We’ve covered the best things about 2015 and now it’s time to face the worst!I have gathered a list of the worst films, the vilest recipes and the oddest tantrums thrown in my vicinity. Here’s hoping we don’t run into anything like this in 2016. Ready to dive in? Here we go!
The Worst Films Reviewed
I always start watching silent films hoping to discover a hidden gem or that a famous picture will live up to its hype. My optimism is more often rewarded than not but there are some films that were just a chore to get through. Here they are, the worst of the worst.
Films that made me go “HUH?!?!”
Some of the movies I reviewed were not only bad, they were bad in incomprehensible ways. Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea?
In The Delicious Little Devil, Mae Murray scurries around like a ferret on amphetamines. She plays a hat-check girl who loses her job and decides to lie in order to be hired as an exotic dancer at a roadhouse. As one does. Rudolph Valentino makes an appearance under three tons of pasty makeup in order to play an Irish lad. Really.
The Boob is famous as the film that got William Wellman fired from MGM. Well, he deserved it. Painfully unfunny, this “comedy” is mainly notable as one of Joan Crawford’s early supporting roles. If this film were shown to POWs, it would count as a war crime.
Finally, Sherlock Holmes is the hero of The Copper Beeches, a bizarre French film that features some of the worst acting of the silent era. A terrible movie but a gem of unintentional comedy.
Films that made me go “EEEEEW!”
For those of you who love Al St. John in the comedies he made with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, have I got a film for you! How many times have you said to yourself: “Hey, I love Al St. John but I would really like to see him play a zany rapist.” Well, She Goes to War is just what you want. The perviness of St. John’s character is portrayed as humorous and lovable! Watch as he harasses, gropes and terrifies Eleanor Boardman so much that she runs out into enemy machine gun fire! Oh, that rascal!
Speaking of likable actors forced to behave like jerks, here’s Jackie Coogan in Peck’s Bad Boy, an allegedly adorable story about a pint-size serial killer in the making and his attempts to make the lives of his family and friends perfectly miserable. The comedic highlight of the film is the demon child pouring ants into his dad’s back brace just before church. Oh, that little scamp. And then he frames his sister’s boyfriend for industrial espionage, nearly ruining his own family’s fortune in the process. What a naughty little dollface! And then he steals a railway car and nearly derails a train. Awww, what a little nummy kissy face baby love lump!
Films that annoyed the almighty heck out of me
For empty-headed nonsense, Hawthorne of the U.S.A. takes the cake. It’s about a bizarrely patriotic Wallace Reid and his adventures in Europe. He decides to turn a tiny monarchy into a banana republic because the princess is kinda cute. Dull and repetitive, the film’s only saving grace is a very sardonic Harrison Ford (the first one).
Her Sister from Paris is a romantic comedy about a woman who poses as her own twin sister in order to see if her husband is faithful. He isn’t but she decides she likes him anyway. Constance Talmadge mugs her way through the picture in a most bizarre manner while Ronald Colman looks like he is having a root canal. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to do a Silents vs. Talkies review with this picture going against its remake, Garbo’s swansong, Two-Faced Woman. Well, that was brilliant. My head still hurts from this dreary double feature.
Sidney Olcott gets his own section
And he deserves it, too. Last year, I did a theme month that involved watching Cecil B. DeMille’s films and I had a blast. This year, my Sidney Olcott month was pure torture. His films are slow, deadly dull and devoid of imagination, especially after he parted ways with leading lady/screenwriter Gene Gauntier. Olcott seems to have been someone who had problems taking orders from women. Sounds like he was a lot of fun to work with.
Further, Olcott’s grip on reality can be safely described as tenuous as he claimed to have telepathic and prognosticative powers and constantly proclaimed that every performer he ever worked with wanted his body. Dude, you’re just not that cute.
If I never see another Sidney Olcott production it will be too soon. Alas, I will eventually have to plunge back in as he kept getting hired by big Hollywood names for some reason and he directed both Richard Barthelmess and Rudolph Valentino. Sigh.
The Worst Recipes Tasted
Silent films stars share their love of meat jello and other “tasty” treats! Thanks?
The Beverly Bayne Sandwich: Chicken aspic? And all for me? You shouldn’t have! No, really, you shouldn’t have.
Ed Wynne’s Shrimp Wiggle: Exactly what it sounds like.
Agnes Christine Johnston’s Scenario Salad: Aspic. Again with the aspic. Why, old-timey Americans, why the aspic? One of the few recipes that made me retch.
Sam Hardy’s Baked Clam in Shell: Is it a seafood treat? Is it an oatmeal cookie? You won’t know until you eat one! Mwahahahahahaha!
