Best Movie of 1915?

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Mike Gebert

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Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 11:16 am

With what would once have been the obvious answer on the masthead this month, The Birth of a Nation, it seems a good time to pose the annual question... what's your pick for the best movie of 1915?

For me it was hard to make choices for earlier years in the teens, but we're starting to get into years where I've seen at least a significant portion of what survives and is considered important, thanks first to David Shepard who released a number of films from the mid-teens, and second thanks to Cinesation especially among the festivals, where a lot of things were shown. Dramas were becoming increasingly fluid and capable by this time, and while The Birth of a Nation remains the most celebrated, for me seeing a lot of these other films has made it clear that Griffith was by no means the only show in town at this point and there were plenty of other directors who were equally if not more capable in certain ways by then (directing is not a zero-sum game, of course, so it doesn't take away from Griffith to say that someone else did their own things well). I don't think comedy was as far along— Chaplin and Arbuckle were on the rise, certainly, but for me their great films are still another year away, and as for foreign films, I really don't know what stood out, so I'll be interested to hear what Asta Nielsen or whomever films people suggest.

Anyway, my first choice would be Maurice Tourneur's Alias Jimmy Valentine, which I have on laserdisc and was out on DVD in the long-out-of-print Origins of Film set from the Smithsonian. It's a stage melodrama about a safecracker who goes straight, with a crackerjack ending, and Robert Warwick— a familiar 40s character actor who at this point is young and as handsome as George O'Brien— plays it for all it's worth, but Tourneur also makes it cinematically effective through his use of composition and lighting. Here's a little visual essay somebody put on YouTube:



Unfortunately this doesn't show the most strikingly abstract moment of the film, in which Tourneur shows the layout of a crime scene from above as if it were a blueprint, so you can see exactly how the crime takes place, the sort of thing you might have found innovative in a crime movie like Rififi 40 years later. It's also, in its own way, oddly reflective of the matter of factness and abstraction of crime in one of 1915's other most celebrated titles— Les Vampires.

Image

It was remade three times in the next 30 years, though the 1920 and 1928 versions (MGM's first part-talkie) are lost, and the 1942 is reportedly awful. The melodrama had whiskers by then, I'm sure, but in 1915 it's steam-heated.

Image
I'm not 100% positive this Hungarian poster is Alias Jimmy Valentine, but... what a great poster!

Anyway, I could pick others, like The Stoning with Viola Dana, for certain, but that's my first choice. Yours?

Past versions of this post: 1914, 1913, 1912, and 1911.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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entredeuxguerres

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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 11:46 am

Wouldn't be fair to judge Tourneur's picture by the above clip, which is all of it I've seen, but with only that little snippet to go by, I'll say without hesitation I like De Mille's Carmen infinitely better.

But I'll admit those pious dolls was a master stroke.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 11:57 am

Mike, that is some sharp work - the use of exteriors is terrific.

Thanks,
-Craig
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 11:58 am

While I agree that "Carmen" is a decent film, and while I still think that - simply as a feature film - "Birth of a Nation" is the best American film made that year (all the politics and political correctness and racism aside - which can't be done, and never could) - my vote for the best beside is "Regeneration" with Rockcliffe Fellows and Anna Q. Nilsson because I think it takes the presentation - from direction to acting - to a new natural level (again, "Birth of a Nation" aside).
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 12:08 pm

If there had been a "Best Picture" award for 1915, Birth of a Nation would have certainly won. It's a sentimental big-budget epic.

I totally agree on Alias Jimmy Valentine and Les Vampires, but I'll add one more. The Italian with George Beban is a realistic story with great acting.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 12:30 pm

You have mentioned many good films but my choice is Yevgeni Bauer's Grezy (aka Daydreams), a bizarre movie by Russian master.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 3:20 pm

Image

DeMille's The Cheat is my favorite feature film from that year. Second place goes to Regeneration, directed by the guy who plays Lincoln's assassin in The Birth of a Nation — which in turn must be content with the bronze prize.

Special Awards to:

A Fool There Was - Most Delicious Dialogue
Pool Sharks - Most Promising Newcomer (W.C. Fields)
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 3:57 pm

http://www.imdb.com/search/title?year=1 ... emeter,asc"

A list of 1915 films on the imdb.

