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Silent Movies Retro Style: Sneak Preview
by the KinoCritics

Blind Husbands ****
Director Erich von Stroheim, 1919, USA
This old black-and-white film deals with issues that transcend time. Erich von Stroheim tells an amazing story about a love triangle in the Alps. Dr. Armstrong (Sam DeGrasse), in need of a vacation, and his wife (Francelia Billington) travel to his beloved mountains to go rock climbing. He is glad to see his friends among the local people. His beautiful wife suffers from inattention, but, typical doctor, his mind is elsewhere. However, she catches the eye of illustrious Lieutenant Erich von Steuben (Erich von Stroheim) who tests his charm in an attempt to captivate her, while simultaneously playing around with other women. When charm and gifts fail, he forces himself on her. At this point, she tries to buy some time and agrees to meet him later.

Von Stroheim believes the woman is clearly the weaker sex since the “other man” needs little effort to take advantage of a woman who is not being watched over by her man. The movie ishumorous and the actors’ facial expressions are fascinating to watch since they exaggerate everything. This style of acting and the idea of beauty are so different from our norms today. The best part of this film was the climax. Here, the doctor suspects the lieutenant is up to something and takes him climbing up one of the most treacherous pikes in the Alps. The lieutenant stupidly sets himself up for this mistake since he boasts about being the best climber in his unit, whereas he has no clue. The doctor becomes so angry and distraught that he not only leaves him on this rocky pinnacle but has an accident as well. This footage is unbelievable due to the funny little rock climbing fashions of those days. The shoes alone look like an invitation to suicide. The ropes were short and the rocks steep. This whole climbing scene seemed completely scary to me and I like to rock climb! (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Lady Windermere’s Fan *****
Director Ernst Lubitsch, 1925, USA
Young Lady Windermere and her devoted husband, Lord Windermere, are at the brunt of an ugly, high society scandal which tests their undying love. Lord Windermere receives word that Mrs. Erlynne, the estranged mother of his new wife, desires to rekindle contact. Mrs. Erlynne’s tainted reputation is well known in their circles. Afraid of what the news would do to his wife’s fond memory of her mother, he agrees to pay Mrs. Erlynne to keep her at bay. Lord Darlington, the couple’s faithful, rich and attractive friend, fancies Lady Windermere and attempts to woo her away from stuffy Lord Windermere at every opportunity. Neither of the Windermeres takes Lord Darlington seriously but the appearance of evil is enough to keep the gossips working overtime. He plays along and stirs up a good pot of old-fashion jealousy by inquiring about the secret meetings with an older woman. Lady Windermere learns that her husband regularly gives money to Mrs. Erlynne but fears to ask the reason. Mrs. Erlynne accepts an invitation to her daughters’ birthday party in hopes of seeing her, but Lady Windermere angrily leaves the party in haste. Mrs. Erlynne sees her daughter flee and follows close behind only to arrive at the house of Lord Darlington. Frightened that she has caused unnecessary stress, Mrs. Erlynne also enters the house. The two women find themselves in an interesting dilemma and use their exotic fans to reach a solution.

Looking back on this era of movie making I was amazed that the filmmakers were not opposed to using females with imperfections. For example, one of the main female characters was a lady who had horribly crooked, dark teeth. Every time she would smile or open her mouth to speak, I cringed out of disgust. OOOuuuuuhhhh! This actress was very prevalent in the film and larger than life on the screen, too.

The storyline was delightful funny and communicated clearly. Sound would have ruined the narrative. In this silent movie, the text in between the scenes was large, legible and remained on screen long enough for the audience to read it. It was a pleasure to see the original silent version of Oscar Wilde’s play and to compare the similarities with A Good Woman, the 2005 adaptation of this same play. The interpretation of A Good Woman from the original Lady Windermere’s Fan was exceptional, although in my opinion, the original was more amusing. This film was fabulous! It was a real treat to see the silent movie on the big screen and admire various restoration spots. In this classic narrative the message from Oscar Wilde’s play continued to come through loud and clear: gossip clearly destroys lives and we choose to partake or avoid it. (Karen Pecota)

Tretja Mestschanskaja (Bed and Sofa) ****
Director: Abram Rooms 1927, Russia
This Russian silent movie describes a love triangle between two men and a woman. Nicolai and Luidmila are happy in their one-room hovel in overcrowded Moscow. Day for day they sleep in their narrow bed, dress, drink coffee and, kiss, kiss, smile, smile. Nicolai goes off to work on his construction site and Luidmila cleans up. This twosome is rearranged when Nicolai’s good friend Wladimir comes to town. Rooms are scarce and good-hearted Nicolai invites Wladimir to sleep on the sofa in the same single room. Luidmila is upset at hospitality too close for comfort but her husband insists and goes to work, leaving the wife and the guest to become acquainted, which they do 150 percent. Soon Luidmila and Wladimir are sleeping in the bed and Nicolai, after pensive moments at work, moves to the sofa. This goes round and round with great humor and expression, all emphasized by the terrific live piano and violin accompaniment. Close your eyes and you can already visualize the scene just from the music; that’s how good it is. Since you will probably never have the unique chance to see this movie, you’ll be interested in the ending: Luidmila becomes completely emancipated and leaves both men to live with each other and sleep in the bed while she seeks fulfilment on her own. It’s interesting that a paragon of beauty in the 1920s is different from today: Luidmila is 20 pounds overweight and Nicolai certainly has a tooth missing, which does not detract from their charisma one bit. (Becky Tan)

Borderline *
Director: Kenneth Macpherson, 1936, Great Britain
This 1930’s black-and-white silent film was an aggressive account of men and women trying to break out of gender roles and possibly the social norms of its day. The message was difficult to figure but one definitely knew that unhappiness was the topic for these people living within a saloon. I wouldn’t compare it to a retro Cheers bar, but the acting was very strange and sometimes goofy. The film was obviously very old; therefore, the restoration must have been an awesome task, and I would give some Brownie points for those efforts. However, in my opinion, the best part of the hour-long silent film was the live piano and percussion accompaniment to the storyline and its very small sporadic text. (Karen Pecota)