best film: Our Hospitality from Buster Keaton (in just his second feature). Our Hospitality is not Keaton’s best work but in a down year coming off of 1922—it is the best film of the year.
- A brilliant premise- a play on the Hatfield and McCoy feud—here we have the Canfield and McKay family. The comedy unfolds (after a really good dramatic thunderstorm-aided opening of the two elder namesakes in a deadly gunfight) naturally- progressively unfolds. About feuds and bizarre code of honor ethics.
- A breakthrough for Keaton- his sophomore effort after Three Ages
- The train again—leading to The General– part of the humor here is the 1923 comment on the good ol’ days of travel (1830’s I think), rickety steam train and the city of New York that looks like an Kansas prairie- haha.
- A great shot of Keaton listening to his beloved on the piano as she looks the other way with her two brothers and her father palming pistols
- Keaton as a performer is a stuntman- different than Chaplin of course. The last 15 minutes here are incredible – he’s climbing mountains, he’s Jackie Chan, he’s on a train, a raft- a bit of a decathlon or iron man and all of that leading up to the epic waterfall set piece finale. He’s dangling off and catches her after whisking down the river. Keaton, brilliantly, keeps the entire sequence in the frame here at medium-long and long shots—he’s a spec in the frame—you can’t see his face and most actors would never allow this and it would ruin the scene to cut to a close-up of his face.
- The last 15 minutes here are incredible – he’s climbing mountains, he’s Jackie Chan, he’s on a train, a raft- a bit of a decathlon or iron man and all of that leading up to the epic waterfall set piece finale
most underrated: Our Hospitality is in a good spot at #634 on the TSPDT consensus list. Safety Last! is fine as well at #1236. It is Abel Gance’s La roue that deserves a better fate than the #1439 consensus ranking. I’d have it in my top 1000. I still haven’t been able to hunt down Gance’s supposed masterpiece, Napoleon, but this film shows a near complete command of the cinematic language and would be in a top 10 of virtually any year… be prepared to spend some time here because its 270 minutes long.
most overrated: Chaplin’s (only film where he directs but does not act in—ok he has a cameo) A Woman of Paris shouldn’t be in the top 1000 and it is- it’s at #854 of all-time on the TSPT consensus list. I love Chaplin but if this film has another director’s name on it– it isn’t in the top 2000 of all-time.
gem I want to spotlight: Three Ages from Buster Keaton.
- Buster’s debut feature film—my first time catching it and I’m very happy I finally did. It doesn’t have the polish of his second feature, 1923’s Our Hospitality, but it is certainly funny, and ambitious, here Buster is spoofing DW Griffith’s masterpiece Intolerance (1916) telling the story in three separate intersecting (and parallel) stories of love through the ages (Stone Age, Roman, Modern day).
- It’s tough for those that haven’t seen Griffith’s masterwork (shame on you if you haven’t) but instead of Gish as eternal mother who rocks the cradle we have a hilarious father time here with a scythe
- So apparently Keaton decided to construct the three stories this way not only to parody Griffith’s masterwork, but to use as comic shorts (roughly 20 mins a piece) in case they didn’t work as a feature- but the main part of the comedy is in the cross-cutting and parallels through ages (riding a dinosaur, riding a chariot, riding a car, etc)
- Wallace Beery here as Keaton’s adversary and competition—perfect size juxtaposition (wit vs. brawn). He’s a cave man. Oddly he’s sort of playing himself in the contemporary setting with “Beery” on the screen
- It is not quite what we’d get later in the decade in terms of Keaton’s acrobatics but it’s great to see him walking back and forth on a miniature dinosaur like he would in the train in The General
- Highlight may be a moment when Keaton (50-60 years before Jackie Chan and 80 before Tom Cruise) tumbles off a cliff and blows a big kiss to the camera on his way down
- Impressive Roman-era sets
- Great gags like the sundial watch and “no parking” sign for the chariot in the Roman era
trends and notables: Two really apparent trends in 1923 which gives us evidence into the types of films being made : lots of shorter comedies from Chaplin (#6 film of the year), Keaton (#1 and #4) and Harold Lloyd (Safety Last! at #3). These comic artists started in shorts and were expanding into features. This is Keaton’s debut in features (and second film) and Chapin’s second. The other trend is just massive epics. Griffith made long films but now we have Mabuse the year before from Lang and La roue here from Gance… This would continue on in the decade with von Stroheim’s Greed. Certainly 1923 as a year misses the artistic weight of Lang and Murnau—both were working on projects but didn’t release a feature in 1923.
best performance male: It is the arrival of Buster Keaton— and there’s nothing to top his work in Our Hospitality for acting performances in 1923—male or female.
best performance female: Nothing here in this category of note for 1923
- Our Hospitality
- La roue
- Safety Last!
- Three Ages
- A Woman of Paris
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Woman of Paris- Chaplin||R|
|La roue- Gance||HR|
|Merry-Go-Round- von Stroheim||R|
|Our Hospitality– Keaton||HR/MS|
|Safety Last!- Newmeyer||HR|
|Three Ages – Keaton||R/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
The seven hour cut of La Roue just got added to Mubi in Australia. You can bet I’ll be getting right on that. I also just discovered a copy of Napoleon which I’m equally keen to see.
It’s a little bit sad that Abel Gance’s films are so difficult to get your hands on. We’re lucky that they still exist at all though – it makes you wonder how many brilliant silent films we’re missing out on because they have been lost or destroyed, and which could have affected the course of cinema history.
I am glad that you think that La roue is underrated, but I hope that you plan re-watching it because I think is the best film of the year and a MS/MP leaning MP. I also think that Severin-Mars gives the best performance of the year and one of the best performance of 1920s.
It was a really pleasant surprise.
I would be open to hearing that argument, but I’m wondering which version you watched? I did the full 7 hours and found it to be slightly bloated to its own detriment. Maybe the shorter version (if 4.5 hours can be considered short) is a little tighter.
@DeclanG-yes, I watched the 4.5 hour cut and the narrative is probably a little tighter.
I first wanted to watch the 7 hour cut but I couldn’t find it so I watched this one, and it was really really good.