I agree with Mike about Alias Jimmy Valentine.
The burglary scene was way ahead of its time
in respect to picture composition.
Some current video game graphics have the same
screen composition.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 5:01 pm

Now we're getting into a year for which talking about "Best" instead of "Is there anything good? makes some sense. Looking at what's available from two years earlier I saw not a single good feature. There were plenty of great shorts in 1913, but no one had figured out how to make a anything longer than thirty minutes that held together. 1915 is another matter entirely. Not only are there more films of every length to look at, but there are several features that need to be considered. I've seen 218 films from the year. From that total it's hard to pick out a worst film of the year -- Minerva Courtenay appeared in three movies in her unnervingly bad imitation of Chaplin's Little Tramp and Ham & Bud disgraced us with The Phoney Cannibal. TPC is the poster child for racism that year, not BOAN. I urge you not to watch them in an effort to break the tie.

The best film, however, is in little doubt. A minor image from it appears in this month's (February 2015) masthead, because a century later it can still captivate and infuriate people enough that Mike seems to fear that Congress will indict him if he puts anything more obvious up there. It's D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation. If the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences had been around in 1915, the only question would have been whether the Big Old Studios -- the Edison Trust -- had enough clout to get one of their features voted in -- if they had any. I can't seem to recall anything except William Brady's production of The Stolen Voice. If that was even a Trust picture. Tillie's Punctured Romance? Comedies never win. Sweet Alyssum? Puh-leeze.Vordetreppe-Hintertreppe might be in the running, but let's stop this nonsense. You may love BOAN or hate it (I think it's a groundbreaking film but don't want to look at it ever again), but it's so clearly ahead of the others, that we might as well kick it out of the running and consider "The Best Movie of 1915 that Wasn't BOAN". At the very least, it will prevent accusations.

Also one of the things I wish to avoid is a mysterious presentiment that this kid is going to turn out some great flicks some day, so of course this is a great movie. I've seen Hitchcock's first movie and it's about two brunettes; Eisenstein's first looks like a student film by someone who wants to scare coulrophobes. Let's consider the evidence of the film that we are looking at and try to remember that at this stage if you said "Ford" you meant Henry or the guy who usually starred with Grace Cunard. The great director we think of was happy to be an ambitious stunt man on the same lot. A lot of stage talent started appearing in the movies in 1915, following the money, but that doesn't mean they made great movies ... yet.


So, let me go through my list of films and see what stands out with that aide-memoire.

Best animated Movie Cartoons on Tour. Bray was beginning to get stuff done, but Raoul Barre was first out of the gate in American production with a goodly assortment and this is his best set of "Animated Grouch Chasers". I know you all think it should be something by Willis H. O'Brien, but even though he would do great things over the next thirty years (including hiring Ray Harryhausen), we've ruled no presentiment!

Best Comedy Short. It's a tie! The Tramp (no surprise there) and Miss Sticky-Moufie-Kiss. That Little Band of Gold is frozen out, alas. I really love Arbuckle' great short comedies when he had the advantage of knowing that if this one didn't work, it would be Sennett and not he who would suffer, but Chaplin's integration of pathos with comedy and Sidney Drew's expressions have him beat.

Best Serial: No competition: Les Vampires

Best Feature: It's a tough race. I agree that Mike's choice, Alias Jimmy Valentine, is a great film, even if I think Tourneur's The Cub is a better popcorn film and his Trilby a better woman's film. Also great is The Darkening Trail, the W.S. Hart nominee for the year. Bauer's Posle Smerti (I hope I've spelled that approximately correctly) is unforgettable.

However, for the Best Film of 1915 that is not BOAN, we need to look at the work of Cecil B. DeMille. And, no, not The Cheat, which is far too melodramatic for me. I think if you're looking for social conscience, great acting, great story and great camerawork, you might go with Raoul Walsh's Regeneration, but Demille's The Golden Chance is the movie for me.

Bob
Last edited by boblipton on Fri Feb 06, 2015 6:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 6:29 pm

boblipton wrote:...Demille's The Golden Chance is the movie for me.

Bob


Never heard of the film or its star, but his name alone is sufficient warrant for me to be greatly interested in watching it; that is, with a first-rate score, which unavoidably complicates my evaluation of any silent.

