Tag Archives: Silent film

A Trip to the Moon

I thought I would kick off my 2014 journey toward the 101 goal by reviewing the first film listed in the 1001 Movies To See Before You Die book, A Trip to the Moon (1902), or Le Voyage Dans La Lune to use the original French title. This film is a true landmark of world cinema as it captures the time where the form was expanding out from the short, slice of life films that had been pioneered by the Lumiere Brothers in the late 19th Century.

man in the moon

Georges Melies is one of the genuine fathers of film as we know it. He was also perhaps film’s first genius and that is well and truly on display in A Trip to the Moon. The story, based on a novel by Jules Verne, occupies the same space that so much of Verne’s work did – the intersection between the adventure story and more fantastical elements. The simple story of brave men who journey to the moon, find aliens there and beat them to death with Earth’s most awe-inspiring and powerful weapons (umbrellas of course) is proof positive that you don’t need dialogue or even intertitles to convey narrative. The film feels fantastical from the start and it also feels more ‘big budget’ than other films of the time. The cast is large, even if most of the bit parts are indeterminable from one another, and the costuming is opulent.

trip to the moonDespite my love for classic film, I am not one of those, ‘movies were better back in the day’ kind of guys. But there is no doubting that something totally lacking in film today compared to the silent era is the loving attention to detail that went into the construction of a movie. For an exceptional example, look no further than this film. The sets, props and design are all so lovingly detailed that practically any director working today could learn a whole lot from this film. In Melies day, technology bred creativity. Today, improved technology seems to only breed complacency and laziness when it comes to storytelling. Except in all too rare instances such as Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (2013). As well as the attention to detail, like so many other cinema innovators, Melies was on the cutting edge of improving the technical presentation of film stories. The editing in this film is pretty amazing, seeing the kind of fades that Melies was using over 110 years ago.

A Voyage to the Moon, despite its age, takes you somewhere truly fantastical. No doubt if you are a fan of silent and classic cinema, you would have already caught this. If not though, no matter your cinema preferences, take the short time required to check it out.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

Progress: 97/1001

2014 Progress: 1/101

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.

A Trip to the Moon is an open source film which means it is widely available in various forms. Here is a decent copy of the film that I watched on Youtube. Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Silent Film Week: The General

220px-The_General_posterBuster Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin, are the contemporary faces of film comedy from the silent era. Whilst Chaplin was probably more renowned during their actual careers, if anything Keaton’s reputation and Filmography is probably more renowned today. In a career of almost universally loved features, The General (1926) is generally considered his greatest work.

The film is a phenomenal one, partly because it works on a bunch of levels and functions as an example of multiple genres. This is in my view probably the best comedy in history. Add to that the fact that it is also a wonderful love story, action film, war film and example of stuntwork and you can see why it is so loved. Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, a train engineer who attempts to enlist for the South during the Civil War. His application is rejected on the grounds that his work as an engineer is more important to the cause. His beloved Annabelle however does not know the reasons behind his rejection and accuses him of cowardice, no longer wanting anything to do with him. Fast forward a year and the devious North have hatched a plot to steal a train from the South and utilise it to blow up their supply routes. The train they happen to steal is being driven by Johnnie and also has Marion accidently stowed away.

What follows is surely the greatest chase sequence in all of cinema, lasting a good half an hour. The whole thing is helter skelter and Keaton also somehow manages to give proceedings a simultaneous feeling of both danger and fun. A sequence where our hero is actually sitting on the front of his locomotive balancing large pieces of wood perhaps the most iconic example. Keaton delivers plenty of these iconic images actually, such as him sitting on the wheel of the train as it moves and the huge set piece involving a train and a burning bridge toward the end of the film. The director/star must have been quite the athlete in his day, because the stunts that he pulls off will leave your jaw dropping. It doesn’t hurt that the actor is always willing to put his body (and probably his life) on the line, over and over. A totally fearless man, who knows how he would survive in today’s Hollywood, filled with insurance policies and stuntmen. On a comedic level, one of the reasons that the film succeeds so spectacularly is because Keaton employs a wide array of techniques to garner laughs – from typically over the top slapstick to much subtler, clever methods. The score on the version I watched (which is also the one I am giving away this week), composed by Joe Hisaishi in 2001, is fantastic and really enhances the viewing of the film. As does the fact that the print is a wonderfully sharp one. It is great to see older films being restored and presented in this way.


