When people write film lists, it’s generally the “best” films that are included, with their enjoyability not always taken into account. So, here is my own film list (or at least part one of it), in which I highlight some personal favourites. Don’t expect to see many critics choices here; after all, I’d rather watch Final Destination than wade through Barry Lyndon or Metropolis! The films for each decade are in chronological order. And these aren’t my “favourite ten films”, but simply “ten of my favourite films” for each decade. And so, come with me back to the 1910s!
The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)
This short film from 1912 is not for those who cry easily at films. Directed by Harold M Shaw, it stars young Martin Fuller as a boy who sneaks away on an outing for poor children to the country. Once there he hears a fairy story about a land where children live happily and feel no pain. At the end of the day, the boy makes a decision which is bound to have you reaching for the tissues. Beautifully filmed and movingly acted, this was released on DVD as part of the Treasure of American Film Archives set.
Old Scrooge (1913)
Seymour Hicks appears on film for the first time as Ebenezer Scrooge, a role he would return to in a 1930s remake. Hicks is perfectly cast here, in the first film treatment of the story to be more than just a series of tableaux based on the novel. The effects are surprisingly good, and this early adaptation is well worth seeking out.
A Florida Enchantment (1914)
One has to wonder what audiences made of this bizarre gender-bending comedy when it appeared in 1914. After taking some seeds, a woman realizes that her soul changes gender while she retains the same looks. She then proceeds to have a great deal of fun at the expense of others that results in what appear on the surface to be same-sex relationships. Daring for the time, but with a cop-out ending, this has to be seen just in order to realize how barmy some early feature films actually were.
Ok, I confess. I like Intolerance. I can agree with most of the anti-Griffith sentiment out there, but here his love for epic proportions work in his favour and, while the narrative format doesn’t always work, it’s a hugely entertaining failed experiment. There is much more to enjoy here than the sluggish and offensive Birth of a Nation, and much for the eye to take in. Most of all, though, is the touching “modern” storyline which remains as moving now as when the movie was first shown nearly a hundred years ago.
Poor Little Peppina (1916)
Anyone who knows my ramblings well will know that my love for Mary Pickford is not great. That said, this rare little film is both ridiculous from a narrative point of view, and charming from the point of view of characterization, and well worth seeing. Pickford plays a girl kidnapped by the mafia, presumed dead, but then lands up in Italy knowing nothing of her past. When she later stows away to New York she (very) coincidentally finds herself involved with the members of the mafia that kidnapped her in the first place. Jack Pickford has a lovely little cameo as her brother.
This is Mauritz Stiller’s take on the novel Mikael by Herman Bang, in which an a princess comes between an aging artist and his protégé. Generally thought to be the first gay-themed feature film, but there is a problem in that the nature of the relationship isn’t made totally explicit. Nonetheless, it contains early performances from Lars Hanson and Nils Asther, and Mauritz Stiller pulls out all the stops with a complex structure in which a framing device is used in which the actors play themselves making the film. Confused?!
One of the first feature-length science-fiction films, this Danish movie directed by Holger-Madsen doubles up as a plea for peace in war-torn Europe. Thought lost for many years, this is a wonderful find. Of course it’s all rather naïve, but it’s also surprisingly entertaining, and the thought of there being a race of peace-loving vegetarians on Mars is much more pleasant than most modern tales of alien life!
Anders als die Andern (1919)
As a gay man, I could hardly leave out this remarkable film pleading for the legalization of homosexual acts in Germany. Directed by Richard Oswald and starring Conrad Veidt, the film is still remarkably touching even when viewed today in its fragmented form. Sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld helped write the script and appears in the film playing himself. Surprisingly ahead of its time – Victim would be seen as progressive when it tackled a similar theme and narrative over forty years later.
In Wrong (1919)
There was a cycle of rural coming-of-age dramas during the late 1910s and early 1920s and, of those that are still in existence, this is one of the most charming. Jack Pickford plays the somewhat lazy but likeable teenager who can’t seem to do anything right, until finally he does and wins over the girl. That’s pretty much it, folks, but this is a delightful character study, and Pickford demonstrates just why he was a box office draw during the 1910s. The vast majority of his work from this period is lost, but this shows just what he was capable of – and there are some lovely moments between him and a mongrel dog as well which are really rather touching.
The Lost Batallion (1919)
A rarity in that this is an entertaining war film from the 1910s, based on the true story of a battalion fighting in World War I that is saved from certain death by a carrier pigeon that, rather oddly, was then awarded a medal! The soldiers mostly play themselves, and make a good job of it, with the first half of the film being particularly entertaining as they sign up, train and get to know each other. The second half isn’t so successful, but this is still good stuff.