Can't say that The Cheat is too melodramatic for me!
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 8:42 pm

I'd like to weigh in with the Italian theatrical adaptation, Assunta Spina, filmed on location in Naples, in a way which anticipates neo-realism by three decades. Co-star Francesca Bertini, the diva of the title, co-directed, which makes it
a positive vote for women in film.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 06, 2015 9:24 pm

So many good ones in this year, it's truly hard to choose. I'd have to also go with the Les Vampire serial, closely followed by The Cheat (Sessue Hayakawa's performance in that one is magnificent.)
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 07, 2015 4:11 am

The Birth of a Nation hands down.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 07, 2015 7:02 am

"The Coward" (1915) was another well done film celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil War, telling a "Red Badge of Courage" or "Four Feathers" type story of cowardice.

http://www.silentera.com/video/cowardHV.html" target="_blank
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 07, 2015 7:32 am

drednm wrote:The Birth of a Nation hands down.

Agreed.
This fictional story about friendship and romance, caught up in a nation at war certainly is much more than a terrible racist film.

It begins by saying Slavery in America (originally everywhere) planted the first seed of disunion. The beginning of the story establishes that 'Union' is more important than 'State's Rights.' Next comes the Union Victory as it celebrates Lee's surrender...the end of State's Rights. I'm always puzzled when others claim this film was about the Southerner's perspective?
Griffith's film shows how Lincoln hoped reconstruction would bring the nation back together as brothers, and then recreated Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theatre.

The racist part is based on fact.
Democracy in America was put on hold for a dozen years when Republicans "wrought a veritable overthrow of civilization in the South in their determination to 'put the white South under the heel of the Black South.'"
They divided the South into Five Military Districts, installing mostly Black leadership while preventing Black men in the North from voting. Only Blacks in the five Military Districts down South were permitted to vote and they did, under the careful guidance of the Republicans. Later, when it was discovered the majority of White voters had not voted for President Grant, Congress quickly passed the suffrage amendment to the Constitution providing Black men throughout the country the right to vote and insuring continued domination in Government by the Republicians.

Yes it's a racist film but the time it represents was even more racist.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 07, 2015 11:09 am

Nobody is arguing that Reconstruction was wonderful, and that whites should have shut up and taken their medicine. If political injustice is what Griffith was arguing against there would be no controversy. What is objectionable is the inflammatory suggestion that emancipated black men demanding equality were really after the master's women, and that whites were routinely raped and murdered by freed slaves. That was Thomas Dixon's main point, and Griffith chose to carry that point over from his novel. Although Griffith softened some of Dixon's most lurid depictions, the message did not change. As far as Lillian Gish's contention that Mr. Griffith loved "the blacks," the film makes it clear that Griffith wanted to see them in their place, and in the final ridiculous scene in which emancipated black men emerge from their cabins on election day, only to be confronted by a line of masked Klansmen, it's pretty clear that place was not in a voting booth. The movie, like all movies about the past, was really about the time in which it was made. It was not just about Reconstruction, but about maintaining the status quo of 1915. Now, I really like the movie. I get caught up in the drama of the Cameron family every time I see it. And from my limited knowledge of the films made in that year I would vote for it as the best film. But I'm not going to hide my eyes during the bad parts and pretend that Griffith was just reporting facts.
Last edited by Mitch Farish on Sat Feb 07, 2015 12:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 07, 2015 11:55 am

We have an imperfect history. Always have had and always will.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 07, 2015 1:10 pm

entredeuxguerres wrote:
boblipton wrote:...Demille's The Golden Chance is the movie for me.

Bob


Never heard of the film or its star, but his name alone is sufficient warrant for me to be greatly interested in watching it; that is, with a first-rate score, which unavoidably complicates my evaluation of any silent.


The Golden Chance was the second film on the Image Entertainment DVD of Don't Change Your Husband prepared by David Shepard, and I enjoyed the film quite a bit. It got some nice reviews at that time, which you can search for here. As for the score, it's one of a series of lower-budget scores I created by overdubbing a digital piano and a real accordion, but using historic photoplay music compositions as a source. It allowed a slightly more lyrical sound than solo piano, an extremely low-budget since I didn't have to pay for anyone's time, while at least keeping a small amount of historical authenticity.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 07, 2015 1:13 pm

drednm wrote:We have an imperfect history. Always have had and always will.


Join the club. It is a big club.

