Valentines day is of course just around the corner, and as the luckless, the lovelorn and the uninspired plunder the stores for farcical romantic comedies, or overblown romantic epics, the wily silent film fan might be left scratching their head for a good flick to make the heart swell with yearning. No, none of that Griffith romance, with put-upon women imperilled for the daring adventures of men to save them! Nor those silent screen sirens, Lulu, Theda or even Asta Nielsen, good lord they’re nothing but pure sex on screen!
TOO MUCH the silent film fan cries out, where can there be some honest-to-goodness romance? Well never fear, the team at South West Silents have looked into their respective hearts and pulled out a short list for guidance. The team member who looked inwards, and came away wanting, instead offers a dark reprieve for anyone desperate to get away from this over-commercialised romance nonsense!
Have we picked the cream of the crop, or are we missing some forgotten romantic masterpieces? Leave us a comment to let us know, or go bother us on Twitter with your pitch for a good silent heart-rending opus!
Romance is always an important element to Chaplin’s films; ‘The Little Fellow’s’ main mission throughout many of films is always to try and get the girl. Sometime he ends up with them, but most of the time he doesn’t and yet there remains a question mark over City Lights… does Charlie end up getting the girl in the end? Off camera, Chaplin most certainly spoiled any chance of a friendship with 21 year old Virginia Cherrill; “I never liked Charlie and he never liked me” Cherrill later told Chaplin biographer David Robinson. Well, it’s hard to believe as both Charlie and Cherrill’s blind flower girl are fantastic to watch.
Another important element to the film is the importance of timing. While slapstick comedy is all about the importance of comedy timing; in the case of City Lights, it’s more about romantic timing. Over the course of the film’s four year production much time and care was taken to establish exactly how the two characters meet, and famously Chaplin ended up shooting introduction scene 342 times!
Whatever the issues on set, what Chaplin ended up releasing in 1931 was one of his best romantic comedies; leaving us with a very simple, but wonderful story between a tramp and a blind flower girl. On top of all of this, he leaves us with one of the most famous, and most important final shots in the history of cinema.
It may seem an odd choice and it certainly doesn’t fulfil my ideal romantic movie fantasy. It’s not the ‘falling in love for the first time’ so-called ‘honeymoon period’ cliché that we all love to escape into. It is a true, tough and raw love story about real difficulties and guilty temptations of long-term love that people still face today. The title captures this perfectly! This makes it a true love story for me and why it’s my top Valentines film! It’s a heartbreaking, it’s excellent and it has George O’Brien!
In Bryony Dixon’s ‘100 Silent Films’ the word ‘chemistry’ is used throughout the write-up of Clarence Brown’s great romantic epic, and for good reason. There is no argument about it Garbo and Gilbert were made for each other.
To be honest Flesh and the Devil isn’t much of an original story, especially for the 1920s, but what makes the film incredible to watch is that on-screen chemistry between Garbo and Gilbert which is brought to life through the superb cinematography of William Daniels. The film captures important details between the pair on screen; keep an eye out for the minor touches, Garbo running her hand through Glibert’s black curly hair! Then watch Gilbert’s hand brushing his hand against Garbo’s at times.
It’s these very minute details that make you want to yell “OH! JUST GET A ROOM!” at the screen; and they most certainly do on a number of occasions!
No Valentine’s Day could be complete without Rudolph Valentino. And The Sheik fulfils my very cliché and unrealistic ideal romantic movie fantasies, despite contradicting and completely overriding my true feminist, racial and social values and views on love!
There is still a part of me that loves the idea of meeting the man of my dreams without knowing it. That we will hate each other to start with (read: boy pulling girls pigtails because he secretly likes her), but one day we will suddenly realise we love each other. And with all the turmoil that eschews it will all work out in the end. Oh and he will also be wildly rich (again going against my true views on love). This IS The Sheik inside out. If you can forget about twenty first century values for a couple of hours and just indulge (this is Valentines Day after all), this is a classic love story and a worthy watch.
What to say about Franz Osten’s romantic epic apart from the fact that the film is a true wonder of the silent era! The entire film is a visual masterpiece! The costumes are wonderful, the set design is superb and the simple direction and storytelling by German born Osten is just right for this wonderful story about love, loss and betrayal… not in that order by the way.
What also makes A Throw of the Dice work is it’s incredibly wide canvas: thousands of extras as well as on location filming and yet, Osten is able to cut from these ambitious shots down to a very intimate story between two people. Something that David Lean would later pick up on in his later epics.
Osten also ended up making a wide range of German produced films in India from 1925 until the beginning of the Second World War; this included three films in which A Throw of Dice is the final of a silent film trilogy. I do hope that in the coming years we can commercial releases in the UK for both Light of Asia (1925) and Shiraz (1928) so we can complete this beautiful trilogy.
And a counter-point to all this romantic nonsense?
What is this thing we call love? Is it all a dream, or is it just a horrible nightmare? What are the romantic bonds which tie us mortal beings together? How can we possibly make sense of this confusing world?
Well the answer to all these questions, and many more, must of course be Surrealism! Or better still, dream-like Surrealism! This classic short by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel is an unexpected and shocking journey for those encountering it for the first time. For those already familiar with it, the uncanny segues between the outlandish scenes can feel like a humorous comfort, a joke in the face of life’s absurdities and the uncertainy of human interaction. If nothing else it offers you fifteen swift minutes to forget that you’re alone for Valentines day.