Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

La Lune à un mètre (1898)

La Lune à un mètre (The Astronomer’s Dream) is one of the earliest surviving films by Georges Melies, in which an astronomer looks at the moon out of the window of his huge castle and then has three minutes of utterly terrifying moon-related dreams.

This is an absolutely wondrous marvel. Originally one of Georges Melies’s stage shows, this goes all out on recreating his original physical tricks (including the absolutely terrifying mechanical moon face below that eats children and adults alike in its unending furious rampage of greed), while also adding in loads of extra stuff only possible via film, including stop motion, film splices, and even an excellent animated section where the astronomer’s diagrams of the moon and earth join together to form some great planetary beast, with the moon as its the head and the earth its body.

The devil and Selene, goddess of the moon, also turn up for some reason at various points, and all in less than four minutes too. Wonderful.

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Notes

1. I watched this on youtube here.

2. My niece has been reading The Invention Of Hugo Cabret (and half watching Hugo, too), so we watched a couple of George Melies films (this and also Le Voyage Dans La Lune).

3. She wondered why he was so obsessed with the moon.

4. Although I didn’t like to say it was me that was obsessed with the moon.

5. Only showing her his moon films.

6. Instead of some of his non-moon films.

7. Anyway she liked this one best.

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Film Information

Title: La Lune à un mètre
Director: Georges Melies
Year: 1898
Duration: 3 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Cinderella (1922) / The Secret Of The Marquise (1922)

Cinderella (or Aschenputtel) is a short film from 1922, directed and animated by Lotte Reiniger in her signature paper cut outs and shadow silhouette style. It’s beautiful.

An adaptation of the traditional Cinderella story (unsurprisingly, given the title), this includes almost everything you could want from such a thing: evil mothers, grotesque sisters, wonderful transformations, beautiful costumes, dancing, surprisingly horrific mutilations, and even an exploding step-mother.

(Also there’s a nice example of the perils of outdated old language usage changing the entire meaning of the piece, when poor old Cinderella isn’t allowed to the party because she’s a “slut”.)

Lots of early cartoons seem to start with a sequence showing the artist drawing a characters before they magically come alive, and this has a nice variation on that with a pair of magical scissors cutting blank lumps of paper into shape, which I liked a lot. And as ever with Lotte Reiniger’s work is the sheer expressive artistry of it all.

The Secret Of the Marquise is also from 1922, and it seems to be unique (as far as my inexpert knowledge of Lotte Reiniger’s career can tell) in that it’s been reversed/inverted, so that the cutouts are in white and the backgrounds in black, which gives it all a nice ethereal air. It’s only short (2 minutes or so), but it’s as charmingly animated as ever, and whhen I watched this I was assuming it was another one of Lotte Reiniger’s fairy tale adaptations, so the reveal of what the Marquise’s secret actual was was unexpectedly funny, like some long lost 1920s Reeves and Mortimer sketch.

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Notes

1. I watched this on various BFI collections (Cinderella is on the Lotte Reiniger Fairy Tales collection DVD, and The Secret Of The Marquise is an extra on The Tales Of Prince Achmed blu-ray).

2. But they’re also on youtube, which is where, as usual, I grabbed the screenshots from. The Secret Of The Marquise is exactly the same as the disc version, while Cinderella has music on youtube, and also maybe a clearer picture).

3. I’ve reviewed a couple of Lotte Reiniger’s other films here before: Der Fliegende Koffer (1921) and Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (1919).

4. I don’t know why I gave them the German titles and these the English ones but I did so there.

5. Also I liked both of those just as much as I liked these probably.

6. Lotte Reiniger also made a version of Sleeping Beauty in 1922, but I can’t find any versions of it anywhere so is presumably lost. Although it might just be that my cursory Tuesday afternoon searching skills are off.

7. She remade that, and also Cinderella, in the 1950s, but that’s a long way beyond the scope of this website.

8. (But it’s good I liked it).

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Film Information

Title: Cinderella
Director: Lotte Reiniger
Year: 1922
Duration: 12 minutes
Watch: youtube

Title: The Secret Of The Marquise
Director: Lotte Reiniger
Year: 1922
Duration: 2 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Foolish Wives (1922)

Foolish Wives is a 1922 film, written, directed by and starring Eric von Stroheim, about a con artist Russian count and his cousins who descend on Monaco to fleece the rich via several different nefarious schemes.

Inexplicably lavish – although it’s set in Monte Carlo, it was filmed in Hollywood on huge sets recreating almost the entire town – it’s widely believed to be the first film with a $1 million budget, with Universal Studios eventually using the colossal price as publicity (presumably creating modern Hollywood in the process).

