10 posts categorized "Silent"

May 27, 2013


Safety Last!Of the great silent film comedians, Harold Lloyd stood apart from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton by virtue of his everyman approach to physical comedy. He had to work at it and he let his difficulty show, but not entirely. Few audiences knew of the terrible accident Harold Lloyd suffered at the age of 26 (in 1919) involving a “prop” bomb [actually a live mortar] that exploded in his right hand during a photo shoot, severing his index finger and thumb. Not a man to let such a catastrophe keep him down, Lloyd wore an expensive prosthetic glove as a disguise. He pursued his film-acting career as if the tragedy had never happened.  

Lloyd’s romantically inclined spectacle-wearing character invention was objectively the most accessible of the three performers  — a nerd lover-boy riddled with self-doubt, but fearless through and through. “Glasses,” as his character was often referred to, was not far removed from the ambitious young actor who snuck onto the Universal studio lot looking for a break into the film business. It was here that Lloyd met the soon-to-be-famous Hal Roach working as an extra. The friendship that followed proved mutually beneficial. Roach went on to become a successful producer. He hired his pal to star in dozens of one-reel comic shorts in the guise of Lonesome Luke — eventually shortened to “Luke” à la “Luke Laughs Last” (1916).

Safety Last Harold Lloyd

Having appeared in more than 100 such silent film comedies by the time he made “Safety Last” in 1923, Lloyd had polished his comic timing and man-with-plan persona to perfection. In its opening scene Lloyd gazes out from behind what appears to be prison bars, with a hangman’s noose dangling in the background. The jail he escapes from is Great Bend, Kansas — his destination, the big city. On the train platform he sees off his mother and his betrothed Mildred (Mildred Davis), who has promised to move to the city after he has “made good.” 

A job working as a lowly sales clerk at a clothing store keeps our underpaid hero busy until Mildred’s unexpected arrival causes him to pretend he runs the place as its general manager. His deception leads Lloyd to overhear the owner’s offer of $1000 to anyone that comes up with an idea to attract a big crowd to the store. Knowing of his pal’s (Bill Strother) ability to climb the sides of buildings unassisted, Lloyd offers to split the money with him in return for his scaling the face of the 12-story storehouse as a publicity stunt. The trouble is that the police are after Lloyd’s nimble buddy for a prank he and Lloyd played on a beat cop. With police officers in hot pursuit the pal begins his climb, but Lloyd is forced to follow suit if the stunt is to work.


The film’s 20-minute centerpiece sequence of Lloyd scaling the building against attacks by birds, netting, stray rope, and an unstable clock comprise the most emblematic episode in all of silent film. That the secrets of its spectacular staging were kept hush-hush until after Harold Clayton Lloyd’s death in 1971, only adds to the film’s lasting charm. The illusion of safety was never last.

Not Rated. 80 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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March 06, 2013


BlancanievesMore evidence — behind “The Artist” (2011) — that black-and-white silent films are still a viable storytelling approach; Pablo Berger’s rethinking of the Grimm Brothers’ “Snow White” is a virtuosic masterpiece.

Winner of Spain’s Goya Award, “Blancanieves” is so sharply conceived, scored, performed, lit, and edited that you can’t help but savor every moment. Composer Alfonso de Vilallonga’s inventive musical score makes expressive use of everything from handclaps to Flamenco guitar to expand on the story’s sense of culture, atmosphere, and suspense. There’s plenty of humor as well. Although a relative newcomer — “Blancanieves” is only his second feature — writer/director Pablo Berger displays an absolute mastery of cinema language with a litany of homages to filmmaking techniques from the past 100 years.


Seville, Spain circa 1920 witnesses one of its beloved matadors Antonio Vallarta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) being gored. Camera technology involving flashbulbs is to blame. The accident leaves the handsome Vallarta paralyzed from the neck down. Tragedy piles up when the former bullfighter’s wife dies giving birth to the couple’s daughter Carmencita on the same day. Vallarta’s evil hospital nurse Encarna (exquisitely played by Maribel Verdú) seizes the opportunity to seduce and marry him, relegating Carmencita to live in the mansion’s coal cellar. It isn’t long before Encarna is carrying on an adulterous BDSM affair with the chauffeur while the wheelchair-bound Antonio is left alone to discover a bond with his adoring daughter. A charming “dance” between Antonio and Carmencita provides an inspired centerpiece. Such momentary familial satisfaction is fleeting though.


