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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 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)

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This Film Is 100 Years Old

My Wife’s Relations (1922)

In My Wife’s Relations, Buster Keaton plays an effete taffy salesman who accidentally marries into a family of burly working class sorts. Misunderstandings and mayhem ensue.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this one. Comedies of manners aren’t exactly my thing, especially when they’re comedies of manners 100 years and 10000 miles away from any I really understand (what even is taffy?). But Buster has a consistently excellent series of exasperated expressions, there’s a pretty great dinner scene, and the restored ending is marvellous, with a perfectly staged escape from five floors up via numerous window awnings all the way to the ground, so it’s not an entirely wasted watch by any means.

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Notes

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

2. None of the youtube versions seem to have the restored ending, so I couldn’t get a shot of my favourite scene.

3. But it was pretty good I promise.

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Film Information

Title: My Wife’s Relations
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1922
Runtime: 25 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Cops (1922)

Cops is yet another Buster Keaton short from 1922, in which, after a series of comedic mishaps, Buster Keaton will be chased by every policeman in the city.

This one is very odd. There’s almost 8 whole minutes, I think, of Buster riding a horse drawn cart very slowly around New York before we get to the madcap chase scene at the end. Buster’s accidental crimes involve pickpocketing, theft, and blowing up half the policemen in New York. And at the end, because he’s failed to convince his love to marry him, it’s heavily implied he commits suicide by cop.

It’s great, but definitely pretty weird, all in all.

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Notes

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

2. I’ve had some sort of mild flu all week, and maybe that contributed to this all feeling like a weird and unsettling fever dream at some points.

3. Also I love Buster Keaton’s commitment to using some of his most amazing stunts as almost easily missable throwaway jokes at the ends of scenes, such as his parachuting off a cliff with a blanket in The Paleface yesterday.

4. And then this astonishing escape towards the end of this one.

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Film Information

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

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

The Paleface (1922)

The Paleface is a Buster Keaton comic western, in which Buster is sentenced to death for trespassing on Native lands.

I’d sort of been dreading this one, based on the name alone, assuming it wouldn’t have aged particularly well (it has not aged particularly well). I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so tedious and jokeless though.

There’s a few bits of good classic Buster here, with possibly the best “getting onto a horse” joke in his repertoire, and a section where he falls down a hill for a minute or so, but mostly I found it slightly wearying, to be honest.

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Notes

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

2. Also hooray, I am actually up to 1922 now.

3. Finally doing my job.

4. It’s strange, though, how, with each passing year it feels like I’m catching up to now a bit more.

5. Despite 100 years ago always being 100 years ago.

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Film Information

Title: The Paleface
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1922
Runtime: 25 minutes