Erich von Stroheim plays Count Sergius Karamzin, with Mae Busch and Maude George as his cousins (and, apparently, lovers). The three of them live in what looks like aristocratic luxury in a beautiful villa by the sea, but they are in fact penniless crooks. Bored with their small time petty counterfeiting schemes, the three of them hatch a plan for the Count to seduce and swindle a fortune out of the wife of the recently arrived American ambassador.

The Ambassador’s wife, all naive sweetness and charming honesty, is the perfect mark for the Count, who goes about inveigling his way into her life and conscience through a series of contrived encounters, building up to their attempt to emotionally blackmail her out of a hundred thousand francs.

Thematically, this plays out in a way suggesting the inversion of assumed morals, with the Europeans being shown to be obsessed with money to the point of amorality, while it’s the Americans that maintain the supposedly European values of nobility and chivalry, honesty, integrity. Also the Ambassador gets to punch the Count in the face, thereby proving his moral superiority and his masculinity at the same time.

(Incidentally, the actor playing the American ambassador, Rudolph Christians, died half way through filming, so there’s some awkward use of body doubles and obvious insert shots from previously filmed scenes towards the end of the film, which are oddly distracting.)

(As another aside – and not really shown in any of these images, although there are two dogs and a parrot in the image above – but I do like the way a lot of very old films seemed to enjoy filling almost every scene with entirely incidental animals, despite the fact you’d think that’d increase the complexity of filming exponentially, and be the sort of thing you’d avoid unless it was absolutely necessary. Here there’s a constant parade of dogs, cats, goats, horses, pigs, chickens, cockatiels, finches, lurking at the edges and sometimes the centre of the screen.)

Anyway, finally, and maybe most importantly, there’s Erich von Stroheim. In almost every single frame of the film, he’s mesmerising as the Count, swaggering and preening, impossibly beautiful in his immaculate attire, filled with evident delight at his absurd duplicity, his petty thievery, his lascivious licentiousness.

You obviously can’t get the same sense of shock and horror and moral disgust this character would have originally provoked at a remove of a 100 years (not least because a lot of his performance was removed and destroyed at the behest of the censors), but even with that distance he’s still just amazingly unrepentantly despicable. Just an absolute utter bastard through almost every second of the entire film. Wonderful stuff.

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Notes

1. I watched this on Mubi, but you can’t take screenshots on there, so I got them from this identical version on youtube.

2. This was long. Really long.

3. Yet nowhere near long enough.

4. It was originally meant to be 6 hours.

5. Maybe even 10 hours, if wikipedia is to be believed.

6. But now all that’s left is this 2 and a half hour version.

7. Cobbled together from various versions of differing quality.

8. So some of it’s a lot more degraded than the rest.

9. It still frequently looks incredibly nice, though.

10. Even when the screen is 90% murk.

11. That’s a shot of swirling waves which end up looking like some distant galactic nebula.

12. They’re only on screen for 3 seconds but I wish they lasted forever.

13. I love waves.

14. Another thing I liked a lot are the slightly odd intertitles that occasionally pop up

15. Full of snippets of descriptive language assembled like cut up poetry.

16. Which are absolutely lovely.

17. And increasingly convoluted.

18. There’s also some mild post-modernism, with the diplomat’s wife reading a book called Foolish Wives (by an author called Erich von Stroheim) on and off throughout the film, the passages we see from it commenting on (and might well possibly actually be describing exactly) the incidents we see on screen.

19. Which is nice.

20. And I liked too the repeated technique of superimposing various shots over a textured canvas to create the appearance of moving paintings.

21. Some of which are just impossibly beautiful.

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Film Information

Title: Foolish Wives
Director: Erich von Stroheim
Starring: Erich von Stroheim, Mae Busch, Maude George, Miss DuPont, Rudolph Christians
Year: 1922
Duration: 143 minutes
Watch: Mubi; youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Tennis And How To Play It (1922) / Little Lenglens (1922)

Tennis And How To Play It is a 15-minute quasi-instructional film about how to play tennis starring 1920s tennis superstar Suzanne Lenglen.

Roughly divided into two parts, the first half is mostly Suzanne Lenglen playing actual tennis outside, with the second half largely her in the film studio, recreating her shots in front of some slow motion cameras.

There’s also considerable interest in her celebrity (unsurprisingly), so the actual tennis stuff is interspersed with footage of her arriving at the club in a very large car, signing autographs in an amazingly huge fur coat, doing her make-up (next to her very bronzed looking father), and just staring happily at the camera for a bit, stroking her racquet like it’s some sort of pet.

The slow motion sections reminded me (especially in it’s use of slow motion) of Taris, 1930s film about the swimmer Jean Taris (directed by Jean Vigo), although not as beautiful (as elegant as Suzanne Lenglen is, her service action, even slowed down to a tenth of it’s speed, is never going to be as mesmerising to watch as slow motion water, it’s bubbles and splashes, ripples and waves).

