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.

Last year, I had a month celebrating the films of 1914 and had a real blast. I also made some happy discoveries, films I would never otherwise have seen. I am hoping for equal success this year.

1915 was not only an important year in film history (the year feature dramas completely took over), it is also one of my all-time favorite years for silent film, tying with 1926. We are not going to have this much fun again for eleven years so let’s make the most of it.

Alas, discussions of wonderful 1915 are often taken over by The Birth of a Nation and even its fans must admit that the picture tends to suck all the air out of the room. I announced at the beginning of 2015 that Birth would not be celebrated in these parts and I am sticking to my guns. 1915 had so many brilliant films released and they deserve their moment in the sun without D.W. Griffith’s coarse, racist epic crashing the party. No, it wasn’t the first feature, first American feature, or even Griffith’s first feature. Nor was it the first movie to employ subtle acting, closeups or whatever the heck else people make up. STOP SPREADING THIS! (Pours dry and dirty martini) Between you and me, I will be a little relieved when this year is over and we can all go back to forgetting that thing exists. (Downs martini) I think I’ll burn Griffith in effigy or something when the year ends. Anyone have a wicker man handy?

See what these people drive me to?
See what these people drive me to?

But on to happier things! As an appetizer, here are the top stars of 1915, as voted in a popular movie magazine. And here are 1915 films I have already reviewed on my site:

(I have marked films of particular quality with an *)

Cecil B. DeMille


*The Cheat

The Golden Chance

William S. Hart

*The Taking of Luke McVane

Keno Bates, Liar

Bad Buck of Santa Ynez

Everything Else

A Night in the Show (Chaplin²)

*Burlesque on Carmen (Chaplin spoofs DeMille)

Sweet Alyssum (Tyrone Power Sr.)

Alias Jimmy Valentine (Maurice Tourneur directs)

New Reviews

A Fool There Was (1915)

a fool there was 1915 image (42)

A fresh look at Theda Bara’s infamous vamp vehicle.

Fox Trot Finesse (1915)

fox trot finesse 1915 image (9)

Silent comedy wasn’t all slapstick, as this witty short shows.

Pool Sharks (1915)

pool sharks 1915 image (14)

However, that’s not to say that slapstick was completely absent, as W.C. Fields’ film debut shows.

Children of Eve (1915)

children of eve 1915 image (55)

Things get very dark in this film expose of exploitative child labor practices. Viola Dana stars.

Regeneration (1915)

regeneration 1915 image (4)

Raoul Walsh directed this groundbreaking gangster drama about a reformer and a criminal.


      1. Donnie Ashworth

        Thanks! It’s really fascinating to look at those lists. So many names that have vanished into obscurity…

        And 1915 is the year Theda came on the scene. I’m reading the Eve Golden biography of her right now (great book—I’m especially enjoying reading about the hijinks of Selig and Goldfrap, the Fox publicists).
        I did not realize that Theda made so many movies in the mid-teens. They were really churning them out fast. What a tragedy that fire was—it would be fascinating to see some of those, even the bad ones (maybe especially the bad ones. 🙂 )

      2. Fritzi Kramer

        What we have to remember as well that these popularity contests depended on films trickling down to mass audiences. In my experience, it’s usually a year before a star has a big hit and it showing on their contest results. (A lot of people ere bewildered by the low/no placement of Lillian Gish, for example)

        Yes, the Golden bio is excellent.

  1. Antony Gould

    Hi Fritzi, I, personally, think this would be a excellent time for you to review ‘Birth of a Nation’. To me, you have become the No1 authority on silent film because of your honesty and attention to detail. You’ve written much about ‘Nation’ already so it’s time to make that official ‘rip it to shreds’ review for all to see!

    Also, as an aside, I hope you don’t mind me pointing out that in your AZ index you have not included The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Hula and Oh, Doctor! in the list.


    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Hi Antony. While I appreciate the sentiment, the point of this theme month is that we can have a fabulous celebration of 1915 films without inviting the loud, drunk, racist uncle to the festivities. This post contains the only mention of Birth that will occur on this site during this month. I think you will enjoy the selection I have lined up and now with 100% less lynching.

      1. popegrutch

        It seriously is. I think this is part of what supports the myth of “BoaN,” as I suggested in my final discussion of That Movie. People can see that 1915 was a game-changing year for the movies, and they look for a magic bullet that explains it: The One That Started It All. I think that in reality it just happens to have been a year of creative ferment and higher budgets in general.

      2. Fritzi Kramer

        You’ve hit the nail right on the head. Oversimplification and looking for eureka moments are the bane of serious film scholarship. Birth wasn’t the first feature, Valentino wasn’t the first sex symbol, A Fool There Was didn’t invent the publicity stunt but all these “facts” sound right and so they are repeated and repeated and repeated. 1914 and 1915 were really years when American filmmakers en masse began to grasp the full scope of what the movies could be and they were feeding off of one another’s creative juices. It must have been amazing.

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