Saturday, February 03, 2007

Movie Musings - Part 1

Between our Netflix service and the movies shown on the Turner Classic Movies channel, I’ve been watching some old films I’ve never seen or catching up on those I haven’t seen for many years. We’ve been watching a lot of old black and white films – Dianne groans when I start a DVD and the color “goes out” on the TV. Nevertheless, even the silent movie comedy classics are good for a laugh. Here are few I highly recommend.

The Gold Rush with Charlie Chaplin has to rank up there as one of his best. Chaplin’s tramp character goes to the Klondike to search for gold. We saw a re-mastered version that had a narration done by Chaplin and music composed by Chaplin. It was very well done and eliminated the need to read (see this earlier post).

The General is a Civil War era picture that puts Buster Keaton in the role of a locomotive engineer trying to thwart some Union spies. It’s a classic action and romance movie. Another Buster Keaton flick, a short called One Week, is also very good. He plays a newlywed that receives a do-it-yourself house building kit as a wedding gift from his uncle. A lot happens while building that house in the first week of marriage!

Finally, I also recommend the Harold Lloyd full length film called The Kid Brother. Lloyd plays the youngest of 3 sons of the town sheriff. He’s sheltered as the youngest son, but steps up when his dad needs help. It is also a romantic comedy with lots of action. The short film by Lloyd called Number Please is also good. It features Lloyd as one of two suitors of a woman which eventually became his actual wife. Lloyd’s efforts to lose a purse to avoid being accused of purse snatching are hilarious.

There are two common elements that make these silent films stand out for me. First, I’m amazed at the stunts and sight gags in these films. Long before computer generated imagery and sophisticated camera tricks were available, these folks captured some amazing scenes on film. The visual effects they created add levity but also enhance the story. It’s a lot of creative effort to come up with these ideas, scout appropriate locations in some cases, and plan the camera angles and timing to produce the desired effect. Second, the full length films not only allow time to show stunts and sight gags but also let the characters develop and give time to showcase the acting talent of the stars. Body language and facial expressions are key to convey emotion and make the connection with the audience. The action and romance aspects in these films demanded a wide range of acting ability. Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd handle it very well in these films.

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