Meanwhile, Little Lenglens is a single minute of news footage from the same year, featuring some girls playing tennis over the park.

There’s not that much to say about this, really, although I do like seeing how even kids weren’t allowed to escape the cumbersome trappings of 1920s tennis gear (including the boys seemingly having to play – or at least watch – in their blazers).

And that’s all the tennis.

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Notes

1. I watched both of these for free on the BFI Player (Tennis and How To Play It; Little Lenglens)

2. I couldn’t find either of them on youtube, unfortunately, if for some reason you can’t watch these on the BFI player.

3. Although there’s lots of other videos of Suzanne Lenglen on there which you might like.

4. Some of them, shockingly, not even 100 years old.

5. I made sure to shield my eyes from such glimpses of the future, of course.

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Film Information

Title: Tennis And How To Play It
Year: 1922
Duration: 15 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Little Lenglens
Year: 1922
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu, directed by FW Murnau and starring Max Schreck as Count Orlok, was the first film adaptation of Dracula, although completely unofficial, and due to this was almost lost entirely when Bram Stoker’s estate sued FW Murnau, won, and had every known copy of it destroyed.

Luckily not even copyright can defeat a vampire, and so Nosferatu somehow survived. Which is nice, because as everyone already knows, it’s pretty marvellous.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray, and grabbed the screenshots from this version on youtube.

2. After watching some films that weren’t 100 years old at all yesterday, today I’ve made up for it by watching a film that is exactly 100 years old.

3. To the day

4. According to wikipedia at least

5. This was pure chance but still…

6. More than I could ever say about Nosferatu has almost certainly already been said.

7. And much more interestingly no doubt.

8. So instead, here’s a picture of Count Orlok’s skelebone clock, which I don’t think enjoys quite the popularity it should do really.

9. I wish I had a skelebone clock like that.

10. And maybe a ruined castle in which to keep it.

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Film Information

Title: Nosferatu
Director: FW Murnau
Year: 1922
Runtime: 95 minutes
Watch: youtube
Further Information: Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide: part 1; Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide: part 2; Wikipedia

Categories
This Film Isn't 100 Years Old At All

The Balloonatic (1923) / The Love Nest (1923)

These films aren’t 100 years old at all! But I watched them anyway and nobody can stop me.

The final two Buster Keaton shorts, in The Balloonatic, Buster Keaton gets bored harassing girls at the park and becomes a stowaway on a hot air balloon, while in The Love Nest, Buster gets dumped by his girlfriend, so he sails out to sea in a sulk and becomes a whaler.

The Balloonatic is a bit disappointing really (not least because there’s less than a minute of balloon action, but upwards of 20 minutes of Buster pissing around slightly tediously by the river), and although The Love Nest is better, it’s definitely not one of Buster’s best (while still being pretty good fun).

And that’s all the Buster Keaton.

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Notes

1. I watched these on my trusty blu-ray set once again. I shall never see its like again.

2. These are the last two films on there.

3. And so I have broken my rules to watch them now rather than wait another ten months or so.

4. But I might actually review them properly next year.

5. Along with whatever else Buster got up to in 1923.

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Film Information

Title: The Balloonatic
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1923
Duration: 25 minutes
Watch: youtube

Title: The Love Nest
Director: Buster Keaton
Year: 1923
Duration: 22 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

The Electric House (1922)

After being mistaken for an engineer, Buster Keaton must electrify a rich man’s house, which he does by filling it with the most wonderful assortment of automated contraptions ever seen on film (or at least since various other Buster Keaton films already released).

The Electric House is quite similar to a fair few other Buster Keaton films (especially the haunted house sections of The Haunted House), and also reminded me of The Haunted Hotel and Hotel Electrique (not to mention Wallace and Gromit, due to the inclusion of a food delivering train set), but the whole things done with such flair and charm I didn’t really mind. I’m not sure I’ll ever really tire of pointless automated contraptions like this on film. Or Buster being scared of “ghosts”.

Not only that, but Buster, as always, knows that even the best of premises can be spiced up a little by the entirely superfluous addition of animals, so half way through we get the delightful appearance of these kittens watching a train of food go past.

Hooray for everything.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray. The screenshots are from a version on youtube.

2. There’s only two more of these Buster Keaton shorts left in the boxset, but they’re both from 1923.

3. So now I have to decide whether to keep to the premise of this website and wait a year to watch them, or break the entire premise of this website and watch them tomorrow because I have no self control at all.

4. Buster is such a temptress.

5. And I am so easily tempted.

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Film Information

Title: The Electric House
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1922
Duration: 24 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Daydreams (1922)

In Daydreams, Buster Keaton must prove he’s man enough to marry a woman by taken on a series of jobs and showing her father he’s not too poor to provide for his wife to be.

