Theme Month! February 2017: Pioneers of African-American Cinema

What do you get when you combine rare films, passionate historians and a whole lot of crowdfunding? In this case, the Pioneers of African-American Cinema box set.

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Theme Month! January 2017: Dreams, Visions & Hallucinations

Welcome to the very first theme month of 2017! This time around, we’re not going to be focusing on plots, performers, directors or nations of origin. Instead, we are going to be examining the use of unreality as visualized on the silent screen.

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Theme Month! December 2016: Early Sound Technology, Part-Talkies & the Sound Transition

Hold onto your corset covers, kids, because this silent movie site is going to talk about sound! Nothing so coarse as actual talkies, of course, but all the sound technologies that led up to full-blown talking pictures.

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Theme Month! November 2016: A Woman’s Place is in the Writers’ Room

Nobody knows exactly how many silent films were penned by women. Screen credits were a bit odd back in the day and a good number of studio records are gone forever. However, it has been estimated that as many as 50% of all silent films were written by women. Other estimates hover around 30-40% but that’s still a darn sight better than the 15% of modern Hollywood. (Oh, and they’re paid less for their work too.)

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Theme Month! October 2016: 100 Years Ago… The Films of 1916

What were people watching a century ago? We’re going to take an entire month to explore this topic. This month, every film I review will have a 1916 release date.

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Theme Month! September 2016: Silent Science Fiction

On September 8, 1966, a little science fiction show called Star Trek made its network debut. What does this have to do with silent films? Not much at all but the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek is too important to pass up!

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Theme Month! August 2016: These United States

Pack your bags, kids, we’re going on a tour of the USA and we’re using silent films as our guide!

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Theme Month! July 2016: Arabian Nights

The summer is heating up and so it’s time to explore entertainment set in sunnier climes and to dig into a fascinating topic: Orientalism in silent film.

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Theme Month! June 2016: THEY made silent movies?!?!?!

All right, my darlings, it’s time to expect the unexpected. I feel that my site is not random enough (hee hee heeeee) and I am going to fix that by selecting silent films that star people who are NOT known for silent films.

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Theme Month! May 2016: Danger Girls

It’s time to pick a new theme and this month’s is a doozy. We’re going to be celebrating danger girls of the silent era.

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Theme Month! April 2016: Director-Stars

This month is going to be all about the silent stars who also wore the director’s hat. These talented women and men took on two challenging jobs and emerged with some first class entertainment.

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Theme Month! March 2016: Reader Requests

You asked for ’em and now you’re going to get ’em! It’s time for real requests from real readers to become real reviews. Are you ready?

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Theme Month! February 2016: For the Kids

We have entered the second month of 2016 and it’s a leap year! If I had been smarter, I would have compiled a list of silent films in which a woman proposes to a man but I wasn’t. However, I think you will like what I have in store.

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Theme Month! January 2016: Silent Big Top

Welcome to the first theme month of 2016! This time around, we’re going to be diving into a popular sub-genre of the silent era: the carnival/circus picture. And, yes, Lon Chaney will figure into the story at some point.

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Theme Month! December 2015: Malice in the Palace

I don’t know about you but after the month of grim 1915 films, I need a break and something a little lighter. This month, I will be covering one of the most lavish sub-genres of the silent era: the Ruritanian romance.

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Theme Month! November 2015: 100 years ago…

What were people watching a century ago? We are about the find out! It is time to celebrate the films that turned 100 this year and to accomplish this, I will be reviewing films released in 1915 throughout the month. My goal is to provide a wide selection so that readers can marvel at the sheer variety of screen entertainment.

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Theme Month! October 2015: Silent Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes wasn’t the first fictional detective but he remains the most famous and most beloved. His adventures have been serialized, televised, reimagined and reworked into every genre imaginable but we’re going back to the very beginning of Sherlock Holmes on the screen.

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Theme Month! September 2015: Revival

Welcome to September. This month, I am going to be featuring silent performers who have fallen into obscurity but who (in my opinion) deserve to be better known.

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Theme Month! August 2015: The Irish Experience

It’s no secret that a great many members of the early American film industry (as well as a good portion of its audience) had Irish roots. What could be more natural than to make films that reflected those roots? This month, we are going to be looking at the evolution of the portrayal of Ireland and the Irish in silent film.

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Theme Month! July 2015: Hitch’s Picks

For the month of July, I shall be turning my site over to a Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Let me explain. In 1939, Hitchcock was asked to list his ten favorite films. You will be delighted to know that this list contained only one talkie; the rest were silent. Further, all but two of these films not only survive, they are available on home media! The opportunity is too good to resist. This month, I will be reviewing Hitch’s picks and seeing how they measure up.

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Theme Month! June 2015: A Salute to France

I truly believe that if the First World War had not happened, we would be talking about Paris as the movie capital of the world and Hollywood would have remained in second (or third or fourth) place. The quality, creativity and exuberance of early French cinema was unmatched and many of these films still make charming introductions to the silents.

