Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More recomended DVD's

Leonard Maltin's recent column about Charlie Chaplin reminds us not only of the comedian's greatness, but also of the fact that there are two new DVDs featuring his work. These two new releases are among the best new silent film DVDs in 2010. Along with the four-disc set, Chaplin at Keystone (Flicker Alley), and a new edition of Modern Times (Criterion), we would also recommend:

The Complete Metropolis
Though it’s a science fiction masterpiece – a 1927 dystopia of the future told in expressionist terms – the greatness of Metropolis stems from its “pagan power” – as anyone who saw it this past July at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will attest. Plus, Brigitte Helm is one sexy robot. The just released, newly restored version of the film (at 148 minutes) contains nearly 25 minutes of previously lost footage found in Argentina. Now, the film’s interlocking story lines, multiple characters, and grandiose vision of the future are fully revealed. Metropolis influenced not only films like Blade Runner and Star Wars, but how we see our future selves. (KINO)

Three Silent Classics By Josef Von Sternberg
If there is any one early director experiencing renewed interest, it may be Joseph von Sternberg. The Austrian born Svengali behind Marlene Dietrich and The Blue Angel (as well as many other stylish films from the 1930s) is also the subject of a notable new biography by John Baxter. This three disc set collects three silent films made on the cusp of the sound age – gritty evocations of gangster life (Underworld, 1927), the Russian Revolution (The Last Command, 1928), and working-class desperation (The Docks of New York, 1928). Each is a minor masterpiece, and each is suggestive of the von Sternberg films to come. Oh, and might we add, Underworld helped launch the gangster genre and won an Oscar. (Criterion)

This is not that Chicago. This is the first Chicago, and the Chicago screened to roars of delight at the 2006 Winter Event. This is the story of sexy, jazz-loving and dressed to kill Roxie Hart. Gold-digger, murderer, headline grabber – she’s got more guys wrapped around her little finger than are good for her. Unless, of course, they can do something for her. Like the musical that won Best Picture and five other Oscars in 2002, this 1927 version descends from the 1926 Broadway play. It’s an entertaining mix of humor and melodrama as well as a critique of tabloid journalism. It’s also largely the unaccredited work of Cecil B. DeMille, who is also the subject of a new biography. But that’s another story, all of which is revealed in the excellent and abundant bonus material. (Flicker Alley)

Miss Mend
Chances are even the most dedicated film buff hasn’t heard of Miss Mend, a serial produced in the Soviet Union. Its heroine is a plucky working girl who earns her own living and raises a child without the help of a man. She also gets mixed up in various melodramatic adventures - all of which culminates in an attempted germ warfare attack on the Soviet Union led by secret organization of international capitalists. No, this film wasn't made yesterday - it was made in 1926. Unlike the more familiar Potemkin or Aelita: Queen of Mars, Miss Mend set out not to glorify the revolution but to rival American movies of the 1920s. And this they did with exuberance and aplomb. This amusing melodrama, in three feature-length episodes, was criticized in the Soviet press as an example of shameless “Western-style” entertainment. And probably for that very reason it was hugely popular in its day. You’ll enjoy it too. (Flicker Alley)

Sherlock Jr. and Three Ages (Ultimate 2-Disc Edition)
Only Keaton’s genius could complete with Chaplin’s prodigious talent. In Sherlock Jr., Keaton stars in and directed this story of a movie projectionist studying to become a detective. While on the job, he falls asleep and within a dream, enters the picture being projected on the movie screen and solves a crime Sherlock-Holmes style. He also gets the girl. This new 2 disc edition includes a cleaned-up print, new musical scores, and bonus materials. Also issued earlier this year is a new “Ultimate 2-Disc Edition” of Keaton’s great 1928 film, Steamboat Bill Jr. (KINO)

Talmadge Sisters Double Features
KINO has released two discs featuring the films of the Talmadge Sisters, Norma and Constance. Norma was the bigger star and was well regarded for her dramatic roles, as in the recently screened The Woman Disputed; Constance was popular and much loved as a comedian. The Norma Talmadge Collection features Kiki (1926) and Within the Law (1923). The Constance Talmadge Collection features Her Night of Romance (1924) and Her Sister From Paris (1925). Each of these four films is entertaining – and as a bonus, debonair Ronald Colman co-stars in three of them. Be still your beating hearts. (KINO)

Warner Archive Collection
The Warner Archive Collection is a god-send. Over the last couple of years, Warner has released dozens and dozens of previously unreleased contemporary and classic movies from its considerable catalog of films. And among them are many silent films. Looking for La Boheme (1923) with Lillian Gish, or Our Dancing Daughters (1928) with Joan Crawford? Or how about something starring John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, William Haines, Norma Shearer or Marion Davies? The Warner Archive Collection has them. This innovative on-demand service allows individuals to order DVDs of titles otherwise not commercially available; generally speaking, they are not restored or remastered – and the print quality can be fair to good or better. But at least they are available. More info regarding the selection of silent filmsc an be found  here. (Warner Archive Collection)
Films Starring Lon Chaney
The one silent film star who consistently played sad misshapen characters and tortured souls was Lon Chaney. Known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” his films include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, and the arm-twisting shocker, The Unknown. The Warner Archive Collection has released 6 of his MGM films and made them available at a special price. The six are He Who Gets Slapped (1924), The Monster (1925), The Unholy Three (1925), Mr.Wu (1927), Mockery (1927), and The Unholy 3 (1930). One favorite is He Who Gets Slapped, the story of a pathetic clown whose act involves getting slapped and abused at the hands of his fellow performers. The crowds love it, and cheers for more! (Warner Archive Collection)

Those interested in silent film should also keep an eye out for new releases from Milestone, Grapevine, and Unknown Video. Each also has an extensive catalog of previous releases.


  1. Let's not forget "Sunrise," which as far as I know, is only available as part of a box set through Fox.... or on eBay.

  2. I love Metropolis! I saw the restoration on TCM a few weeks ago and was blown away.

    Nathan, you can still get "Sunrise" on DVD on TCM's website for 19.99. Since it's out of print, they limit you to one copy. Wish I would have picked it up a few years ago when it first came out. Pick it up while you still can. It's fantastic! Here's the link: http://turnerclassic.moviesunlimited.com/Product.asp?sku=D02562&shopRef=

  3. I like Metropolis! I observed the restoration upon Chinese medicine a month in the past and had been impressed.
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