The Springtime Silent Movie Challenge: I Watched Ten Early Films & Here Is What I Learned

It’s the last day of the Springtime Silent Movie Challenge and I am sharing what I watched! I indulged myself utterly by filling my viewing list with pictures from France and Britain but there are some other lovely tidbits to be found as well.

If you took part in the challenge, please be sure to share your results! The challenge has two parts.

Part One: Watch 5 movies made between 1906 and 1914

(I’ll link to my reviews of these films in case you want more details.)

The ‘?’ Motorist (1906)

British filmmaker R.W. Paul is not well-remembered today but he sold Georges Melies his first camera. This trippy little film shows the lengths that people will go to to avoid a traffic ticket. It’s a valuable work because it showcases that trick films were not a French exclusive.

Read my review here.

Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Journey (1910-1912)

 

Actual footage from Roald Amundsen’s successful attempt to be the first human being to set foot on the South Pole. Also, penguins. The historical value is obvious but the homespun quality (Amundsen himself did some of the filming) is an added charm.

Read my review here.

“Nick Winter and the Theft of the Mona Lisa (1911)

This was just delightful! A torn-from-the-headlines French comedy about the real theft of the Mona Lisa made just weeks after the event. Silent cinema moved at breakneck speed!

Read my review here.

Theodor Körner (1912)

This is the earliest German feature film I have seen to date, so I am pretty pleased. It’s not perfect, of course, but viewers may be surprised by some of the sophisticated techniques employed. It’s a biopic and a bit stiff but still very illuminating.

Read my review here.

Celebrating 300 Years of the Romanov Dynasty (1913)

 

This is actuality footage of the Russian royal family and was apparently viewed by author Franz Kafka, who wrote a sarcastic blurb about it. As a Jewish man, his focus was not on the glamor and ceremony so much as the cruel anti-Semitic policies in force at the time. (For example, approximately 400 Jews were killed in the 1905 Odessa Pogroms.)

Read my review here.

Part Two: Watch 5 movies made in 1905 or before

(I haven’t reviewed all of these yet but I had fun watching them!)

The Derby (1895)

The earliest R.W. Paul film I have seen and it’s exactly what it says on the tin: the Epsom Derby is caught on film. What it lacks in story it more than makes up for with the chance to see living, breathing Victorians.

Turn-of-the-Century Surgery (1900)

Alice Guy’s macabre little medical comedy uses special effects to show a patient having his limbs amputated and reattached. That may sound like the start of a horror film but Guy keeps things light and the patient is dancing by the end.

The Over-Incubated Baby (1901)

R.W. Paul also takes on modern medicine with even zanier results. Baby incubators were saving lives all over the world but what if you leave the kid inside too long? GIANT BEARDED BABY!

The Little Match Seller (1902)

A real tearjerker based on the Hans Christian Andersen story about a small street vendor who burns her wares and experiences visions as she slowly freezes to death. The special effects used by director James Williamson make this version particularly tasteful.

Read my review here.

Serpentine Dance by Lina Esbrard (1902)

Another Alice Guy film, this one captures a serpentine dance. You know, those wonderful dances where the performer whisks around specially designed skirts in a pattern. Dance films were particularly popular because the moving performers and their costumes were particularly well-suited to hand-color.


The exercise was fun and I was once again struck by the sheer variety and quality in motion pictures from the very beginning. I hope you also had fun on your journey. Even if you didn’t complete all ten viewings, I would love to hear your feedback and see your viewing list.

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