Silent Week – #1: Lubitsch in Berlin

The idea behind Silent Week is simple: the films are silent, the blog is anything but.

Oh, that sounds like a cheesy marketing line that ITV would use (not that ITV would ever go anywhere near a silent film). Sorry. But still, the idea runs more or less thusly: I watch a silent film one day, I post a review of it the next (well, that was the idea…) That doesn’t necessarily mean seven films, but enough to justify it being a Week rather than, I dunno, a Weekend. However, as it’s turned out (at least for this inaugural entry), I watched (almost) all the films last week and intend to post all the reviews this week.

Why silent films? Because I’ve noticed I own quite a few that I haven’t seen. I could probably do the same thing with anime, or film noir, or Asian action movies, or any number of other such genres/categories, but silents attracted my attention for now.

The initial idea (that again…) had been to start with a random selection of the silents I own, but then I got the new Masters of Cinema Lubitsch in Berlin set a week in advance of its release (which, incidentally, is tomorrow) — I always love it when that happens, especially as it inspires me to actually watch stuff right away. And this set has seven films — what could be more perfect for a Silent Week? (OK, one film immediately breaks the rules by not being silent, but as it’s a documentary about silents I rule it eligible.)

As if to cement this more themed approach, as I listed the silents I own they began to fall into categories — Hitchcock, Chaplin, Murnau & Lang, plus the Feuillade serials Fantômas and Les Vampires. I could muddle these up into more random weeks, or go chronologically across them all, but why bother? As I’ve got through Lubitsch in Berlin OK (well, almost) I’ll try again sometime soon with another of these themes, and continue that way… until I run out and have a grab bag of remaining titles (currently: 4½).

I hasten to point out (he says, in paragraph six) that I’m no expert on silent cinema — these are all first-views, as per the rest of the blog, and informed by little more than that (the exception being DVDs with booklets, where there may be a bit more info at my disposal). Despite the lack of any specialism, it’s thanks primarily to a series of era-spanning degree modules with a filmic bent that I’ve found myself with enough of an interest in the silent era to accumulate a variety of films over the past few years… I just haven’t watched most of them, clearly.

But let’s bring things back on point: six films directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and one documentary about them. I begin today with reviews of the first two featured in the set:

2010 #4
Ich möchte kein Mann sein
aka I Wouldn’t Like to Be a Man
1918 | Ernst Lubitsch | 45 mins | DVD | PG

“Ossi Oswalda is obviously a skilled comedic actress, convincing as both a petulant tomboy and a boyish gent, capable of both drunken stumbling and coy giggling, by turns delightfully rebellious, sweetly put-upon and succinctly joyous. She’s even believable as a man (albeit a boyish one).”

4 out of 5

2010 #5
Die Puppe
aka The Doll
1919 | Ernst Lubitsch | 64 mins | DVD | PG

“It’s a constant array of delights, and nothing outstays its welcome; every sequence is mined for its full comic potential, but Lubitsch wisely moves on before it can become repetitive or stale.”

5 out of 5

Coming up: Die Austernprinzessin (aka The Oyster Princess), Sumurun (aka One Arabian Night), Anna Boleyn (aka Deception), Die Bergkatze (aka The Wildcat), and Ernst Lubitsch in Berlin: From Schönhauser Allee to Hollywood.

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