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Theme Month! May 2015: Those Wacky Russians

We’re heading back to Russia, kids! Specifically, we are going to be enjoying some good belly laughs, courtesy of the sparkling Russian wit.

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Theme Month! April 2015: Pola and Marion

On January 3, 1897, two baby girls were born an ocean apart. Apolonia Chalupec, the daughter of a Slovakian immigrant living in Lipno, Poland. Marion Douras was born in Brooklyn, New York. Both women adopted more glamorous surnames (Apolonia shortened her given name for good measure) and became famous as Pola Negri and Marion Davies.

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Theme Month! March 2015: Reader Requests

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You asked for ’em and now you’re going to get ’em! This month, I am going to be reviewing films that were requested by my readers.

When I made my call for requests back in Novemeber, I was overwhelmed by the excellent suggestions that flooded in. (You can read them here.) It was a challenge to choose, to be honest.

I will be listing my selections (and who requested them) right here. If you’re request was not among those selected, don’t lose heart. I really do pay attention to every single request and I appreciate your valuable feedback as to which films you would like to see covered on the site. Your request puts these films on my radar, so to speak.

Check back throughout the month to see which films were selected and who suggested them. In the meantime, please enjoy selections from my last reader request month.

Your requests last time:

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

The Red Lily (1924)

Lizzies of the Field (1924)

Silent Movie (1976)

This Month’s Requests:

Request #1: Double Whoopee (1929)

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are employed at a swanky hotel but they cause their usual chaos, including the destruction of a gown belonging to a very young Jean Harlow.

Requested by Stevie of stevielounicks.

Request #2: The Married Virgin (1918)

A pre-fame Rudolph Valentino plays the villain of the family melodrama. He’s all of twenty-three and just as cute as a bug’s ear.

Requested by Emily of nitrateglow.

Request #3: The Bat (1926)

It’s a dark and stormy night and some guy in bat ears is lurking about. Influential horror comedy that should be of considerable interest to fans of the Caped Crusader.

Requested by reader George W.

Request #4: Asphalt (1929)

Brilliant, imaginative and a ton of fun to boot, this German crime melodrama is one of the best silent films you’ve never heard of.

Requested by reader Christopher Bird.

Request #5 A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Yes, that iconic film with a rocket in the moon’s eye. Enjoy!

Requested by John of Hitchcock’s World.

Theme Month! February 2015: Women at War

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While war movies are often viewed as the exclusive property of men (with the lover, driver, nurse or waiting wife sometimes thrown into the mix), there were quite a few silent era films that allowed women to get in on the action.

The prerequisite for inclusion? The female lead cannot be passive or in a support role, she must partake in combat. This month, we are going to be looking at women as assassins, generals, doughboys and snipers.

We are also going to be examining the reasons why the filmmakers chose to put women front and center in this genre. The answer is complicated and well worth discussing. As an added bonus, every single one of these films will be directed by a big name of the silent era.

Review #1: Assassin

Judith of Bethulia (1914) – Judith tries to save her village from the Assyrians. All she needs is a sexy dress and a very sharp sword. D.W. Griffith directs.

Review #2: General

Joan the Woman (1916) – The English are running roughshod over the French army. Someone needs to stop them. This looks like woman’s work! Cecil B. DeMille directs.

Review #3: Doughboy

She Goes to War (1929) – A society girl heads to France to support the troops during the First World War. She gets a lot closer to the action when she dons a uniform and goes into battle. Henry King directs.

Review #4: Sniper

The Forty-First (1927) – A Bolshevik sniper with forty kills misses the forty-first. Charged with delivering him to headquarters, things go wrong when they are shipwrecked together and a doomed romance starts. Yakov Protazanov directs.

Theme Month! January 2015: Welcome to America

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Cinema began to cover social issues almost immediately after its invention and few issues were more pressing or controversial than immigration. The Unites States is a nation of immigrants and that reality was reflected in the movers and shakers of the motion picture industry. But how would these realities be portrayed on the screen? This month is all about looking the various ways immigrants were portrayed in silent film.

I will be paying special attention to the Jewish immigration experience and the vibrant world of Yiddish cinema. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are some films dealing with the topic that I have already reviewed:

The Tong Man (1919) From China to San Francisco

Little Annie Rooney (1925) From Ireland to New York

Gretchen the Greenhorn (1916) From the Netherlands to New York

The Canadian (1926) From England to Canada

Redskin (1929) Um, people, the Navajo guy is not the foreigner. You are.

Needless to say, this is a historical examination and political comments are not welcome.

Review #1: Fresh off the boat

The Immigrant (1917) – The perils, trials and triumphs of new immigrants are lovingly celebrated and kidded with in this classic Chaplin short.

Review #2: The Next Generation

His People (1925) – The sweet story of a Jewish family with the immigrant parents at odds with their very American sons.

Review #3: Those Terrible Neighbors!

