Schneider Project I

 

  • The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjostrom, 1921)
    • Spooky. That’s the best way to describe this film, spooky and beautifully haunting. Based on the Swedish novel of the same name by Selma Lagerlof, The Phantom Carriage is about the grim reaper who, on New Years Eve, forces a drunkard to reevaluate his life. This movie reminds me of fables I used to read as a kid. The mythology behind the grim reaper and how the carriage driver got to where he is fascinating. The special effects are incredible given the time period this film was made. The way the film portrays the supernatural is so cool. There’s something about having the white, ghostly figures shown through the blue filter that makes death itself seem sad, unnerving, present, and gorgeous all at once. I thought the ending was a little sappy, but happy endings are a common trope of early cinema. So I can let it slide. But overall, I’m happy I saw this film. It’s one of those movies that’ll definitely stick with me for a very long time.

 

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

  • Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
    • Remember the graveyard shift episode from Spongebob Squarepants? You know, the one where Spongebob and Squidward had to work the night shift and were afraid of a dark figure stalking them, but in the end it turns out Nosferatu was the one flicking the lights on and off? Were you just as confused as I am? Well this is where it came from. Yep, turns out a Nickelodeon cartoon was my first introduction to the first cinematic vampire. Murnau’s 1922 horror film is about a German real estate agent  named Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) who is sent to Transylvania to visit a mysterious new client, Count Orlok (Max Schreck). The innocent business trip, however, becomes dangerous when Orlok shows his true colors. Things get even worse when Orlok sees a picture of Hutter’s wife, Ellen (Greta Schroder), and instantly falls in love with her. This movie is basically a chase film. Hutter tries to get away from the Count and return home, but Orlok is always close behind. The lighting and framing do a fantastic job at building suspense. The acting is superb, especially from Schreck as the vampire. His stiff, slow, yet fluid movements make him feel like a menacing creature, and the way he’s presented in the film (through full body shots and in the shadows) emphasizes his presence. His appearance is also very unique. He doesn’t fit our modern interpretation of a vampire, and instead has more rat-like features. Something feels off in every shot, like you’re trapped in a gross, scary environment you want to escape but can’t. Nosferatu is, by far, one of creepiest films I’ve seen so far, and one of the best vampire stories I’ve ever seen period.

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  • Haxan (Benjamin Christensen, 1922)
    • Directed by, written by, and starring Benjamin Christensen, Haxan is a study of superstition and witchcraft. At its core, the film is a documentary, though it’s separated into fictionalized chapters that tricks you into thinking it has a fantasy narrative. Both the subject matter and the way it’s shown is very interesting. I appreciate how Christensen had the balls to go all out with the demonic imagery and nude scenes, especially considering the era the film came out. While the design of both the costumes and the production seen goofy, Christensen wisely uses them to convey how human superstition can lead to violent action. For me, that is what elevates this film from entertaining to pretty damn fascinating.
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  • Foolish Wives (Erich von Stroheim, 1922)
    • Written by, directed by, and starring Erich von Stroheim, this drama tells the story of a successful con man who’s made a habit out of seducing then stealing from wealthy women. His next target is Helen Hughes (Miss DuPont), the wife of an American diplomat. During his pursuit, certain obstacles arise, and his true self starts to reveal itself. I just thought this was an okay film. Nothing spectacular, nothing terrible. Like with most movies of the silent era, I appreciate the film’s innovative storytelling techniques. It was interesting to see the main character’s criminal life unravel, and to watch his journey go in directions I didn’t expect. But it never fully grabbed my attention and I doubt it’ll stay in my memory for more than a week.

 

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  • Our Hospitality (John G. Blystone, 1923)
    • Comedy, like horror, is difficult to do. People have different tastes. Some prefer witty banter over physical slapstick. Others look to dry humor, toilet jokes, and self-deprecating sarcasm to make them laugh. Not to mention that the quality of mainstream comedy can change from generation to generation. So it was interesting to see what made people laugh in the early 1900s. Our Hospitality stars Buster Keaton as Willie McKay, a man who runs into trouble after he falls in love with  a woman (Natalie Talmadge) while returning to his homestead. He soon realizes that her family has vowed to kill every member of his family, and Willie has to learn how to survive. The film parodies and has fun with a typical family feud story. Keaton’s physical humor got a few good laughs out of me, and the absurd situation he’s in goes to such an enjoyably absurd level.

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  • La Roue/The Wheel (Abel Gance, 1923)
    • This French film is about Sisif, a railroad engineer, who saves an orphaned girl after a devastating train accident presumably kills her parents. He raises the girl, Norma (Ivy Close) as his own. But once she’s all grown up, he finds himself falling in love with her. To make things even more awkward, Elie (Gabriel de Gravone), Sisif’s biological son and Norma’s stepbrother, starts to have feelings for her as well. Pretty weird, huh? But that’s why I liked it. The conflict is very disturbing yet fascinating. Most of all, it feels real. The mounting tension between the father, the daughter, and the son is palpable. And what helps keep it alive is its kinetic pace. This movie is revolutionary for its use of fast-paced editing, which make it easier for me to watch. So as a whole, it’s a good film, definitely one of the better silent era dramas I’ve seen.

 

Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler - Ein Bild der Zeit

  • Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (Fritz Lang, 1922)
    • Ugh. Another three-hour feature. To make things worse, people talk about finance…a lot. Movies about stocks, embezzlement, and finance go completely over my head. They’re not interesting, not fun to watch, and my brain naturally tune them out fifteen minutes into them. So Dr. Mabuse was a challenge. I had to watch it in chunks because of the long run time, and because I kept falling asleep. The film is about a criminal (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) who routinely disguises himself as different people in order to steal money and make a fortune. Detective Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke) is hot on his trail, determined to bring him to justice. I understand what the film is going for, an exaggerated look at corruption in the early 20th century. But I just couldn’t get into it. The acting is fine, and Fritz Lang’s direction is good. The makeup is also nice. I just thought it was boring. It’s not my cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

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