It can’t all be sunshine and roses, so here are some things that didn’t work out so well in 2017. (For a more sunshiny outlook, here’s my best list.)
Last year, I had no shortage of terrible films to kvetch about but something strange happened this year: Most of the films I reviewed were good-to-great and there wasn’t a single film that I would think of adding to my All-Time Worst list. I’m not complaining but it does make this particular post a bit awkward, so this is going to be a pretty short list.
Click the titles to read my full reviews.
An Unsullied Shield (1913)
This picture feels primitive because it is. It would have been fine in 1907 or thereabouts but it is positively prehistoric next to other 1913 offerings. Still, the concept is interesting.
Lady of the Pavements (1929)
Sometimes hailed as a return to form for the old man, D.W. Griffith’s Lady of the Pavements is an attempt at the sort of sophisticated, winking romance that Ernst Lubitsch was producing. It doesn’t work. The cinematography is inconsistent, the talented cast is misused and the synchronized sound sequences can’t save it.
Wild and Woolly (1917)
Douglas Fairbanks charms our socks off as per usual but the screenplay of this western comedy is unnecessarily bloodthirsty and leaves a poor taste.
Getting Gertie’s Garter (1927)
An attempted farce that never really gets off the ground and never makes a lick of sense. Oh well, at least Marie Prevost is adorable.
Darn it, the talkies I reviewed were good too. Again, this is a good thing but it does wreak havoc with the symmetry of my year-end lists.
However, I do have two aces up my sleeve:
The Legion of Missing Men (1937) is a real stinker about the French Foreign Legion. It’s crammed with cliches and unintentional humor (the intentional stuff falls flat). Not recommended for viewing.
Love Nest (1951) is badly plotted and packed with unappealing characters. It’s about a whiny soldier who comes home to discover his wife has purchased a boarding house. Most people will see it for Marilyn Monroe. I was there for Leatrice Joy.
Like so many other things in life, comments on this site are 95% sweet, enlightening, smart and/or useful, often all of these things at once. It’s that little 5% that causes all the drama.
This year was reasonably wild by silent film blog standards. I had somebody accuse me of making up the myth of “tied to the railroad tracks” all by my little self and someone else claimed I was “fomenting hysteria” because I asked the AP for a correction. As fun as these incidents were, I think my favorite nasty comment was when I was accused of “trying desperately to be funny” but that my review was full of “vicious infective” which may be my new favorite malapropism. (I responded that I was pretty sure I had had all my shots.)
Other than that, there were a few film professors who failed to realize that I am not taking their class and it doesn’t matter if they give me an F for failing to be properly deferential to D.W. Griffith (that will be the day). There were also few “Do you know WHO I AM” incidents, pretty much par for the course, eh? Oh yes, and I was also accused of being a Nazi because I linked to a Bluray box that contained a Leni Riefenstahl short. That was fun.
But back to the positive: I have had a blast hearing everybody’s silent film experiences and their opinions on the films reviewed. Like I said, the 95% more than makes up for any issues with that 5%.
All in all, this was a really successful year. I found a ton of new-to-me movies that I love, only had to trip over a few films that I didn’t like and had overwhelmingly nice experiences with my commenters. Here’s hoping next year is as pleasant!
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I love “Lady of the Pavements”! But I got to see it on the big screen with live accompaniment, which I’m guessing you didn’t? That may have made the difference. The cinematography is by Karl “Sunrise” Struss (and Bitzer, although I think I read he didn’t actually do that much on this one), so it seems weird that it would have been inconsistent, and this was not something I noticed. Bad transfer/print?
I loved Lupe Velez’s performance, and the way Jetta Goudal looks like an art deco fashion drawing come to life.
No, it had nothing to do with the print, I just found the film to be ridiculous. I think I made my reasons quite clear in the review. Not everyone has the same experience with movies. You liked it, I did not.
I always love what you write even if I am not always in agreement but who cares right😀? Listen, my mom is German and lived through the horrors of war so I have felt, directly, the prejudice that people feel about Germans. Even my friend at work asked if my Uncle was a Nazi because he was in the Navy. I had to tell her that he was just a soldier who, later on, with mom, became part of the German resistance. I have always wanted to see one of Leni’s films and how sad people can’t get to see things through a film eye.
Thanks so much and thanks for sharing your family history! Yes, films, even evil films, are so important to the historical record. We need to remember.
I just wanted to find out what kind of print you saw, since they can make such a difference. I wasn’t trying to say your opinion was “wrong.”
