- A Trip to the Moon/La Voyage dans la Luna (1902)
- Anyone who’s seen the Martin Scorsese’s Hugo might recognize this French film written and directed by Georges Melies, a former magician. The movie is about a group of astronomers who travel to the moon and encounter a mysterious civilization. This movie is said to have birthed the practice of special effects, and it totally shows. The story is creative and the pacing is perfect. I was fully engaged, which is surprising because black-and-white films usually bore me to tears. Each frame was hand-painted, and the colors they used were interesting and helped give the “moon world” a fantastical feel. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the history of cinema.
- The Great Train Robbery (1903)
- This one is directed by Edwin S. Porter, who’s known today as being one of the pioneer filmmakers of early cinema. It’s about a small group of bandits who hijack a train, steal the loot secured inside one of the carriages, and try to outrun the authorities. The kinetic action kept my attention, even though the version I watched had no music and thus made it difficult to sit through. Porter was one of the earliest filmmakers to experiment with editing, frequent camera movement, and shooting on location. On a side note, there’s a funny scene where two bandits are fighting on top of the moving train. One of them is beaten and thrown off, but just before the guy is tossed, it cuts to a shot of the same scene but with the him replaced with a pale white doll. Besides that, it’s perfectly fine. Scholars consider it to be one of the first Westerns ever made
- The Birth of a Nation (1915)
- Ugh. This was a tough one to sit through for a number of reasons. First of all, it is way too long. The story could have easily been told in ninety minutes instead of three hours. I literally saw the first thirty minutes, then fell asleep, woke up in the middle and watched another thirty minutes, fell asleep again, and then woke up to watch the last few minutes. And you know what? I still understood every single thing that was happening. Second, the movie made me uncomfortable. It boggles my mind that director D.W. Griffith didn’t understand how racist this movie is. It’s about two families -one from the north, one from the south- who become enemies during the Civil War. But they’re forced to put their differences aside when the African-Americans (most of whom are just white people caked in black face) begin abusing their newfound freedom and take over the government, imprison the whites, and enforce interracial marriage. Oh, the horror! In response, the Clansmen suite up and ride into town to save the captive whites who are trembling with fear in their houses. They form a blockage as to prevent African-Americans from voting ever again, the children of the two families hook up with each other, and they live happily ever after. Ironically, Griffith tries to convey the message that humanity must come together in order to overcome adversity and achieve world peace. But it’s a message clearly reserved for a pastier demographic. On a technical level, the movie does have the large scale of an epic. It’s competently made, and the physical acting is good. But the racist overtones make it too cringe-worthy to make it the least bit entertaining. African-Americans are portrayed as aggressive imbeciles who do nothing but walk around in dirty bare feet, stuff their faces with fried chicken and watermelon, and rape white women. The heroes and protectors of American society are, according to the film, the white men. Griffith claimed to have not known the offensive nature of the movie, but I think he was just bluffing.
- Les Vampires (1915-16)
- Again, I nearly fell asleep during this one. Though it wasn’t due to having a boring story. I figured it would be pretty short, seeing how most films from the 1900s to the 1910s usually are. But, to my unpleasant surprise, it was only the first installment in a ten episodes serial. So I binge-watched the whole thing. Not the best idea. All together, this film is over six hours long. Unlike “The Birth of a Nation”, the narrative has enough important stuff going on to earn the lengthy running time. The French serial focuses on a detective who’s trying to solve a series of crimes being committed by a secret, underground organization that calls itself “Les Vampires”. The more he tries to uncover the mystery, the more the Vampires threaten to take him down. I really liked how the director, Louis Feuillade, utilized different colored filters to achieve various degrees of suspense. The tension is well-built and maintained throughout the film. Some shots were legitimately creepy, and the plot, for the most part, was easy to follow. No, it’s not supernatural, but it is a thriller in every sense of the word. I’d recommend it, but only in portioned spoonfuls.
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