Last week, I asked readers to vote on which “essential” silent film title would get voted off the island. Well, here are the results.
Of course, this was never about saying which silent films should survive or a call for destroying any movie. The very fact that we can discuss the pros and cons of the films on this list shows the value of a film’s survival. Instead, this is a little intellectual game designed to think about which of the essentials are most essential to us.
Man with a Movie Camera got the most votes, followed by a tie of The Passion of Joan of Arc and Battleship Potemkin. These are also the most overtly arty pictures on the list (Sunrise was designed as awards bait but is quite accessible). Metropolis tied with Sunrise for the fewest votes, which is not surprising as genre films are incredibly popular right now.
I should take this opportunity to beg you to please, please, please watch the restored version of Battleship Potemkin as the public domain film you probably saw in class was slowed down to accommodate a cobbled-together Shostakovitch score (he was dead at the time) and really is painful to see. In the United States, Kino Lorber released the restoration that is a) the correct speed and b) derived from a COMPLETE AND UNCENSORED ORIGINAL NEGATIVE. I am not usually one of the “See the restoration!” types but this is an exception. It’s an entirely different movie.
Of course, this entire exercise was inspired by an article that claimed nearly all silent films of note have been found and there’s no need to be too sad about the lost ones. I dare say the Potemkin story rather blows that theory out of the water because the film’s glory was concealed under generations of cuts, censorship and, frankly, vandalism.
Even if some of these films are not my (or your) piece of cherry pie, I am incredibly grateful to have them because I can say with confidence and knowledge that I like some of these titles better than others. Others have the same privilege. That’s pretty amazing.
Given modern worries that the decline of physical media will mean that some modern movies are one harddrive crash away from extinction, I dare say that keeping lost and rediscovered films in the public eye is well worth our time and effort. While I certainly would also like more attention paid to worthy films that survive in the vaults, I will never stop daydreaming about miles of lost nitrate.
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