The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions (Decade Project Vol. 4)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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the preacher
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#101 Post by the preacher » Mon Jun 11, 2018 4:12 pm

swo17 wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 3:04 pm
12 are reflected in the results. Another has since been submitted but needs to be revised before I can count it.
swo17 wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 11:12 am
Saint Joan the Maid (Marco de Gastyne, 1929) 46
More (nonconformist) ballots are needed!

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swo17
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#102 Post by swo17 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 4:54 pm

With a 13th list in, here are new orphans:

A Bashful Bigamist (Allen Watt, 1920) 21
The Soul of Youth (William Taylor, 1920) 22
The Starfish (Man Ray, 1928) 49
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Fred Niblo, 1925) 50

Also, Raoul Walsh's Sadie Thompson now belongs on the "New Votes" list.

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zedz
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#103 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:00 pm

I have done no new watching for this list, and can't think of much I've seen since the last time we passed this way that I need to include, so I might just resubmit my previous ballot rather than letting old favourites asphyxiate on the orphans list!

EDIT:
Actually, appended to my old list at some point in the last several years were four films that I wanted to include in this next round:
Jeux des reflets et de la vitesse (Henri Chomette, 1925) – available on the Centre Georges Pompidou's La Ville Moderne DVD
In Spring (Mikhail Kaufman, 1929) - available (or, probably, not) in a Ukrainian box set.
Etudes sur Paris (Andre Sauvage, 1928) – available on a Carlotta DVD
The House of Mystery (Volkoff, 1921-23) - Flicker Alley DVD

Three superb documentaries and a wild serial.
Last edited by zedz on Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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swo17
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#104 Post by swo17 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:02 pm

My only new addition this round was Gardiens de phare, which I was surprised to find as an orphan given Nabob's declaration earlier in the thread that it would be his #1!

Raumlichtkunst is eligible, zedz (still haven't seen it myself).

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zedz
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#105 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:13 pm

swo17 wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:02 pm
My only new addition this round was Gardiens de phare, which I was surprised to find as an orphan given Nabob's declaration earlier in the thread that it would be his #1!

Raumlichtkunst is eligible, zedz (still haven't seen it myself).
Man, I would definitely dispute that last one, as all we have is a 21st-century reconstruction that might not be anything like Fischinger's original. But if it's a 20s film or nothing, I guess I'll have to vote for it here!

Is the Youtube Gardiens du Phare watchable? I was hoping for a better first encounter!

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zedz
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#106 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:22 pm

Actually, checking imdb, the reconstruction of Raumlichtkunst isn't even listed. The listing under that title is for a 1926 ten-minute short, which the new film decidedly isn't. So I'll continue to consider it a 2012 film.

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swo17
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#107 Post by swo17 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:29 pm

Full disclosure: I personally submitted that IMDb listing several years ago, entering 10 minutes for the runtime because several sources on the web say that (or 10 minutes looped). These same sources list the release date as "1926/2012". In any event, isn't this kind of a similar case to Que viva Mexico!, traditionally eligible for the '30s list but only really viewable in a '70s restoration? Either way you're probably the only person who's seen it.

The version of Gardiens on YouTube is only barely watchable.

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zedz
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#108 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:48 pm

Thanks for the Gremillon info, I think I'll wait. This was restored in the past few years, wasn't it?

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swo17
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#109 Post by swo17 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 6:04 pm

All discussion I can see here refers to a "Tokyo restoration" that's at least 5 years old.

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Tommaso
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#110 Post by Tommaso » Mon Jun 11, 2018 6:12 pm

zedz wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:48 pm
Thanks for the Gremillon info, I think I'll wait.
Don't wait! Even though it indeed doesn't look too good, I found it watchable without serious problems, and it's certainly one of Gremillon's most impressive films.

And who knows how much longer it will be available on youtube... for instance, many very rare 1930s German films which some good people uploaded there have been taken down due to complaints by Murnau-Stiftung (which of course does nothing at all to release any of these films which they insist on copyrighting). In other words: if there's anything rare on youtube or elsewhere, go and see it at once! It may be your only chance for many years to come....

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theflirtydozen
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#111 Post by theflirtydozen » Mon Jun 11, 2018 6:38 pm

If anyone wants to see Now You Tell One (1926), one of my orphans, PM me and we can work something out. It is on youtube, but not with English subtitles. In the short, the "Liars' Club" is having their annual meeting with a silver medal awarded to the best tall tale, which in the end genuinely surprised me with what Charley Bowers concocted. This was by far my favorite new-to-me comedic short and reminded me a lot of Segundo de Chomon's animation from the pre-20's but revamped in the style of a comedic two-reeler. Haven't seen much Charley Bowers (save for There It Is) but anyone vote for others?

