- The Phantom of the Opera (Lon Chaney, 1925)
- Adapted from the French novel by Gaston Leroux (“Le Fantome de l’Opera, 1910), this silent horror film is about a young opera singer, Christine, who’s seduced by a mysterious masked composer, known only as the Phantom. I remember sleeping through Joel Schumacher’s 2004 version, so I wasn’t so sure how this one would sway me. Technically speaking, this is a masterfully made film. The enormity of the set design, the costuming, and Chaney’s sharp direction blend seamlessly to build the mystery of the Phantom character and establish a sense of scale. The whole film feels operatic. The look of the Phantom is very effective. Not only does Lon Chaney play the part, but he also came up with the design and applied the makeup himself. His appearance is so unnerving, and the way Chaney carries himself in the role makes him appear even creepier. He has such presence. The scene where his true appearance is revealed actually made me jump. The story is engaging for the most part, but it does get tiring after a while. That might be due to the length, I’m not sure. My interest just faded a bit as it went on. Overall, The Phantom of the Opera is an impressive film. Though besides Lon Chaney’s iconic portrayal of the Phantom, I don’t expect to remember much from this adaptation.
- Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Einstein, 1925)
- Battleship Potemkin is based on actual events and is directed by Sergei Einstein, one of the most acclaimed pro-Soviet filmmakers of the early twentieth century. Set in June 1905, the crew of the Imperial Russian Navy ship, Potemkin, stage a mutiny in protest of the poor conditions they’ve had to live with. What many people, including I, may not know is that the events aboard the Potemkin played a huge part in spearheading the Russian Revolution. Sergei Einstein makes this clear in the film. Similar to his other film, Strike, this movie emphasizes the importance of individuals banding together to make a difference and the costs of doing so. Einstein gives us a glimpse of the crew’s collectivism as well as the plight of the common folk, who are relentlessly brutalized by the military for supporting the sailors. I like how he doesn’t shy away from the harshness of the situation, and yet it never feels exploitative. The film is dripping with Soviet patriotism. The continual use of symbolism (especially the shot of the woman carrying a child’s lifeless body up the steps toward a line of military men whose shadows stretch past her) conveys the significance and the emotional weight of the situation. Overall, I think this is a great film. It gives you a little taste of history and an interesting cinematic experience along with it.
- The Gold Rush (Charles Chaplin, 1925)
- Charlie Chaplin returns to the list in this cute little feature he wrote, directed, and starred in. Chaplin dons the Tramp costume to play a character known only as “The Prospector”, a man who joined the stampede to the Klondike region during the 1896-1899 Gold Rush. The Prospector winds up getting more than he bargained for, however, when he encounters harsh weather, greedy brutes, and an alluring woman. The strength of the film is not only the comedy, but also simplistic nature of the story. It’s engaging, it’s interesting, and it’s easy to grasp. In a way, the setting helps set up the jokes perfectly. The environment the characters are trying to endure provides a lot of comedic opportunity, and Charlie Chaplin does everything he can with it. Once again, Chaplin gives us a movie that’s sweet, charming, and very funny.
- Metropolis (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
- Set in the “far” future of 2026, Metropolis paints a vision of a flourishing utopia in which the upper-class industrialists live above ground and the working/lower class slaves away underground, working the machines that power the city. Freder Fredersen (Gustav Frohlich), the privileged son of the city’s mastermind, gets entangled in a plot to end the class divide after falling head over heels with a working-class woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm). Upon further research, I realized this film as achieved notoriety for a few different reasons. Besides being an incredible movie in and of itself, Metropolis is widely considered to be one of best and most influential science fiction film of all time. Another interesting little tidbit is that this was one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite movies. Apparently he and his slimy right-hand man, Joseph Goebbels, were so impressed that they gave Jewish director Fritz Lang a free pass. Lang replied by packing his bags and fled the country the next day. It just goes to show how impactful this film was. It’s crafted like a cinematic odyssey, showcasing a vision that’s both creative and haunting, with a theme we’ve seen plenty of times since 1927. Lang’s portrayal of classism and the dual repercussions of it is just so interesting to watch. This is definitely going down on my list of favorite silent films.
*This is a project of mine that’s been put off for a really really long time. My only excuse? Life. Life happened, I got busy, and I just couldn’t keep up. I will continue my Schneider plan, though as of now there will be no deadline. I’ll be getting to them whenever I can. Each post with consist of about four or five mini-reviews. I’ll get to them all as best as I can, and I hope you all enoy!*