Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Haxan (1922)

Haxan is a 1922 documentary directed by Benjamin Christensen that explores and depicts the history of witchcraft and witch hunts in the middle ages.

Using various devices such as stills of medieval woodcuts and manuscripts, dramatisations of actual events, recreations of recollections, stop motion animations, and some pretty lurid sex and nudity (by 1920s standards, at least), Haxan isn’t so much a documentary as a near two hour nightmare, surprisingly unsettling in many ways, not least the wholly demented behaviour of the witch-hunting clerics and monks.

This was banned on release across a lot of Europe, and in America too, just as much for it having the temerity to portray the church as absurdly evil as for its nudity and naughtiness (there’s a wonderful scene of the witches all giving Satan a surprisingly chaste kiss on the arse).

Even a hundred years later there’s still a strange, mesmerising power to its imagery, the ferocity of the performances and the sheer strange delight in some of the black mass scenes that’s kind of unsettling, a weird energy that’s impossible to ignore.

The final section, where it contrasts witch hunt mania to 20th century psychiatric diagnoses of female hysteria, feels startlingly modern, too, after all that’s gone before, and ends the film on a fittingly upsetting note.

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Notes

1. I watched this on an old Tartan Video DVD.

2. Which contained two versions – the original 1922 version, with Danish intertitles (basically this youtube version that I took the screenshots from), and various different soundtracks (included what supposedly was the original score from its premiere), and a 1968 American re-edited version called Witchcraft Through The Ages, with a William Burroughs narration and a wonderfully demented 60s jazz soundtrack.

3. I hadn’t seen that version before and it was wonderful, especially the nice stark black and white look, which I like a lot more than the red tinting on the majority of the 1922 version.

4. And William Burroughs has the best voice. He really does.

5. Anyway I’d seen this a couple of times before.

6. Once was the original version on Film Four a few years back.

7. And the other time was about ten years ago in a pub in Chelmsford, where a textless edit of the film was being projected onto a sheet while a very loud band played a live soundtrack to it very loudly.

8. Which was wonderful obviously

9. I have no idea who the band were I’m afraid.

10. They sounded quite a lot like Earth

11. But they were not Earth.

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Film Information

Title: Haxan
Director: Benjamin Christensen
Year: 1922
Duration: 1 hour 46 minutes
Watch: youtube; Mark Kermode BFI Intro

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901) / The Death of Poor Joe (1900)

Scrooge, Or Marley’s Ghost is the oldest Christmas Carol adaptation on film, ade in 1901 by WR Booth (who directed a few other films I’ve already reviewed here, if you’re interested in).

This is a very quick run through of A Christmas Carol, assuming the audience already knows the story, and instead simply condensing the whole thing down into five scenes (although unfortunately the last one seems to have been lost at some point in the century since).

But still, we get the three visions of past, present and future, with some nice early double exposure trick shots to help portray the ghosts, and some good overacting from Scrooge (I especially like his “Look! It’s me!” turn to the camera when he sees the scene from his past).

Because it’s so short, this is fairly slight all round, but it’s pretty charming nonetheless, and I like how utterly delighted the children in Bob Cratchit’s scene seem to be. I was also kind of surprised to see the word ‘Xmas’ here, but apparently that’s hundreds of years old and not some relatively modern invention like I’d obviously previously assumed. Maybe X isn’t quite the futuristically cool letter I’d always thought it to be.

Now, while Scrooge was the oldest Christmas Carol adaptation, the oldest Dickens film is the (very short) Death Of Poor Joe, which was made a year or so earlier, in 1900. A whole minute of ultra misery, this recreates a single scene from Bleak House, and there’s not much to say about it really (I have never read Bleak House, so the full sadness of the situation is lost on me, I’m afraid).

But for completeness’s sake I have included it here.

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Notes

1. I watched Scrooge, Or Marley’s Ghost on the BFI Player

2. But it’s also on youtube if you can’t see the BFI Player version.

3. Although that version seems to be played at double the speed of the one on the BFI site.

4. I don’t know why.

5. Also I watched this while listening to this version of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence by Ryuichi Sakamoto, which seemed to fit rather nicely.