To put it bluntly, The General is a masterpiece. It is one of my top 5 favourite films of all time and on many days it would be my number 1. If you haven’t seen it, then I highly urge you to seek it out. I think it is probably the most charming film I have ever seen and also such a brilliant example of the comedy genre.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Progress: 80/1001

Want to win a copy of The General thanks to Madman Entertainment? Check out all the details here.

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here.

Silent Film Week: The Short Films of D.W. Griffith

The great D.W. Griffith... who appears to have borrowed Buster's hat for the occasion.

The great D.W. Griffith… who appears to have borrowed Buster’s hat for the occasion.

I was really lucky that when preparing for this week focused on silent film, Arc Cinema at the National Film and Sound Archives happened to show a series of D.W. Griffith short films. I won’t give you a history lesson on Griffith, but rightly or wrongly, he is generally considered the father of the American feature film industry and is most (in)famous for classic silent features such as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916)

Before features, Griffith also made literally hundreds of short films. The night at Arc showcased 7 of them and they really showed a huge range of interests from the director. They also illuminated him as a bit of a “leftie” as one of my friends put it, with concern for those in poverty, anti big business sentiment and searing indictment of white treatment of Native Americans all featuring in these films.

I have seen a fair bit of silent cinema and on a select couple of occasions on the big screen. But this screening was the first time I had seen silent cinema with a live accompaniment. And it was something else. The pianist they had there was amazing and her engagement with what was taking place onscreen was literally watching art being created right there and then. Not at all distracting from the films though, but managing to heighten them and elevate them. If you ever get the chance to see silent cinema with a live accompaniment, I cannot recommend it to you highly enough.

Luckily for those of you without an incredible archive style cinema nearby, all of the films I saw the other night are available on Youtube. So rather than write detailed reviews of the films, I decided I would share them with you here. I have ranked them from my least favourite to most favourite, and given you a couple of brief thoughts too. Don’t let some of the lower ranked ones pass you by. I would say that all of them, except for perhaps #7, are really well worth your time.

I really encourage you to take the time to check some of these films out. Let me know what your favourites and least favourites are below.

#7: The Sunbeam (1912)

The first film was the weakest for me and probably the only one I would say that I actually didn’t enjoy. Check it out for yourself, but I found it rather old fashioned (a silly thing to say about a film 100 years old I know, but the others did not feel that way) and a little simplistic emotionally. Tis a very traditional drama type film I thought, that was a little staid.

#6: An Unseen Enemy (1912)

This sort of a heist film is the first screen appearance by the Gish sisters, the iconic Lillian and her lesser known sibling Dorothy. You can definitely see why Lillian would go on to become such a star, because the two of them bring an incredible spark onto the screen. One of the slighter films that was shown, this is still worth checking out, for the leading ladies at the very least.

#5 The Mothering Heart (1913)

This one starts off rather melodramatic and dated, but once the plot kicks into gear over adultery, things get interesting. The two main characters, who seem so bland initially, add some layers of depth actually, especially as financial success changes one of them. Not harmed by having another excellent, and crushingly emotional, performance from Lillian Gish either.

#4: The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)

Often referred to as the first gangster flick in all of cinema, this is the film I had heard most about before seeing the screening. Whilst not my favourite, it is still utterly intriguing and it is fascinating to see just how much of the iconography that would go on to characterise gangster film is already here. It is a simple tale of the swaggering Musketeers, the local gangsters and their interactions with the fuzz and a young couple they terrorise. As well as being a historical curiosity, the film has some interesting things to say about crime as well.

#3: Ramona (1910)

The subtitle of this film is “White man’s injustice to the Indians” and it is an effective, but really quite bleak look at the mistreatment of the indigenous inhabitants of North America. The film also resonated with me as an Australian because it had so many parallels with what took place (and continues to take place) in this country. It is a love story, of a love that is forbidden but will not be denied. However this confronting film is not a happy love story and the lead female performance from Mary Pickford is harrowing in its execution. Definitely one to watch.

