Friday, July 29, 2011

Alek's Top Ten Films of the 1920's

In my opinion, these are 10 fantastic and beautiful films that are well worth the time to watch.

1. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer) - This is the definitive spiritual film, told through a series of passionate images (each one could be a painting). It's a great one to get from Criterion Collection, it comes with a great 'Voices of Light' soundtrack that adds a nice touch to the film. But what really makes this such a powerful piece of cinema is that you can watch it as intended, without sound, and it still captures you every second...indeed, the ending is even more beautiful and haunting without sound. Just the buzz of your viewing device and your heart pounding as you watch the Maria Falconetti silently screaming through the flames. After it is all said and finished, you will sit and wait, maybe a minute, maybe an hour, but a moment of silence will come...and the spiritual experience you just had will hold you there...reflecting on film, life, and beauty.

2. Sunrise (Murnau) - There are very few films that have made me feel honest, true love between two individuals...Sunrise does it (and of course without the convenience of synced sound). A beautiful tale of true love vs. lust, and of two lovers rediscovering their devotion to each other. Murnau's greatest film is a great film about the seduction of vice, and how finding virtue in thine self and simplicity in your ambitions will guide you to happiness. Told through fantastically creative visual style (one that connects you to the film, rather than distracts you from the emotions), this is a refreshing film to watch when we live in a decade where teenagers are all fascinated by the idea that every human being is essentially evil to the core, and a lot of the 'art' is a reflection of this, and even worse, submissive to the idea.

3. Napoleon (Gance) - Griffith step aside, Abel Gance was the true master of the epic in the silent era, and Napoleon is his masterpiece. There are so many sweeping motions and camera movements that put these modern blockbusters to shame. Gance was an experimentalist of the greatest fashion. The perfect filmmaker for a medium so ripe for originality in the 20's. In fact, I've heard a lot of people talk about a lot of original indy films with such great, fresh techniques. I inquired further into what was so original, and every technique they said I saw used in Gance's Napoleon (among others, but firstly in Napoleon). But really, what's a bunch of technical razzle-dazzle without something interesting and familiar to connect to? Well, Napoleon certainly hits the high notes there too. It's easily the greatest cinematic portrait of a man who is hard to describe beyond one word: fateful. Gance films Napoleon's early life as though every small detail is painting the epic struggle that will take place in Bonaparte's later life. Every character motivation and series of actions are like paint strokes in a portrait, creating a picture of a man who rose to make his own destiny. These magnificent six hours end with a breath-taking climax that takes place over three screens...that's right...three. Maybe I am biased because Napoleon is one of the most interesting and inspiring historical figures in my eyes, but watch this film and try and tell me it isn't ingeniously couldn't.

4. The Kid (Chaplin)

5. Steamboat Bill Jr. (Reisner)

6. Metropolis (Lang)

7. Faust (Murnaugh)

8. The Battleship Potemkin

9. The Man Who Laughs (Leni)

10. The Gold Rush (Chaplin)

I'm currently only writing short reviews for the top 3, but I will write more/longer ones if anybody would like me to.


  1. I've still never seen Napoleon, and maybe never will in the way you saw it. But I finally saw Metropolis again after 10 years. Really great stuff.

    I'm interested to hear what you like so much about The Man Who Laughs, one that doesn't appear so often on lists like these.

  2. I thought about this one a lot...because someone asked me why I didn't include Wings or The Phantom of the Opera over The Man Who Laughs. The truth is that I just like what The Man Who Laughs had to say more than films like The Mysterious Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It's a simple, yet ultimate irony...a man who has every reason to despair will be stuck in an endless smile for the entertainment of others; all because of the cruelty and injustice of the English monarchy. True, the political relevance the book had isn't found (because of the time in which it was made). But the ideas of individuality and humanity being attacked by political injustice still stands true. It's a universal theme from Shakespeare to Hugo to Steinbeck.

    All this said, the real thing that stands out to me is Conrad Veidt. He is such an underrated actor. To portray so much complex emotion in a silent film when all you can do is smile, that takes talent. When everything is taken away from him, yet he is given nobility, and he is destroyed...that about moves me to tears because in his eyes you can see such anguish, yet he still has that exaggerated smile.

    That said, the film has flaws...especially the incomplete ending. And Paul Leni isn't a spectacular formalist like some of his contemporaries...but the film still holds strong for me.