I do not think there can be any question that BIRTH OF A NATION is the most important film of 1915. It is the most ambitious, the most innovative, the most influential and arguably the most commercially successful film of that year. It is not the most politically correct one and in places I find it almost too hateful to watch. I do not love it but I admire many things about it.

So, much as I would like to suggest some little-known German gem - most likely starring Asta Nielsen - there is no question in my mind that BOAN is THE film of 1915. Does this make it "the best one"? That is probably a matter of definition more than anything else.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 07, 2015 2:02 pm

Rodney wrote:
entredeuxguerres wrote:
boblipton wrote:...Demille's The Golden Chance is the movie for me.

Bob


Never heard of the film or its star, but his name alone is sufficient warrant for me to be greatly interested in watching it; that is, with a first-rate score, which unavoidably complicates my evaluation of any silent.


The Golden Chance was the second film on the Image Entertainment DVD of Don't Change Your Husband prepared by David Shepard, and I enjoyed the film quite a bit. It got some nice reviews at that time, which you can search for here. As for the score, it's one of a series of lower-budget scores I created by overdubbing a digital piano and a real accordion, but using historic photoplay music compositions as a source. It allowed a slightly more lyrical sound than solo piano, an extremely low-budget since I didn't have to pay for anyone's time, while at least keeping a small amount of historical authenticity.


Damn--I've got it! And presumably watched it years ago when I first acquired that disk, but for some reason it obviously failed to make a great impression on me...probably because I was so much more impressed & delighted by Don't Change Your Husband, which I've watched many times since. Will try tonight to find out what endeared it to Bob.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 07, 2015 10:29 pm

Rodney wrote:...As for the score, it's one of a series of lower-budget scores I created by overdubbing a digital piano and a real accordion, but using historic photoplay music compositions as a source.


I recognized "Bandinage" by my favorite American composer! Low-budget or not, score was a fine compliment to the picture. But what a grainy print--close-ups made "the prettiest girl in town" (Poughkeepsie?) appear to have acne. A millionaire with the looks of Wallace Reid could have been courting Mary Eaton.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSun Feb 08, 2015 2:48 pm

Re The Golden Chance - here's some further information at my 1916 Film Diary blog - http://brooksiescollection.tumblr.com/post/96740997153/a-1916-film-diary-the-golden-chance. I have not seen it, but it certainly received some superlative reviews in its day. The most extraordinary thing of all is that DeMille made it back to-back with The Cheat.

One theme that really comes out in the reviews of 1915-1916 is that some studios were handling the transition to features better than others were. Reviewers often make mention of whether a film's story was worthy of its lengthy duration, or whether the story had been padded to suit the new format. It's striking how often those that did adapt well tended to be the ones that survived into the sound era and beyond, whereas the ones who didn't mainly fell into what we consider today as the old guard of Selig and so forth. DeMille really hit the ground running on that count (and made 13 features that year, to boot! :shock: )
Last edited by Brooksie on Sun Feb 08, 2015 6:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSun Feb 08, 2015 3:35 pm

Brooksie wrote:...DeMille really hit the ground running on that count (and made 13 features that year, to boot! :shock: )


Didn't he, though? Not sure what to make of fact that his only screen credit is "Producer," with no one listed as Director; with other films in which he was credited as Producer, someone else (such as brother William) was listed as Director. And I don't think he'd have been too humble to assert the title of Producer and Director if he felt it was warranted.

Temptation, again starring tempestuous diva Geraldine, is another from 1915 I'd particularly like to see. Can't imagine, however, it could surpass Carmen.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostMon Feb 09, 2015 5:43 pm

It was during 1915 that movies really advanced to the point that they became widely accepted as an art form worthy of consideration beyond a cheap means of entertainment for the masses. THE BIRTH OF A NATION was not solely responsible for that shift in perception (although it had a lot to do with speeding it up), which had been ongoing for a good year already but rapidly picked up pace after its February/March premieres on the west/east coasts. It's highly likely that had the Motion Picture Academy been around in 1915, THE BIRTH OF A NATION would have been a shoe-in for Best Picture and/or director, and probably editing and production design. Nevertheless, I'd still hesitate to put it at the very top of the list, and not simply for its still-provocative racial content. Griffith's use of title cards always seemed to have one foot in the early Biograph tradition that typically displayed printed descriptions of what was about to happen, instead of a couple of dialogue titles that would convey the same information as it was happening, the titling style that was already well on its way to becoming the standard until the end of the silent era. Griffith had a positive influence on the performances overall, but also let his actors get a bit carried away at times, despite his reputation for reining them in. It's the sheer scope and scale of THE BIRTH OF A NATION that remains its most impressive aspect today, and obviously blew away audiences in 1915. There were nonetheless numerous smaller-scale features throughout the year that succeed cinematically on just as many levels, or nearly so.

