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Silents Are Golden: The Silent Film guide

Available in Streaming Video

1902 - A Trip to the Moon - Georges Melies
One of the single most iconic silent films and certainly the most famous picture from the pre-feature era, A Trip to the Moon has been studied and discussed for over a century. A Trip to the Moon is a mixture of Jules Verne and h.G. Wells (among other sources) all played with tongue in cheek.

1915 - Birth of a Nation - David Wark (D.W.) Griffith
This film remains one of the most controversial films ever made and a landmark achievement in film history that continues to fascinate and enrage audiences. It is the epic story of two families, one Northern and one Southern, during and after the Civil War. D.W. Griffith's masterful direction combines brilliant battle scenes and tender romance with a vicious portrayal of African-Americans.

1917 - The Immigrant - Charlie Chaplin
The film stars Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character as an immigrant coming to the United States who is accused of theft on the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and falls in love with a beautiful young woman along the way. The scene in which Chaplin's character kicks an immigration officer was cited later as evidence of his anti-Americanism when he was forced to leave the United States in 1952.

1919 - Broken Blossoms - D.W. Griffith
Cheng Huan leaves his native China because he "dreams to spread the gentle message of Buddha to the Anglo-Saxon lands." His idealism fades as he is faced with the brutal reality of London's gritty inner-city. However, his mission is finally realized in his devotion to the "broken blossom" Lucy Burrows (Lillian Gish), the beautiful but unwanted and abused daughter of boxer Battling Burrows.

1920 - Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - Robert Wiene
Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, it tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders. The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets. The film  helped draw worldwide attention to the artistic merit of German cinema and had a major influence on American films, particularly in the genres of horror and film noir.

1920 - The Mark of Zorro - Fred Niblo
Douglas Fairbanks came from Broadway to the movies in 1915 when high salaries were luring well-known stage actors to the new feature-length pictures. Although most of these performers failed to ‘register’ on camera and returned to New York, Fairbanks quickly became a supernova. His energetic, optimistic character, his ingratiating smile, his graceful, acrobatic stunts (he did his own), clever writing, and accomplished staging rapidly made Fairbanks one of the most admired stars in the world.

1922 - Nanook of the North - Robert Flaharty
Robert Flaherty's second film on Eskimos, "Nanook of the North," is one of the world's first examples of a cinema verite' / aesthetic expressionism documentary.

1922 - Blood and Sand - Fred Niblo
HIs 3rd film helped to establish Rudolph Valentino as a star and was one of the most successful films of his career.   Dorothy Arzner worked as the film's editor. Arzner, who would later become one of the first female film directors, used stock footage of bullfights filmed in Madrid interspersed with close-ups of Valentino. Her work on the film helped to solidify her reputation of being a resourceful editor as her techniques also saved Paramount money. She would later say that working on the film was the "first waymark to my claim to a little recognition as an individual.(Wikipedia)

1922 - Nosferatu - F. W. Murnau
Based on Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. "Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in clichés, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than 30 other films. The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires." (Roger Ebert) Starring Max Schreck

1924 - Phantom of the Opera - Rupert Julian
The macabre story is based on French author Gaston Leroux’s novel Le Fantôme de l’opéra (1910). A disfigured eccentric genius (played by Lon Chaney) secretly coaches an aspiring opera singer (Mary Philbin) and forces her to learn to sing majestically. The relationship turns tragic when he falls in love with her and kidnaps her to prevent her from being with her fiancé. “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” as Chaney was known, caused a sensation when the mask of the Phantom was stripped away to reveal what would become one of the most-enduring images in the history of cinema.

1925 - Little Annie Rooney - William Beaudine
Pickford, one of the most successful actresses of the silent era, was best known throughout her career for her iconic portrayals of penniless young girls. After generating only modest box office revenue playing adults in her previous two films, PIckford wrote and produced LIttle Annie Rooney to cater to silent film audiences. Though she was 33 years old, Pickford played the title role, an Irish girl living in the slums of New York City.

1925 - Battleship Potemkin - Sergei Eisenstein
Eisenstein’s tribute to the early Russian revolutionaries and is widely regarded as a masterpiece of international cinema. In the fourth sequence, “The Odessa Steps,” , depicting the massacre of the citizens, the shot of the baby carriage tumbling down the long staircase has been re-created in many films, including Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987).

1926 - The General - Buster Keaton & Charles Reisner.
The story of The General comes from a chapter of Civil War history, a true tale of Union spies who infiltrated the South, stole a passenger train in Georgia, and drove it north pursued by Southern conductors who eventually captured the raiders. Keaton counted The General among his favorite films and it has since been hailed a masterpiece. But, in 1926, it was not so well received. It faced harsh reviews and slow attendance, and thanks to a budget larger than any previous Keaton feature, it lost money. It took decades for its reputation to rise from failure to classic.

1926 - Metropolis - Fritz Lang
Directed by Fritz Lang. In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

1926 - The Adventures of Prince Achmed - Lotte Reiniger
When The Adventures of Prince Achmed premiered in Germany on September 23, 1926 it was hailed as the first full-length animated film. More than seventy-five years later, this enchanting film still stands as one of the great classics of animation - beautiful, mesmerizing and utterly seductive.

1927 - Sunrise, the Story of Two Humans- F.W. Murnau
Sunrise won the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Picture at the 1st Academy Awards in 1929. Janet Gaynor won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in the film, and it was one of the first feature films with a synchronized musical score and sound effects soundtrack.

1927 - The Jazz Singer - Alan Crosland
The Jazz Singer is the first feature-length motion picture with both synchronized recorded music score as well as lip-synchronous singing and speech (in several isolated sequences). It  features six songs performed by Al Jolson. Its release heralded the commercial ascendance of sound films and effectively marked the end of the silent film era.(Wikipedia)

1928 - The Passion of Joan of Arc - Carl Th. Dreyer
Dreyer went to his grave believing that his intended version of the movie had been lost forever. Miraculously, in 1981, a complete print of Dreyer's first, uncensored version of the movie was discovered hidden away in, of all places, a storage closet at a mental institution in Oslo, Norway. That print then became the basis for one of the most important resurrections in cinema history.

1928 - Steamboat Bill, Jr. - Buster Keaton
The film is known for what may be Keaton's most famous film stunt: The facade of a house falls around him while he stands in the precise location of open window to avoid being flattened.

1929 - Pandora's Box - Georg Wilhelm Pabst
The film follows Lulu, a seductive, thoughtless young woman whose raw sexuality and uninhibited nature bring ruin to herself and those who love her. Brooks had "One of the 10 haircuts that changed the world,” according to InStyle magazine!

1929 - Man With A Movie Camera - Dziga Vertov
"I am an eye. A mechanical eye. I am the machine that reveals the world to you as only the machine can see it." - Dziga Vertov 
These words, written in 1923 (only a year after Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North was released) reflect the Soviet pioneer's developing approach to cinema as an art form that shuns traditional or Western narrative in favor of images from real life. They lay the foundation for what would become the crux of Vertov's revolutionary, anti-bourgeois aesthetic wherein the camera is an extension of the human eye, capturing the chaos of visual phenomena filling the universe.

1930 - Earth - Alexander Dovzhenko
"Earth" is the third film, with Zvenigora and Arsenal, of Dovzhenko's "Ukraine Trilogy". The script was inspired by Dovzhenko's life and experience of the process of collectivization in his native Ukraine. That process, which was the backdrop of the film and its production, informed its reception in the Soviet Union, which was largely negative.