2016 proved to be a great year for silent movie fans who rely on home video to see new films. A generous selection of rare and obscure movies were released for all to enjoy and I am going to share my personal favorites.
Last year, I was much more formal with categories but I’m feeling more casual this time around so I will just use very broad divisions. All films are listed in alphabetical order. Please enjoy!
Note: I received advance review copies of many of these discs. However, no positive review or endorsement was required and all opinions are my own.
Note 2: I live in California and so these discs will be region 1/A. Some of them are reissues of releases from region 2/B. This list will be limited to films that are available for retail sale.
While other volumes in the series have focused on 16mm films, this entry in Undercrank Productions’ ongoing series is all about 9.5mm. The result is a fun grab bag of silent movies, many of which are only known to exist in this gauge. Good stuff!
I was really wishing someone would release this and lo and behold, Grapevine came through! It’s a WWI buddy comedy with ladies in the lead. (You can read my review of the film here.)
Paul Leni only made a few films in America before his untimely death and while The Cat and the Canary and The Man Who Laughs have been released on home video, The Last Warning was unavailable to the general public. Until now. Huzzah!
What better way to celebrate the 90th anniversary of a silent film than to release a new, tinted edition? Undercrank just published this new edition of Douglas Fairbanks’ epic and it’s pretty fab, I must say.
(Both selections are available on DVD and Bluray.)
Keaton’s pre-feature work meticulously restored? And the set includes his work with Arbuckle and St. John at Comique? Yes, please! This five-disc set is a bundle of gorgeousness and fans of Keaton will want to snap it up.
This box is an absolute must-buy. Not only do we get to enjoy the work of African-American filmmakers of the first half of the twentieth century, we get to explore a distinct kind of independent film. The box is an eclectic mix of comedies, dramas, religious fare and more. Truly a treasure trove.
These are standalone Blurays with one to two discs included (not counting any DVDs added to a combo pack). I will mark discs that are also available as DVDs (exact same edition) with an ♦ and Bluray/DVD combo packs with a ♥.
John Ford’s western epic comes to Blu and it looks pretty darn good! It also sounds good with an excellent score and an audio commentary from Ford scholar Joseph McBride.
This early Cecil B. DeMille film has been on my wishlist forever and I finally got to see it thanks to Olive Films. The release is pretty barebones but both image quality and score are excellent and those are the two things that really matter. (You can read my review of the film here.)
I think it’s safe to say that no Clara Bow film has ever looked this good on home video. Flicker Alley’s release features a sparkling restoration and a 4K transfer. Magnifique !
This independent production was shot on location in Oklahoma with an all-Native American cast. Wow! Thought lost for decades, we finally have a chance to see this important production. (You can read my review of the film here.)
Charlie Chaplin’s brilliant, funny tearjerker gets the Criterion treatment and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving picture. The disc is crammed with intriguing extras and is essential viewing for any silent comedy fan.
Marcel L’Herbier‘s stylish science fiction melodrama is finally available on home video. It’s noted more for its design than its story but devotees of 20th century art should find much to love!
This early Fritz Lang adventure mini-serial finally comes so Bluray and it’s a sight to behold. The design is an intriguing crazy quilt and it definitely benefits from the HD treatment.
Here’s another rarity from Olive! A Hungarian production from Michael Curtiz made, of course, before his acclaimed career in Hollywood. And Hungarian silents are as rare as hen’s teeth in my neck of the woods so this is especially appreciated.
Crowdfunded! (Coming Next Year)
Ben Model’s Undercrank Productions successfully raised funds to release Marion Davies’ 1922 hit When Knighthood was in Flower on home video for the first time as a DVD/Bluray combo pack. The campaign was so popular that enough money was raised to add extra goodies to the release. Ooo, we love goodies! (Especially when they involve restoring Handschiegl color!)
Inspired by the success of their Kickstarted African-American cinema box, Kino Lorber launched a campaign to release a set of films from America’s women filmmakers of the silent era. The project was funded to the tune of $50,000, will be made available on DVD and Bluray and has a tentative release date for next year. I will share more details as they come in.
I wish to extend my most sincere thanks to the producers, archivists, accompanists, film restoration experts, translators and other professionals who have made these releases possible. I look forward to seeing what 2017 will bring.
A Quick P.S.
I should have noted that this list is limited to films I have personally reviewed with my own hot little hands. Some non-region 1/A releases have not yet come my way (for example, the acclaimed Bluray release of Napoleon) and while they have been praised in all corners and I’m sure they’re wonderful, this list is based on my experiences.