The Blot (1921)

Silent Santa: classics for your Christmas list

With one week to go before the big day, the Silent London elves bring you a selection of festive gift recommendations. These are great ideas to buy for the sexy silent cinephiles in your life – or to spend your gift vouchers on in the sales.

I have mostly linked to UK Amazon for ease, but you should be able to find these elsewhere online, direct from the supplier or (hopefully) in a shop near you.

London Symphony (2017)

A silent symphony

London Symphony, Alex Barrett’s gorgeous, moving tribute to the capital city is out to buy on multiregion Blu-ray now from the good folks at Flicker Alley. Also included on the disc is a 1933 archive film London Medley, as well as an interview with Barrett and his short form Hungerford Bridge. It’s a brilliant, beautiful modern city symphony, with a cameo from yours truly, and possibly a couple of other faces you will recognise. Readers in the UK may want to wait until the UK DVD release in February from New Wave.

Helen of Four Gates (1920)

The perfect introduction

New to silent cinema? Or just want to read an intelligent, refreshing perspective on late teens and 1920s cinema? Lawrence Napper’s Silent Cinema: Before the pictures got small is a valuable, and highly readable guide to pre-sound film. I loved it. Regular readers of this site will especially enjoy the hurrah for British silent cinema: “thrillingly cosmopolitan”.

Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks

Film on the front line

The history buff in your life will be fascinated by the Imperial War Museum release of The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (1917) on Blu-ray and DVD. Geoffrey Malins’ followup to The Battle of the Somme (1916) is more tightly constructed and cinematically shot with a greater focus on the soldiers than strategy. It is presented here in a crisp, fresh restoration with a beautiful score by Laura Rossi, and a reconstruction of the recommended medley score from 1917, compiled by Stephen Horne.

Annex - Brooks, Louise (Now We're in the Air)_01

Books on Brooks

It has been a good year for books about Louise Brooks movies. Yes, that one. But I mean two fine volumes by the estimable Thomas Gladysz on Beggars of Life (reviewed here) and Now We’re in the Air. The research that has gone into these is impeccable, and who can argue with the subject?

Varieté (1925)

A variety of scores

The Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of the new restoration of Weimar classic Varieté is gorgeous, and offers two (excellent) alternatives to the notorious Tiger Lillies score. Nuff said.

Mabel Normand in Won in a Cupboard (1914) National Film Preservation Foundation
Mabel Normand in Won in a Cupboard (1914) National Film Preservation Foundation

Know your comediennes

There are at least two books coming out next year on silent cinema comediennes, and if you don’t know that that makes me very happy, you really haven’t been paying attention. However, Steve Massa’s encyclopaedic Slapstick Divas is an essential guide to female comics in silent cinema. Highly recommended!

Sherlock Jr (1924)
Sherlock Jr (1924)

Funny boxes

To keep you happily entertained over the festive break, you can’t do better than the Masters of Cinema three-film Buster Keaton box set. The General, Sherlock Jr and Steamboat Bill Jr, are here with great music and heaps of extras. Let it snow, indeed. The same imprint also re-released its utterly wonderful Lubitsch in Berlin set on Blu-ray this year. If you haven’t got that yet, you now have no excuse. And not silent, but sure to be of interest: Arrow Academy’s Marx Brothers at Paramount Blu-ray box.

The Goddess (1934)
The Goddess (1934)

Expand your horizons

Some less well-known silent movies came out on DVD and Blu-ray this year, all worth picking up. Josef von Sternberg’s first film The Salvation Hunters is a poignant, poetic debut and very intriguing in light of the more extravagant riches that followed it. The BFI released both Arthur Robison’s gritty thriller The Informer (in a revelatory restoration) and the heartbreaking Chinese silent The Goddess this year. And Masters of Cinema’s release of Fritz Lang’s bizarre, brilliant Der Müde Tod is a beautiful DVD/Blu-ray too, with a full-length audio commentary by Tim Lucas and a fabulous video essay by David Cairns.

The Blot (1921)
The Blot (1921)

Women at work

I hoped that Kino Lorber’s massive Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers set would be out this year, but that is still to come. Not to worry, though, as Flicker Alley’s sumptuous set Early Women Filmmakers is out already and it is fabulous. This set is worth the price for Lois Weber’s The Blot with audio commentary by Shelley Stamp alone – but there is much more here, from Maya Deren to Lotte Reiniger to Germaine Dulac to Alice Guy-Blaché. I am reliably informed that there will be very little overlap between the two sets, so you can binge-watch with confidence.

The Great Train Robbery (1903)
The Great Train Robbery (1903)

And one for luck?

I have to recommend the BFI’s latest compendium volume, on thrillers: Who Can You Trust?. You had a taster of Bryony Dixon’s essay on this site a few weeks back, but there is lots more inside, including a piece by, um, someone you know, on the development of the thriller in early cinema.



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