Schneider Project I

 

  • The Thief of Bagdad (Raoul Walsh, 1924)
    • Douglas Fairbanks stars in this fantasy adventure flick as Ahmed, a petty thief who finds himself in the running to become a suitor for a princess (Julanne Johnston). Not only is he forced to overcome mystical obstacles in order to win her hand, but he must also compete against the gluttonous Prince of Persia, a conniving Mongolian prince, and countless others. Despite having slow moments here and there, I found The Thief of Bagdad to be a lot of fun. The large-scale set designs are incredible, and Raoul Walsh did a good job at capturing the thrill of adventure. Douglas Fairbanks was also entertaining. His swing and graceful movements reminded me of a ballerina, and it was fun watching him have fun. But I also liked this movie because it reminded me of something from my childhood. Fairbanks plays a street thief who’s constantly chased by guards and pedestrians, poses  as a wealthy suitor in order to meet the princess, and eventually gets his hands on a magic carpet. Sound familiar? Let’s just say I found myself humming songs from Aladdin throughout the film.

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  • Strike (Sergei Einstein, 1925)
    • Set a short time before the 1917 Russian Revolution, Sergei Einstein’s kinetic film doesn’t focus on an individual, but rather a multitude. A group of factory workers go organize a strike after growing tired of the deplorable conditions set by their superiors. What starts out as the people’s demand for better hours and increased pay escalates into large scale violence. The film gets off to a slow start, but it picks up the pace as things get increasingly more intense. I liked Einstein’s use of innovative montage, and how he emphasized the strength of the collective majority rather than the vigilante individual, which would be a more admirable narrative today. I could’ve done without the ending (watching a cow getting slaughtered isn’t my idea of fun), but for what it is, it does help send a powerful message against violent, systematic oppression.

 

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  • Greed (Eric von Stroheim, 1924)
    • John McTeague (Gibson Gowland) is a miner-turned-dentist who marries Trina (ZaSu Pitts), the cousin and former fiancée of his best friend, Schouler McTeague (Jean Hersholt). Soon after, Trina wins the lottery and receives a sum of $5,000. You’d think that winning the jackpot would be a dream come true. But rather it’s the catalyst to the characters’ descent into madness. Once again, Stroheim tells the story in a sophisticated way, with good cinematography and shot composition. I liked how the film conveyed various faces of greed- Trina’s selfish determination to never spend the money, Schouler’s jealousy, and McTeague wanting to use the money to better his and his wife’s life. Their growing obsession with the money reduces them to mindless monsters, and powerful final shot of the final shows just how low human beings can sink. While I didn’t love the film, I very much appreciated the statement it made.

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  • The Smiling Madame Beudet/La Souriante Madame Beudet (Germaine Dulac, 1922)
    • Dulac’s French short film is one of earliest feminist films ever. It centers on a woman (Germaine Dermoz) who’s stuck in a loveless marriage with a man (Alexandre Arquilliere) who likes to joke about shooting himself in the head. One day she says to herself, “What if it wasn’t pretend?”. She secretly slips real bullets into her husband’s gun in the hopes that he blows his brains out for real. But doubt starts to settle in her mind. The ending isn’t much of a happy one, but it kind of fits what the film is going for. If there’s anything to take away from this film, it’s that it presented a woman who at least attempted to take control of her life. It was a disturbing solution, yeah. But considering the time period, the step her character takes is considerably huge.

 

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  • Seven Chances (Buster Keaton, 1925)
    • I’m starting to think I’m more of a Buster Keaton fan than a Charlie Chaplin fan. It’s not to say that I don’t think Chaplin is funny, but there’s just something about Keaton’s straight-faced persona that gets a better laugh out of me. Maybe it’s the fact that his characters are usually the every-man who gets stuck in the most bizarre situations. Seven Chances is a good example of this. Based on the play of the same name, Keaton plays a broker named Jimmy Shannon. Shannon and his business partner, Billy Meekin (T. Roy Barnes), are on the verge of bankruptcy. Things seem to take a turn for the better when his grandfather’s will says he will inherit seven million dollars if he gets married by seven o’clock on his 27th birthday which just happens to be today. The rest of the movie is basically him steering through a string of bachelorettes- the number of candidates goes from seven, to a few dozen, then to a hundred. Againi, Keaton is magnificent. The scene of him trying to outrun dozens of women in bridal gowns is one of the funniest moments in any of the silent films I’ve watched so far. The comedy is well-choreographed, and the story is engaging. The film has fun with a fun concept, and it’s just short and sweet enough to stay with me for years to come.

 

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  • Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)
    • Keaton, we meet again! This time around, he plays a film projectionist who dreams of being a detective. He also dreams of marrying a beautiful girl (Kathryn McGuire), who’s also being pursued by a wealthy suitor (Ward Crane). When his rival frames him for stealing the Girl’s father’s watch, the Projectionist must put his detective skills to the test to get himself out of hot water. While Sherlock Jr. isn’t as funny as Seven Chances, it’s still incredibly engaging and is a fun watch overall. Sequences in the film are sweetly surreal and imaginative. There’s not a whole lot of character develop- hell, most of them don’t even have names- though you sympathize with Keaton’s character. He brings such an innocent, likable charm to such a menial role. I’d recommend the film to anyone who wants a taste of old-school comedy.

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  • The Last Laugh (F.W. Murnau, 1924)
    • Emil Jannins plays a man, only known as Hotelportier, who works as a doorman at a famous hotel. When he is fired from his job, he is forced to face the realities of poverty and scorn from his family and friends. Like Nosferatu and Sunrise, this is another F.W. Murnau film with great cinematography. The way he captures the essence of city life in the 1920s as well as issues related to class, poverty, and social status. Watching a jolly old man lose the job he loves and fall into despair is legitimately hard to watch. The main character is so likable that you hope he finds peace in the end. Speaking of, the film cleverly goes against the audience’s expectations. Instead of going down a more realistic route, the film explicitly states that it will follow a conventional happy ending. The story is well-conceived, and told through great visuals. Overall, the film is a good reflection of 1920s society.

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