Within the last couple of months I've seen some absolutely wonderful silent films. My favorite of the bunch being Ménilmontant. That's an impressive one - in the how complex, both emotionally and psychologically, the storytelling is and in its technical effectiveness. And because it's only thirty something minutes, I've watched it three times. I also love Nadia Sibirskaďa's performance.
I was also watching a bit of von Sternberg. I had previously seen The Last Command, his 1928 war-time collaboration with Emil Jannings, on the big screen a few years ago and that left an impression. In my eyes, his style is flawless. I might not have thought it based solely on The Last Command, but if I did, Underworld and The Docks Of New York reinforced beyond solidity. Visually, he is anything but spontaneous, but there is a poetry in his precision that I feel no filmmaker has since matched. Underworld has a big fun story - told by one of cinema's great storytellers, Ben Hecht - with a big, dumb, and very effective central performance by George Bancroft. I liked it a lot. The Docks Of New York was beautiful to look at, but I can't say I remember too much of it off-hand. I liked it, I know that, but it didn't have a narrative as satisfying as Underworld's and I had just seen that, but still a good film in its own right, and I liked Bancroft's performance here even more here - he had a brooding presence when he was quiet, even-tempered. Compston was nice and effective, too. (It's probably just as good as Underworld, actually. Hecht's story is a lot more operatic, whereas Brackett's is delicate and affected.)
Around Halloween time, I watched The Fall Of The House Of Usher which I've now seen twice and consider an absolute favorite. It's utterly transfixing and with that, hypnotic. I love, love, love the central performance given by Jean Debucourt as Roderick Usher, an 18th century man obsessed with painting his wife, therein immortalizing her, before her illness causes her to fade completely from this world. It also has some of the most poignant music choices that play heavily into the film's intellectual, yet hallucinatory atmosphere. it simply takes me out of this time, out of this world, and into a lonelier time of obsession and destitution. A+
I also watched most of Broken Blossoms but fell asleep. I like the story and the acting (Barthelmess is a fantastic actor) but the inter titles are so archaic that I would have rather not had them at all, at least for the most part. The images, the visual storytelling, is effective, which, given that this is film by one of cinema's first directors, is fitting. That sentence is so simple, but the point is that the movie is good because it's doing a good job at being a movie. Does anyone have a favorite Richard Barthelmess performance?
I've seen some really wonderful and influential silent films lately!
And even though it isn't a silent film, it does feature a couple of silent staples with Emil Jannings and Josef von Sternberg, I'd just like to give a shout out to The Blue Angel which I saw in tandem with the rest of these, and absolutely loved.