Tag Archives: Silent

Review of Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)

27 Mar

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) is a Danish/Swedish silent horror/documentary film, that shows how superstition led to witch-hunting.

Directed by Benjamin Christensen (House of Horror (1929), Mockery (1927)).

Written by Benjamin Christensen (The Devil’s Circus (1926), Seven Footprints to Satan (1929)).

Starring: Benjamin Christensen, Clara Pontoppidan, Oscar Stribolt, Astrid Holm, Maren Pedersen and others.

So this early horror classic is actually a weird documentary consisting of various ways of portraying witchcraft myths and truths, while adding up to a creepy piece of silent cinema.

There are some strange illustrations while some facts about the way authorities have dealt with witches are told. This feels like an odd educational film for kids, that kids shouldn’t be watching.

When we actually get to the live-action stuff, they show both the portrayal of people thinking everything is black magic and re-enactments of the myths about witches. The movie has a sort of dark sense of humor as it shows us witchcraft rituals that might ask for a figurative interpretation. Like „all the witches had to kiss devil’s behind” gives us a rather amusing sight of witches lining up behind the devil (played by the director in make-up), who has bent over. I don’t think the filmmakers took these parts too seriously themselves.

Seeing this early example I noticed that often I’ve seen monks portrayed as morbidly obese, gross pigs, eating like whole  cow-legs. Does that mean they are corrupt or just into gluttony? I guess the first option is better since corruption is not a deadly sin. Here the monks are total assholes and one example of a witch-myth actually made sense. Why did this fat monk just rape some girl? Of course! A witch must have slipped him some love potion.

Another great example is a totally absurd way of making sure if a girl is a witch. You tie her up and throw her in the water. If she comes up, it means she is a witch and they kill her, if she does not and drowns, then you should thank God for her innocence. One thing is for sure, they knew a fool-proof plan, when they came up with one. It is an interesting commentary on how people afraid of some things actually create the myths about the existence of such things.

At times I felt like the movie is just throwing examples and concepts at me, but doesn’t do anything with them, they’re just there and don’t lead anywhere. After a while I started wondering what’s the point of all this. I get that people were gullible and stupid, move on!

Some of the imagery is really creepy and for 1920’s the make-up and costumes are pretty decent. Out of the context those scenes are even nightmarishly unsettling. Back then the audiences must have been terrified by this stuff.

Then there’s some presentations of various torture devices, they just show them to you, tell you what they do and almost show you them in action. Sounds boring, but actually was my favourite part, because it is done in the classic horror movie way. They set up how they work and just before you see them deliver the crippling they cut away and you’re left there imagining what did happen.

I wonder why nowadays there are so few mainstream witch movies? I guess we are so PC that they would be instantly considered sexist. Yet having the lead of a vampire/werewolf movie be a blank, selfish and unlikable human girl isn’t a disservice to women.

The score is really great, having some nice classical pieces, like one of my favourites – Beethoven’s „Moonlight Sonata”. On the other hand I’m not sure if they aren’t just randomly thrown on or do they in fact add to the idea of scenes.

Also it concludes with some scenes showing how the alleged „witchcraft” is now recognized as various mental illnesses and they are being treated instead of persecuted.

Overall, it is an interesting piece of cinema history and I would recommend it as such, but it doesn’t really work as conventional movie due to the constant changes of narrative style and it doesn’t work as a documentary, because it spends too much time on just dramatically portraying various myths. Still, recommended for enthusiasts of cinema history, other than that it doesn’t offer much for a modern viewer.


Pictured: Probably the illustration for the phrase "what the fuck?" in the Danish dictionary.

Review of The Kid (1921)

9 Dec

The Kid (1921) is a silent comedy/drama film, which is one of the best known movies, made and starring the silent era comedy icon Charles Chaplin.

Directed by Charles Chaplin (A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate (1923), The Gold Rush (1925)), who directed most of his movies.

Written by Charles Chaplin (The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931)).

Starring: Charles Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance, Carl Miller and others.

Charlie Chaplin has been one of the biggest talents film comedy’s ever had and one of the biggest influences on slapstick comedy in general, being rivaled maybe only by Buster Keaton. I loved Chaplin as a kid and I still love him and find him hilarious now. This is his first feature-length film and also the first feature-length that combined comedy and drama and I’d say it is quite succesful in that aspect.

