"Voyage to the Moon" (1902)
This early silent film by master artist and film pioneer Georges Melies is considered a
classic by many film buffs. Although it runs for only 14 minutes this whimsical fantasy
really focuses on an astronomer's dream.
"The Great Train Robbery" (1903)
Director Edwin S. Porter's action-packed narrative set the standard for all the Westerns that
followed and captured the imaginations of Americans an Europeans. One of the first American
films to depict a genuine story, the film successfully cuts between different points of view
in order to tell a fast paced fable that was literally the stuff that legends are made of.
"Birth of a Nation" (1915)
D.W. Griffith's civil war masterpiece is as notable for its racism as it is for its
cinemagraphic innovations. The film which is told from a Southerner's perspective, depicts the
impact of the civil war on two closely knit families, the Stonemans (from the North), and the
Camerons (from the South). A must see for anyone who expects to understand films and film
making, or for anyone who thinks Spike Lee is crazy.
In many respects this film is Griffith's response to critics accusations of racism in
"Birth of a Nation" the year before. A monumental undertaking, this epic rails
against injustice through the ages. Although initially the film was not a commercial success,
it has undeniably had a major impact on films and film making.
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1919)
German director Robert Wiene's classic expressionist fantasy is a brilliant depiction of a
madman's wildest imaginings. This film is often credited with laying the stylistic foundation
for subsequent horror films. Do NOT waste your time watching the 1962 remake of the film, it
lacks the power and vision inherent in the original.
"Robin Hood" (1922)
Douglas Fairbanks Senior is dazzling in this big-budget medieval pageant. By now the plot is
familiar to most movie watchers: King Richard sets forth on the Crusades leaving his brother
Prince John as regent, but. John rapidly shows his true colors and is exposed as a cruel,
treasonous tyrant. Enter Robin Hood, acrobatic champion of the oppressed, and dashing love of
the Lady Marion who sets things right but not without some stealer swashbuckling feats and
numerous nifty cliffhangers! What can I say - it is a fun movie!
The beauty and the horror of the vampire myth are impressively captured in F W Murnau's version
of Bram Stoker's classic novel. This film is a classic example of the German Expressionist
movement but it also owes much to the Victorian theories of Sigmund Freud. A must see for all
Dracula fans and Freudian analysts.
"Safety Last" (1923)
Starring the original daredevil, Harold Lloyd, whose antics in this film explain why film
makers are required to post a bond before production starts. This hair-raising comedy features
the now legendary sequence where Lloyd dangles from a high-rise clock face after climbing 12
stories up the side of a building in order to obtain $1,000 and win the love of his girlfriend.
Erich Von Stroheim's most extensive work is a masterful analysis of human greed and selfishness.
"The Thief of Baghdad" (1924)
Director Raoul Walsh's Arabian Nights fantasy features Douglas Fairbanks Senior at his dashing
best. This film is arguably the most athletic of all screen swashbucklers. Of all the film's
noteworthy stunts the magic carpet ride is probably the best sequence. For this, Fairbanks
(who was renowned for performing his own stunts) mounted the magic carpet and was suspended by
six wires from a 90 foot crane and flown over Baghdad, where he confronts a dragon. The film's
special effects are ingenious enough to stand the test of time and Fairbanks is athletic and
agile enough to merit a viewing.
"Battleship Potempkin" (1925)
One of the best examples of Russian post revolutionary propaganda ever filmed. A classic
example of Sergei Eisenstein's theory of the montage this film features the now famous Odessa
Steps sequence - one of the most powerful sequences ever captured on film. This sequence has
been frequently imitated (an example of this can be found in Brian De Palma's 1987 film "
The Untouchables"), but never equaled.
"The Gold Rush" (1925)
Charlie Chaplin at his best facing hunger and larceny amidst the Klondike's frozen wastes.
This is quintessential Chaplin, sentimental and brilliant as the little tramp - the honest
outcast who eventually gets the girl and the gold.
"The General" (1926)
Considered by many people to be one of Buster Keaton"s best the films. Keaton was noted
for his stoically graceful characterizations and this film is certainly no exception. All too
often, Keaton is overlooked by film fans - having lived in the shadow of Chaplin and Lloyd -
but his genius for physical comedy is undeniable in this masterpiece. Contemporary audiences
will find that Keaton has the grace of a Jackie Chan and the unflappability of a John Steed.
In this film Keaton manages to accomplish the virtually impossible, successfully blending
action and adventure with romance and comedy - no small achievement in and of itself.
Fritz Lang's futuristic vision of a nightmarish utopia literally sets the standards for all
subsequent science fiction films. Featuring some of the best examples special effects ever
captured on film, Metropolis was as cinematically ahead of its time as it was thematically.
A must see for any one who loves science fiction or well made movies.
Legendary director Abel Gance's monumental historical epic details the early life of Napoleon
from his early years as a student in a military college through his triumphant march into
Italy. The film is admirable primarily for its extraordinary technical virtuosity.
Gance made full and unprecedented use of both the camera (which literally swoops and twists
through scene after scene), and visionary editing techniques. The icing on the cake occurs at
the end of the film where Napoleon's triumphant entry into Italy is projected as an heroic
triptych across three screens , rather than being restricted to one. Several years ago I had
the pleasure of watching this film at the Midland Theater (one of the original movie palaces)
where it was accompanied by a symphony orchestra conducted by Carmine Coppola (the film was
re-released and edited by Francis Ford Coppola). The film lives up to its reputation as an
early masterpiece and is definitely worth seeing - preferably in a theater with a live orchestra.
"The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928)
Danish director Carl Dreyer's haunting depiction of the martyrdom of Joan of Arc is both
visually stunning and emotionally moving. The film is less about Joan of Arc's18 months of
interrogations (which are condensed into a single day), than about the battle for her soul,
and her quest for attainment of salvation through suffering. The film features a revolutionary
reliance on close-ups and equally inventive uses of rapid cross-cutting.
"Un Chien Andalou" (1928)
When writing the script, director Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali (yes the artist of
surrealistic fame), deliberately rejected anything that made rational sense. As a consequence,
providing a plot summary is nothing short of an exercise in futility. The film consists of
seventeen minutes of bizarre surrealistic images. Not for the faint of heart, the film features
such disturbing sequences as a woman's eye being slit open, a man poking at a seve (which is
lying in the street), a boy being struck by a truck, and a literal depiction of the French
phrase "ants in the palms," (which means that a man is "itching" to kill).
Bunuel had a reputation for creating disturbing films and this is no exception. David Lynch -
eat your heart out!