2014 in Review

Well, 2014 is almost gone so it’s time to take a look back at the year and share my plans for the coming year.

All about you:

These are the posts and articles that were most-read by my site’s visitors.

Top 5 Most-Read Articles:

Poor helpless men!
Poor helpless men!

1. Silent Movie Myth: Tied to the Railroad Tracks

Let’s make 2015 the year when this ridiculous myth dies, hmm?

2. Questions from the Google: Daddy Long Legs and Judy Abbott Age Difference?

This one honestly baffles me. What’s with the obsession? (Well, a fair number of visitors for that one are homework cheats.)

3. Silent Movie Myth: Silent Stars Had Funny Voices

Another legend that needs the heave-ho.

4. Silent Star Personality Quiz

My new and improved personality quiz. Who are you?

5. Questions from the Google: Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

Another train track query. I want to weep.

Top 5 Reviews:

sheik-rudolph-valentino-agnes-ayres-silent-movie-giving-her-the-eye

1. The Sheik

The kitsch classic tops the list again!

2. The Wizard of Oz

You kids certainly love your cheese, don’t you?

3. The Cheat

An early hit for Cecil B. DeMille.

4. The Wind

A bit of madness seems to be the order of the day.

5. The Prisoner of Zenda

A triple review of the silent original, the 1937 remake and the 1952 remake of the remake.

Your Favorite Videos:

I started making video reviews this year. As I do not have a ton posted yet, I will just be listing the top 3.

Top 3 Video Reviews

Pola Negri Barbed Wire Publicity
Breathless publicity for Barbed Wire.

1. The Sheik (Now there’s a shocker.)

2. A Woman of the World

3. Barbed Wire

Ha! Pola Negri movies in two of the top slots. Take that, haters!

Top 3 Dear Movies Silently

1. Why do silent movies have so many woman tied to the railroad tracks?

2. Why are silent movies so boring?

3. Who’s better, Chaplin or Keaton?

Your Favorite Recipes:

I started cooking my way through the 1929 edition of Photoplay’s Cook Book and here are the most popular recipes so far.

1. Joan Crawford’s French Banana Salad

2. Gloria Swanson’s Cream Fudge

3. Virginia Valli’s Eggs with Pate de Foie Gras

4. Betty Bronson’s Waffles

5. Victor McLaglen’s Chili Con Carne

***

Personal Discoveries:

These are things that I discovered about myself during the year. Please enjoy!

Biggest Surprise:

demille director

I started 2014 with a fairly negative view of Cecil B. DeMille. I liked a few of his silent films but I generally considered his work to be beneath my notice. However, I saw that the 100th anniversary of his debut was passing unnoticed in the wave of Chaplin tributes (nothing wrong with Chaplin but he was not the only significant debut in 1914) and so I decided to do something about it. At the same time, I began a series of articles covering every single movie DeMille made in 1915. I read biographies, his memoirs, I watched his movies and as a result, I started to get a real handle on the man’s personality.

Long story short, I started to really like him as a person and respect him as a director. Most silent movie personnel… Well, I love their work but they would probably drive me nuts in person. DeMille seems like a guy I could have a great movie conversation with. (Also invited to the party: Conrad Veidt, Lois Wilson, Mary Philbin, King Vidor, William Boyd, Gloria Swanson and Leatrice Joy.) Watching DeMille’s work and its evolution was an eye-opener. Known for religious epics, this is the guy who directed the original Chicago. His moody 1915 cinematography puts a good number of his contemporaries to shame. His marital comedies are a wacky blast. He tackled social issues (corrupt legal system, antisemitism, reform schools) that his contemporaries didn’t dare touch.

So, now I am a full-fledged, card-carrying DeMille fan. Whodathunkit?

Favorite Rabbit Holes:

frozen-north-1922-image-21

I think most history fans have fallen down the research rabbit hole at one time or another. You know what I mean, one fact links to another and then another and then another and before you know it, you have twenty-six pages of research for a twenty-minute short film.

This year, I fell down the rabbit hole quite a few times. Here are my favorites.

In which I went on a Buster Keaton/William S. Hart frenzy and insulted authors left and right.

In which I corrected a birthdate that had been wrong for nearly a century.

In which I declared that Woodrow Wilson was NOT a stalker/rapist/murderer who haunted the early film studios looking for victims.

In which I discovered the Most Interesting Man in the World (silent film edition).