Having seen close to 40 features from 1915, I've narrowed down a list of a top 20 memorable titles, with the top 10 in rough order of preference that could easily change after re-viewing any one of them, especially the top five. Below it are the other 1915 productions I can recall having seen (there might be a few others I saw somewhere but forgot about).

Since comedies often get little critical respect when it comes to awards (then and now), although I've got THE GOLDEN CHANCE as my number one title from 1915, I'll put in a strong plug for YOUNG ROMANCE, a highly entertaining rom-com with a touch of melodrama smoothly directed by George Melford from a William C. DeMille play, with delightful and generally underplayed performances and some striking camera effects. Amazingly, it was a January release, having been shot in late 1914, whereas THE GOLDEN CHANCE is certainly Cecil B. DeMille's most polished of his dozen or so 1915 productions but was also his last one of the year, with screenings in late December but not going into general release until January 1916.

The Golden Chance
Young Romance
Regeneration
The Italian
The Children of Eve
The Birth of a Nation
Carmen
The Cheat
A Fool There Was
The Coward


Kindling
On the Night Stage
Alias Jimmy Valentine
The Fairy and the Waif
The Second in Command
The Cub
The Moonstone
The Stolen Voice
The Disciple
Old Heidelberg


Other interesting 1915 productions (in alphabetical order)...

Alice in Wonderland
The Captive
The Case of Becky
Chimmie Fadden Out West
The Darkening Trail
Enoch Arden
The Girl of the Golden West
How Molly Malone Made Good
The Hypocrites
The Lamb
Madame Butterfly
The Magic Skin
The Martyrs of the Alamo
A Submarine Pirate
Trilby
Les Vampires
The Warrens of Virginia
The Whirl of Life
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entredeuxguerres

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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostMon Feb 09, 2015 6:47 pm

Christopher Jacobs wrote:...THE GOLDEN CHANCE is certainly Cecil B. DeMille's most polished of his dozen or so 1915 productions...


But there are a couple of rough edges that prevented me from sharing the enthusiasm of yourself & Bob. The most glaring was its failure to provide any plausible rational for how the "Judge's daughter" found herself married not merely to a drunk & loafer, or even to a thief, but to a brute so despicably vile. Had he been given a belt to replace his rope, some less ragged clothes to wear, & depicted as possessing some degree of humanity, I could have accepted the marital arrangement.

I liked Cleo Ridgely, thought her a very capable & sympathetic actress, but to accept the premise of her being "prettiest girl in town," who sweeps completely off his feet such a matinee idol as Reid, strained my credulity to the breaking point. My complaint, then, pertains to casting: either a more attractive & charismatic actress was needed, or not so strikingly good-looking a suitor.

But still...I liked it "all right," & thought the ambiguous ending superb.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostMon Feb 09, 2015 8:39 pm

Griffith's use of title cards always seemed to have one foot in the early Biograph tradition that typically displayed printed descriptions of what was about to happen, instead of a couple of dialogue titles that would convey the same information as it was happening, the titling style that was already well on its way to becoming the standard until the end of the silent era. Griffith had a positive influence on the performances overall, but also let his actors get a bit carried away at times, despite his reputation for reining them in. It's the sheer scope and scale of THE BIRTH OF A NATION that remains its most impressive aspect today, and obviously blew away audiences in 1915. There were nonetheless numerous smaller-scale features throughout the year that succeed cinematically on just as many levels, or nearly so.


