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Top Ten Silent Films

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Written by A J Wagner

What an endeavour this was!

What started out as a simple journey through some of the greatest silent films ever made turned into a mission of biblical proportions. At one point I had 47 films on the list and couldn’t decide what to leave out and what to keep. In the end I made it a rule that I could only include one film from a particular director. This is why Nosferatu (which up until that point had always been present in the top ten) had to slip back down so I could keep Sunrise. Both films of course directed by the incredible F.W. Murnau. Intolerance also had to be dropped due to Griffith directing both this and Birth Of A Nation. I also decided that the films in question had to qualify as features. Which meant that early landmark works such as The Great Train Robbery (1903) and Georges Melies seminal A Trip To The Moon (1902) couldn’t be included, even though both films are hugely important in the history of cinema. So what follows is my top ten. As always bring on the discussion and disagreements. Even if you just want to shout at me for not including any Cecil B.DeMille.

 

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The Iron Horse (1924)

The Iron Horse (1924) dir: John Ford

John Ford made his name with this grand scale western and it most certainly paved the way for his illustrious career. This was epic, bold and fearless filmmaking as we witness a young son fulfil his fathers dream of binding the east and west coasts of America with a mighty railway named The Iron Horse. The action is impeccable as Ford directs his massive cast with acute precision. Still impressive to this day.

 

The General (1927) dir: Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman

Still on the railroads here and arguably Buster Keaton’s finest screen performance. Here the legendary comic plays a young railroad engineer who dreams of fighting in the civil war. After he is turned down it seems that he will never fulfil his destiny. That is until his beloved steam train (The General of the title) is stolen by pesky union soldiers. It’s now up to Buster himself to save the day and prove he has what it takes to be a soldier. This film features impressive stunts using real steam trains and a spectacular moment where a bridge collapses.

 

Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The Phantom Of The Opera (1925) dir: Rupert Julian

Starring Lon Chaney, the man of 1,000 faces this atmospheric adaptation of the famous novel still has the intensity and power to shock. The film is well known for Lon Chaney’s approach to the role. He endured weeks and weeks of discomfort to achieve the perfect performance including pinning his nose up with wire and painting his eye sockets black. His ghastly transformation for this film and his many others took their toll on his body and he suffered major physical problems later in life.

 

The Birth Of A Nation (1915) dir: D.W. Griffith

Often hailed as equally racist and technically brilliant D.W. Griffith invented movies the way we know them today. There is no doubting the incredible achievement this film signifies. Close-ups and tracking shots were used for the first time in this 3-hour epic set during the civil war. Unfortunately it is also quite a potent piece of racist propaganda and is credited with inspiring the reformation of the Ku Klux Klan. Controversial and awe-inspiring, even today.

 

 

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) dir: Robert Weine

The defining film of the German expressionism era this fantastic horror film sees mad doctor Caligari unleash a series of ghastly murders… or does he?

Worth watching for the sublime set design alone this film also features one of the very first twist endings. It’s phenomenal in every way possible and any person that calls himself or herself a true film fan should own it. Quite simply, you don’t know cinema unless you have seen it.

Read our review here

 

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans (1927) dir: F.W. Murnau

When William Fox invited German director F.W. Murnau to make an expressionist film in Hollywood this masterpiece was the result. Telling the story of a marriage on the cusp of breaking down and how the couple learn exactly how much they mean to each other during a dream like journey through a big city. Wonderfully made with a core message so important and lovely that it still resonates with people today.

 

Battleship Potemkin (1925) dir: Sergei M. Eisenstein

An enthralling dramatisation of the 1905 mutiny which occurred on the Russian battleship potemkin. Maverick director Sergei Eisenstein assaults the viewers with stark, strong images of violence. Essentially it is an angry communist propaganda movie and it has influenced cinema since. The Untouchables by Brian DePalma references potemkin’s most famous sequence on the Odessa steps. This film will leave its mark on your subconscious for years to come.

 

City Lights (1931) dir: Charles Chaplin

You could probably fill an entire top ten silent films list by using only Chaplin films but this one is my personal favourite. A very simple love story told through some of the most heart-rending images ever committed to the screen. Chaplin’s tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl who believes him to be a man of extraordinary wealth. Desperate to not lose her he sets out raising the money to pay for an operation that will restore her sight. Known by film-buffs all over the world has having the greatest ending of all time. If you haven’t seen it watch it and decide for yourself.

 

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928) dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Considered lost for years until a complete print was found in a mental institution in Norway this is a master-class in screen realism. Depicting the final moments of Joan of Arcs life it is well known for its extreme close-ups and use of natural light. Director Carl Dreyer also insisted his actors didn’t wear make-up which was unheard of during the silent era. This is all about the strength of the acting and is often said to possess the greatest screen performance of all time by actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti.

