Liked ‘The Artist’? Check Out These Silent Movie Classics
'The Artist' cleaned house at the 2012 Oscars, proving that even in the 21st century, silent movies aren't just for film snobs. While there are famous films that have endured ('Metropolis,' 'Nosferatu') the general public might need a reintroduction to some interesting silent movies since it's been some 70 years since their debut. Here are five films that are great companion pieces to 'The Artist' both in tone and subject.
Murder, mystery, forbidden love and all that jazz was almost a cliche by the end of the 1920's, but 'Piccadilly' is a rare gem that makes it all fresh again. The film follows dancers of the decadent Piccadilly nightclub, chronicling their jealousies, rivalries and betrayals. Perhaps the most interesting angle is Anna May Wong's character, Shosho, and her troubles fitting into the white-dominated world of 1929. A heartbreaking, yet memorable, film that shows just how taboo the act of interracial relationships once were.
When most people think of silent movies, Charlie Chaplin comes to mind. It's an understandable reaction, since he helped pioneer the comedy genre, and Hollywood as a whole. He's known for a list of great films — 'The Tramp', 'Modern Times', 'The Great Dictator' — but his 1931 silent heart-warmer would make a great double feature with 'The Artist.' Chaplin reprises his Tramp character, and through a series of misadventures in the big city, takes it upon himself to earn enough money for a blind girl's operation. It's not all sentimental heartstring-pulling — there's plenty of Chaplin's trademark slapstick in between the tearjerkers. Just watch the scene below and see what we mean.
'The Last Command'
The Soviet Union of the 1920s was not the world-threatening superpower of the Cold War, but rather an international pariah, shrouded in mystery. Much of its American public perception was formed through White Russian emigres, who fled after the Revolution and Civil War. 'The Last Command' is one such film, which stars Emil Jannings, as a washed up Tsarist general, struggling to survive in 1920s Hollywood. Cast in a film about the Russian Revolution, he finds himself returning to his memories, until past and present merge into one explosive climax. (Watch a scene here.)
Long before 'Animal House,' moviegoers were already familiar with what a nonstop party college is thanks to this silent classic. (Well, except for nerds.) Buster Keaton plays one such hapless dweeb who pines for the girl of his dreams but is hardly noticed by her since she's too busy fawning over the jocks. Poor Buster tries to impress her through various activities, and fails miserably. At least we can laugh at his failures, er, we mean laugh with Buster as he fails. Watch the clip below and appreciate the work of a brilliant physical comedian who inspired the likes of Jim Carrey and Conan O'Brien.
Perhaps the quintessential silent film about the Jazz Age, 'It' still has so much charm that it's easy to see its influence in 'The Artist.' Much like Berenice Bejo's ingenue charactrer, Clara Bow, the Brooklyn beauty, plays the 'It Girl' who starts out as a lowly sales girl and winds up a glamorous flapper. The film is light on actual plot, and soap operatic, making it an early precursor to modern romantic comedies. But it's hard not to be caught up in the lights, glamor, and parties of the 1920's, which 'It' captures so perfectly. Plus, since it's a silent film, you won't have to listen to Clara Bow's, er, unique voice. As 'The Artist' showed, there's a reason why some stars didn't make the transition to talkies.