Silent Film
December 2, 2007 8:33 PM   Subscribe

Enjoy some silent film this week: Battleship Potemkin. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The General. The Immigrant. Haxan. Intolerance (1, 2, 3). Nosferatu.
posted by TrialByMedia (27 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Please, please, please watch Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. (part 1) by F.W. Murnau.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:45 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Excellent! Many thanks!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:47 PM on December 2, 2007

I have exams this week.

Damn you.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:52 PM on December 2, 2007

And while we're at it, that 3-hour-long racist 'masterpiece,' Birth of a Nation!

Seriously though, thanks! I had lost my links to Caligari and Nosferatu.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:53 PM on December 2, 2007

I can't imagine watching these films on streaming video. It's so far from the way they should be seen. I know not everybody has the opportunity to see them on the big screen, but at least rent a decent DVD copy. I glanced at the file for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and the image quality just stinks.
posted by goatdog at 8:59 PM on December 2, 2007

Yeah, I really wish more of these were readily available on DVD. I'm blessed to have a rental place nearby that carries things like this, and even then the DVDs aren't guaranteed to look much better. The first time i saw Metropolis was before Kino did their restoration and the quality of the DVD was about on par with these streaming videos.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:11 PM on December 2, 2007

posted by nola at 9:11 PM on December 2, 2007

<3 Buster.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:21 PM on December 2, 2007

I can't imagine watching these films on streaming video.

Most of these are available as MPEG downloads from
posted by octothorpe at 9:31 PM on December 2, 2007

Please, please, please watch Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. (part 1) by F.W. Murnau.

This is weird; I've been on a Murnau kick this week. Watched Faust a few days ago and finished Der Letzte Mann last night, and was thinking of doing a post on him (here's one interesting Murnau site, and here's an article bemoaning the hatchet job John Malkovich did as Murnau in Shadow of the Vampire, which fictionalized him in a way completely against his nature). It's astonishing that Netflix doesn't have Sunrise, supposedly one of the greatest films of all time - had to join GreenCine just to rent one of their copies, only to find there's a wait. Aaargh. I really don't want to watch it on the computer; I've heard such great things that it seems a shame to shrink it down.

FWIW, Der Letzte Mann (released as The Last Laugh in America) is also an excellent silent film. There's not a single title card until near the very end, and yet the story flows beautifully. The acting is great and the subjective camera tricks are historic and fascinating - a major influence on Orson Welles. And the first hour of Faust is wonderfully creepy, with clever early effects and great eerie set pieces. It kind of bogs down in the last part, but it's still worth a sit-down. And the slow sections in old silent movies are why god invented the 1.5X setting on the DVD remote. :)

One last thing, which may be of interest to some fans of horror: Murnau was gay. I think it's at least mildly interesting that Nosferatu and the 1933 Frankenstein - two films that in many ways helped define modern horror - were both directed by gay guys.
posted by mediareport at 10:08 PM on December 2, 2007

When watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, be sure and turn down the sound to your computer and play this phenomenal alternate soundtrack instead!
posted by Crotalus at 10:37 PM on December 2, 2007

mediareport, how do you feel about $40 on ebay? I think I'm in.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:49 PM on December 2, 2007

where did that 4 come from? $10. Jeez.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:03 PM on December 2, 2007

Der Letzte Mann is often credited as the first movie with a moving camera, in the opening pov shot leaving an elevator and going out a revolving door. Emil Jannings is great, but if I remember correctly, the ending was dictated by the studio and completely reverses the point of the movie -- just like the framing device in Dr. Caligari.

Been looking for Sunrise on DVD for a while, too. If you like this stuff you might also dig The Golem: How He Came Into the World.
posted by muckster at 11:12 PM on December 2, 2007

the ending was dictated by the studio and completely reverses the point of the movie

Actually, it's handled kind of sarcastically, I think; the film's only title card comes up at the tragic end point and says something like, "This is where the film should end. But the author takes pity on the poor man and so here's a happier end for him." It's not only unconvincing, but I doubt it was *meant* to be convincing. The way the guy gets rich is so dumb that Murnau presents it with the other characters in the hotel laughing at rather than envying Emil Jannings' doorman. If the 2nd ending was ordered by the studio (and I've read it was), Murnau still found a way to twist it. And the previous hour is just so fucking good - acting, sets, camerawork, everything - it's easy to forgive the obviously tacked-on happy ending.

how do you feel about $10 on ebay? I think I'm in.

