1915 - Europe was engulfed in World War I, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the world's first long-distance call, Kafka published "The Metamorphosis," Ford Maddox Ford wrote "The Good Soldier," and Babe Ruth hit his first home run. Here are the year's top 5 movies, the way I see it: 1) The Birth of a Nation (dir. D.W. Griffith) Griffith's despicable masterpiece can be credited with establishing both 20th Century Hollywood and the 20th Century Klan. It's the reason I started this series in 1915. I wrote about the film and its power of evil in an essay last year.
2) Les vampires (dir. Louis Feuillade) The 7-hour-long crime serial casts a dark, surreal gaze at Paris. The result is a dreamy Gothic thriller that kept me hypnotized during viewings. The haunting GIF animation on the left is from Episode 2, "The Ring that Binds." Unlike The Birth of a Nation, which codified film grammar, Les vampires used primarily a static camera, with occasional close-ups. The actresses and actors performed their own stunts. Les vampires is emblematic of the sort of beauty you can't get from anything other than a vintage silent film. The imperfect restorations add to the otherworldly character. This doesn't feel like a film from 1915, but from a mythical year that somehow fell through the holes in history.
3) Regeneration (dir. Raoul Walsh) A perfect artifact of the Progressive Era, Regeneration begins with the tale of an intelligent, sensitive orphan boy who is trapped into a life of crime because of his family's poverty and his neighbor's drunkenness. Can the heroine - a middle-class young woman who has devoted her life to serving the homeless - rescue him from his hopeless plight?
4) The Cheat (dir. Cecil B. DeMille) DeMille's dramatic lighting and storytelling sense were on display early in his career. The story of a freespending, upper class housewife who agrees to sell her body to pay off a debt she ran up with her husband's money provides a contrast to the absurdly virtuous woman in Regeneration. 100 years later, Hollywood still tends to keep women in similarly two-dimensional roles.
5) Posle smerti (dir. Yevgeni Bauer) Based on a story by Ivan Turgenev -- and made while Turgenev was still alive. It's always astounding to realize just how old movies actually are. The adaptation has a few strong moments, evoking a Poe-like atmosphere for this moody ghost story. Like with Les vampires, it's a unique product of the bygone early silent era.