The Worst Temper Tantrums
One of my goals in 2015 was to kick down some myths surrounding The Birth of a Nation (1915), a film glorifying slavery and the suppression of African-American voting rights, and D.W. Griffith, its racist director. It wasn’t the first feature film, the first American feature film, the first film shown at the White House or the first film to employ subtle acting. This is easily proven by the more than twenty pre-1915 American feature films (not to mention a few Italian ones) that are readily available on DVD and Blu-ray.
I was delighted with the success that I achieved in myth-busting but also flabbergasted by how many professional journalists dutifully parroted long-debunked talking points. Even worse, there are still a few Griffith fans who are willing to defend their idol to the death, even in the face of irrefutable evidence. “But Birth must have invented something! It was the first blockbuster!* Lillian Gish said he wasn’t racist! Context! The grassy knoll! Jet fuel won’t melt steel beams! AAAHHHHH!”
*No, it wasn’t.
My basic rule when dealing with such people is as follows: I’ll do one or two go-rounds but if they are still determined to believe that Griffith totally invented everything and that we just need to look at “context” (in the face of a mountain of evidence) then I simply mute them (social media) or block their comments. Life’s too short for circular arguments with random internet Griffith fanatics. My main question is why it is so important to them personally that the film not be stripped of its ill-gotten laurels.
By the way, when I write “context” in scare quotes, I am not referring to the actual definition of the word. When people speak of “context” in reference to classic film it is almost always a silencing tactic, the basic idea being that no one was offended back then so we shouldn’t be offended now. This is utter nonsense as minorities and ethnic groups did protest racist portrayals in films most strenuously. Italian, Japanese, Irish, Jewish and African-American moviegoers were all represented by activist groups and these activists demanded cuts and the removal of racist caricatures from films. Their efforts met with varying success but they were indeed part of the true context of silent and classic film and deserve coverage, not erasure.
The problem is that there seems to be this weird belief that criticizing certain problematic aspects of entertainment means that the critic is saying that no one should enjoy that entertainment ever. This is ridiculous. It’s perfectly possible to enjoy a film even if it has technical and structural flaws, just as it is possible to enjoy a film that contain unsavory elements. For example, the special effects in the classic Flash Gordon serial are a little primitive but pointing that out doesn’t mean that a critic is calling for a ban on the serial. I personally adore the kitschy goodness of Sheik films even though I am aware that they display problematic elements related to race and gender. Movies are complicated and don’t just get tossed into boxes labeled Perfect and Ban This Now.
However, my zealots are nothing compared to the perfectly mad response New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick received when he made the rather mild suggestion that maybe Gone with the Wind‘s more subtle (compared to Birth, anyway) but equally insidious racism should be called what it is. Lumenick also praised aspects of the film but repeated his conclusion that the story is undeniably racist and perhaps the film is more of a museum piece in 2015.
The internet being the internet, some people got the notion in their heads that Mr. Lumenick not only was calling for a ban on the film but he also was planning to personally sneak into their homes and smash their DVDs with his wittle hammer. Many cries of “context” followed, along with some outright hysterics and blatant sealioning. Truly bizarre.
Just remember, kids, the “context” of Gone with the Wind is Strange Fruit. Deal with it.
In any case, on to 2016 and having to explain to people that, no, Intolerance was not D.W. Griffith’s apology for Birth, it was actually just him whining that people were calling his little KKK recruitment flick racist. The noive!
(Needless to say, the New York Post is considerably more generous in moderating its comments than I am. No, I don’t want to hear about how Birth was totes the first everything and that GWTW is in real danger of being banned. It wasn’t and it’s not. No nonsense, please.)
The Weirdest Bad News
F.W. Murnau’s skull was stolen. His skull. Some idiots broke into the family crypt and made off with his head. I guess people are thinking there are occult motives because Nosferatu or something. Anyway, not cool.
However, as a silent movie fan, it is my duty to try to help and so I make this offer to the skullnappers: I will exchange F.W. Murnau’s skull for D.W. Griffith’s entire carcass.* That’s right, you get an entire corpse! This is a very good deal. Of course you will then have to hear zombie Lillian Gish go on and on about how Griffith was the first zombie to eat brains and shuffle about and how no zombies realized they could eat brains WHILE shuffling about until Griffith invented the grammar of brain-eating and how living people actually like their brains eaten if you just look at context. And then Griffith will ruin everything by running off with a fresher lady corpse. The more things change…
*I hold no actual rights to D.W. Griffith’s carcass, though considering the amount of sauce he consumed in life, I would say there is a very good chance that he is still fresh as a daisy.
So, did you watch any turkeys this year? Kvetch away in the comments! The turkeys in question can be silents or talkies, new or old. Knock yourselves out!