The film best-of list everyone's been waiting for
December 28, 2019 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Skeleton Dance... the peak of Disney... everything's been downhill ever since.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:54 PM on December 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Some excellent choices for the year, but there are so many movies I like in '29 that there are others that didn't make the list I'd also want to add. I'd also quibble a bit about some of the things said about the chosen selections.

The General Line is loopy as hell. I can't see it as so much an endorsement of collectivism as something closer to a satire of the Soviet claims for its benefits. The rampant excesses in sexualization of the butter churning machinery and the absurdity in like excess in the bull/cow marriage and, um, honeymoon are just too far out there to be entirely serious, and the mix of deadly earnestness to light frivolity in the characters doesn't seem to hold to treating the propaganda elements as straight forward. It's also lot more fun to watch once you let go of the idea its meant to be taken completely seriously as well.

The New Babylon is fantastic, probably my favorite of the year, though the competition for that spot is tight. The movie is stunning to look at, with the visuals tending to emphasize the characters and events more in heightened moments of importance or action than in a more conventional flow, with figures sometimes foregrounded in shallow focus to draw out their specific emotions or actions in sharper contrast. There is a bit of caricature in this, but all the more effective for setting the social nature of the conflict between the wealthy and the the workers. Hard not to love Yelena Kuzmina performance as the meek shop assistant who becomes a fierce revolutionary.

Hallelujah is another movie that may be "progressive" for Hollywood of the era without actually being progressive. Some black film historians tend to be less sanguine about the movie than Thompson for its real world limitations, while also acknowledging its cinematic virtues.

Lubitsch's The Love Parade, which Thompson omits is maybe a bit more self aware than credited in the article, with it's sexual politics being perhaps more ridiculed at least as much as felt, but that's certainly open to question, so I won't begrudge anyone disagreement on that. It and Applause are both still adventurous early sound films worth seeing for anyone interested in that aspect of the craft as they helped shape how sound could be used with artistic flexibility.

Lucky Star is another great choice, but Borzage's The River also from '29 might be even more pleasing, but unfortunately part of the film is lost, so it is an incomplete experience. What remains though is hot, with the relationship between John Farrell and Mary Duncan's characters, along with a scene stealing crow, well worth the viewing. Farrell is more the sex object in the movie, so the male gaze is turned on its head a bit. (Von Stroheim's Queen Kelly is another tantalizing partial film from the year worth seeing what remains of it.)

Likewise, Hitchcock's The Manxman often gets ignored for the more historically notable Blackmail, but the Manxman may be more fun for its lighter tone.

One of the biggest omissions for me is Fritz' Lang's Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon), an early sci-fi film that I love. It may seen a bit much for anyone not used to silent movies, it's longish at 170 minutes, and more serious rather than pure exaggeration for the sake of it, with some aspects, like the rocket launch sequence being notably close to actual future results, including having the first countdown to liftoff.

If you want to bring some heat to the year, and if you can find it for download, Machaty's Erotikon might do the trick if The River isn't enough. Here's a clip that gives some example.

Some other major omissions:
White Hell of Pitz Palu, top notch mountain adventure, unfortunately starring Leni Reifenstahl.
A Cottage on Dartmoor might be the consensus fan favorite from the year.
Asphalt and the early sound filmAlibi are both also well liked by early movie lovers.
Sunnyside Up is an early sound film I dig, though early musicals are maybe an acquired taste, but the nifty opening tracking shot is worth seeing if nothing else for showing even early sound films weren't always stodgy.
I sometimes seem to be the only fan of Capra's Flight, which is essentially a gay screwball comedy only slightly disguised as a flying pic. I find the minimal subterfuge involved hilarious for the way they slip in the subtext around cockpits and the like. It isn't like it's all that subtle once you look for it, I mean it even has one of the male leads spanking the other. It isn't on youtube, which might partly account for why it's ignored, but it's worth seeking out elsewhere if you can find it.

Laurel and Hardy's That's My Wife, from '29, is one of their gayer romps as well, with Laurel having to disguise himself as Hardy's wife. Wrong Again and Big Business are two other good Laurel and Hardy films from the year, the former featuring the boys mistaking Blue Boy the race horse for Blue Boy the painting and delivering the horse into a mansion and the latter one of their better tit for tat destructive encounters.

Finally, a couple other short movies that are pretty great. La Perle (The Pearl) and Rain.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:46 PM on December 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. I'm looking forward to watching them. Thanks to gusottertrout also.
posted by paduasoy at 6:08 PM on December 28, 2019

Thanks for the comments gusottertrout. I've watch a lot of silents in the last few years, somewhere around 75 but still have so much to watch.
posted by octothorpe at 6:46 PM on December 28, 2019

For me, silent movies somehow just go with winter. I can rarely bring myself to watch them on summer nights, but once December rolls around I'll binge nothing but early cinema sometimes. Then in February I'm usually sated and move back to watching later eras again. I spent the last couple weeks watching everything I could from 1902, which means a lot of minute long movies shot from the front of trolley cars, equally long snippets of notable personages walking past the camera, some stage personalities doing their thing, and the occasional Melies influenced trick photography short. Not really a recommended viewing schedule for much besides seeing how movies developed, but kinda interesting if that is one's thing.

By 1929 of course movies are an entirely different affair, as fully developed as silent movies would ever really become and the imposed transition to sound abruptly changing everything. A fascinating time, with some vague similarity to the transition movies face today in their shift to streaming and the like.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:54 PM on December 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

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