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Movie Crash Course: A Note From The Projectionist’s Booth

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Time and technology are funny things.

I have been trying to watch everything in chronological order, as has more or less been captured by the 1001 Movies To See Before You Die books (and more or less compiled here).  I’ve been finding most things via Netflix, but many of the older films, most of which are in the public domain, I’ve been finding on Youtube.  Which is a boon – instead of random cat videos and clips of the kids from Stranger Things designing Pop-tart flavors or whatever, you can delve into cinema history for totally free.  There is a little of “you get what you pay for”, to be sure – the print quality isn’t always ideal, and sometimes the person who uploaded it has chosen their own music (the upload I found of Les Vampires had this super-monotonous electronic “creepy” music in a continuous loop that got occasionally annoying).

However, because some of these films are classics and are critically revered, sometimes they get a serious film-historian makeover, either because someone’s found some extra footage they thought they’d lost or someone’s restored the print or something like that.  And when that happens…it goes out of the public domain, and comes down from Youtube.  But that is also no guarantee that Netflix has it.  And after 20 movies, I’ve just run into that problem (which explains the delay in here).

I really was looking forward to the next film after Sherlock Jr. – it’s The Great White Silence, a sort of found-footage documentary from the tragic British Terra Nova expedition of 1913, when Robert Scott made an attempt to reach the South Pole first; only to be narrowly beaten by Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Scott’s team all perished during the return to base camp.  However, filmmaker Herbert Ponting was on hand to record the team embarking upon their trip, but Scott had him stay behind – and so he and his footage survived. The footage became Great White Silence in 1924, ten years after the tragedy, but the wound was still a little too fresh, and the public avoided the film and it sort of lapsed into obscurity until 2011, when it got restored and presented as a historic document.  Netflix doesn’t seem to have a copy, and all the Youtube links I see refer me to questionable web sites in obscure Baltic langauges where I can “downlode free streaming 100% free okay”.  No thanks.

I’m running into a similar problem with the next film after that – and to add insult to injury, the next film is Greed, an Erich Von Stroeheim four-hour epic.  Youtube does have a paid-viewing option for only a couple bucks, but…again, it’s an Erich Von Stroeheim four-hour epic.

The weather is supposed to be a little bleak this weekend, so I may just suck it up and watch Greed, and see if I can find a similar pay-per-view approach to Great White Silence.  But I may have to skip these and come back to them later; there’s too many other films waiting.


3 responses »

  1. I have a weird admiration for a guy who would make a 4-hour movie back in the early 1920s. Sounds like a good movie to watch when you have the flu or a layover at an airport. Those silent films were fascinating. Read a bit about “Greed” and he sounded upset that it wasn’t longer than 4 hours! Bit obsessed with the material. The “Great White Silence” movie sounds really interesting – such a fascinating topic.

    • I actually have so many thoughts in response it may turn into a post – but in my experience, making a 4-hour movie doens’t guarantee that all 4 of those hours would be interesting to watch. I actually am finding that a lot of the early films liked to include close-up shots of the actors just standing there and Emoting, and while that may have been a convention at the time (I’m starting to notice it is one), for audiences today, we may tend to feel like it’s not interesting to look at.

      And there’s another problem – as a playwright I once knew put it, “when writing their plays, playwrights should always keep in mind the capacity of the human bladder!”

      • I agree with you and I didn’t mean to imply that I think it’s a good idea to make a four-hour movie – I was just amazed that someone would make a four-hour movie back in those days when it would be highly unusual to have one of that length. Fascinating that he felt so compelled to do this. Plan to read a bit more about this person. Thanks for your great posts!

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