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.
War sent the French industry reeling. It soon recovered (thanks in part to a talent transfusion from Russia) but many of the stars and directors of the pre-war years were unable to reclaim their places in the movie-going public’s heart. That’s a real tragedy.
The early history of film (pre-1915) often gets covered with a few broad strokes. Melies! Porter! Griffith! Done! Of course, a lot of amazing work gets lost in these whirlwind tours. We’re going to be slowing down a little and taking a closer look at wide variety of creative films that were being made in France before the First World War. Then, we’re going to swing around and examine some of the large-scale filmmaking that was in style during the 1920s, when French cinema was once more on the ascent.
French silent films are widely available and their quality is impressive. Because of this, I am not planning to make this a guide to all things silent and French. I’m not sure one month or even one year would be sufficient for that. Rather, I will just be sharing a few highlights, taking in titles that are obscure but worthy. Enjoy!
As an appetizer, here are a few French titles I have already reviewed, including some co-productions with other nations. All of them come highly recommended.
The old west through a French lens, this is a bloody and dark little western that never stops for breath. A revelation.