The Philadelphia Story, Camille, My Fair Lady, The Women, It Should Happen to You, it surprised me to learn how many of the films I love shared the same director. When I realized how many of George Cukor’s films were favorites of mine, I actively started seeking out his pictures and have now seen the majority of them. But still, I didn’t know much about this film legend who is often known as the “women’s director.” I recently happened across a copy of Patrick McGilligan’s biography George Cukor: A Double Life and took it as a sign that it was time for me to learn more.
All drama, Cukor thought, ought to be tinged with comedy. That was how he viewed life. pg. 145
For the last several years, I’ve enjoyed participating in the blogathons hosted by Rick at Classic Film & TV Cafe to celebrate National Classic Movie Day. This year, Rick’s theme is six favorite movies in six different decades.
This may be among the most difficult choices I’ve yet made for his blogathons. Only one favorite film per decade? Gahh!! I’m not known for being particular about favorites and always have a hard time narrowing down for lists like this.
As an avid fan of classic films, one would think I would have discovered silent movies, long before I finally did. However, as someone who loves the nuances of language and appreciates great dialogue, I was under the mistaken impression that a silent picture couldn’t possibly hold my interest, especially for the length of a feature film.
God bless Buster Keaton, because he was the one who finally broke through the prejudices I had formed. Fortunately, my affinity for comedy was too great. I took a chance on this legendary comedian and watched his much praised film The General. I was enthralled and began to seek out all of his films I could find. This led me also to discover the other two comedians of the silent film comedy triumvirate, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd and then the genius shorts of Laurel and Hardy.
My first memorable experience with a silent romantic drama was Frank Borzage’s Lucky Star. I was dazzled by the narrative, the performances of Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, the cinematography. The fact that I could sit spell bound for almost two hours was proof that despite their differences from “talkies” silent films were just as powerful a story telling medium and just as addicting in entertainment factor.
Since then, I have continued in my personal discovery of silent films. I’ve sought out those by actors whose sound pictures I love, and also those whose popularity and success was greatest in film’s early decades. I’ve mostly watched silents featuring those with star power behind them; names like Norma Shearer, Pola Negri, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Greta Garbo and John Gilbert among others. I’ve discovered pictures I love and those I didn’t (I’m looking at you Salomé and Battleship Potemkin).
I’ve learned a new appreciation for this art form that changed significantly with the advent of sound. And yet even now, I still sometimes find them intimidating, especially the longer ones. Which is why I’ve only recently watched The Big Parade and Wings and still haven’t seen most of Lillian Gish’s most successful pictures. But whenever I bravely venture back into the world of silent films, I’m rarely disappointed.
There is no need to reiterate what kind of a year 2020 was. Needless to say, it was one that had me searching for comfort, familiarity and security. As usual, I often found escape in entertainment which is why I watched over 300 titles this year. And that is also why I found myself re-watching over seventy old film favorites, which is much more than the normal number. These included old Disney features like That Darn Cat, Pollyanna, Snowball Express and The Apple Dumpling Gang, I also decided to tackle a few Shakespeare adaptations such as As You Like It, Henry V, Hamlet, and Love’s Labour Lost, before needing a break from the grandiose language of the Bard. Continue reading “2020 Film Year in Review”