Author: Ray Olson


The Silents: Reviews: Jacques Feyder (1885–1948)

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.


The Silents: The Classics: One-Offs

Some movie classics are one-offs. Their makers never made another film or another film nearly as good or even another film that’s now available to the public. Here are five of them.


Classic French Silent Films

For cinéastes of a historical bent, Kino Lorber’s 3-disc set Gaumont Treasures 1897–1913 is a pearl almost beyond price. It showcases the earliest development of narrative cinema in one of the most fertile of its seedbeds.


Ray Olson’s History of Film:  Silent Cecil

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,


Silent Movies–Four Big Swedes

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.


Western Silents

America’s movie industry committed to the western almost immediately, what with the sensational success of The Great Train Robbery (1903). Feature-length westerns came about a decade later, thanks to the nascent star system


Introduction to The Silents: The Classics

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.


Gregory La Cava–“The Best Mind in Hollywood”

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.


The Ealing Comedies

Will Barker, a commercial traveler with a passion for photography, bought “the Lodge” overlooking Ealing Green in West London in 1902 for the purpose of making movies. Cinema–very often television programs rather than movies–has been made there ever since. Recently, a couple of its studios hosted the servants’ quarters of Downton Abbey. The place reached its perihelion after World War II, when the production company, Ealing Studios, made a string of 17 comedies, from Hue and Cry in 1947 to Davy in 1958.  Those films brought British cinema to world consciousness as few never before, pleasing critics as well as...