#2 A Corner in Wheat (1909)

After the disappointing first film of the night, this one blew me away. It looks incredible in comparison, the location shots on farms are especially great to look at. It is incredible that in such a short running time, Griffith manages to show a whole industry (in this case wheat) and the devastating effects of massive commerce. It is incredible how long we have worshipped money above all other masters. The crosscutting between a fatcat stockbroker and the salt of the earth folk just conveys so much. I really encourage you all to watch this one. Especially to see a rather shocking scene that I won’t spoil for you (I found it pretty intense though).

#1 The Painted Lady (1912)

As much as I loved the number 2 film, I just could not overlook this film as my favourite of the night. It is really something else and I cannot urge you enough to check it out. A love story of vague sorts. This is just the basis for Griffith to explore body image, the fundamental notion of popularity and loneliness. Astoundingly handled for a film of this vintage. The film also features a great performance from Blanche Sweet, who shows off some serious chops when portraying the wrenching conflicting emotions that her character is being subjected too. I struggle to think of a better performance in any silent film, short or feature, actually.

Want to win a copy of The General thanks to Madman Entertainment? Check out all the details here.

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here.

Silent Film Week Guest Post: Hugo and Melies

James from Mr Rumsey’s Film Related Musings has kindly contributed this article for Silent Film Week which takes a look at Martin Scorcese’s Hugo and the relationship it has with the films of Georges Melies. It is an absolutely cracking article and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

hugo poster

Perhaps almost incorrectly labelled as a kid’s film, Hugo (2011) is as much a love letter to the medium of film as it is a family adventure movie. This is Scorsese reminding us why we all love films as much as we do, and he’s looking back with a particularly fond eye to Georges Méliès and to the inventive short films that he made between 1896 and 1913.

Set in Paris during the 1930’s, we follow the story of a young boy named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), an orphan who lives within a train station’s walls and who spends his time tinkering with machinery and clocks the way that his father taught him to. His father’s love for the movies transferred over to Hugo, and that love is taken up by the film and held proudly for all to see. It’s no secret that this is a celebration of the medium, as Hugo’s adventure leads him through what’s almost a history lesson in early film making, famous events such as the Lumière brothers’ screening of L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (1896) are depicted, but the films’ real focus is on the highly imaginative works of George Méliès.

When trying to pick an example from Méliès’ work to discuss here I was faced with a near impossible decision, I could honestly have picked any of them, and if you are not familiar with his work then I strongly suggest that you head on over to YouTube and check some of them out. It would be well worth your time. Anyway, the film that I picked out for this post was his Cinderella (1899). Here you can see numerous techniques at work which he has now became famous for, such as the stop trick where the film is stopped, the actor/actress moved, and then the film starts again in order to create the illusion that the person has vanished, or in some of the cases here, an object is transformed. Aside from the visual trickery, this film starts off pretty much as we would expect it to. It’s the recognisable fairy tale which we are all familiar with, and everything seems relatively normal. But then we are suddenly surprised by the wonderful method that he chooses to use in order to depict time. It’s not only very effective and startling, but also, for me at least, it’s really rather fun.

It’s when looking back on Méliès’ films that I came to wish that Hugo could have been more inventive, had played with its form and our expectations to a greater extent. It would certainly be suiting considering the legacy that it is celebrating. It’s for these reasons that I believe that the film absolutely deserved to be shot on digital and in 3D. It is in actual fact the perfect treatment for such a film. It celebrates film, and the childlike pleasure that we get from seeing films, and whilst it looks back with a very fond and grateful eye on the past, particularly Méliès, it also absolutely celebrates innovation and the desire to try new things. Is Hugo as imaginative as Méliès? Not by a long way, but then that’s hardly surprising. Yes, I would have liked it to have stretched itself a little more, and yet it still delivers a satisfying story which is backed up by a great cast including Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Helen McCrory, and features a particularly strong performance by Ben Kingsley. It’s a heart-warming film that delivers adventure and a childish delight in the exciting world of storytelling, whilst also somehow being a film history lesson and a celebration of movies both old and new.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

I want to leave you with another one of Méliès’ films, this one is particularly vivid, and I think frankly is nothing short of spectacular. The richness and vibrance of the hand painted frames is something to behold. Please spend a few minutes with The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906) and see what you think of it!