 

Metropolis (1927) dir: Fritz Lang

What can you say about Metropolis that hasn’t been said before? The most influential Science Fiction film of all time. The most expensive silent film ever made. The closest thing we will ever come to perfection in cinema. Fritz Lang’s dystopian masterpiece is exquisite. Telling the story of social unrest in a future capitalist society it remains a tour-de-force of set design and special effects. The film was butchered upon it’s original release by Paramount and the cut footage was thought lost forever until a complete print surfaced in July 2008 in a film museum in Argentina. This restored 150min cut is even better and film fans rejoiced when it premiered in early 2010. The yardstick everyone aims for but never reach.

 

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Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

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Features

How Casinos Can Improve a Movie

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When it comes to movie themes, you got them all. From war movies to romance films, there is something for everybody. However, the gamble theme is not often present but some casino scenes really mattered. For example, the roulette ball in Casablanca that landed on 22 two times, all this was possible thanks to the rigged roulette. 

Another example is found in the movie 21. This movie is mainly made after a book called Bringing Down the House and just like the movie, it’s about a group of students “robbing” a casino playing Blackjack. Actually, the robbing process consists in one person taking a seat at a Blackjack table and that person just counts the cards. After a while, their friend joins knowing which cards were already played. As expected, they get caught and the action begins.  

Daniel Craig and Casino Royale 

If it’s not already obvious, these examples cannot go further without mentioning Daniel Craig starring as a MI6 agent in the movie Casino Royale. This movie was not like any other James Bond films. Firstly, the new actor had blond hair and blue eyes. This new look was not welcome at all especially for die hard 007 fans. Daniel Craig had nothing in common with the previous agents such as Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan. Moreover, back in 2005, right before the Casino Royale release, many fans were sure that Daniel will ruin the series. In fact, Casino Royale ended up being one of the best James Bond movies ever.  

After all, some changes were needed so the movie can have a fresh feeling. If we got used to every James Bond movie starting with the same scene, Casino Royale made it different. Until then, every single film started with a gun barrel sequence in which James walks in a white room, he turns, then fires and the blood drips down the screen. In the new 007 film, the movie starts with a black and white scene and at the end of this sequence, when we think that its first victim is dead, Daniel turns around then fires and we have the first gun barrel scene.  

As an illustration on the movie name, there are three poker scenes that make this film better. The first one has a well made old-fashion feel that is mainly made through the dissolve process. This technique was usually seen in the 80s and is a post-process film editing that makes the transition from one image to another.  

The second poker game is when Le Chiffre destroys James. Right after this game, there is a sequence that lets the agent sit alone on the table with nothing left, making the MI6 agent more natural. This is a high contrast with all the old cliché movies where James Bond was invincible. Further, Daniel gets poisoned by Le Chiffre but the secret agent survives by using the defibrillator from his car. Then he comes back and says ”I’m sorry, that last hand, killed me”.   

Like I said, casinos can be a good way to improve a movie. Also, land-based casinos suffered many changes over the years. Like most casinos that are now using online and mobile platforms. For about 400 years, casinos were just ”gamble houses”, but now they adopted new technologies. The most important change was of course, the online platforms which made it possible to enjoy casino games from the comfort of our house.  

For few years know, these virtual gamble houses started to show up everywhere. Moreover, there is a new online British casino called Admiral Casino and has a wide variety of fruit machines. In addition, their app is present on the App Store and you can now play slots like Sizzling Hot and Golden Sevens. Both games have 5 reels and are made by Novomatic. As has been noted, casinos made their contributions in many areas and now, thanks to the mobile technology they can be taken in your pocket. 

 

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Sequels Deliver at the Box Office

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Jurassic World was a gigantic hit in 2015, in fact, at a worldwide gross of $1,671,713,208 it remains the 5th highest grossing film of all time just behind Infinity War and The Force Awakens. That’s impressive for any franchise, let alone one long considered extinct. 

With its sequel, Fallen Kingdom, currently dominating the box office, it is worth looking at just how well sequels tend to do, the mixed fortunes they find themselves in, the biggest success stories and some considerably embarrassing failures. 

Fallen Kingdom hasn’t been a big hit with the critics (51% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 71% for the first film) but this evolution of the series has still resonated with audiences, currently sitting at $932,387,335 and very likely to pass the hallowed billion dollar mark in the next week or so. A billion dollars is nothing to be sniffed at but there is still every chance the studio will consider it something of a failure that it was unable to eclipse its predecessor. 