The Shamrock and the Rose (1927) – A Jewish family and their Irish neighbors duke it out when their kids fall in love.

Also check out:

Silent Volume has a few reviews on the subject…

Hungry Hearts

The Yellow Ticket

Theme Month! December 2014: Have a Hart

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December of 2014 is a significant month for fans of western star William S. Hart. His first feature was released a century ago this month and he was born one hundred and fifty years ago. I couldn’t let this milestone month pass without paying tribute to everyone’s favorite Good Bad Man of the west.

What’s more, I am going to be featuring spoofs of Hart’s gritty west that star some of the best comedians of the silent era! Please enjoy. Oh, and if you have a little something special planned for Hart this month, let me know and I will link to you.

Big V Riot Squad is joining me in the Hart celebration.

To whet your appetite, here are my past reviews of Hart films. Also, I get a chance to be punny. I offer no apologies.

Dark Hart: The Toll Gate (1920) has Hart at his most menacing.

Burning Hart: Hell’s Hinges (1916) is perfectly apocalyptic.

I left my Hart in San Francisco: The Cradle of Courage (1920), in which Bill trades his Stetson for a copper’s cap.

Broken Hart: Bad Buck of Santa Ynez (1915) is a rare tragedy from our usually-victorious hero.

Review #1: New Hart

The Bargain (1914) set the stage for all subsequent Hart films. It’s also a darn good piece of entertainment that holds up remarkably well.

Review #2: Lying Hart

Keno Bates, Liar (1915) was Hart’s last short film and provides an unexpected bit of vamping, courtesy of Louise Glaum.

Review #3: Lloyd Goes West

Two-Gun Gussie (1918) is Harold Lloyd’s fun little short dealing with the perils of a jazz pianist in the oldish west.

Review #4: Arbuckle-Keaton-St. John Go West

Out West (1918) is a dark, morbid and violent send-up of William S. Hart’s grown-up westerns.

Theme Month! November 2014: Go big or go home

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Silent movies could be small, intimate, delicate affairs. We are not going to talk about those. This month, we are all about the biggest, the most epic and the most popular films of the silent era. Only epics need apply.

To whet everyone’s appetite for the silent movie hugeness to come, here are some past reviews to enjoy:

The Volga Boatman

Michael Strogoff*

The Sea Hawk*

The Lost World

Cyrano de Bergerac

The Beloved Rogue*

The Merry Widow

(Particular favorites marked with an *)

Theme Month! October 2014: Welcome to the Nickelodeon

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To readers of a certain age, the word “nickelodeon” evokes images of obnoxious orange and lots of green slime. However, the original use of the word meant a cheap theater that showed a selection of short films for a low price. They charged a nickel– thus the name– which is about a dollar in modern money.

These theaters were not seen as proper places for “nice” people and particularly not young ladies but they were instrumental in spreading the popularity of motion pictures as an art. No one quite agrees on when the era started and ended. 1905-1915 is a common rule of thumb. In any case, feature films were the rule by 1915, nicer theaters were springing up and the era of the nickelodeon was over.

This month is all about celebrating these intriguing films. They were responsible for creating the modern film industry. Let’s give them their day in the sun.

I will be updating this page throughout the month but in the meantime, here are some nickelodeon era reviews from the archives:

(Stars include Mary Pickford, the Gish sisters, William S. Hart, Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin)

Bad Buck of Santa Ynez (1915)

The Country Doctor (1909)

Friends (1912)

The Hessian Renegades (1909)

Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913)

The New York Hat (1912)

A Night in the Show (1915)

The Peasants’ Lot (1912)

The Sunbeam (1912)

An Unseen Enemy (1912)

The Taming of the Shrew (1908)

Won in a Cupboard (1914)

I hope you enjoy the trip to a forgotten time in film history!

Theme Month! September 2014: One hundred years ago… The films of 1914

This month is all about the films that turn 100 this year. 1914 was an intriguing time in cinema history. The feature film era was dawning and the star system as we know it was starting to solidify. However, the free-wheeling spirit of the early days was still in evidence. Vamps, flappers and sheiks were not yet on the scene but the stage was set.

In many ways, the audiences of 1914 were very similar to the audiences of 2014. Adventure and fantasy ruled at the box office, along with some still-shocking spots of darkness.

Here are some 1914 topics I have already covered:

The Squaw Man (Cecil B. DeMille’s debut)

Won in a Cupboard (Mabel Normand directs)

And the top American stars of 1914 were…

On to the new stuff!

Review #1: Cinderella

Mary Pickford’s version of the popular tale. Co-stars her then-husband, Owen Moore.

Review #2: The Magic Cloak of Oz

L. Frank Baum produced a series of silent Oz films. This is the first.

Review #3: The Wishing Ring

A charming and lovely little romance set in old England.

Review #4: Brute Island

Lest you think all 1914 movies were sweetness and light, here is a rather nasty piece of business from writer-director-star Harry Carey.