With but two days left in 2015, it’s time to take stock of the year. Here are a bunch of my thoughts, and a prizegiving of sorts!
Writing about film
This year, I continued to look closely at the 1910s Italian cinema (especially the divas), covered a couple of Chinese silents, as well as titles from Spain and Portugal. My focus generally stayed on women on the silent screen; to that end I published an article on Emilie Sannom that may well be the most information about her available in English. I really enjoyed writing up various books, and interviewing nitrate specialist Bin Li. One of my favourite posts (and one of the most popular) was on early space travel films, To the stars and beyond: movies dream of outer space, 1898-1910. I undertook quite a lot of research in different forms and found it really rewarding.
I gained new readers and very much appreciated peoples’ feedback and comments. I was even visited by scifi royalty!
Live cinema event of the year
I think I only saw the one live silent film, which was Pál Fejős’ Lonesome (US 1928), a slight but charming film with dazzling camerawork and editing. So it wins by default, but it was a really lovely event that my friends and I all really enjoyed! Lawrence Arabia and the Carnivorous Plant Society collaborated on the accompaniment, which was excellent—Mr. Arabia’s solo music isn’t really my cup of tea, but he and his collaborators did a great job.
Silent film release of the year
Undoubtedly a huge film highlight of 2015 was La maison de mystère | The House of Mystery (FR 1923), Alexandre Volkoff’s brilliant serial starring Ivan Mosjoukine, who, regular readers will know, is one of my favourite actors. The DVD booklet headlines it as “the art film as serial”—and rightfully so, as it’s a beautiful film, a rollicking yarn but also an enthralling and human story. Don’t walk, run to Flicker Alley and get a copy! You won’t regret it. Here’s a visual taster:
Bizarro silent film story of the year
Someone STOLE F. W. Murnau’s skull. Really. You might call this … mind-boggling (… sorry). The skull is still at large.
Silent film book of the year
There were some great releases this year. The key ones for me were Jean Desmet’s Dream Factory: The Adventurous Years of Film, 1907-1916, poetry collection Silents by Claire Crowther, The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915-1935 by James Layton and David Pierce, and Fantasia of Colour in Early Cinema, published by EYE Filmmuseum. Look out for a writeup on the latter two titles in the near future.
Intertitle of the year
For its sheer operatic intensity and overall diva-ness, I find it hard to beat this gem from Lyda Borelli’s Malombra (1917).
One hundred years ago: 1915
I’ve covered quite a few films from 1915. I still think that После смерти | After Death (RU) is one of the strongest, but I also want to mention the fun of sky piratess Filibus (IT), the sincerity and strength of Francesca Bertini’s Assunta Spina (IT), Pina Menichelli’s outrageous vamp in Il fuoco (IT), and the highly interesting dance star Tórtola Valencia in Pasionaria (ES). In terms of social significance, the most important American film of 1915 is clearly D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation; but in terms of films I actually want to watch, Cecil B. DeMille had a great year with both The Cheat and Carmen.
Most misogynistic film
The Clinging Vine (US 1926). I didn’t do my homework on this one: all I knew was that Leatrice Joy was rocking a suit.
Unfortunately, despite Joy’s likeability, this film is profoundly sexist and unfunny. It’s par for the course (although unusually blatant) that the male characters express sentiments like this:
But Joy’s character A.B. also gets lines like this:
Another intertitle perfectly expresses my reaction.
A.B. gets a makeover (which is strangely childlike in its trappings, rather than the sleek flapper fashions Joy should rightfully have worn), learns to attract men by acting vacant (the four magic words: “oh, do go on!”), and has a romance with the world’s dumbest man. The film does undercut itself in some ways and there’s probably a semi-interesting essay to be written about the gender politics of the film and Joy’s gender performance in it, but the whole thing just let a bad taste in my mouth. My advice is to skip it and instead imagine an alternate universe where A.B. assumes her rightful role as HBIC (Hot Butch in Charge).
I have a lot of good movie memories from 2015: drinking wine, eating dumplings and watching silliness (as well as good films) with my best pals; La maison de mystère film club with Stef & Nic; the brief Bondathon my flat had in wintertime; hungover diva film watching with E; doing The Fifth Element for Halloween (I was Zorg, my friend was Leeloo, and we absolutely killed it, if I say so myself. And yes, I had a soulpatch on). More generally in my life, it was a really good year, which was very welcome after the crappiness of 2014. I didn’t achieve all of my goals (who does?), but I did alright with them, and I had my fair share of adventures. I went to China, I made a disco ball out of old CDs for my best friend’s birthday, I swam in the sea most months in the year. It was a year of prioritizing relationships: friends are family, and community is vital, I really believe that. I turned thirty, which seems like A Milestone, but I can’t be too fussed about it—I generally feel a more happy and interesting person with each passing year. Here’s looking forward to a fulfilling and fun 2016.
The year ahead …
On this site. What’s in store for Silents, Please in 2016? My posting schedule may slow down a bit as I make room for other projects, but I’m planning a few ‘100 years ago’ posts, a recap of my visit to the Shanghai Filmmuseum, various book reviews, and an article on fashion films. Diva December will surely be held a third time, too. I also want to cover films from a greater variety of countries, particularly those that are generally underrepresented in silent film fandom. So look out for one or two Antipodean titles, as well as a piece on Teuvo Tulio, called the Finnish Valentino.
Bold prediction: Edition Filmmuseum release the Barnet twofer that has been forthcoming for over five years. Haha … maybe. My actual bold prediction is for Cineteca di Bologna to release Giovanni Pastrone’s Tigre Reale (1916), starring Pina Menichelli, as part of their Cento anni fa series. Please?
I hope you all had a fun-filled filmic year, and feel free to tell me about your cinematic highlights!