Favorite GIF:

chicago-1927-shutup-so-a-lady-can-read

I think we all can appreciate the sentiment. (See what I mean about Chicago? Bless you, Mr. DeMille!)

Favorite Theme Months:

Without a doubt, the three theme months that gave me the most pleasure were Silent Musicals, my Cecil B. DeMille Centennial Bash and my Russian jaunt. Taking a look at silent films that were famously remade as musicals took me on a happy little jaunt through fun stories, fun direction, fun films. As mentioned before, the DeMille month was a crash course in an underrated filmmaker’s work. The Russian theme month was fun because I decided early on to embrace every aspect of Russia and Russians on film: Czarist, Soviet, in exile and in Hollywood. It was a pleasure to experience the variety.

Favorite Intertitle

Heart of Wetona 1919 Norma Talmadge image (18)

Heart of Wetona is a hilarious study in so-bad-it’s-good. The unintentionally humorous intertitles are a big part of the fun.

***

All in all, I was very happy with how 2014 turned out.

On to the new year!

For 2015, here is a small list of goals.

More czarist and exile cinema, more Yiddish film

Silent cinema is an upside-down world. In modern film, dramas are seen as award-worthy, comedies have to fight for respect. Americans love movies but just try and get them to see something foreign/arty. It’s like pulling teeth! Well, with silent films, comedies have all the respect and dramas have to fight to be taken seriously. Foreign art films, particularly from France, Germany and the USSR, make up quite a bit of the “must-see” list for film students. The standard Hollywood crowd-pleaser? Lost in the shuffle. Almost everyone has heard of Nosferatu or Battleship Potemkin. Who remembers Manhandled or Captain January or The Garden of Eden or Eve’s Leaves? A few silent film nerds but not the average film fan. Those are the films I am concerned with promoting. My goal for this site is to emulate the fun-loving spirit of silent era fan magazines.

That being said, I am going to be adding a few more foreign-language goodies to the mix.

I know Soviet cinema is what everyone thinks of when Russian silents are discussed but the country had a film industry under the monarchy as well. Further, many of these same artists fled to France during the Bolshevik revolution and did amazing work there. I loved The Burning Crucible and went absolutely nuts for Michael Strogoff. I have seen many other titles and can’t wait to share.

I will also be drawing more attention to Yiddish cinema. Often low budget, these films more than made up for it with heart and humor. Great stuff.

More After the Silents

A shame Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman crashed and burned in the talkies and were never heard from again.
A shame Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman crashed and burned in the talkies and were never heard from again.

I have been getting more and more queries as to whether ANY silent star made it to the talkies. Now I know that YOU know that a lot of the major 1930s talent started in the silents but I think the point needs to be put forward more forcefully. There is still this widespread belief that the talkies emptied the Hollywood studios of silent stars and they were replaced with an entirely new crop. What really happened was that the shift in filmmaking technique combined with the Great Depression changed audience tastes and sent the studios scurrying to cut costs. The flood of stage talent was massive but plenty of silent stars weathered the storm and became even bigger than before.

After the Silents is my series that deals with the performers who were active in both silence and sound. I have covered Bela Lugosi, William Boyd, Myrna Loy and many others.

Patricide

lorna-doone-1922-king-james-ii-wasted-praise

I questioned whether or not to bring this up. My health is not 100% and the last thing I need is a film geek slap fight on the site. I finally decided to take the plunge for two reasons. First, a lot of my readers have privately told me that they hold this opinion but are afraid to publicly voice it. Second, 1915 is a very significant year in film history and the topic will come up sooner or later.

Please forgive my bluntness but I am tired of being yelled at.

Here goes nothing.

2013-2014 solidified my opinions about D.W. Griffith, who is often unquestioningly called the Father of Film and given passes and excuses that no other director has ever enjoyed. He is regularly handed credit for inventing techniques that had been created years before by someone else. After watching a massive stack of his features, I came to the conclusion that I do not care for the majority of them; his style simply does not appeal to me and I am not alone in this. (His shorts, yes, oh yes. But that’s another story.) I will be making a determined effort to dump Daddy and embrace a few of the step-fathers and mothers of film instead. 2015 is the centennial year for The Birth of a Nation, Griffith’s tedious ode to the KKK. Don’t look for tributes in these parts.

Snarking at racist old David Warke Griffith. Just one more service I offer. (Well, that and I have a bingo card to fill.) Now the majority of silent fans are lovely people but D.W. Griffith inspires a small minority to get just a little excited.

