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Where did you get to see this film (and White Shadows in the South Seas)?

I like that you've picked a film that has, if anything a poor critical reputation. It shouldn't be all about "chasing the greats".

That said, there were really a lot of truly great films made in the next few years. 1929-1933 may well be my favorite five-year period of cinema. But some of these great ones are silent. Just as the development of the feature film didn't prevent you from examining some shorts in subsequent years, I hope you're open to taking another look at silent filmmaking techniques somewhere down the line. Though I can understand the relief of hearing actors speak. I'm sure you're aware that silent filmmaking didn't really end in Western Europe until 1930 or so, and in Japan, China and Soviet Russia it lasted until the mid-thirties. It lasted even longer in certain smaller countries: I've seen a Korean silent film (accompanied by live byonsa narration) from 1948, and I understand that most Thai films were made and distributed with no sound track until well into the 1960s.

And then there are the intentional, less industry-driven exceptions, like Charlie Chaplin's semi-silent films, or the truly silent (no music, please) films of avant-garde artists like Stan Brakhage and Jean Genet.

Not trying to steer your selections in any particular direction. Just a reminder that feeling nostalgic is not your only option.


I'm suprised to hear Brian say that many of his favorites lie in the 1929-1933 era, and I'd like to ask him to give me some titles of early talkies that move him.

With the advent of sound technology, you will begin to see heads cut off, people huddled tightly in center frame, and far more of the completely uninspired cinematography you've grown to love from the 20s. Cameras were so loud they needed to be put in soundproof immovable boxes. The boom mike hadn't been invented. With that hasty race to the audio cash grab, art went by the wayside in favour to the growing pains of transition. I've said more than once that the worst era of film is the 1930-1935 talkies, and with few exceptions, you can physically SEE the effect that early sound recording had in those dark early days. I hope you find the best is indeed yet to come, because to date, I'm sorely disappointed in depression talkies.


For one, squish, I'm not just referring to talkies from the era, but also to late-silent films from Europe and Japan.

But I guess where you see "growing pains", I see a necessity to come up with creative ways to deal with a technological transition. I like the experimentation, wildness, and unpredictability that was often found in this era, assisted by the fact that the Hays Code was not yet being enforced strongly.

Look at the year 1932. It brought us, to name ten, Love Me Tonight, Shanghai Express and Blonde Venus, Scarface, I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang, a Farewell to Arms, Freaks, the Most Dangerous Game, Horse Feathers and Trouble in Paradise. And that's just Hollywood (I could have listed many more than ten, too- especially if I'd brought short subjects by Disney, the Fleischer Brothers, etc. to the table). In Europe that year produced Vampyr, and Boudu Saved From Drowning, in Japan the great silent comedy I was Born, But... and the list goes on.

Of course I'm speaking of films made by master filmmakers. I wouldn't be confident to go to bat for this era's average films against the average films of, say the forties or fifties. But for me, at least, the heights scaled are higher.


Brian, thanks for helping me put my silent-era nostalgia into perspective. Before this blog I'd only watched a few but since June I've watched literally dozens of them (both for this blog and just for pleasure thanks to the many recommendations I receive—thanks everybody; please keep 'em coming) one after another and I really hate to see them go as far as this blog is concerned. They've persuaded me to think of films as an almost exclusively visual experience and I'm wondering if that perspective will change as I begin watching movies in the sound era. That said, I'm open to watching whatever kind of film each year brings, be it silent, sound or somewhere in between.

Thanks also for reminding us that silent films continued (and continue) to be made after the conversion period, and for providing that list from '32.

Last but not least, to answer your first question (almost forgot), I DVR'd both films from TCM.


Thanks for the titles Brian, A lot of those are coming up on my Must See list as well, and Freaks did indeed have fantastic cinematography, not to mention, I heard that it is the first film in which regular attractive people were the antagonists and the differents/scaries/Freaks were the protagonists.


For a primary source on the development of motion picture sound in 1928 read this excerpt from Mr. Bernds Goes to Hollywood written by pioneering sound engineer Edward Bernds at the illuminating FilmSound.org.


Wonderful account you linked there, Thom. That site looks well worth delving into.

Squish, if you want to learn about the historical context of Freaks, I can't think of a better place to do so than by reading the late film scholar and disability activist Martin F. Norden's 1994 book the Cinema of Isolation, in which he looks at the entire history of the portrayal of physical disability in film, from actualities and early narrative shorts, to the fascinating career of Lon Chaney, Sr., through to relatively more recent films like Coming Home and Star Wars.


Like Brian, my favorite film period is 1929-1933, so I thought I'd toss in some more great early talkies: Applause, The Love Parade, Min and Bill, Morocco, A Nous la Liberte, M, Downstairs, Duck Soup, The Eagle and the Hawk, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, and on and on.

I've found that the traditional view of early talkies as people huddled around a potted plant talking s-l-o-w-l-y applies only to the first year or two, and not even all films. Watch, for example, Rouben Mamoulian's restlessly flowing camera work in Applause and you'll have a hard time reconciling its modern feel and its 1929 release date.


Goatdog, Brian, Squish - Thanks all for the helpful info, observations and recommendations. I added some of the film recommendations, that I didn't already have, in my queue—thanks guys.

I caught myself daydreaming today about Bernds' personal memories of the early talkies; thinking about how impractical equipment, various experiments with mic placement, limitations on camera movement and many other technical considerations created some very difficult working situations for the crews and casts of the earliest talkies and ultimately affected the look and feel of the finished pictures. It was all worked out of course, but those guys really had their work cut out for them. Figuring out the best way to integrate new technology into a costly film production probably wasn't easy.

Lucas McNelly


i just saw how you got mentioned somewhere as being one of the 5 film bloggers of note. congrats.


Lucas - Thanks for letting me know about it (good to see you back around here too, btw), I wasn't aware.

Lucas McNelly


i even found the link




Just picked up Edward Bernds' insider's view of the early talking pictures and more Mr. Bernds Goes to Hollywood. It's a fast read, already on chapter 4, informative, and funny too.

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