Hey, Barbecutie

Archive for January 2012

So you’ve watched and loved The Artist. You liked its smooth leading men, charming ingénues, black and whiteness and best of all, none of that god damned talking. Well, great news, because there’s decades of early silent cinema just like The Artist for you to seek out and enjoy. Here’s my selections for a gateway to the delights of silent cinema.

City Lights

And why not start with the most famous? Chaplin’s little tramp made a simple transition from silent to talkies but didn’t need a voice to make the world laugh, cry and generally feel some serious emotions. In fact, things seem a tad sentimental in the age of cynicism, but that doesn’t take away from the deft storytelling and endearing antics. In City Lights, the tramp falls for a blind girl, and finds himself negotiating the world of work to pay for her operation.

The General

Full feature
While Chaplin is the icon, for my money, Buster Keaton is the genius. Famed for his poker face, Keaton’s films have aged remarkably well. In The General, Keaton is a railroad engineer rejected from the Confederate army for being more valuable in his current role, and is then shunned by his girl for cowardice. He and his train, the titular General, end up stuck between the two armies, and he has to warn his compatriots and rescue his kidnapped love. Combined with treacherous stunts and dry humour, The General is a film out of time, one of the greatest films of any decade, and somehow a huge flop on its 1926 release.

It

It wasn’t only the men who were headlining classic comedies. Clara Bow was one of the biggest stars of the silent era. Her flirtatious naivety and knowing sexuality sets the tone for every female screen comedian since, including Berenice Bejo’s Peppy Miller. In It, the original It girl is a sassy shopgirl who falls for her boss – a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in any romcom today. Bow’s flapper joie de vivre went out of style after the Wall Street Crash, and her thick Brooklyn accent ended her career on the coming of sound, but for a while, Bow was the shining star of the silver screen.

Safety Last

The last of the Big Three screen comedians, Lloyd is responsible for one iconic image – dangling from a clockface off a skyscraper. The enthusiastic go-getter to Chaplin’s wide-eyed tramp and Keaton’s stone faced irony, here Lloyd attempts to make it in the big city, and fails at every point, until he meets a challenge to climb a skyscraper for $1000.

The Girl With The Hat Box

The glory of silent cinema is how easily a film with no dialogue translates across territories, and of course, it wasn’t just the US churning out classics. Amongst others, Russia had an extremely healthy kino industry, more than just newsreel and propaganda but social issue pictures and the occasional delightful romcom, such as this, starring Anna Sten who would go on to make a name in Hollywood. Sten works in a hatshop, and longs for a railroad worker while pursued by a student. Meanwhile her boss has just won the lottery but the ticket has disappeared. Proving convoluted plots could be just as charming in any language, and indeed, no language, The Girl With The Hat Box is as fresh as anything made over 80 years later.

Bonus: Les Voyage Dans Le Lune

It’s not just The Artist that has been raising the profile of silent cinema. Hugo is the culmination of Scorsese’s passion for the form, examining the mechanics and history behind the birth of cinema, and specifically, the work of the visionary Georges Melies, who depicted fantastical worlds with more originality and verve than most directors working today. This is a good use of your time.

Well, I’ve finally got round to creating a seperate blog for stories, mostly because I’m ashamed of directing interested people to this hodgepodge of rambling nonsense as a means of “expanding” my “literary” “career”. So if you wish to read some story tales before you drift to sleep, please do visit bronaghfegan.wordpress.com, where all your dreams come true wait no I can’t promise that. Sorry.

The only resolution for 2011 that I managed to keep (and how) was to catalogue every film I watched throughout the year. I watch a lot of films. Some pretentious and in foreign speak, some pointless and centred around bodily fluids. And a couple of them were pretty good. I think I probably expected some kind of grand epiphany. More likely, it was a symptom of a nervous breakdown. Nonetheless, it was the one area of my life I had any control over.

In 2011, I watched 159 films, which is around 13 a month or 3 a week. This says that I either watch too many or not enough films, depending on your point of view. My most cineaste month was January, implying that my enthusiasm for the project crumbled fairly earlier on. My least filmy month was November, implying that I was incredibly socially popular that month, and also that my laptop broke so I was unable to watch any dvds.

My most watched film was Bridesmaids, which I saw 3 times, which I suppose kind of follows, given that it’s a phenomenon, what with women turning out to be funny and also being able to wear dresses in magazines and all that. It is a very good film, so I’m okay with how it turned out. My least watched film is all the films that didn’t make my list, because I didn’t watch them.

I can’t say I disliked any film this year. I tend to be fairly open minded, and if I suspect I won’t like a film, I won’t watch it, as I’m a big fan of autonomy. There are plenty I wouldn’t watch again, but that’s more to do with how I will at some point die and would rather spend my remaining days watching new films and rewatching films I like a lot. I think that’s reasonable.

Amongst my favourite films of the year (new, not re-watches) were True Grit (2010), Bridesmaids, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Martha Marcy May Marlene, but my favourite was Submarine. Submarine I saw twice, after starting to read the novel and losing interest very early on, but the combination of Richard Ayoade and some of my favourite actors got me extremely interested. On the first watch, I was disappointed. Something about it left me cold, a bit upset, really. Not that I was expecting banana skins, but it was so melancholy. But it stuck with me. After a few months, and the dampening of my own mood, I felt a weird, intense yearning to see it again. Then, I saw its wry humour, the admirably self-involved protagonist, the delicate sketching of relationship dynamics, self-destruction, wrapped up in a visually beautiful and creative shell.

I can’t resign the exercise without saying one last thing: this was really difficult. It took some of the pleasure out of the film-watching experience. I found myself assessing the quality of each film before I watched it, knowing that at some point I wanted to put the final list online. Could I live with myself knowing that my friends and respected peers knowing I spent an evening watching The Devil Wears Prada? So I switched over halfway through. (Perhaps what was more harrowing was the realisation of my own snobbery.) Of course there’s plenty of crap that did make it onto the list. But this kind of regimented examination sucked the joy from one of the most valuable elements of the process – the freedom. Cinema is meant, at its heart, to take you away. They tell fantastical stories, introduce characters that intrigue us, show us a familiar world in a new way. It’s hard to take a voyage through the medium with the albatross of self-image around your neck. This year, I will be watching whatever I damn well please whenever I want.

Below the cut is the complete list of every film I watched in 2011:
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