I find that, generally speaking, if the print and music are generally good, there’s little interest in my reaction. If I like a movie, I’ll love it live but if I don’t like it then seeing it live doesn’t really make a difference.
I try to stay in that 95%! I recall your review of “Wild and Woolly,” and I agreed with everything you said about it. Which at first confused me, because I came away with an overall good feeling while you list it as one of your worst for the year. But, I realized as I read this today that this today that I saw it on a big screen with a fun audience at Cinecon. I think it was actually my first ever Cinecon movie. In that sense, the setting was more important than the movie, and I had a net positive experience with an admittedly flawed film. Goes to show!
Also keep in mind that we’re grading on a curve here. I had an unusually good year for movies and I am not sure any of these films besides Lady of the Pavements would have made the Worst otherwise. Last year I had Lion of the Moguls, The Cossacks and The Prairie Pirate to gripe about. Next year, I shall have The Great Divide. (Mwahahaha! Rubs hands together gleefully.)
“Them’s fightin’ words, stranger!” (Not sure if this response will be helpful.) 😉
Oh man, the snotty comments from academics are the worst. But those folks are also the most fun to tease because they take themselves so seriously. I mean, they picked on me first, it is earned ridicule.
The sad thing is that most of the academics I have dealt with have been delightful, helpful people but there is a minority of petty tyrants who think their authority extends outside their captive audience in the classroom. Like everything else, I suppose: the minority of rude people ruins it for everybody else.
Yes, it is a challenge, but we really must focus on the Jeanine Basingers of the world. There is more passionate interest than grumpy boobs in the mix!
While I try to keep up with the postings on this site, the sheer number of them assures that I miss many. I don’t recall seeing any where puffed up academics took our host/webmaster to task. What is a film review where this occurred? For the most part, the postings I see are constructive, maybe a difference of opinion in terms of what was important in the film being discussed, but nobody ripping into anybody (which is a good thing).
My academic friends were not self-identifying, their .edu emails gave them away. Yes, almost all the comments are absolutely superb and we have a pretty good time around here. 🙂
P.S. I want to once again emphasize that the number of snotty academics is very small compared to the number of wonderful, helpful academics who have assisted with research, contributed materials and left lovely comments.
When you mention the “Griffith is god” academics, two thoughts go through my head: first, where in the world are they teaching; and second, I want to make sure I don’t send my kids there. I think a lot of those professors are old line ones from the days when the Griffith Biographs were pretty much the only early films available for study, and it was quite easy to fall into the trap of saying he invented everything because there was no evidence to the contrary. In fact, the only two Griffith films I even remember seeing in college were What Drink Did and A Corner in Wheat, and they were a part of a class on the history of film narrative. The professor’s attitude towards Griffith was that his work was a small part of a large whole. And this was in 1993.
Alas, Griffith is the elephant in the room: you have to discuss him at one point, but that doesn’t hide the fact that features (as opposed to his short films) left a lot to be desired, and the parade had pretty much passed him up by the time the twenties rolled around.
Oh yes, definitely. While the Griffith cult is on the decline, even in its heyday there were people who opposed it. James Card wrote of a Griffith acolyte who was nearly reduced to tears at the screening of a short (I believe from Scandinavia) that displayed many of the techniques credited to Griffith but was made before he started his career. I mean, Griffith was one of the top American directors of the nickelodeon era and many of his shorts were excellent (though, as you point out, there is a shortage of films from that era in general and we are shown the best of the best of Griffith) but there was an electrical current in the air and new innovations were crackling to life all over the cinematic world. To take such a vibrant period and reduce it to one man is so simplistic and a good number of people recognize that now.
We also should not forget that there is an element of devil’s advocate and point proving in some pro-Griffith arguments. “I’m not like all you PC people who judge films by modern standards, I see things from the old perspective, the correct perspective.” Which is, of course, ridiculous as we both know that moviegoers of the past were not a Borg-like hive mind.
Any basic research on Birth will tell them that there were protests against the content of the film from day one, so seeing the film from the old perspective isn’t that much different than viewing it from modern standards. Racism is racism, whether it’s 1915 or 2017, and while not as many people have objected to it back then as would now, there were plenty that did.
There was so much going on in the nickelodeon era; and so much that was lost,; that it’s impossible to identify anyone as the first user of a particular narrative device with any reasonably degree of accuracy.
Exactly. As someone pointed out, these protestors were not time travelers.
Yes, that’s why I am so careful with “first” anything, especially in the pre-feature era.
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