Before the Master of Suspense even made his directorial debut, he was involved in the making of a silent film called The White Shadow. Released in 1924, the film includes the editing, writing, and production design work of a 24-year-old Hitchcock. Until now, no one has been aware that such a film even existed, but the discovery of 30 minutes of footage from the title has just been discovered by the New Zealand Film Archive. When the film will be available for public viewing is to be determined, but film lovers everywhere will certainly be delighted to set eyes on it once it is. Who knows what insight this film will give us into the mind of the legendary filmmaker?
My five recommendations for this month all come from the earliest years of cinema. Typical moviegoers make it a point to avoid silent films because they assume that they will be hopelessly boring without dialogue. Film buffs will have seen these titles, but if you are among the group of skeptics, here are five movies to consider. They can all be watched on Netflix instant:
The most expensive silent film ever made involves huge sets, captivating storytelling, and fantastic futuristic vision. The plot of Metropolis incorporates an underground factory, rebellious workers, and a robot that looks a lot like an early prototype of Star Wars‘ C3-PO. This is the grandfather of The Matrix, Dark City, Blade Runner, and Alien, so any science fiction fan interested in the roots of the genre should not miss Lang’s masterpiece.
The General (1927)
Everyone knows of Charlie Chaplin, but few know of his equal, Buster Keaton. Chaplin and Keaton were the two best film comedians of their day. However, for years, Keaton’s movies were lost. After being rediscovered in the 1960s, only a few years before the actor’s death, Keaton was hailed a master of his art. The General is his best film. It is very funny, exciting, and fast-paced, making for the perfect hour-long adventure movie.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Not only is this flawless tragedy one of the greatest silent films, it is also one of the greatest films, period. It gets its power from the strong leading performances as well as director Dreyer’s straightforward storytelling and innovative close-ups. Emotionally, it is nearly overwhelming, ensuring that viewers will never forget it. The Passion of Joan of Arc is perfect in every aspect.
This very well may be the best movie made about vampires. Even ninety years after Nosferatu‘s release, it still is a genuinely chilling experience. F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece of horror was the first among many films to explore the blood-sucking creatures, so any fan of Twilight owes a lot to this movie. Unlike the better known Dracula (1933), Nosferatu will not be received as corny by any audience.
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
During the 1940s and 1950s, Sergei Einstein’s Battleship Potemkin was considered the world’s greatest film by the most respected critics and filmmakers. Today, few would agree, but this is nonetheless, a great movie. It moves at a great pace, painting a portrait of merciless tyranny and a search for freedom. The result is inspiring, and ends up speaking to viewers in a way that only silent films can.
The power of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s riveting masterpiece doesn’t come from beautiful scenery or a sweeping score. Instead, The Passion of Joan of Arc is nothing but the bare bones of a historical epic. It is interesting to take note of the smooth, barren walls and ceilings in which the indoor scenes are filmed. The costumes as well, though authentic, are equally boring to look at, establishing the film as the complete, polar opposite of the visual delight, Gone With the Wind. Even without intricate wallpaper designs and fancy props, it is captured in innovative close-ups that show more detailed faces and expressions than one is ever likely to see again.
All of the elements in Dreyer’s film add up to exactly what he set out to make: a documentation of an essential event in the history of France. Anything that should distract from its purpose (movie stars, special effects, extravagant sets, etc.) was not included. Dreyer’s refusal to dress up his story not only makes The Passion stand out, it elevates it to the status of an all time great. Anyone who knows anything about silent films should be familiar with the face of Maria Falconetti. Her incredible performance as Joan of Arc, a Frenchwoman executed for claiming to be called by God to save France, is one of the most powerful ever put to film. When considering how silent films had to resort to images alone to express emotion, the success of such a plain film as Joan of Arc may seem like a mystery… until one looks into the eyes of Maria Falconetti and finds all the reasons why.