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Five silent films to avoid … and five to seek out

Silents by numbers This is a guest post for Silent London by John Sweeney. John Sweeney is one of London’s favourite accompanists, composing and playing for silent film and accompanying ballet and contemporary classes. He researched and compiled the music for the Phono Cinéma-Théatre project and is one of the brains behind the wonderful fortnightly Kennington Bioscope at the Cinema Museum. The Silents by Numbers strand celebrates some very personal top 10s by silent film enthusiasts and experts.   When Silent London started with these lists I joked with a friend that what was needed was a list of silent films to avoid: no sooner had I spoken than films started coming to mind, but I also started thinking of the opposite list, of films that aren’t anything like as well known as I think they should be. So, I’ve settled for five films that you might think would be good but really aren’t, and five films that are definitely worth seeking out. Opinions differ and it’s quite possible that I’ve missed the point of some the films – put me right in the comment space below if you disagree.

Five silent films to avoid

Note: I make no claim that these are the worst films – merely that they should be a lot better given their reputation, or who made them.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916, Stuart Paton)

Yes, this film features groundbreaking underwater photography for a few minutes, but the screenplay is stupid, the acting is ridiculous, and the editing’s completely random. On IMDB someone writes “It’s by no means a bad movie”, but it is, it really is! Do not watch this movie.

  • If it’s submarines that float your boat, try Submarine, directed by Frank Capra.
Atlantide (Jacques Feyder)
Atlantide (Jacques Feyder)

L’Atlantide (1921, Jacques Feyder)

Jacques Feyder was a wonderful director, as anyone who’s seen his Visages d’enfants will know, but this exotic farrago, weighing in at almost three hours, is dreadful. Two French soldiers stumble on the lost kingdom of Atlantis, in the middle of the Sahara Desert (!), which is ruled by the ageless Queen Antinéa. Featuring far too much sand and a decidedly uncharismatic performance from Stacia Napierkowska as the supposedly endlessly fascinating and desirable queen, you really don’t need to see this film.

  • Watch instead: Visages d’Enfants.

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