6. Although it’s such a lovely bit of music it probably fits nicely with everything.

7. Also, I watched The Death Of Poor Joe on the BFI Player too.

8. And that’s available on youtube too.

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Film Information

Title: Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost
Director: WR Booth
Year: 1901
Duration: 6 minutes
Watch: BFI Player; youtube

Title: The Death Of Poor Joe
Director: GA Smith
Year: 1900
Duration: 1 minutes
Watch: BFI Player; youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Felix In The Swim (1922) / Felix Comes Back (1922)

Here we have two different 100year old Felix The Cat cartoons, both of which are directed by Margaret J. Winkler, who took over producing duties from Pat Sullivan and Paramount Pictures in 1922 and made over 60 Felix The Cat cartoons between then and 1925.

I’ve never quite worked out why Felix The Cat was so wildly popular for so long (it’s not that he’s necessarily bad, it’s just that he’s not that good), and Felix In The Swim (one of 17 Felix The Cat cartoons released in 1922 alone) doesn’t really do much to illuminate things, with some pretty charmless visuals, inert jokes and consistently bad comic timing (although the mice playing the piano are lovely).

Felix Comes Back, though, from later in the year, is much better, with better animation, funnier jokes, some inventive mild surrealism, and a penguin in the Arctic (where all the best cartoon penguins live).

So, if you’re going to watch one hundred year old Felix The Cat cartoon today, make it that one. Or maybe one of the other fifteen, who knows.

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Notes

1. I watched both of these on youtube. Felix In The Swim has added sound effects and music, which don’t actually add that much, while Felix Comex Back is nice and silent, just as nature intended.

2. I previously reviewed a couple of earlier Felix The Cat cartoons on here: Feline Follies (1919) and Frolics At The Circus (1920).

3. Oddly, the title of Felix Comes Back spoils the final joke (when Felix does indeed come back).

4. But maybe they were worried you’d think he was trapped in the Arctic forever otherwise.

5. And didn’t want anyone to become upset.

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Film Information

Title: Felix In The Swim
Director: Otto Messmer
Year: 1922
Duration: 7 minutes
Watch: youtube

Title: Felix Comes Back
Director: Otto Messmer
Year: 1922
Duration: 7 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912)

The Cameraman’s Revenge is a Russian animation from 1912, directed by Ladislas Starevich, in which he uses stop motion animated dead insects to tell a slightly baffling tale of infidelity, voyeurism and revenge, for some reason.

Two beetles in a loveless marriage run off whenever they can to have affairs, one with an artist (another beetle), the other with a showgirl (a dragonfly), while the projectionist at the local cinema (he’s a grasshopper, I think) uses his camera to film the showgirl’s affair through the keyhole in the hotel door.

Then there’s just about enough time for some fist fights and confrontations and other odd convolutions of plot before we reach the end.

Anyway, and unsurprisingly, I liked this a lot. The animation’s great (although the picture quality is terrible, so obscures a lot of it), there’s some wonderful touches (especially when everyone goes to the cinema and their watching the scenes we’ve already seen projected onto their little cinema screen), and it’s surprisingly prescient in it’s prediction of mobile phone and hidden camera voyeurism, although the idea that the local cinema would be where you showed all this rather than on the grottier corners of the internet is quite wide of the mark.

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Notes

1. I watched this on youtube.

2. There’s probably other versions available.

3. And hopefully better quality ones somewhere (although I didn’t find any).

4. This is one of the problems of watching old films on the internet, all the general degradations of film over time combined with video conversion fuzziness and youtube compression artefacts until everything’s a complete visual mess.

5. Which is a shame, because I expect this looked incredible at the time.

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Film Information

Title: The Cameraman’s Revenge
Director: Ladislas Starevich
Year: 1912
Duration: 13 minutes
Watch: youtube

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 Erich 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