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swo17
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#112 Post by swo17 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:05 pm

It's available on the US and French Bowers sets as well.

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NABOB OF NOWHERE
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#113 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Tue Jun 12, 2018 2:11 am

zedz wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:48 pm
Thanks for the Gremillon info, I think I'll wait. This was restored in the past few years, wasn't it?
You might have a long wait. There is a reasonable print courtesy of whatever the Cinematheque of Tokyo is called which has been deemed a restoration but not in the sense that is expected nowadays. During the 2013 Grem retrospective it was shown in a few places but has gone back into cotton wool and guarded by angel lighthouse keepers and there is no news of any other restoration projects.

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NABOB OF NOWHERE
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#114 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Tue Jun 12, 2018 2:14 am

swo17 wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:02 pm
My only new addition this round was Gardiens de phare, which I was surprised to find as an orphan given Nabob's declaration earlier in the thread that it would be his #1!
I had intended to get to grips with a list this spin but unfortunately ongoing serious health issues in the immediate family has put paid to any serious endeavour on many fronts.

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swo17
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#115 Post by swo17 » Tue Jun 12, 2018 3:10 am

I'm very sorry to hear that, apart from any list considerations.

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NABOB OF NOWHERE
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#116 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Tue Jun 12, 2018 7:21 am

Thanks. For the record although there will be no record - my top 4.
1. Gardiens de phare
2. Menilmontant
3. Maldone
4. Sunrise

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Satori
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#117 Post by Satori » Tue Jun 12, 2018 9:00 am

Happy to see The Smiling Madame Beudet and Sparrows in the "new votes" category- thanks to whoever else helped these gems over the line!

I see that both of my Oscar Micheaux films have been orphaned. If you haven't gotten around to seeing them, they are available in the Pioneers of African American Cinema set in excellent quality with new soundtracks composed by the great DJ Spooky.

I'd certainly recommend prioritizing Within Our Gates, which is Micheaux's response to Birth of a Nation. While a black filmmaker responding to Griffith's racist epic would be a worthwhile project in its own right, what really makes this a great piece of cinema is how Micheaux takes up the Griffith crosscut and rearticulates its political significance. For example, Within Our Gates offers an alternative to the "Klan riding to the rescue" sequence in Birth by crosscutting between the attempted rape of a black woman and the lynching of a black worker falsely accused of murdering a wealthy white landowner. While Griffith uses the threat of sexual violence against white women as justification for the Klan, Micheaux shows how sexual violence against black women functions as an extension of Jim Crow-era violence. Rape is a tool of white supremacy, not an excuse for it. By using the same techniques as Griffith, Micheaux sets the historical record straight and demonstrates that film can be a weapon for the oppressed as well as the oppressor.

But Micheaux's cinema goes even further than Griffith in his use of editing. His narrative structures are incredibly messy, often nesting flashbacks within flashbacks and crosscutting between several characters and locations at once. Whether intentionally or not, Micheaux's films are estranging, preventing the viewer from getting comfortable in a given narrative space.

I also voted for Body and Soul, which has an ever crazier narrative structure than Gates, offering an 11th hour "happy ending" that is every bit as unconvincing as the one in Lang's Woman in the Window! It also contains an amazing, unhinged performance by the great Paul Robeson.

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domino harvey
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#118 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:23 am

I absolutely get the impetus to want Micheaux's films to be great, as it would be a wonderfully ironic move to turn on Griffith's film and say "Here's a black man who provided the perfect response, and it's just as good or better a film." But Micheaux is an awful director, and I think it helps nothing to further the fiction that he's in any way on the level of even Griffith's worst film. True, Micheaux's rarely been well-considered for his filmmaking acumen, but I could see a defense being made that this was institutional racism holding appreciation of his work back. It's not, it's his own talent. As historical documents and intriguing film-equivalents to human interest stories, the three Micheaux films I've seen have some value. But as movies, they are lousy and inept, and those who would claim Within Our Gates could ever be considered in the same league as Birth of a Nation do everyone involved a disservice. I don't doubt your affection for Micheaux is genuine, Satori, and I don't know by your writeup above if you merely find the film an interesting counterpoint to Griffith's (which I agree, it is) as opposed to some sort of suppressed masterpiece that should replace Griffith's in film studies courses (which I wish I could say was a straw man argument, but there was definitely a movement a few years ago among many academics not in a film studies discipline to lobby for it, and I doubt if it's ever gone away considering the current climate). But should I submit a list, Micheaux will be far, far away from it.

