The Best Silent Movie Home Video Releases of 2015

As 2015 comes to an end, I wanted to take some time to celebrate the best silent movies released on DVD and Blu-ray.

While some silent movie fans are close to venues that screen silents live, the majority of modern fans are introduced to the art thanks to quality home video releases. It’s only fair to give these businesses a shout of praise.

My goal in this is to highlight good work from both the major silent film home video producers and the smaller, more obscure concerns. I hope you enjoy the list and please note that I am not responsible for any maxing of credit cards.

Let’s get started and may the best discs win!

his-people-why-stop-a-good-fight

Disclosure: I received review copies of some of these titles but was not required to give them a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Best Reissue/Upgrade

They were released before and now they’re back!

Before Hollywood There Was Fort Lee, New Jersey with The Wishing Ring from Flicker Alley

before hollywood

This is a documentary about early filmmaking in New Jersey but the real draw for me is the inclusion of The Wishing Ring, a darling 1914 feature that has become my go-to recommendation for people who wish to delve into the beginning of American feature film. It’s gorgeous to behold, sweetly acted and funny as anything. And now it’s back in print!

Runners-up:
The Canadian from Grapevine Video

the canadian

I often describe this film as the best silent movie you’ve never heard of. It’s a striking and absorbing character study and now Grapevine has reissued it with a crisper print. What’s not to love?

Victory with The Wicked Darling from Flicker Alley

victory

Early Lon Chaney films? Yes, please! The Wicked Darling is particularly important as it marks the very first time that Chaney worked with Tod Browning, a cinematic match made in hell if there ever was one.

Best Outside-the-Box Release

The films we never knew we wanted until they were released.

Marcel Perez, International Mirth-Maker from Undercrank Productions

marcel perez

This crowd-funded release brings Marcel Perez back into the spotlight. Almost completely forgotten since his days as a comedy star, the release of Perez’s shorts was the project of accompanist Ben Model. Classic comedies meets the modern world of crowd-funding? I like what I see, especially when the reward is the very funny Mr. Perez.

Runners-up:
Fearless the Police Dog from Grapevine Video

fearless

Fearless the German Shepherd may not be as famous as Rin-Tin-Tin or Strongheart but his short films are breezy fun. Even better, Grapevine has managed to release twelve out of thirteen of the Fearless films! If you think this isn’t a big deal, you have not been around silent films very much. “Incomplete” is the default. When you’re used to fragments, it’s nice to get a full picture.

The Epic of Everest from Kino Lorber

epic of everest

When Mallory tried to scale Mount Everest in 1924, his journey was meticulously documented and now it has been restored for everyone to see. Whether you come for the mountaineering or the look at native culture, this film is endlessly fascinating. The quality restoration and thoroughly modern score are the icing on the cake.

Best Box Set

(For the purpose of this post, a box set is a release that contains three or more discs.)

Chaplin’s Essanay Comedies from Flicker Alley

chaplin essanay

Chaplin fans can rejoice, this is the Essanay set that we have all been waiting for. The century-old films have never looked better and, thanks to the talented accompanists engaged for the project, they have never sounded better either. Absolutely essential.

Runner-up
Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas from the Criterion Collection

silent ozu

The Criterion Collection continues to prove its commitment to Japanese silent film with this set of crime dramas from director Yasujiro Ozu.

Best Fully-Loaded Release

Extras! We love extras! These can be in the form of alternate cuts, related short films, additional scores… Anything that adds spice and lots of it to the release.

The Phantom of the Opera from Kino Lorber

phantom cover

This oft-released film gets a gorgeous reissue that is jam-packed with goodies. We get two versions of the film, a total of four scores, a commentary track and our choice of projection speed. This set is highly recommended even if you already have other Phantom discs. It’s also available on DVD.

Runners-up:
Sherlock Holmes from Flicker Alley

sherlock holmes

This dual format DVD/Blu-ray release features a treasure trove of Holmes-related goodies. We have the legendary film itself and then we also get a selection of Holmes spoofs and information about the evolution of William Gillette’s characterization.

Speedy from the Criterion Collection

speedy

Harold Lloyd’s last silent film gets the royal treatment with a Carl Davis orchestral score, as well as deleted scenes, Lloyd family home movies and a restored edition of the comedian’s 1919 short Bumping into Broadway. This edition was also released on DVD.

Grand Prize Winner: Best Overall Release

This category has only one criteria: it’s the release that made me the happiest overall.

The House of Mystery from Flicker Alley

The House of Mystery Cover FINAL

A silent crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word! The House of Mystery takes everything silent film fans love about French and Russian cinema, tosses in some melodrama, adventure, daring stunts, bold artistic choices and voila! We have a winner in every category! The film looks fantastic and features a wondrous piano score from Neil Brand. This is an absolute must-buy. (You can read my full, gushing review here.)

I hope you enjoyed the list. Sorry if I make you go broke but such is the life of a silent movie fan!

20 Replies to “The Best Silent Movie Home Video Releases of 2015”

  1. Thank you, Frtitzi. It is admittedly a rather small pond but your choices make me feel like a fairly big fish.

  2. Terrific list. I just received Speedy today and have a couple of these already (although my Epic of Everest is the BFI version). I’d also give a shout to the Flicker Alley release of Vertov’s Man With the Movie Camera. Flicker Alley was on fire this year, especially for silent film.

    1. I believe the Kino release of The Epic of Everest is almost identical to the BFI release so we’re probably on the same page. Yes, Flicker Alley released some amazing stuff this year! I was torn between Vertov and Sherlock but Sherlock edged it out by a nose due to that absolutely smashing Neil Brand score. But it was close. Phew!

  3. Enjoyed reading your list – many thanks. Have just watched some web posted clips of The House of Mystery, and it looks terrific. Hope a UK distributer picks it up.

  4. Thanks. This list helps me make sure I haven’t missed something. “Phantom of the Opera” was outside my usual range, but worth it when I saw your review.

  5. Gosh, the early Chaney double feature is making my mouth water, especially the sleazy wonder that is The Wicked Darling. Just curious, what do you think of the other film on the set, Victory?

    Also I can vouch for the Ozu box set. All three films are excellent. I particularly enjoyed That Night’s Wife, which was just so tense and moving.

    1. To be honest, I had a hard time liking Victory as much. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it (I have the earlier Image edition) but it has the usual Maurice Tourneur narrative drag. But The Wicked Darling more than makes up for it because it is a blast!

      Yay for Ozu! Happy you enjoyed them. I’m so glad Criterion is sticking with the Japanese silents. I am really hoping they will release something from China and maybe even scrape together what little survives of Korean silent cinema.

      1. I didn’t care for Victory much either. Really, Chaney is the only entertaining thing in it, a delicious (if unfortunately un-PC) villain.
        Yes, I hope we get more Asian silent films in general. I would love to have a Criterion release of The Goddess.

  6. Cosigning La maison de mystère, it was so, so good. My friends really liked it too. I’m planning a rewatch in Jan/Feb.
    I’ve had that Ozu set for a year or two (it must have been released earlier in the UK?), although I think I still have to watch one of the films. Ozu is brilliant, I really like him.

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