Me: D.W. Griffith’s features are not really for me. I don’t like his style.

Them: But you don’t understand context! His father was a confederate officer! The leader of bad guys in Birth of a Nation was white! Context! Griffith couldn’t be racist, he made a movie with a white guy dressed up as a Chinese guy! Context! Then he made a movie depicting a black soldier as infantile and needing to be taken care of by a white soldier! They totally kissed! How is that racist? Context! Some of his best friends were black! Lillian Gish liked him! Context! He was a pacifist! That’s why he made a movie glorifying antebellum South! Context! It was all a conspiracy, a conspiracy, I tell you! Hey, I said context. That means no one can ever say that anything old is racist. CONTEXT! (faints)

Me: Wow. I wasn’t really bringing any of that up but since you did… Bingo! And, let’s see, that’s one, two, five, seven, eight contexts. I win the bonus round!

A typical day when one says they do not care for Griffith. (via Wondermark)

Clarification: I have no problem with viewers enjoying Griffith’s work. The ability to consume and even enjoy media while simultaneously understanding and being critical of its viewpoint is an essential skill for serious movie watchers and critics (though even the most dispassionate critic has a breaking point). I simply object to the very strange behavior of some Griffith apologists who seek to bully anyone who dislikes the man and his films into silence.

Needless to say, all comments along those lines will be deleted. Also, no sealioning. By gad, I’m glad we finally have a name for it! Long story short, no pestering, no trying to make me say that Griffith is a deity, no gatekeepers. I don’t need smug explanations of why he is wonderful. If you like him, fine. No one is trying to stop you. Please show the same consideration to others. I know none of my regular readers would resort to such tactics but I mention this for any newcomers.

People have a right to praise the film’s technical and artistic merit (though, frankly, both are overrated, in my opinion) but people also have the right to say that they did not enjoy the film. Just be cool, my dears, let everyone like or dislike silent films as they choose. Chillax, man. Even sea lions manage that.

They LOOK cute but they can be annoying as heck. (via Wikipedia)

That’s all the discussion of Birth we will be having. Instead, I will be embracing the talented men and women who directed films in 1914-1920 and giving well-deserved attention to their comparatively neglected legacy. DeMille is invited to the party, of course, as is his brother, William. Also attending: Lois Weber, Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade, Raoul Walsh, Evgeni Bauer, Maurice Tourneur, Marshall Neilan, and many, many others. (I have one Griffith short scheduled for review in February but that should be about it for the year.)

***

Well, that certainly ended on a dour note! Let’s get happy again!

See you in 2015

Well, that’s it for the year. Thanks so much for reading and I will see you next year! (Ah, grade school jokes never get old.)

crazy-like-a-fox-animated-gif-charley-chase-silent-movie-comedy-the-very-silly-hat

32 Replies to “2014 in Review”

  1. Fritzi, you crack me up. Sealioning is such a perfect way to describe that particular annoying social media phenom. Wonderful year that you’ve delighted us with your charms- thank you! Happy 2015…

  2. What great year for Movies Silently. My favorite stars that I learned about are William S. Hart, Pola Negri and Max Linder. Most importantly, I learned about The Mystery of the Leaping Fish starring Douglas Fairbanks. The ending of the short is a good punch line to the insanity. It’s doubly amusing as it’s an extra on DVD of The Gaucho, which was written by Fairbanks.

    As for Birth, I finally sat down and watched it this year. I came to two conclusions.

    1) It wouldn’t be impolite to fall asleep during the movie.

    2) Really? Really? Well, at least it’s consistent to the era as a whole. Silent film was diverse in its subject manner. (Although, that also means so much better could be done than a movie like that.)

    1. So glad you found silent stars to love! The Hart/Negri/Linder trio really deserve more fame. The Mystery of the Leaping Fish… Yeah, anyone who thinks silent movies are dry and boring needs to watch that.

      I found Birth incredibly dry going when I first saw it years ago. To be honest, it turned me off to ‘teens films for the longest time. Having seen a lot more 1914-1915 movies in the last few years, it really drove home what a mess Birth is. The problem is that so many film classes/books do Trip to the Moon –> The Great Train Robbery –> The Birth of a Nation –> Intolerance –> Battleship Potemkin –> Jazz Singer. Now if they had sandwiched Birth between The Wishing Ring and The Bargain for 1914 and The Cheat and Regeneration for 1915 with bookends of Cabiria and Les Vampires…

      1. Unfortunately, most silent film history is as simplistic as those rock historians who see things as solely Elvis Presley —> Beatles.