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knives
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#119 Post by knives » Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:29 am

I think as a silent director he's not too bad (and honestly some scenes in Birth of a Nation such as the war scenes are pretty bad on a filmmaking level so that I don't mind intermingling that lone film) though his sound films are uniquely inept.

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domino harvey
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#120 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:32 am

I should clarify then that the other two films I've seen by him were sound features, so yes, I agree with your last point!

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knives
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#121 Post by knives » Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:39 am

I do think that his two 'popular' silent films, Body and Soul and Within Our Gates, are his best surviving films and that based on what's available you don't really need to look any further. Whichever one is the on you haven't seen though is likely not to turn you around on him though. The Girl from Chicago in particular is a bad one to avoid though.

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domino harvey
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#122 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:44 am

I haven't seen Body and Soul, though I do own the Robseon Criterion box should I ever want to

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knives
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#123 Post by knives » Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:51 am

For me that's the better of the two (and a legitimately excellent film).

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Satori
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#124 Post by Satori » Tue Jun 12, 2018 11:09 am

His sound films are indeed nearly unwatchable, but I find quite a bit to like about the three silent films. I'm certainly not saying that he is as "good" as Griffith in terms of technique. In fact, I would argue Micheaux's films are interesting precisely because he is an outsider without a clear grasp on the mechanics or narrative techniques of Hollywood cinema. He is accidentally avant-garde in his narrative constructions and his films are saying something important about how the cinema constructs ideas about race.

EDIT: also, I should say that I often value ideas over technique when evaluating films, hence these earning a spot in my top 50 when there are absolutely hundreds of 20s films that are "better" than Micheaux's in terms of narrative and mastery of the mechanics of cinema.
domino harvey wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:23 am
I don't doubt your affection for Micheaux is genuine, Satori, and I don't know by your writeup above if you merely find the film an interesting counterpoint to Griffith's (which I agree, it is) as opposed to some sort of suppressed masterpiece that should replace Griffith's in film studies courses (which I wish I could say was a straw man argument, but there was definitely a movement a few years ago among many academics not in a film studies discipline to lobby for it, and I doubt if it's ever gone away considering the current climate). But should I submit a list, Micheaux will be far, far away from it.
Well it shouldn't replace anything, but it is certainly a film worth teaching (I have taught Within Our Gates in an intro to film class alongside Birth and found the juxtaposition to be very fruitful). No reason for this to be an either/or.

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zedz
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Re: The 1920s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#125 Post by zedz » Tue Jun 12, 2018 11:18 pm

NABOB OF NOWHERE wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 2:11 am
zedz wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:48 pm
Thanks for the Gremillon info, I think I'll wait. This was restored in the past few years, wasn't it?
You might have a long wait. There is a reasonable print courtesy of whatever the Cinematheque of Tokyo is called which has been deemed a restoration but not in the sense that is expected nowadays. During the 2013 Grem retrospective it was shown in a few places but has gone back into cotton wool and guarded by angel lighthouse keepers and there is no news of any other restoration projects.
Well, I bit the bullet, and the YouTube version was indeed woefully shitty, but this is an out and out masterpiece.

Image
Gardiens de Phare (Gremillon, 1929) - Lighthouses make for extraordinarily photogenic settings, but they're rather dramatically limiting. You can have - and probably will have - a big storm, but lighthouses are designed to withstand that very thing; you can have interlopers (spies, smugglers, killers), but then you've got the issue of logistics (how did they get there, where are they going?) and motivation (what master plan requires them to go to a lighthouse?) The drama here is brilliant in its simplicity: rabies. What's the worst place in the world to come down with something that makes you acutely sensitive to light, terrified of water, and in need of urgent medical attention? Even so, the narrative strains a little to make the situation maximally dramatic (let's not bother with the distress signal, probably a better plan to just sit around and mope about your buddy freaking out), but Gremillon more than makes up for that in visual stylishness. The film is full of interesting angles and lighting effects - which you'd think would be automatic shooting in a lighthouse, but it ain't necessarily so - and is punctuated with mesmerising shots of the huge mechanism in operation that hint at the icy elegance of something like 2001. There's also an utterly awesome hallucination sequence about halfway through, and Gremillon has the audacity to stage a climactic fight through a door banging in the wind, so the action comes to us in violent flashes. There's a phenomenal narrative sucker punch at the end as well:
SpoilerShow
Our rabid hero's beloved is fretting on the mainland, because the light has not been lit, and she (rightly) suspects that something must have gone drastically wrong. In the film's final minutes, she gets her happy ending when the light finally appears blinking in the blackness. She relaxes, all is well, the film has it's conventional resolution. But the light has been lit only because her demented beloved, who was blocking the lighting of the light and thus leading a ship to its doom on the rocks, has been killed by his buddy.
Image

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