It isn’t long before Encarna’s chauffeur abandons Carmencita in the woods. Fortunately for Carmencita, a troop of travelling dwarf matadors take her on as their own.


Despite its old-fashioned trappings, there is nothing staid about the layers of narrative and visual complexity at play. The meticulous attention that Pablo Berger and his team pay to every detail of tempo and dynamics comes across in a gem of a film capable of rivaling Hollywood’s most au currant spectacle of CGI whimsy. Although entered by Spain in the Academy Award category for 2012 foreign film, “Blancanieves” arrives as a frontrunner in 2013 for audiences to marvel at. Enjoy.  


Rated PG-13. 105 mins.

5 Stars

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October 14, 2011


Artist-PosterOscar Bait
Silent Black-and-White Trumps 3D
By Cole Smithey

Here's proof that a black-and-white silent film with a 4:3 aspect ratio can be more entertaining than a 3D anything, "The Artist" conjures a bygone era that reminds us why we love Hollywood. Director Michel Hazanavicius's wonderfully nuanced movie made a splash at Cannes and then became the critical darling of the 2011 New York Film Festival.

The Artist (2011): London Film Festival review | Silent London

Jean Dujardin ("OSS 117 - Lost in Rio") melds Errol Flynn and Fred Astaire in his role as silent film superstar George Valentin. The story finds matinee idol Valentin enjoying a glamorous movie career in Los Angeles near the end of the Roaring Twenties. Flawlessly tailored and groomed, here is a man who can do no wrong. His marriage to a grumpy wife (Penelope Ann Miller) isn't all it's cracked up to be but George has his constant companion, a sometimes heroic Jack Russell terrier, to keep his spirits up. Valentin goes along for the ride when ambitious young starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) creates a welcome bit of impromptu romantic zing during a public photo op. Flashbulbs pop.


A spontaneous kiss she plants on George’s cheek makes front-page news. With her infectious smile and adorable dance moves Peppy's silent film career catches fire in the company of the suave and urbane Valentin. Think, “A Star is Born.”

The Artist (2011)

In a story familiar to filmgoers the advent of the Talkies doesn't bode well for Valentin, who refuses to participate for a reason that only becomes clear late in the story. Peppy is more adaptable to the technical advances in sound recording. Cast aside by his producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman), Valentin dips into his personal savings to produce, direct, and act in a silent movie that necessarily flops on the same day as the release of Peppy's breakout sound role. Our impeccable hero hits the skids.

Berenice Bejo on her silent role in 'The Artist' – The Marquee Blog -  CNN.com Blogs

Michel Hazanavicius meticulously squeezes in an encyclopedic catalog of silent film conventions while staying true to the ideas behind them. The result is a movie that never feels forced or derivative. Aside from a precise use of appropriate music from composer Ludovic Bource, Hazanavicius teases the audience with sound as a delightful narrative ingredient. Will we ever hear Valentin speak? It is, after all, a silent movie.

The Artist: Interview with Mark Bridges | Clothes on Film

There’s no getting past Jean Dujardin’s deft acting abilities that extend to graceful dance moves, an artful use of physical mannerisms, and facial expressions that morph between joy and sadness with equally empathetic design. Jean Dujardin’s character is a walking definition of the word “debonair.” The movie is full of sweet little surprises, as during a dream sequence when Valentin hears movie sound for the first time as it emanates from props around him.

The Artist movie review & film summary (2011) | Roger Ebert

Filmed in color, and transferred to black-and-white, “The Artist” is a visually arresting film with more shades of gray than there are colors in a rainbow. Cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman conveys an iconic association with every perfectly framed composition. Between brilliantly executed performances, dance numbers, and an exquisitely told romantic story about loss and redemption, this flawlessly crafted film shimmers. Visually, it’s astoundingly gorgeous. Equal parts drama, romance, spectacle, and comedy, "The Artist" is an instant classic.

The Artist' Movie Review | Entertainment | richmond.com

Not Rated. 100  mins.

5 Stars

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


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