…there was a great German expressionist filmmaker whose surname is Leni—Paul Leni. He made his mark in Germany, but his finest work was done in Hollywood.
Author: Ray Olson
Jacques Feyder just must be the font of French cinema in the Renoir tradition. Everything looks very on-location, everyone looks very real-life, every action is quite natural, every development is made as credible as possible through adept, unshowy camerawork, careful lighting, and naturalistic acting.
Clad for work in campaign hat and jodhpurs, flicking a riding crop, Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959) was D. W. Griffith’s peer in the early American commercial cinema. He’s said to have made the first feature-length film in Hollywood, The Squaw Man (1914), a year before Griffith’s Birth of a Nation,
Very early in the history of movies, Sweden produced a couple of directors of the first rank, Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller, both of whom were brought to Hollywood, where each made a handful of features with major stars, most notably including Great Garbo, who came to America with Stiller, who had discovered her.
Calling the best silent films classics seems both humdrum and pretentious. Humdrum, because we tend to call any old thing classic, regardless of its quality. Pretentious, because what are most often called classics are the literary works of ancient Greece and Rome that modeled for subsequent Western literature its genres, forms, and techniques. Old movies just don’t seem analogous in quality, at least, to the epics of Homer and Virgil, the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the picaresques of Apuleius and Petronius.
Then, in 1936, comes My Man Godfrey, a romantic comedy of near-Shakespearean richness that turns around speculator-turned-bum-turned-butler Godfrey Parke. My touchstones of comparison are As You Like It, Measure for Measure, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all of which resonate in this marvelous movie.