Want to win a copy of The General thanks to Madman Entertainment? Check out all the details here.

James is the creator and writer of Mr Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. Be sure to check out his site for a continuous stream of really fantastic reviews of a wide variety of movies, both old and new.

Silent Film Week: Silent Movie

silent poster

Silent Movie (1976) is one of a small number of silent films made well and truly after the end of the silent era, with The Artist (2011) and the Australian film Dr Plonk (2007) the only others that I can recall as fitting the bill (that’s just off the top of my head though, no doubt there are many others). I was pretty excited for this Mel Brooks effort, overacting and other tropes of silent movies are definitely ripe for the spoofing.

Unfortunately though, I was left utterly underwhelmed by this really quite tiresome film. It is the first Mel Brooks film I have seen and I know he has a big reputation amongst many astute film lovers. So hopefully I find more enjoyment in his other films. The first joke of the film comes in the first second with a very clever opening intertitle. The laughs were not very consistent from that point on though. After a solid opening few minutes where I could see the inspiration of the great silent comedians and what I thought was the influence of this film on The Naked Gun (1988), the jokes began to fall incredibly flat. Also not helping proceedings is the films regular reliance on material that falls foul of contemporary standards of political correctness or good taste (for example a homophobic slur is deployed on multiple occasions, which the audience is meant to find hilarious).

Mel Brooks and his two deeply unfunny co-stars

Mel Brooks and his two deeply unfunny co-stars

Plotwise, the film sees Brooks’ character attempting to get his film career back on track by pitching a silent film to some very dubious studio execs, then attempting to woo the biggest stars of the time to appear. The whole notion of silent film seems to be intrinsically linked with movies about movies. As seen in the aforementioned The Artist and also in the classic Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Indeed the only jokes that contained a semblance of wit for me in this movie were those about the film industry. But even these lost steam as the film wore on. There is a little joy in seeing very young versions of Burt Reynolds and James Caan playing hyper versions of themselves. But even these charismatic actors are drawn into the crippling vortex of tedium. A scene set in Caan’s trailer is even more tiresome than most of the other goings on. And before too long, Brooks seems to have gotten over actually parodying the silent form. The film essentially just turns into a (really dire) standard comedy.

What a waste of a fantastic premise. Silent Movie is crippled by many things, but worst of all are jokes that are just lame rather than containing the merest suggestion of wit or inspiration. A film that for me progressed beyond just unfunny or annoying to the level of being really painful to watch.

Verdict: Schooner of Tooheys New

Want to win a copy of The General thanks to Madman Entertainment? Check out all the details here.

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here.

Silent Film Week: Intro and Competition Details


One of the great joys of film history that the 1001 has opened my eyes too is silent film. Watching the literal birth of the art is always amazing. Don’t get me wrong there are just as many rubbish silents as sound films, but some of the greatest comedies, horror flicks, westerns and drama films are from the silent era.

This week on the blog I will be exploring the varied wonders of silent film, along with a killer contribution from a guest blogger. There will hopefully be a little something for everyone as the week will cover a range of genres, shorts and features and even a sound film. The gameplan is to have 7 posts in all (though a few haven’t been written yet so don’t hold me to that.

Thanks to Madman Entertainment I will be running a comp all week, so get involved for your chance to win a copy of Buster Keaton’s iconic The General. You can earn entries in the following ways fine people:

  • ‘Like’ the post on Facebook for one entry.
  • Comment on the post on Facebook for two entries.
  • Share the post on Facebook for two entries.
  • Like the post on this site for one entry.
  • Comment on the post on this site for two entries.

There will be double entries for The General review that will be up on Saturday and entries will remain open until midnight on Thursday 18 April (Australian time). If you have any questions about the competition, ask me in the comments section or fire and email to drinkingbeerwatchingmovie@gmail.com.

To kick things off, let me know in the comments section what your favourite silent film is and why.

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here.