best film: Sherlock Jr. from Buster Keaton though the top three films from 1924 would be the single best film of 1923
- A jaw-on the floor masterpiece, and, believe it or not, one that doesn’t really take off and fly until the last 20-25 minutes—so you can imagine how good those last 20-25 minutes are
- There are three parts of this film that set it above virtually everything else in cinema history: the last frame, which I’ll get into more detail below, is an all-timer, of course the justifiably famous surreal backdrop montage is a standout, as is one of the all-time chase, long shot, motorcycle sequence
- A really impressive opening shot alone in a movie theater, a long shot (of course)—Keaton would call back to it with the church shot in Seven Chances– another really strong frame- the next year
- Keaton’s third feature and first masterpiece, at age 29—staggering the ramifications and influences of this film
- After that first shot, it starts slow, love the gag of Keaton giving his girl a magnifying glass to look at her ring- haha
- Another of Keaton shadowing his rival and catching the cigarette butt he flips over his head in-step, and smoking
- Repetition throughout his oeuvre- – the train gag- certainly Keaton as auteur—it is in almost every film—even two years before The General
- At the 17-minute mark—transcendence, the surrealism- Bunuel, Cocteau, Lynch epic moment- trick photography as he sleeps, dreams out of body and then leaps up onto the screen—certainly it’s Purple Rose of Cairo from Woody Allen. Before Keaton leaps the audience and screen is in long shot in the entire frame—mise-en-scene.
- That montage—Keaton’s editing work— the lions, almost getting hitting by the train, falling off a cliff… hilarious, ingenious and technically stupefying
- At 22 minutes Keaton tracks the camera forward so it takes on the full screen of his dream – he’s now a renowned detective
- Keaton’s deadpan—an unemotional daredevil, yet still a romantic is so different than Chaplin’s epic pathos
- A meditation on the nature of cinematic realism, 4th wall, meta—postmodern–form breaking brilliance
- The stunts are shot in long shots often without breaks—the zaniness of the finale, bedlam—his bike smashes into guys playing tugs of war, the perfect synchronization of the bridge with the two vehicles covering the gap lining up at the same time, and then the breathtaking shot of the camera sitting shotgun as he almost hits the rapidly approaching train on his left diving right at him—wow
- One of my favorites- Jeffrey M Anderson from www.combustiblecelluioid.com says it is the best film
- At minute 41 Keaton wakes up- pops out of the dream
- The conclusion is one of cinema’s finest— the window for the projector acts as a frame, a transcendent frame—again- one of cinema’s single best—he’s inspired by the movie he’s been watching shown in shot reverse shot. Simple and sublime.
most underrated: The Navigator again from Buster Keaton
- a brilliant realization of Buster Keaton’s set-piece (the boat), long shot auteur-driven genius
- takes aim at the rich—starts with the “every family tree must have its sap” with a deadpan and affluent heir (Keaton) walking into the bath with his clothes on and taking the car across the street
- the way the frame is set on the ship, Keaton is one level above the Kathryn McGuire character—they’re running as fast as they can in circles and can’t find each other
- amazing wide shots—long shot distance
- the ineptitude of the rich—a hilarious scene of them making coffee together
- another long shot of Keaton pulling the massive ship with a row boat at 24 minutes
- another set piece long shot gag with the doors opening and closing at the same time as the ship moves
- the underwater sequences with squid and swordfish – great shot of Keaton emerging from the water in the scuba suit at 48 minutes and even there there’s the long shot gag as he scares the crowd
- certainly a precursor to his masterpiece, The General, machine set-piece (ship instead of train here) and long shots
- takes the camera upside down in the submarine—again using the camera for the gag (Keaton) instead of placing the camera and doing the gag in front of it (Chaplin)
- certainly an influence on every big set piece director in cinema—especially comedy—from Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies Man with the living dollhouse to Tati’s long shot visual superiority
- the set piece is from Murnau’s Nosferatu– wonderful idea
most overrated: I’ve only seen Greed once and it was on TCM and had long segments of still-frame shots(substituting for the missing portions of the film. Parts of it were tough to get through. However, the artistic ambition is also readily apparent– obvious. Its themes and images and the amount of perfection von Stroheim strove for and achieved is there in the text– but it’s not a complete film so I just find the ranking by the TSPDT consensus (#96) to be a little lofty. I’m at #245. I do look forward to revisiting it.
gem I want to spotlight: Raoul Walsh’s trademark energy is there from the very beginning in The Thief of Baghdad. It’s far from his debut as a director, but it is his first archiveable film and it would be the first of many crisply and dynamically directed action genre peaks in a great career.
trends and notables: It is evident that Buster Keaton is in full bloom with two of the best four films of the year in 1924 and back to back best films of the year with 1923 to pair. Greed is painful reminder that many of the films from this era simply didn’t survive (or fully survive) the nearly 100 years to getting viewed today. von Stroheim is an important figure in cinema history and Greed is his magnum opus. Another notable here in 1924 is the first archiveable film from John Ford. Ford would go on to win multiple Oscars, carry cinema’s most iconic genre (the western) give us some of the best films of the 30’s, 40,’s, 50’s, and 60’s and, direct the best film of all-time. I have it as the first archiveable for Raoul Walsh, too. We also shouldn’t ignore Harold Lloyd plugging away in the shadow of Keaton and Chaplin giving us yet another top 10 of the year quality film (back to back years).
best performance male: There are three actors and four performances (with Keaton competing against himself) in 1924 that stand above the rest. It’s impossible to compare Buster Keaton to Emil Jannings’s triumphs but they would be #1 and #2 here. Jannings is absolutely superb in The Last Laugh. Jannings would go on to win an Oscar (a few years later), be a pro-Nazi stooge (at least as far as I know) in the 1930’s in Germany, and be great in other iconic films (including The Blue Angel by von Sternberg) but I don’t think he ever topped his genius here in 1924. I’d take Keaton in Sherlock Jr. in the runner-up spot to Jannings. Gibson Gowland in Greed is tremendous is von Stroheim’s epic and I’d come back to Keaton again for his work in The Navigator to round out the best performances of the year.
best performance female: Zasu Pitts holds her own with Gibson Gowland in von Stroheim’s Greed– easily the strongest female performance of 1924
- Sherlock Jr.
- The Last Laugh
- The Navigator
- The Thief of Baghdad
- Shy Girl
- The Iron Horse
- Beau Brummell
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|Beau Brummell- Beaumont
|Greed- von Stroheim
|Sherlock Jr.- Keaton
|Shy Girl- Newmeyer
|The Iron Horse- Ford
|The Last Laugh- Murnau
|The Navigator- Keaton
|The Thief of Baghdad-Walsh
*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