master near the end of the film. The hooded character, the kind of bow on her head, her frantic movement and the poor quality of the image make her look like some kind of goblin, making for an unintentional "What the Fuck?" moment. Interestingly, at the end there is a completely disjointed part of the film, in which one of the gunmen shoots the screen some five times, for no apparent reason other than probably create panic in the movie theatres. Still, it's a very effective scene which has created one of the most iconic images of early cinema.

Again, this is definitely a movie worth watching, very short, very cheap... free, actually, on Google Video. Although more boring than A Trip to the Moon, it is a precious historical document as the first Western film (although some assholes claim it isn't a western because it was filmed in New Jersey and Delaware).

Final Grade



The scene where the bandit shoots at the camera has been placed either at the beggining or end of the film. Most modern versions place it at the end.

The bandits were master ninjas. The way they rob a train, shoot people etc., without a sound is one of the high points of Ninjutsu in the States.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

1. Le Voyage Dans La Lune ( A Trip to the Moon) 1902

Directed, Produced and Screenplay by Georges Melies (he also played the president of the scientists' council, made the tea and cleaned the floors).

Short Synopsis

A scientist proposes a trip to the moon in a lecture hall, his motion is accepted and he and several other scientists take a trip on a cannon-propelled, bullet-shaped spaceship to the moon, where they are forced to take cover in a crater due to a heavy snowfall -- yeah, I know -- in the cave they meet the hostile Selenites who attack the scientists and take them to meet their leader. The scientists destroy the leader and escape back to earth, landing in the sea.


It is hard to have a notion of the impact that this film would have made 104 years ago. Firstly, it was much longer than anything that people were used to. Instead of a two minute film of workers leaving a factory, or a train like the Lumiere brothers did, this is a drawn out and astoundingly long 14 minutes (a little less actually, depending on your version). Ok, that is not that impressive. Still, 7 times longer than the majority of films at the time.

Then, although the film might look at times, particularly during the preparations for the departure of the shuttle, like an amateurish school play, the truth is that you can't help but be astonished by the brilliant set design. The landscape of the moon, with the earth rising, the crater full of mushrooms -- that Melies certainly sampled -- the Selenite's palace and the scene under the sea all have astounding sets.

True, this is no Matrix or Lord of the Rings when it comes to special effects. But it is quite amazing how the technical use of editing for special effects was quite advanced. When the Scientists attack the Selenites, these blow up in dust clouds, in a clever use of editing. Of course the special effects are not seamless, but the 21st century more jaded and trained eye can certaily see a lot more problems that the audience at the time.

All in all, a very enjoyable experience and mostly a damn cute film. As it is available on Google Video and is so short, there is really not much of an excuse not to watch it. Here's a link for you.

Final Grade

7/10 (if we were in 1902 it would have been a 12)


The Smashing Pumpkins' video for Tonight Tonight is basically a rip off, sorry, loving tribute to this film.

Man, was Melies high.


In the sequence of my other blog, 1001 Albums I am now doing the same exact thing, only based on this book:

The updating frequency will not be the same as for the Albums, yet, I hope to post about 2 films a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. In about 10 years time we should be done.

Wish me luck.