Not to lure you away from the safe and nurturing environment that is the Amoeblog, but, for those of you interested in reading it with your eyes, here is a link to a recent interview I had with one of my favorites, Marianne Faithfull.
Now then, on to a topic that is not oft spoke of; that is, silent films. Amoeba Music Hollywood has a small but rich silent film section which, at this writing, is located on the mezzanine. I’m taking this opportunity to advocate a greater appreciation and exploration of this antiquated genre.
For many people, silent films are a known but ignored craft, as though the technological progress that married sound to film rendered the silent precursors an inferior product. While I do hail “talkies” as a wonderful invention, I still feel there is much joy to be had in silent cinema. If nothing else, knowing a bit about it can be enough to get you laid by art-school chicks taking a break from experimenting with bisexuality.
The first silent I saw that rocked me was the tragic drama Pandora’s Box [original, German title: Die Büchse der Pandora]. Released in 1929 and directed by Austrian Georg Wilhelm Pabst, it stars the gorgeous and gifted Louise Brooks in the lead role.
Another gem I treasure is Wings, the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture (and the only silent film to do so). Released in 1927 and directed by William A. Wellman, it stars Clara Bow, the quintessential flapper icon, and has a cameo by not-yet-superstar Gary Cooper.
Clara Bow emerged from a childhood fraught with poverty and abuse to become a top Hollywood box-office draw. Her brash manners earned her scorn among celebrity circles, however, and after retiring from the movie business, she was reduced to living inside a milk carton and selling her toes for Necco Wafers.*
Clara Bow, coupled with pop vocal singer, Helen Kane, was the inspiration behind Max Fleischer's beloved cartoon character, Betty Boop.
I would be remiss to write about silent films without mentioning the biggest star to come out of them, namely, Charlie Chaplin. It is convenient that, while I am often annoyed by the actors which are today hailed as great, contemporary stars, I am satisfied that Chaplin is absolutely warranted the admiration he’s bestowed.
Chaplin distinguished himself as an actor, director, composer, and sex machine. After a career on the stage, he found greater fame in film as an actor for the Keystone Film Company. He debuted his now famous character “the Tramp” in two films: Kid Auto Races at Venice and Mabel's Strange Predicament, both released in 1914.
Hold on a second – I’ve a powerful thirst… I’m gonna go get a frosty beverage. While I do, enjoy this performance by Petula Clark of a song written by Charlie Chaplin…
…Okay. I’m back, with thirst quenched. Going on…
Because his political views were decidedly left-of-center, he was targeted by pretty, pretty princess J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. When Chaplin returned to his native England for the premiere of his film Limelight, Hoover sabotaged the actor’s U.S. re-entry permit. Chaplin eventually made his new home in Switzerland, where he spent his time on his hobby, collecting teenage, blonde girls.
Next, let us consider the great actress Theda Bara. While Bara made over 40 films (between 1914 and 1946), only six of these remain available in their complete form. Cleopatra, one of her most popular films, is now lost; only 40 seconds of film footage and photographs of Bara in her costume remain. Bara’s aesthetics have gone on to inspire future artists, like Siouxsie Sioux and, less obviously, Eazy-E*. She eventually married a wealthy man who wanted her to give up acting in films, so she switched her format to the bedroom [insert drum roll].
Different From the Others [original, German title: Anders als die Andern], released in 1919, is important as one of the first (and, perhaps, the first) films to portray homosexuals in a compassionate light. A product of the Weimer Republic, the film was eventually considered “decadent” by Hitler and the Nazi Party, and copies found were burned.
One of the actors from Different From the Others, Conrad Veidt, went on to achieve fame for his role in another film I fancy: the early horror flick, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari [original, German title: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari]. A neat-o example of the German Expressionist style, the film, with its eerie backdrops of painted-on shadows and warped stages, remains spine-tingling. It’s great for Halloween parties, or for snuggling and seducing art-school chicks taking a break from experimenting with bisexuality.
I am currently enjoying Die Nibelungen, director Fritz Lang’s cinematic version of the epic poem Nibelungenlied, written around the year 1200. I’m not finished watching it, so I’ll reserve commenting too much, for fear of making a fool of myself and reporting that it stars Sandy Duncan in her greatest performance to-date and is the only sex-comedy to be filmed using goat’s milk feta instead of the more traditional celluloid. I will say, however, that so far, it’s rather phat.
Most of the films mentioned here are available in the Silent Film section of Amoeba Music Hollywood. Next time you’re in the mood to challenge your ADHD and enrich your film viewing experience, be bold and give one of these a try. You can always pick up a copy of something starring Reese Witherspoon to watch afterwards, if need be. Tsk.
*Not actually true.