Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dec 1 - The Silent Films

Since they are only a few minutes each, I thought I'd knock out the whole silent era in one post...

Gotta start at the very beginning. This is the earliest found adaptation of the story. It's odd, kinda hard to follow. And not just because the film no longer exists in its complete form and we only have about half of the scenes. The director relied almost entirely on the familiarity with the novel to tell the story, there are only a few intertitles and they are only here to setup the proceeding scene in the most basic ways. No dialog or extra exposition. We only have Scrooge's over-the-top arm acting to understand that this is apparently a harrowing evening. It's not great film making to be so dependent on the source material. If you found some poor soul who'd been trapped under a rock on a deserted island since the 1840s and plopped them down in front of this movie, they'd be lost.

Like a ton of silent films, especially from this early, it feels very "stagey". No camera movements and flat, painted sets. It's interesting that Marley is the only ghost, handling all the duties of exploring the past, present and future himself. I guess costuming could only afford the one white sheet, so they had to get clever. I'm being a tad harsh...there are some genuinely impressive special effects to show Scrooge's memories and he and Marley visiting the Cratchit's home.

Watch it on YouTube.

Nine years later, the film makers at Edison Studios, no longer content with recording frumpy people kiss or sneeze, decided to take a stab at A Christmas Carol. Only a few years later and not much longer than Marley's Ghost but it's an exponentially more successful adaptation. The sets look terrific, special effects are top-notch, and the acting is great.

For being so short, it surprisingly manages to hit the iconic elements that we are familiar with from seeing all of the feature length movies. All the ghosts are present, Marley's got his chains, Scrooge does a goofy, giddy dance on Christmas morning. I don't know if the occasion where you just GOT to watch A Christmas Carol but you only have a few minutes and you have to keep quiet will come up often...but if it does watch this one. Unless you're some insane person with a blog trying to watch a couple dozen versions for no good reason, you aren't missing anything by skipping the 1901 movie.

Watch it on YouTube.

There are at least two more silent films, one from in between these two and one from 1913. The latter I especially wish I could find as the actor who plays Scrooge plays him again in a talkie version in 1935, which I'll be watching soon. It'd be neat to see how he handled the role decades earlier and in the silent format.

Oh, I forgot to mention yesterday, I'm going to be ranking these as I go so I can see what cream rises to the top...

  1. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  2. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)

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