Bingo. There are a lot of things about BOAN that are a throwback, a regression for Griffith, and first among them is returning to the pageant style of 1900s filmmaking, where the title tells you everything you're about to see. Mind you, it's not like being a bit old-fashioned is entirely a liability for Civil War pictures... Gone With the Wind has silent-style explanatory titles that you can't imagine appearing in, say, Stagecoach or Only Angels Have Wings the same year. And yet, like The Birth, it has ways in which it's the most technically advanced spectacle of its day, too. But this is why, quite apart from the racial content, it's not a film I feel compelled to revisit more than decades apart-- unlike Intolerance, which I could put on any time.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 13, 2015 9:04 am

The first time I saw BOAN, I too thought it to be the film of 1915. I even liked it better than Griffith's Intolerance (1916) as the continuous narrative interruptions of the latter film put me off considerably. But every time I re-watch these films Intolerance gets a little bit better and BOAN a little bit worse. I would still rate BOAN as one of the best films of 1915, but it is not my favorite. That honor goes to Assunta Spina, a marvelous Italian film with a captivating performance by Francesca Bertini.

After Assunta Spina, there are a number of other 1915 films that are strong contenders, even if they still don't quite catch BOAN for second place. Most of them have already been mentioned in this thread: The Italian, Regeneration, Young Romance, The Cheat, Les Vampires, Hypocrites, and Yevgeni Bauer's After Death.
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostFri Feb 13, 2015 9:26 am

I own Assunta Spina, I even thought about it for Watch That Movie Night. I guess I really need to see it now!
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Christopher Jacobs

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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSat Feb 14, 2015 2:01 am

I completely forgot about Bauer's AFTER DEATH, a strange and powerful film (like the other two on the same "Mad Love" DVD), so now I guess I'll need to redo my top 20 and demote THE DISCIPLE and/or OLD HEIDELBERG. My DVD of ASSUNTA SPINA says it's from 1914, so I didn't include it in my list, figuring that any 1915 dates just referred to U.S. playdates and many foreign films took a year or so to get here, but it looks like imdb and Wikipedia are both claiming the original Italian release was in October 1915. That means it should also probably be somewhere in my top 20 from 1915, although I remember being slightly disappointed by it. I need to watch it again one of these days.

And incidentally, A SUBMARINE PIRATE is listed in the AFI catalog as a 3512-foot four-reeler (39 min. @ 24fps or 58 min. @ 16fps) but the surviving copy on the Mack Sennett Blu-ray runs only 24 minutes at what appears to be something close to 16 or 18fps, so what we can see seems to be abridged to about half its original length (and it still seems too long!).
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Re: Best Movie of 1915?

PostSun Feb 15, 2015 10:45 am

Image
Denise bids goodbye to her husband Robert (René Montis)

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Denise (Fabienne Fabrèges) tries to calm her baby with her grandmother (Mme Vergny Cholet)

Thinking about the 1915 films I discovered recently, I thought I should tell you about one that really knocked me down. UNE PAGE DE GLOIRE (A Page of Glory, 1915) is remarkable Léonce Perret production for Gaumont. Thanks to the recent commemoration of the start of WWI, a large array of pictures of the period were screened last winter. I saw a number of Perret films including a few American features - LEST WE FORGET (1918) and THE UNKNOWN LOVE (1919) - and was terribly impressed by the poetic and emotional quality of his filmmaking. A number of great French directors such as Feuillade paled in comparison, for example LES VAMPIRES (1915) looked dated.
UNE PAGE DE GLOIRE shone particularly thanks to a new 4K digital restoration that was breathtakingly beautiful. The print was so sharp and clear, it looked as if it was shot yesterday. Perret managed to combine brilliant location shooting in the South of France and understated acting from all his actors. The storyline was deceptive. In other hands it could have been a silly melodrama. With Perret, it brought tears to your eyes. Here it is: Denise has married against her grandparents' will Robert. The war breaks out and Robert leaves for the front. Meanwhile Denise gives birth to a little boy. Upon receiving a desperate letter from Robert who thinks he'll never know his son, she decides to go to the frontline with her baby. After many misadventures, the couple will be reunited.
This patriotic film turns out to be a real work of beauty. Each actor played his part with feeling and realism. The beginning of the film showed the lovers in tall grass waving in the wind. Perret's cinematographer - Georges Specht - captured some incredibly beautiful shots perfectly composed and in complete symbiosis with the characters' feelings. The few sequences showing the soldiers on the battlefields or resting were equally well composed. The lead actress, Fabienne Fabrèges, was Perret's favourite actress at the time and proves an excellent performer mixing charm, vivacity and talent.
I only hope that Gaumont will show again this remarkable film or make a DVD. It deserves it.
[the screenshots above come from the Gaumont-Pathé website. But it's not the restored version, just an unedited print where all the sequences are in any order.]
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