I am a super fan of silent film and demand that you all see these films before you die. Movie friends have been after my basic silent movie list forever so here it is. These ARE listed in specific order. (I will be compiling additional movie lists so that you can have intelligent direction when you go hunting. If I left one of your favorites off then I either missed it or your taste in movies is crap. Kidding. Sorta.) Enjoy.
1) MERTROPOLIS 1927. Get the 2002 Kino Video release of this futuristic Fritz Lang socio-sci-fi masterpiece. More relevant now than ever. You will be amazed at the depth of the story and the effects that, unlike today's popcorn sci-fi films, actually propel the plot forward. This is the gold standard of the genre.
2) NOSFERATU 1922. In my opinion there has NEVER been a vampire movie made to date that captures the accuracy and other worldly horror of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu. Sorry, but when compared to the the filthy predatory evil of Nosferatu, Lugosi's Universal film version is about as scary as a grade school play. This is a nightmare on celluloid. *Feel free to watch Universal's Shadow of the Vampire featuring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe, as a double feature billing with Nosferatu. It furthers the original adaptation of the Dracula novel-based Nosferatu film in a delightfully twisted way.* Available on Alpha Video.
Twilight fans beware. There are no shave-chested faggot pretty boys in this film. Your film versions suck in a whole different way. (This remark is not sponsored by TIGER BEAT and 16 magazines.)
3) THE MAN WHO LAUGHS 1928. Get the Kino Video release of this heart-breaking sadistic romantic drama by Victor Hugo starring Conrad Veidt and Mary Philbin. The cruelty of this film is perfectly balanced by the heroic nature of Gwynplaine, the kidnapped son of a nobleman, who has his face mutilated into a horrible haunting smile. His love interest being that of a blind girl who performs in a traveling freak show that has taken him in. A 'must see' for the progressive German Expressionist fan. *This film is also of interest to Batman fans for obvious reasons concerning the visual image of the Joker character lifted point blank from the lead character, but should be viewed solely on it's own deserving merit.*
4) SHADOWS 1922. The tale of a Japanese laundryman who is mistreated by the good religious citizens of a small New England town where he has washed up after a shipwreck. Yen Sin is played to emotional heights by the great Lon Chaney. This is the first American film to show an Asian character as being someone larger than the ethnic comical image of the time in which it was produced. If this film doesn't make you cry and cheer then you completely devoid of anything human. Available on Alpha Video.
5) DR. JEKYLL and MR. HYDE 1920. This version of Robert Louis Stevenson's dual-nature classic features John Barrymore in one of his greatest roles. Unlike the newer versions of this epic that only seem interested in exploiting the visual change to evil and back again theme, this take keys in on the spiritual aspect of a man hellbent on escaping the purity of his chaste life and the secret beast that wants to break free within. There are some amazing moments herein including one featuring the evil Hyde breaking the back of a child in broad daylight, the infamous giant spider scene and the original transformation where Barrymore does every bit of it without the use of makeup. This is the definitive and truest version of the tale. Available on Alpha Video.
6) THE GOLEM 1920. When the Jewish citizens of a ghetto community in 16th century Prague rise up against their arrogant oppressors, their Rabbi creates a soulless defender of living clay with the use of forbidden sorcery: The Golem. The creature, created by means not sanctioned by the Jewish religious tradition, soon falls into the wrong hands and goes on to destroy everything in sight. Visually stunning and made from a very German perspective. Hmmmm. Bound to cause some conversation. Available from Alpha Video.
7) BIRTH OF A NATION 1915. There's a lot to love and abominate about this historic romp by legendary filmmaker D.W. Griffith. There are breathtaking film techniques presented here that were never done before and on a scale that was decades ahead of their time. Griffith was no man of small vision. If there was a top then he was waay over it with experimentation - that seemed to always astound. After directing over 500 short films for the Edison Studios between 1908 and 1914, he made this masterpiece. Behold: the first full-length movie in American history. This is a docu-drama about the Civil War up until the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the wars end. The battle scenes are authentic and heroic on every level. The second half of the film contains the Reconstruction period and ..the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. WTH?! Somehow D.W. didn't get his facts right and decided to use the film to hype the activities of the social supermen of his day who he honestly believed were on the side of good. Oops! Moral: Always do your research before jumping to conclusions about anyone claiming to do justice in a religious costume consisting of a sheet. Griffith admitted his blatant error and went on to make Intolerance as a sort of apology. Nonetheless, Birth of a Nation is masterpiece on every visual level. Available on Alpha Video.
8) AVANT-GARDE (EXPERIMENTAL CINEMA OF THE 1920s AND '30S) This is an amazing collection of 24 short experimental films created by names like Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger, Man Ray, Hans Richter, Jean Epstein, Orson Welles and many others. Haunting, amusing, beautiful, grotesque, stunning, dreamlike...it's all here. This 2 DVD set collects films from the Raymond Rohauer experimental cinema archives. A hard to find but worth the effort set produced by Kino Video. This is a gift that you give to yourself.
9) THE PHANTOM of the OPERA 1924. Like many classic horror films this has been remade countless times and with different perspectives. This version starring Lon Chaney is by far the cornerstone. Set in Paris, France it features an obsessive creepy love story between a beautiful young opera singer and a hideously deformed but classically trained composer who lives deep in the bowels of the sewers below. The unmasking of the Phantom has never been duplicated for it's fright value. The ending is not the happy one that modern interpretations offer. This one is cold blooded and chilling. This version is the one that haunts. Available from Alpha Video.
10) EDISON'S FRANKENSTEIN 1910. Yeah. It's pretty darn self serving for me to list this film here at the expense of others but, hey...IT'S MY BLOG. This short 13 minute film was created by the Edison Film Company and predates the Universal Frankenstein release by decades. It is loosely based on the 1818 Mary Shelley novel but takes liberty in making the monster from absolute scratch and the mystic arts rather than the reanimation of sewn together body parts. The society of that day felt that the creation of life by man was a blasphemy and all of the films were destroyed making it one of the great lost films in American history. An eccentric film collector, Alois Dettlaff found the only existing copy of the film in the 1950s. Before his death, Dettlaff burned 1000 copies of the epic onto signed and numbered DVDs. The film is now missing once again. In 2003 I had the pleasure of working with illustrator Robb Bihun and historian Fred Wiebel on a graphic novel featuring the film. It quickly sold out. A version of the graphic novel, minus the historic text, is slated to be re-released in the fall of 2010 just in time to celebrate the films 100th anniversary. It may be the only way to 'see' this film. For more information simply email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To get a great book about the history of the film and a bonus disc with an altered/restored version of the movie look for Fred's book over at the online TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES store. Worth every dime.