Ten essential silents

Kevin Brownlow’s “Silents Please” article, published today in The Times, concludes with a list of “ten essential silents” (with his comments):

The Birth of a Nation, 1915 The most influential and controversial of all silents

Broken Blossoms, 1919 Poetry on the screen

The Phantom of the Opera, 1925 Inspired hokum

Variety, 1926 Dazzling sex drama set among trapeze artists

Flesh and the Devil, 1927 Garbo and Gilbert fell in love on this picture – and it shows

Metropolis, 1927 The silliest great film yet made

Napoléon, 1927 The most technically innovative film yet made

Sunrise, 1927 Masterly use of the camera

The Crowd, 1928 A young couple’s fight against poverty

The Wind, 1928 Lillian Gish enduring relentless Texan storms

Those are Kevin’s choices. These are mine:

Satan’s Merry Frolics (Les Quatres Cents Farces du Diable), 1906 Georges Melies’ most dazzling trick film

A Corner in Wheat, 1909 D.W. Griffith’s finest

The Battle of the Somme, 1916 The pity of war

The Rink, 1916 Charlie Chaplin, poetry in motion

Our Hospitality, 1923 Buster Keaton in sweetly nostalgic mood

An Italian Straw Hat (Un Chapeau de Paille d’Italie), 1927 The funniest silent of them all

Hindle Wakes, 1927 Stunning slice of Northern life

The Manxman, 1929 Underrated Hitchcock, technically flawless

Umarete Wa Mita Keredo… (I was Born But…), 1932 Ozu’s wry, sympathetic view of childhood

Tianming (Daybreak), 1933 Chinese emotional masterpiece

Brownlow and the Kelly Gang

There’s a fine article by Kevin Brownlow in today’s edition of The Times, on silent films. It’s called ‘Silents Please‘ and it’s a distillation of Brownlow’s thoughts and feelings about the pre-eminent entertainment medium that is silent film. It focuses more on the technical innovations than the stars, and it is a great piece for waving in front of sceptics to show they why silent films matter. It should certainly make a convert or two.

The piece has been written to coincide with the Silent Film and Live Music series running at the Barbican in London, which today is screening the surviving footage (some 20 minutes) of the world’s first fiction feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), made in Australia, with live piano accompaniment by John Sweeney. Also showing is The Life of John Lee: The Man They Could Not Hang (Australia 1921).