The movie starts by a woman leaving a charity hospital with a newborn child and deciding to leave it in a car. Fortunately for her, I guess, 20’s cars didn’t have lockable doors. Unfortunately, this is the same reason some criminals steal the car with the baby in it. Of course, the criminals dispose of the baby and Chaplin’s character, Tramp, finds him and is forced to take care of it.

In a classic buddy comedy scenario, Tramp is resentful at first and then warms up to the boy as he grows up and makes him a partner in crime.

It is a very entertaining film and the gags are really funny, somehow the feeling of genuineness shines through, even though all the slapstick routines have become cliché by now. Although slapstick is considered to be juvenile now, I enjoyed it a lot and found the choreography amazing. It never feels like it needs any dialogue and they rarely use the intertitle cards.

Jackie Coogan is so much more expressive and funny than any of the 6-year-olds we see in family movies today. Chaplin and him play off of each other perfectly and I really believed their relationship. This isn’t the most physical performance of Chaplin ever, but he’s great anyway.

This is a drama film as much as it is a comedy. It isn’t funny all the time. There’s one scene in the film that is so incredibly heart-breaking, I actually teared up watching it. And if a simple 1920’s silent comedy can do that, there’s something great about it.

I’d say it is a movie everyone should watch, because it is so accessible to everyone. I totally loved it and recommend it immensely. And see Charlie Chaplin’s genius at the start of his feature film career, that fulfilled his potential.

"You will know me as the most charismatic child actor of the next 90 years."

Review of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920)

15 Nov

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) is a German silent horror/fantasy film, which played a big part in the German Expressionist movement.

Directed by Robert Wiene (The Hands Of Orlac (1924), Genuine (1920)).

Written by Hans Janowitz (Der Januskopf (1920), Marizza, Gennant Die Schmuggler Madonna (1922)) and Carl Mayer (The Haunted Castle (1921), The Last Laugh (1924)), who were inspired by Janowitz’s experience, when after leaving a fair he noticed a stranger mysteriously disappearing in the shadows and then hearing about a murdered young woman the next day.

Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Lil Dagover, Friedrich Feher and others.

It is considered a classic and one of the greatest horror films of the silent era, also often noted for possibly introducing twist endings to cinema.

The visual style of the film is stunningly fascinating. It achieves the kind of eerie feeling, that was evoked in me when watching Max Schreck’s performance in Nosferatu. The sets are beautiful paintings of oddly shaped objects, static shadows and distorted perspectives, which add an uneasy and otherworldly feel to it. The frequent fade transitions, unrealistic angularity and lingering iris shots often make you feel like you’re watching a dream-world through a peep-hole. And as it usually is with dreams, you seem close enough to interfere, but you’re just not.

Sadly, I didn’t see the best available copy of the film. I found it hard to tell apart the present time and flashback scenes, which would have been apparent in the tinted version of the film, but was not in the purely Black&White version I saw.

As it often was with silent films, it has a pretty short running time, barely exceeding an hour, so it doesn’t get really draggy and I am grateful when silent films don’t dare my ADD to kick in.

I even learned a new word, maybe I’m an idiot, but “somnambulist” was new to me (still waiting to use it in a sentence). So this is also an educational movie.

The twist ending is cool from one perspective, more like a historical landmark, but from a modern perspective it is a totally unsatisfying cop-out, which was forced by the film’s producers. Although M. Night Shyamalan would love it anyway.

For the 1920’s audiences, unfamiliar by the possibilities of cinema, seeing something this grotesque must have been an unsettling experience.

It does suffer from the kind of overacting, that was quite common in early silent films, although one might argue that it is in a way forgivable in this case, because the film isn’t supposed to be realistic anyway. But Conrad Veidt does a good job as the creepy Cesar, mostly because he is refreshingly emotionless, yet seems to be screaming without making a sound.

It is a special movie for me, because it is the last 1920 movie I’ve seen and it is going to stay that way. That’s right, 90 years is where I draw the line, so there’s only a few weeks left to watch all the 1921 movies I want to see.

It’s a good movie, maybe not aged so well as a horror movie, but still is an amazing view in the weirdest visuals early cinema has to offer. I certainly do recommend it. Maybe the best way for a modern viewer to see it is by turning off the original soundtrack and put on some music of your own choice, preferably something that would go along with the film’s dreamlike mood.

"What do you mean 'I look like an emo'?"