      2. Agreed. As time passes, history gets telescoped into smaller and smaller packages. Unfortunately, this leads to myths and misunderstandings that can only be solved through deeper study, something a lot of people are not willing to undertake.

  3. BTW, have you ever written anything on the series of “Oz” films produced by L. Frank Baum’s company (in Hollywood, no less)? Now that we’re about to escape the 75th anniversary of Judy’s movie, it might be the right time to examine these movies (apparently, several exist on YouTube), and note that in many ways, Baum was the J.K. Rowling of his day? (Many of his “Oz” stories were adapted into stage productions.)

    1. Yes, I have covered The Magic Cloak of Oz and will likely dip back into the series for the other Baum-produced films at some later time. I also would like to have a deeper examination of the 1910 Selig version.

  4. Thanks, Fritzi, for helping me in 2014 take my interest in silent films up a notch into a full-on obsession.

    A happy and, most importantly, healthy 2015 to you and yours!

  5. Cannot wait for the reviews to come! I do hope you’ll resume the Silents in Talkies series again. It would be great to hear from you on Nickelodeon, Sunset Blvd, and tripe such as The Perils of Pauline or The Buster Keaton Story.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I will definitely be posting more reviews in that series, I just need to pace myself because I end up getting all upset and shouty with the snide ignorance on display in many of them. Sigh. Woe is me. 😉 But there will be some in the year to come.

  6. Happy new year, Fritzi. Thanks as always for your commentary on silent films!
    I might watch Birth of a Nation sometime in the new year. I saw Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm a few years back – I thought it would never end (no offense to the lovely Gish sisters)!

    1. Thank you so much!

      I do think movie fans should give Birth a try (assuming that it will not be too triggering) but I do consider it a snoozer punctuated by outrageous racism in the second half. (As opposed to just casual racism in the first half)

      If you can’t manage the original, I highly recommend DJ Spooky’s Rebirth of a Nation, a video remix from a modern perspective. It uses music, digital effects and commentary to remold the film into a document of racism. It’s available on DVD in the US. (Not sure about other countries.)

  7. Granted Birth, mainly the second half, is beyond belief racist, being about a black man’s, well, black-faced white man’s, quest to rape poor virgin Lillian Gish, until the cavalry, I mean the kkk, rides to the rescue, if my memory is correct and sorry for the spoiler. Yet I’m a big fan of his later, if overlong, efforts in the teens, and you may favor his shorter, quieter films of the twenties, such as Isn’t Life Wonderful, which don’t rely on a long, frantic, cross-cutting sprint to the finish. Agreed: Silent DeMille is not to be missed!

    1. I’ve tried Griffith’s quieter twenties work and still can’t quite get any enthusiasm up for it. However, I am always happy to hear that other fans have found silent films and directors that they love. Different tastes but appreciation for silent film is always a good thing. 🙂

  8. Great writeup! The Albatros/Russian émigré films were a big discovery for me this year, too. Just amazing stuff.
    I’m not ashamed to say it, I really dislike DWG. Doesn’t deserve the hype for the most part.

    1. Huzzah! Welcome to the heretic club! Yes, the more silent films from the ‘teens I see, the less I am impressed with Griffith overall. Lillian Gish should have started a PR company. The work she did on Griffith’s reputation is some of the best I have ever seen.

      1. Haha, quite! I mostly watch/review movies from the teens, and there is just so much interesting and accomplished stuff. If one takes DWG as the exemplar, they’re missing out on a lot.

      2. Yes, especially now that more and more films from his rivals and contemporaries are being released to the general public. Griffith tends to suck the air out of the room and that’s a pity as so many early feature films were quite vibrant and punchy. Much more fun than his elephantine works.

  9. I really enjoyed this recap. You are a bold lady! I actually agree with you quite a bit regarding Griffith. I feel one reason he is given so much praise is that film history as a whole tends to be a bit America-centric, and he has been held in high esteem by many American directors. Griffith’s shorts could be wonderful but I find many of his features overly melodramatic and burdened by a surfeit of title cards that tell you what to think instead of showing you. I look forward to your writings about other directors of the era that deserve more attention.

    1. Thank you! Yes, it’s true that major talents are neglected in favor of Griffith. Stepping out of America is quite revealing regarding who invented what. (Particularly France and Italy in pre-WWI cinema)

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