The central framing of this film is that Buster, in his quest to actually hold down a job, writes letters home to his girlfriend telling her what he’s doing now. She then daydreams Buster being incredibly successful for a few seconds, before we get an extended sequence of Buster’s complete incompetence. Poor Buster.

This leads us to a series of vaguely related sketches in which Buster is a bad vet, a bad street cleaner, a bad actor, and finally a bad fugitive from the law, which I’m not sure is a job, exactly, but does mean we can get the obligatory Buster vs Cops chase scene to finish off the film (which here includes both an excellent surprise attack on a tram, and a wonderful sequence where he gets stuck on the paddlewheel of a steamboat).

The ending is surprisingly dark, too, with Buster being forced to commit suicide for his failures by his fiance’s father. Poor Buster indeed.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray, and grabbed the stills from this youtube version.

2. The restored version on the blu-ray is missing the first two daydreams of Buster in his job, which that youtube version has.

3. Although only as stills.

4. The restored version has a few extra minutes of stuff through the rest of it though.

5. Including a much longer paddle wheel section.

6. Which is wholly amazing and wonderful.

7. So if you can find a 24 minute version of this elsewhere you should watch that one.

8. In the hope that that bit’s all in there.

9. Also this is at least the second Buster Keaton film I’ve seen where he’s arrested for wearing a skirt (or maybe for not wearing pants, who knows)

10. I wonder if that was a common crime in the 1920s

11. Or just one of Buster’s greatest fears.

12. This film also contains the most astonishing dog I have ever seen.

13. As shown in the picture below.

14. I think that dog later appeared as an extra in The Dark Crystal

15. And if it didn’t it should have done.

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Film Information

Title: Daydreams
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1922
Duration: 24 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

The Frozen North (1922)

In The Frozen North, Buster Keaton plays around in the snow for a bit in this sort of western (with extended fishing interlude).

A parody of films I’ve never seen, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had here anyway, and it’s at least interesting to watch now just for the chance to see Buster Keaton changing his on screen persona from a lovable incompetent to a murderous arsehole (who is still, of course, incompetent), which is kind of shocking to see, really.

The ending, of course, provides him with mitigating circumstances for his behaviour, but the damage has already been done by then. I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from seeing Buster gunning people down in cold blood.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray again. The screenshots are from this near identical version on youtube.

2. The main target of The Frozen North’s parodic intent is supposedly William S. Hart.

3. But as I have never heard of William S. Hart I cannot confirm or deny.

4. But maybe I shall watch some of his films in an attempt to find out.

5. If there are any that still survive.

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Film Information

Title: The Frozen North
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1922
Duration: 18 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

The Blacksmith (1921/1922)

In The Blacksmith, Buster Keaton is a blacksmith. Which makes sense, I suppose (even if he wasn’t a goat in The Goat, or a boat in The Boat, and so on). Although he also seems to be a wheelwright, a farrier, and a car mechanic, too. Which makes slightly less sense, probably. Although is probably just further proof that Buster’s a very talented boy.

This one’s pretty rough, thematically at least, mostly just being a series of disparate sketches occasionally but not always related to blacksmithing. And although I wouldn’t say this is one of Buster Keaton’s best, I still enjoyed it a lot, especially the strangely charming scene where Buster has to get some shoes for a horse.

Which I liked a lot, I really did. I could not tell you why.

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Notes

1. I watched both versions of this on blu-ray. I captured the images from this version on youtube.

2. The Blacksmith has quite an interesting history.

3. For a long time it was considered completely lost, before James Mason found a copy of it in the loft of Buster Keaton’s old house, 30 years or so after Buster Keaton had last lived there.

4. This was assumed (unsurprisingly) to be the release version of the film, but after someone discovered another print of it about ten years ago, it turned out this was only a pre-release version.

5. This new version (released in 1922), has a few new sequences, omits some old ones, has a different start, and some tighter editing in places (I think).

6. The version I grabbed the screenshots from was the 1921 pre-release version.

7. Which is a lot worse than the 1922 actual release version.

8. And although there’s not actually that much that’s different between the two versions (maybe 3 or 4 minutes), it’s quite interesting watching them both just to see how much difference editing can make to the overall quality of things.

9. Unfortunately I can’t find this version on youtube, so you’ll just have to trust me on this.

10. Or buy the Buster Keaton box set I’ve been watching.

11. Which you should, because it’s wonderful.

12. Anyway, here’s an old article about the new version, with a minute or so of some of the new stuff embedded half way down.

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Film Information

Title: The Blacksmith
Directors: Buster Keaton and Malcom St. Clair
Year: 1921/1922
Duration: 22 minutes
Watch: 1921 version (full version); 1922 version (excerpts only)