best film: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from Robert Wiene is by far the best film from 1920. It’s the birth of German expressionism, and, largely, mise-en-scene (or at least set design) in feature film (though of course Georges Méliès was working in shorts before with an expressionism to match the Lumiere brothers realism).
most underrated: The TSPDT consensus list is underrating Caligari. I have it at #56 and they have it outside of the top 200. Way Down East is the only other 1920 film that lands on their list and it is at #1245 on TSPDT—that’s a fine spot for it. However, The Last of the Mohicans from Clarence Brown should be somewhere in the top 2000 and isn’t.
most overrated: Nothing here in this category for 1920 with only two films on the consensus list and one is underrated (Caligari) and the other is just fine (Way Down East).
gem I want to spotlight: The Mark of Zorro from Fred Niblo
- Largely in the archives for some nice action sequences involving Douglas Fairbanks’ acrobatics
- Fairbanks was really trying to break into a new mode- get away from romance films- quite a move here becoming the 1920’s version of Errol Flynn
- Detail in the “Z” and sword designed title cards
- Strong myth-making in the narrative- the Spanish Robin Hood set in California
- Duel identities- secret entrance to mansion- the story’s influence on Batman
- Fairbanks is comedic- agile
- The word “oppressors” is like “bondage” in The 10 Commandments– it’s oppressive to the viewer—would make for a fun drinking game
- Blue day-for-night tinting, green tinting for the garden
- Some admirable attempts at Spanish décor
- Zorro here is a goofball- shadow puppets, magic and feigns being aloof—stops during a big battle for a bite to eat
- Tons of dialogue- when he confronts a table of idlers his speech is 4-5 pages long
- The best scenes are the climactic battle- jumping over a horse, scaling walls, sword-play and chance for Fairbanks to show off his physical talents
trends and notables: Caligari is the real landmark here as it kicks off an imaginative use of one of cinema’s most central artistic palate usages (mise-en-scene). German expressionism is an important movement in cinema history and we have a great launch of that here with Wiene’s masterpiece.
best performance male: Werner Krauss as the titular doctor in Wiene’s great work walks away with easily the strongest male performance of 1920.
best performance female: Lillian Gish does it again in Way Down East. She has perfected the art form of the melodramatic close-up at this point—it is impossible to tell the story of Griffith’s run without Gish.
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
- Way Down East
- The Last of the Mohicans
- The Mark of Zorro
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari- Wiene||MP|
|The Last of the Mohicans- Brown||HR|
|The Mark of Zorro– Niblo||R|
|Way Down East- Griffith||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
I just saw the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, very interesting and good movie, although i must admit that i am disappointed, just when i was liking it a lot it is over.
I really liked the iris editions, i could say, it’s the first use of the freeze frame, right?
@Aldo- hmm- I don’t remember the freeze frame. I think Hitchcock’s Champagne (1928) is the first one
Actually i don’t know if it counts as a freeze frame or is it due to the movie, when the letters overlap, they freeze 1-2 seconds this happens twice, either way, could you recommend movies similar to this one?
@Aldo- so this is german expressionism –a very important period and movement like italian neorealism or the french new wave — definitely start with Murnau’s Nosferatu if you haven’t seen it. Lang’s Destiny. Here’s a few others- I’ve seen most of these.
Drake have you seen The Golem: How He Came into the World? Had a friend recommend it. They built entire villages/buildings/streets for it that look really really incredible
@Matthew- I have- saw it for the first time in April of this year. Strong film- certainly will be added to the archives with the next update
Nice. Settled on a rating?
@Matthew Yes- at least for now it’ll go in as a HR unless I get to it again prior to the next update
So, have I got this right? Are you going through the archives per year again and revising the previous ones? If you are, I’m looking forward to it a lot, in case there are any major differences lol.
@Jeff- that’s right– it has been about 3 years— seen maybe 1500 movies since the time I did it so figured it was time— give me a chance to add some pictures, clean up the pages a little, etc.
Is there a way to archive the original pages so the changes over time can be chronicled?
@Matt Harris- haha. Archive the archives? I thought about it– it would be a lot of pages (and there are already a lot). It is also just a big white flag saying I was wrong about something. I want that “Recommend” for Songs from the Second Floor and Gertrud gone. High and Low as #7 for 1963? Not me! haha
I don’t know if it works for you @Matt Harris save the top 10 each year, do not copy all the movies in the archives, this is how i track my progress each year and make sure i have seen all the top 10 movies
@Drake – it’s merely a suggestion, but perhaps you could do something similar to what you’ve done on the OUATIH page – mention the date in the same page after the original and follow it with the updated version.
Will Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood(1922) make the 1922 year end archives?
Have you seen any of Robert Wiene’s films other than The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari? At this point he appears to by far the greatest one-hit wonder on the Cinema Archives (along with Falconetti if actors are included).
@Graham. I have not
@Graham – Check the TSPDT Starting List; Wiene’s other work doesn’t get nearly the same level of acclaim Caligari does.
I’m aware of that, but in cases where an artist is known for essentially only one work or a large percentage of their work is almost rarely ever mentioned, there is always a curiosity about whether the disregarded output might actually be underrated and worthy of study. I was simply wondering if Drake had acted upon that curiosity.
I am just watching The Golem (1920), and its really incredible, almost on the same level as Caligari. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend it. For me it would be at least MS.
@RujK- Great share here -thank you- adding to my evergrowing list.