Something a bit different for today. After watching Häxan (1922), my passion for silent film has been rekindled. I’ve been watching a lot of short silent films, so I thought I’d post quick paragraph reviews for four that I’ve most recently watched.
Lot in Sodom (1933)
James Sibley Watson, 28 minutes
Lot in Sodom portrays the classic Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, but with an avant-garde twist. From the very beginning of this film, you can tell that this is not your average Biblical retelling. The tone is fluid and surreal, with beautiful, dream-like visual effects. I know next to nothing about the original story, so I wasn’t able to follow the events as easily as someone who might have more Bible knowledge, but I think this gave me the space to interpret the story on my own terms. There are depictions of homosexuality, there is some brief nudity, and some sexually suggestive behaviours that must have been fairly confronting back in 1933. Watching the film now, it looks like a beautiful dance. I really enjoyed this one because it constantly stunned me with its visuals.
P.S. Thank you to the wonderful Literary Vittles for recommending this one to me!
L’Etoile De Mer (1928)
Man Ray, 16 minutes
This film is structured around a poem written by Robert Desnos, and consists of a vague narrative where a young man considers his love for a young woman. This semi-story seems to suggest that the young man is intimidated by the source of his affections – but I could be totally wrong. The film is replete with beautiful surrealist imagery. Some shots are viewed through what seems to be a totally warped pane of glass, prompting the viewer to consider whether those scenes are a dream, or whether the in-focus scenes are the dream – or whether any of it is a dream at all. I watched the version of this film with music composed by Paul Mercer, which was perfect and so evocative of the tone of the film.
The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra (1928)
Robert Florey, Slavko Vorkapić, 11 minutes
The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra follows the story of a young man who comes to Hollywood with the dream of becoming a famous actor. Instead, he is relegated to the ranks of ‘extra’, and is given a low-ranking number upon his forehead. We follow him as he attempts to gain work in the industry. This film is quite obvious and unsubtle in the points that it makes, and it’s very easy to follow. Some moments seem cliché, or overdone, until you realise that this might well have been the first time those moments occurred on screen. My favourite elements of this film were the papercraft designs showing the streets and buildings of Hollywood. It’s clear that the film was completed on a tiny budget, but its craftiness adds to its charm. Definitely one to watch.
Le Retour à la Raison (1923)
Man Ray, 3 minutes
The title of this one translates to Return to Reason. The film is more of an experimental short and has no linear narrative. It consists of different textures, objects, brief clips of the lights of a carousel at night time, and the marvellous naked torso of Kiki de Montparnasse. Reflecting on the title of the short, it makes a lot of sense, since watching all the strange textures and objects flashing on the screen made me feel like I was going crazy. To see the natural, organic shape of a human body made my brain feel a lot more calm. I returned to reason. That Man Ray really knew what he was doing.