Is that the one from the eBayStores guy in Korea? I've been staring at it for months now. I'm happier renting, actually; I've been trying to avoid owning more stuff. But if GreenCine doesn't come through with a copy in the first month of membership I may have to bite the bullet...grrr...
posted by mediareport at 11:28 PM on December 2, 2007

Jonesing for some Aleksandr Nevskiy here...
posted by pax digita at 11:33 PM on December 2, 2007

Alexander Nevsky. I do have all this stuff linked from my site, too, but I'll stop with the self-links for now.
posted by muckster at 11:37 PM on December 2, 2007

Kino has put out some really excellent ediions of some of these recently. Both Battleship and Nosferatu have been completely restored, and with tons of extras. This too. I highly recommend all three sets.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:55 PM on December 2, 2007

In addition to the Kino editions Bookhouse recommends above, the Criterion Collection edition of Haxan is also excellent--it has both the original release, and the re-release with narration by William S. Burroughs.
posted by Prospero at 4:04 AM on December 3, 2007

Yeah, looks like Sunrise is not available on DVD. I have it on VHS, but would love to have a better copy. Now if they could just release that (along with some of the better Bunuel films that are still not on DVD -- such as The Exterminating Angel) it would make me very happy!
posted by rottytooth at 8:04 AM on December 3, 2007

Oh boy oh boy oh boy! Thank you!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:19 AM on December 3, 2007

rottytooth, Sunrise was released on DVD; it'll just cost you $20 used, or more if you get it as part of this set. That's what's so damn annoying - make that inexcusable - about Netflix not having it.

While we're moaning about unavailable films, though, I am made sad every time I recall that John Huston's versions of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood and James Joyce's The Dead are both unavailable on DVD. Now *that* is fucking insane.
posted by mediareport at 9:57 AM on December 3, 2007

Great links & info, thanks! I try to go to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival every year, but I don't watch a lot the rest of the time. Now I have no excuse...
posted by doubtful_guest at 1:31 PM on December 3, 2007

Fritz Lang's Metropolis dubbed with Frankie Bones as the soundtrack. Sorry for the quality, it was the only full-length version I could find online.

I'm pretty sure it's the only full-length version online, although many people may not like the soundtrack.

Apologies if it doesn't work without a MySpace account... I tested it in two different browsers, one signed in and one not, and it appeared to work fine.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:46 PM on December 3, 2007

Thanks for this post, a teacher of mine in high school imparted in me a love for the art of telling stories with few words. A good silent film is something to be truly appreciated.

Great story said teacher once told us: During the heyday of silent films, the actors (who accrued no small fame in their time) would frequently be called upon to emote gestures that indicated speech, for when a story card dialogue would take place. Naturally, knowing that the words they spoke during shooting would not be heard by the audience, they were as colorfully and creatively profane as possible.

Indeed, the words they spoke were not heard by the audience- but they were noticed with great mortification by the deaf members in the audience practiced at lip reading. This lead to the so-improbable-as-to-be-bizarre situation of the most prominent deaf American advocacy group complaining to the MPAA about the vulgarity of the language in their silent films.

That is just truly, profoundly weird.
posted by baphomet at 7:40 AM on December 4, 2007

baphomet, one of the films your teacher was talking about - if not the main one - was probably What Price Glory? It's pretty famous for that story:

The battle scenes in What Price Glory? were terrifyingly realistic -- indeed, one man was actually killed during filming -- but the most memorable aspect of the picture is the ribald byplay between Flagg and Quirt (who would later be launched into a series of so-called sequels). This being a silent picture, actors McLaglen and Lowe were permitted to mouth any obscenity that came into their heads, allowing audiences in 1926 the spectacle of seeing two grown men hurling epithets that would never have been heard in any sort of polite society -- all the while strictly adhering to the rules set down by the Hollywood censors, who objected only to printed profanities.

Nosed around for more and found this article at Moviecrazed, with an excerpt from director Raoul Walsh:

"My own favorite of all my silent movies was 'What Price Glory.' Those marines were using all the four-letter words in the world. At 60 cents a ticket, it broke every record during its opening week at the Roxy. Fox played it all day and all night. Finally, we got complaints from deaf mutes who, naturally, could read lips. Then, once that became known, the people who weren't deaf went back to read the lips. So Fox had two audiences."
posted by mediareport at 7:41 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

mediareport, you're right. I'm surprised Fox would let it go out of print, unless they're getting ready to release a new edition. Here's hoping.
posted by rottytooth at 11:23 AM on December 5, 2007

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