A little while ago, a patron asked if I would be willing to share the titles in my silent film collection. I did a quick poll on Twitter and it seemed that there was interest so I am giving this “shelfie” thing a whirl. Here goes nothing!
Now I should include a caveat: these are not the first silent films I ever viewed. A good number of my early viewings were rentals from the local video store (a random and motley selection but still), loans from friends and films recorded from TCM by cable-having acquaintances. The movies on the list are films that made me open my little pocketbook and purchase for myself.
These purchases took place around 2001/2002, during the transition from VHS to DVD. As a result, many films were only available on tape and I had to repurchase them on disc later. (How do I remember when exactly I bought all these? I don’t! Amazon has a record of all my purchases dating back to 1999. Yeehaw!)
As you can see, I showed a marked preference for silent drama from the very start.
I was dying of curiosity about Valentino. I had seen stills (the one at the top of the page is the one I saw over and over) but never the man in action and my local sources came up short, so I placed an order. Readers know that The Sheik is one of my favorite kitsch classics/guilty pleasures. The Paramount VHS features footage not found in other editions and it has a trippy synth score that I adore.
Upgrade: Image soon released a version of The Sheik on DVD packaged with The Son of the Sheik. I have that disc, which has since been reissued by Flicker Alley.
I love pirates, I love swashbucklers and I was about to fall head over heels for early Technicolor. This is another one that I purchased on VHS and then subsequently upgraded to disc.
Since I enjoyed The Sheik so much, I snatched up The Eagle, Valentino’s Russian Robin Hood yarn. The version I initially purchased was a VHS of unsavory pedigree (I was still learning) but Image soon released it on DVD and I got to enjoy a much better copy.
I enjoyed The Sea Hawk immensely thanks to a taped TCM broadcast and I wanted more Milton Sills. Then as now, there aren’t that many Sills performances on home video but I did purchase a Grapevine VHS of Burning Daylight and upgraded to disc once it was re-released in the format. (As you can see, my taste was already turning quirky.)
While looking through film history books, I saw a still of Sessue Hayakawa in The Cheat and knew I had to see it. The disc also included the 1915 version of Carmen, both pictures directed by Cecil B. DeMille. I was familiar with his cheesy sound work but his silent films were a revelation. Simply put, I was very impressed.
This disc was originally released by Image but has since been reissued by Flicker Alley.
More swashbuckling! This film also introduced me to the glorious talents of Conrad Veidt (I had only seen him in talkie supporting roles), who plays French King Louis XI as a sort of nose-picking goblin. Okay, so I’m weird but I immediately obtained a copy of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from the library.
The disc I purchased was the Image release but it’s out of print. The Kino Lorber version is virtually identical.
Box sets? Now we’re cooking with gas! This collection introduced me to the charms of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, Max Linder, Ford Sterling, Lupino Lane and it included a silent short from my beloved Charley Chase. Great stuff!
This box is out of print but it’s still possible to obtain an affordable copy.
Connie! I was deeply in my Veidt fangirl period and so I had to see more of his silent work. This was a natural choice.
I purchased this on VHS from a very shady dealer (I was still learning) and then upgraded to DVD when Kino released it in the format. Alas, that version is now out of print and scalpers are asking for assorted limbs and firstborn children.
The Origins of Film
Of all the titles on this list, this is the one that has influenced me the most. This brilliant box includes animation, fantasy, gangster pictures, films directed by women and African-Americans.
What a perfect collection for a new silent movie fan! Any tendency toward D.W. Griffith worship was drowned by the righteous fury of Within Our Gates. I saw women-directed films, gender-bending comedies, the beautiful bloodshed of Maurice Tourneur and more. It opened my eyes to the broad possibilities of silent film and how much of it is still unseen and undiscussed. Such a powerful gateway drug could only lead to more obscure titles. I am still looking for my next fix.
Alas, the box is out of print and scalpers want the lifeblood of a unicorn for it. Fortunately, much of the African-American film section is now available in the Pioneers of African-American cinema box set from Kino.
I love this movie so much and it only gets better with each viewing. It’s a stylish horror comedy and the perfect blend of American and German styles. It introduced me to the wondrous Paul Leni, still one of my favorites.
The version I purchased was the Image release but do also get the Photoplay Productions restoration released by Kino. It uses different source material and Neil Brand’s score is one for the ages!
Phew! So there they are, my first ten silent movie purchases. It’s fun to look back and see how those early buys influenced my taste and continue to do so.
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