silent films

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Imagine my delight learning there was a 1928 silent film of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Telltale Heart’. I’m guessing it’s German:

 

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That room is so German Expressionistic the chairs are just abstract shards reflecting the character’s tortured psyche.

 

The film’s a breeze to watch at a mere 28 minute running length, though the cheap synth-keyboard soundtrack makes it feel a little longer. Its main charm is the use of animated text and overlay to convey the main character’s tortured mindset, along with what at the time must have been VERY fast edits.

 

You can watch the entire thing with burned-in Russian subtitles here; the site seems like it’s a haven for porn and viruses, but from brief perusal has a wide selection of anime, TV shows and vintage films.

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Hello, and welcome once again to the Instant View Movie Club, the weekly film review for the lazy cinephile. Next week’s film will be a harrowing peek into the dark corners humanity..no, not ‘My Super Sweet 16: The Movie’, but Ingmar Bergmen’s ‘Hour Of The Wolf’, chosen partly because the title’s mentioned in Oingo Boingo’s ‘No One Lives Forever’. First though, let’s revisit this week’s film:

From the 30-second clip last week, I suspected 1927′s ‘The Cat And The Canary’ would be entertaining, but nothing prepared me for camp of this magnitude:

Layered, giant, hovering cats! An old man trapped in bottles dropping dead! Metaphor made head-bangingly literal! THIS is how you open a movie, people! Right from the start ‘The Cat And The Canary’ avoids the staginess plaguing so many movies (including modern ones) adapted from plays, utilizing its medium to full potential. The liberal use of tracking shots is surprising considering the era; imagine the poor cameraman who had to carry a full-weight 35mm camera down hallways and around corners. It’s also extremely effective, putting the viewer right into the path of danger and letting them experience the setting in complete dimensionality. The use of layering to evoke all senses is also clever; it’s hard not to hear the clock gonging as the hammers hit twelve o’clock.

Even the intertitles get into the act, with plenty of animation and comic-style lettering:

I’m not sure exactly why, but this fellow reminded me of John Hodgeman:

It could just be the suit and glasses. And what a rare treat, to have two typical ‘leading man’ types relegated to the background in favor of a well-meaning nerd/cowardly comic relief in the fore! Sorry ladies, you’ll have to wait for this guy’s next romantic comedy to swoon:

This film was just the right blend of genuine entertainment and campy goodness. I haven’t really set up any sort of rating system and find Netflix’s pentatonic 5-star notes limiting, so let’s just say, I highly recommend it. Normally this would be an extensive essay on the film’s various points, but as there are other posts to post here’s a random selection of thoughts:





This was one of my favorite sequences in the movie.



Monster hands reaching out towards the unaware and trapdoors opening to reveal bodies are clichèd now, but back then this was some Wim Wenders shit.


Here’s a helpful hint- if people are constantly accusing you of being insane, you may want to tone down the crazy eyes.


Tommy Lee Jones makes a guest appearance.


For a second I thought the film was going to turn into ‘Un Chien Andalou’. Considering the timing and popularity of the movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Un Chien Andalou’ was influenced by ‘The Cat And The Canary’, in particular this weird scene with the doctor. Everything about it was unnerving, especially the constant danger the heroine seemed to be in from the seemingly benign doctor:

Creepy hands!


Portrayals of the mentally insane weren’t as sensitive in the past.


This yokel direct from Central Casting had to be an inspiration for Disney’s Ichabod Crane.


And now, what you all came here to see:

GAMS, GAMS GAMS!

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Hello all. Hopefully you found ‘The Botany of Desire’ an interesting peek into the manipulative world of plant evolution, and not a snorefest apace with watching plants grow. Do let me know any thoughts and opinions in the comments.

This week’s movie is ‘The Cat and the Canary’, a 1927 silent thriller featuring that ol’ chestnut of a plot – inherit a fortune…IF you spend the night in a HAUNTED MANSION! Wooooh! Here’s a taste of what we’re in for:

A friend of mine once said of silent films, what’s the point? Black and white was boring enough but no sound? I nearly had an apoplectic fit trying to explain the beauty of pure image as he went on to tout the awesomeness of 3-D.

This isn’t calling him a Philistine by any means; he has a damn good point. Why watch a style of movie we’ve long evolved past? Movies are supposed to be entertainment, not exercises in grim academia and historical stodginess.

To watch and appreciate silent movies is to learn a different language, a language of film preceding the use of recorded dialogue (to repeat the oft-mentioned obvious, silent films were never ‘silent’, often accompanied by live music, prerecorded sound effects, and live foley). Just like learning any new language, it’s a challenge rewarded by understanding a different point of view. Yes, the acting style is often histronic. Yes, the pace is far slower than today’s movies (although at an average runtime of 80 minutes they’re less bloated). Yes, they often lack the extended denouement we’re used to in modern storytelling (thank goodness, says I) and cut right to ‘THE END’. All these differences reflect the attitudes and mindset of the time they were created in, and aside from being fascinating historical documents in that right, are often pretty campy and entertaining once you get into them.

That being said, if you’re in the NYC area and still aren’t sold on silent, Film Forum is showing ‘Dial M for Murder’ in 3-D so you can have your multidimensional cake and eat your classy cinema studies too. You know what, that phrase ‘have your cake and eat it too‘, barely makes any sense. From now on I’m using the Italian vuoi la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca (“you want your bottle full of wine and your wife drunk”).

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