Robert F. McGowan – Mary, Queen of Tots (1925)

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A couple makes dolls modeled on neighborhood kids. A gardener at a mansion buys four of them for Mary, the girl of the house. He’s her only friend: her parents neglect her for work and card games and her governess is humorless. Mary loves the dolls and dreams of them during her nap. While Mary sleeps, the governess throws the dolls in the dust bin. Mary wakes and goes searching – outside she runs into the very same four kids who were the dolls’ models, and she thinks she’s still dreaming. She invites them back to the mansion where she’ll either make fast friends or the gang will need to make a fast getaway when the governess finds them. Continue reading

Robert Wiene – I.N.R.I. AKA Crown of Thorns (1923)

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By the director of Cabinet of Dr.Caligari, this is the Passion embedded in a contemporary story. An anarchist jailed for an attempted assassination is told the Passion story by the prison chaplain, who seeks to convince him that it is better to sacrifice ones own life than take the life of ones enemy. The framing story, taken from a novel, is believed to have been intended to give the Biblical story an anti-Bolshevist propaganda function. In any case, it was added without the knowledge of the actors in the Passion story, who included some of the major stars of the period Asta Nielsen as Mary Magdalene, Henny Porten as Mary, Grigori Chmara as Jesus, and Werner Krauss as Pontius Pilate -bampfa.berkeley.edu Continue reading

Friedrich Ermler – Parizhskii sapozhnik AKA The Parisian Cobbler AKA Paris Shoemaker (1927)

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Friedrich Ermler (1898-1967) remains one of the shadowy figures of the early Soviet cinema, known if at all for his psychological parable Fragment of an Empire. But he was a major force among the Leningrad filmmakers of the 1920s and ’30s, whose sympathies lay closer to youth and realism than to the monumental frescoes of the Moscow ‘masters.’ The Parisian Cobbler is impossible to hide from inquisitive looks and gossips in a small provincial town. Film tackled a controversial theme head-on: the sexual exploitation of women by party activists in the name of ‘free love.’ Hapermill worker, Young Communist Leaguer Katya and Andrei are not hiding their love. All of a sudden Katya’s radiant hopes break to pieces: Andrei is indignant to hear the news that Katya is expecting a baby. He does not want “to change diapers”, this “trivial life” will interfere with his plans to “build bright future”. Katya is befriended by a cobbler who, as a mute, knows what it is to be a social outcast. Ermler’s spare and uncompromising style reveals the extent to which realism was already on the agenda before it became a repressive slogan in the mid-thirties. As usual with Ermler, the film is not only about a problem, but is also about everyday life. Continue reading

Enrico Guazzoni – Fabiola (1918)

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Quote:
Italian film’s early master of the historical spectacle, Enrico Guazzoni, was responsible for the second of (at least) three film adaptations of Nicholas Patrick Wiseman’s classic novel about Christianity’s rise in ancient Rome. Aside from the usual great production values of these silent epics, what surprises here is perhaps the rather graphic violence. And, the film is further notable for being Elena Sangro’s debut (when she was still going by the name Maria Antonietta Bartoli-Avveduti) in the title role no less. Continue reading

Grigori Aleksandrov & Sergei M. Eisenstein – Oktyabr AKA October AKA Ten Days That Shook the World (1928)

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Description: Expanding on his editing experiments in Battleship Potemkin (1925), Sergei Eisenstein melded documentary realism with narrative metaphor to depict the pivotal events of the Russian Revolution in October (1927). Commissioned to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution, Eisenstein focused on a few key events from February 1917 to October 1917. Underlining the symbolic importance of those episodes, Eisenstein constructed October as an elaborate “intellectual montage,” deriving meaning from the metaphorical or symbolic relationships between shots. Drawing out narrative time through cutting, Eisenstein turns an opening drawbridge into a sign of the divisive struggle in St. Petersburg. Similarly exaggerating the time that it takes provisional leader Kerensky to climb a palatial staircase, and intercutting shots of Kerensky with a Napoleon statue and a mechanical peacock, Eisenstein satirically reveals Kerensky’s imperial hubris and vanity. Having done extensive research for accuracy, Eisenstein also staged mass battles, particularly the storming of the Winter Palace, with thousands of extras, including the Soviet army. Before October’s release, however, Josef Stalin’s ascent to power required Eisenstein to edit out all references to Stalin rival Trotsky. Neither the Soviet public nor the Soviet leaders cared for the finished film; the government accused Eisenstein of “formalist excess.” An edited version of the film was released in the U.S. using the title of John Reed’s book, Ten Days That Shook the World. While the film’s whole is not as great as its parts, the abstract power and narrative innovation of its greatest sequences still render it a seminal work in the development of film form.
~Lucia Bozzola allmovie Continue reading