A few other franchises worth examining; 

Fast and Furious 

A franchise that rose from the ashes of almost going straight to DVD, with the 7th installment staking its claim in the big leagues, ironically 7th highest of all time, but when Fate of the Furious came just two years later, it made close to $300 million less. Is that audiences simply getting sick of cars doing ridiculous things, or something else? Fast 7 was unfortunately bolstered by the death of star Paul Walker, giving it increased media attention. 

Star Wars 

As previously mentioned, The Force Awakens is one of the biggest box office hits of all time, and whether or not it will be unseated in third place by Infinity War is almost too close to call but it will be incredibly close. 

But it terms of diminishing returns, The Last Jedi made over $700 million less than The Force Awakens. Why is that? The answer for this one is pretty simple, The Force Awakens was such a huge, once in a generation event, that it wasn’t going to happen a second time. Not that The Last Jedi’s box office is low, it sits at 11th of all time. 

But Star Wars has a different problem, it is now a series that digresses from the main saga and moved into spin off territory. Rogue One was a big hit, being a member of the billion dollar club, but Solo, a film plagued with production troubles, has really struggled, pulling in a fairly weak $368,879,115. The blame for this lies in the release window, with Infinity War still making good change, and Deadpool the week before, Solo hit in the middle of one of the most crowded summers in recent memory, with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom snapping quickly at its heels. 

What is considered a success or a failure in these terms anyway? It’s hard to know for sure. Sony’s second attempt at the Spider-Man franchise (Amazing Spider-Man if you find all these Spider-People confusing) was a decent hit, and the sequel only made $50 million less but was considered such a failure by Sony that they ended up handing the character back to Marvel. Which we can all agree was the right thing to do. But just $50 million was enough to make them wonder, not the other $650 million it made. Sequels are expected to make more money. 

Now, one last point. The highest grossing film of all time?  

Avatar. $2,787,965,087.  

That will probably never be beaten. Avatar 2 has a release date of December 18th 2020. Will it come anywhere close to the first film? This seems unlikely. Or maybe not, James Cameron should never be counted out, he might very well end up with the top 3 highest grossing films of all time. Or will Star Wars Episode 9, which goes into production this week, come back with a bang and topple Cameron’s big blue cat people? 

Only time, and a lot of money, will tell. 

 

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Cinema FOMO

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FOMO; the fear of missing out. Defined in 2015 by the Oxford English Dictionary as, ‘anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media’.

It’s true that in our online, digitally driven world, FOMO is thriving on a global scale, however that doesn’t mean it’s a new phenomenon. Throughout cinematic history, audiences have craved a shared experience, using quotes and characters as shorthand in their own conversations. No-one wants to be left out of the discussion.

Even in this technological age, the world’s leading film magazine Empire, remains an important and relevant source in the world of film journalism and with its much-loved features and interviews with Hollywood’s A-List, you can avoid serious FOMO by joining their subscription service today, meaning you’ll never miss a review or important update from the world of film.

When the teaser trailer for Black Panther landed, it was viewed 89 million times in just 24 hours. It was the most tweeted about movie in 2017 (before it was even released) and has gone on to become the most tweeted about film ever made. People wanted to be a part of the #BlackPanther and #Wakanda phenomenon and Twitter gave them the community they desired, adding in Q&A specials and a Black Panther custom emoji.

But what about before the dawn of Twitter? Back in the dark depths of 1999, a little film called The Blair Witch Project dropped. Using the internet, online forums went mad with leaked rumours about a film created from the found footage of three missing filmmakers. The accompanying website presented credible back stories and realistic style news interviews. Missing person leaflets were also distributed to enhance the story. (Spoiler alert; if you don’t already know, it was all entirely fictional). At the time however, this clever and original marketing fed directly in to our FOMO receptors.

But what if we take social media and the internet out of the equation. Do we travel back to a pre FOMO time? The truth? Absolutely not, so you can put the DeLorean away.

Back in 1961, Alfred Hitchcock released Psycho. Whilst his reputation was already established, this was a self financed film, so a lot was riding on its success. He made the decision not to screen for critics first, meaning audiences got to see the film at the same time, with no preconceptions. He refused cast interviews and to pump curiosity, issued an edict that nobody would be allowed in to cinemas after the picture began. Would you want to be the only one not to know what was happening inside the Bates Motel? Absolutely not. People flocked, queues stretching around the block to ensure they experienced this new cinematic milestone. Quite simply, FOMO struck again.

In truth, it’s an innate human desire to want to belong and regardless of marketing, it doesn’t get much better than sharing the joy of a cinematic experience with friends.

 

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