Tag Archives: Germaine Dulac

No Joker: 10 sinister smiles in silent cinema

You may have noticed, due to the onslaught of thinkpieces and angry debate, that Todd Phillips’s Joker is released this weekend. This controversial film, starring Joaquin Phoenix, is a kind of origin story for the Batman villain of the same name.

Regular readers of this site, or anyone who has seen the trailer, may be aware that there is a little nod to silent cinema in this movie. So in honour of Joker and his famous grin, let’s count down the 10 most sinister smiles in silent cinema. Please don’t have nightmares.

Mighty Like a Moose (1926)
Mighty Like a Moose (1926)

The dog in Mighty Like a Moose

This shouldn’t really be so creepy but it most certainly is. Charley Chase’s plastic surgery comedy Mighty Like a Moose imagines what a dog would look like wearing false teeth. Dear lord above this image is not for the faint-hearted.

Blackmail1929AnnyOndrapainting
Blackmail (1929)

The Laughing Jester in Blackmail

Hitchcock transfers culpability back and forth in this late silent’s tale of rape, revenge and retribution. But who’s bearing witness to all this human misery? The scoundrel artist’s icky painting of a court clown yucking it up – and pointing the finger of guilt. Continue reading No Joker: 10 sinister smiles in silent cinema

The 10 best short films for silent cinema novices

Silents by numbers

This is a guest post for Silent London by Kelly Robinson, and the first in a new series of posts bringing you very personal top 10s from silent cinema experts and enthusiasts.

From a programming point of view, it’s always good to have a few shorts up your sleeve: either to accompany a feature or to make up a shorts programme, which are always a good way to introduce new audiences to silent film. I’m trying to write short screenplays at the moment and I’m inspired by these film-makers, several of whom spent the majority of their careers working on shorts.


How to be an American Citizen (Alice Guy-Blaché, 1912)

Made in the US by Solax, film pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché’s production company, this is such a brilliant darkly anarchic comedy. View the version on the Retour de Flamme (06) disc by Lobster Films for one of the most inspired accompaniments to a silent film.

Ménilmontant (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926)

Breathtakingly stylish (talk about Eisenstein’s “kino fist”!) but also heartbreakingly moving, this is avant-garde cinema of the 1920s at its most profound. The scene on the bench is as poignant as anything by Chaplin or more recent master Krzysztof Kieslowski. Unforgettable.

Kid Auto Races (1914)
Charlie Chaplin in Kid Auto Races (1914)

Kid Auto Races (Henry Lehrman, 1914)

Chaplin’s Keystone films are sometimes written off as unsophisticated fare, preceding a more nuanced approach to style and content at later studios. However, Chaplin’s performance here is pure clown, and shows why contemporary audiences immediately wanted more, more, more of “The Little Fellow”.

Leave 'em Laughing (1928)
Leave ’em Laughing (1928)

Leave ’em Laughing (Clyde Bruckman, 1928)

I just have to think about the final sequence of the Laurel and Hardy classic and I start chuckling madly to myself.

Daisy Doodad’s Dial (Florence Turner, 1914)

“The Vitagraph Girl” pulls a face at being one of the first screen stars.

Continue reading The 10 best short films for silent cinema novices

Silent films at the Prince Charles Cinema: The Seashell and the Clergyman with Minima, 30 June 2011

Prince Charles Cinema Silent Season
Prince Charles Cinema Silent Season

Yes, you can watch silent films outside the arthouse circuit – in a West End cinema, with a packet of popcorn and a cold beer. That’s just how cool London is. And I much as I love a good retrospective, it’s a top night out. Which is why I’m excited to announce this very exciting film screening on The Prince Charles Cinema‘s silent slate.

In June, the hugely popular and accomplished rock band Minima will accompany a selection of experimental shorts at the Prince Charles Cinema – this won’t be your common-or-garden night at the flicks. Topping the bill is The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), a pioneering surreal film directed by Germaine Dulac and written by Antonin Artaud. The writer apparently loathed the film and called the director a “cow”, when he saw it. The British censors were none-too-impressed either, saying famously: “The film is so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.”  You want to see it now, don’t you?

We can also expect to see Viking Eggeling’s 1924 avant-garde geometric film Symphonie Diagonale and Ralph Steiner’s H20, an experimental “tone poem” on the theme of water, from 1929. It’s great that this cinema is showing something a little out of the ordinary on its big screen – there’s far more to silent cinema than the Hollywood hits, and this is a fantastic way to celebrate that.

The Seashell and the Clergyman screens at 8.30m on 30 June 2011. Tickets cost £11 or £7 for members and they’re available here. Check out the Facebook page here. You can buy Minima’s Seashell soundtrack CD on their website, and no doubt it will be available on the night too.