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Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 1: The Silents | A cult film fan must-have!

Fantastic Films of the Decades: Volume 1 - The Silent EraFrom film historian, Wayne Kinsey, comes the first in an ambitious nine volume series, which sets out to present an informative, pictorial history of cobweb cinema (including horror, fantasy, sci-fi and spine-tingling thrillers), from the silent era to the blockbusters of the 1970s.

Kinsey begins his epic journey with the seminal silent era, where many a cinematic mad doctor, monster and screaming heroine were first given life by early film pioneers like George Méliès, FW Murnau and Fritz Lang.

Providing the same kind of detailed background information (production history, credit lists, and fascinating facts on the cast, crews and film-makers) that he employs in his many Hammer history tomes, Kinsey unearths and revisits 65 genre films, a mixture of classics and obscurities, and seven famously lost gems.

Fantastic Films of the Decades: Volume 1 - The Silent EraDesigned with ‘Fantastic’ film fans in mind, Kinsey packs his labour of love with tons of wonderful images (many new to my well-informed eyes – and pristine thanks to the superb Blu-ray scans), as well as some vintage poster repros.

He also intersperses the filmography with sections honouring the era’s Legends: including actors Lon Chaney Sr, Conrad Veidt and the Barrymores; directors Karl Freund, Alfred Hitchcock and Tod Browning; make-up artists Perc, Wally and Bud Westmore, and iconic studios like Universal. There are also Series Link pages devoted to a range of themes (including supernatural, vampire and dinosaur films) and iconic characters (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Opera Ghost).

Fantastic Films of the Decades: Volume 1 - The Silent EraThough Kinsey tends to end his series around the time The Exorcist inexorably changed the horror cinema landscape and before the 1980s VHS boom put the final nail in the coffin of the ‘classic’ Fantastic genre, I would have preferred his Series Link pages to be more up-to-date. But that’s a minor niggle (as are the odd typo).

Overall, Kinsey has conjured an impressive, informative and – above all – invaluable film reference book, one that belongs on every film fans bookshelf, and right next to those seminal Alan Frank and Denis Gifford’s books which many a 1970s Monster Kid (myself included) still treasure.

Fantastic Films of the Decades Volume 1: The Silent Era is limited to 500 copies and is available only from Peveril Publishing

Click HERE to place an order.

Faust (1926) | FW Murnau’s silent gift to German cinema’s rich heritage of horror now on Blu-ray

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

No man can resist evil! The bet is on!
Mephistopheles (Emil Jannings) bets an archangel (Werner Fuetterer) he can corrupt the soul of aging alchemist Faust (Gösta Ekman); and the stakes are the Earth itself. When a plague is unleashed and Faust is unable to find a cure, he rejects both God and science and invokes the aid of Satan. Mephisto appears and makes a pact with Faust: he will restore his youth in exchange for his soul. But its a pact the revitalized Faust wishes he never made after he falls for the innocent charms of Gretchen (Camilla Horn)…

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

FW Murnau’s silent gift…
1926’s Faust: A German Folktale (Faust, eine deutsche Volkssage) was FW Murnau’s last German film before heading to the US. Featuring stylised photography, set and art direction, and ground-breaking special effects, it came at the pinnacle of the silent era and alongside 1922’s Nosferatu was Murnau’s silent gift to German cinema’s rich heritage of horror.

With screenwriter Hans Kyser, Murnau fused Faust’s script from German folk legend, the works of Goethe and Marlowe and the Charles Gounod opera, to render a highly individual work. And from that much-filmed legend Murnau conjured cinema’s devil incarnate in the form of Emil Jannings’ Mephisto – resplendent in black cloak and sporting a widow’s peak that has been much copied and parodied. Behold him enveloping a whole town in the blackness of his giant cloak, restoring the wizened Faust’s youth in a fiery blaze, or flying over the intricate model town to a lavish wedding feast. It’s wondrous stuff, made all the more so by Timothy Brock’s operatic orchestral score.

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

Whilst the film was harshly met by critics of the day – calling it a vulgar sentimental love story (and it does lag somewhat during these scenes) – and derided Murnau’s decision in giving the tragedy a happy ending, the film’s compelling imagery is its enduring legacy. Murnau was fortunate in having two of the German film industry’s finest designers on board, Walter Röhrig, who created the iconic cubist sets for Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari, and Robert Herlth, as well as Fritz Lang’s favourite cameraman Carl Hoffmann, whose ‘dance of death’ sequence is a showcase for his artistry. Under Murnau’s fastidious eye, the team brought to the silver screen the director’s stylised vision as he wanted it, a battle of light and shadow that mirrors in celluloid the film’s metaphysical themes of good versus evil.

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

THE RESTORED PRINT
Although numerous editions of the film exist, there were only two original negatives from which all other versions issued. Using the nitrate duplicate negatives printed by UFA in 1926 and an array of international sources, Murnau’s favoured domestic German version has been reconstructed by Filmoteca Espanola from which this newly restored transfer is sourced. It makes this version the closest we will ever get to see the film as the director intended. The Masters of Cinema Series presents the Friedrich-Wilhelm- Murnau-Stiftung restoration for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK in a two-disc dual format release with the following features.

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Newly restored 1080p transfer of the domestic German print (1.33:1 aspect ratio), featuring different takes and much better resolution than the export print
• Original German intertitles and improved optional English subtitles
• Choice of viewing the film with Timothy Brock orchestral score, specially commissioned harp score by Stan Ambrose, or (on Blu-ray only) new piano score by Javier Pérez de Azpeitia
• Audio commentary by film critics David Ehrenstein and Bill Krohn
• Complete export version of the film
The Language of Shadows, 53-min German featurette on the film (Blu-ray only)
• Tony Rayns on Faust – a 20-minute video piece recorded in 2006
• Booklet with essays of the film’s history by Peter Spooner and R Dixon Smith, excerpts from Éric Rohmer’s analysis of the film, and archive prints.

 

The Phantom of the Opera (1929) | Is this the definitive release of the celebrated silent cinema horror classic?

The Phantom of the Opera

BEHOLD THE PHANTOM
In the first-ever screen adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, Lon Chaney, gives his most famous performance as the deformed Erik, a former Devil’s Island escapee who commits murder and mayhem in a bid to turn the woman (Mary Philbin) he is infatuated with, into a star.

phantom of the opera 1925

THE MASTERPIECE OF HORROR THAT SHOCKED CINEMA FOR DECADES!
The 1925 film was a hugely lavish production, with a scaled-down replica of the Paris Opera house being built on a dedicated soundstage (that’s still used today). Despite numerous production problems, the film was a box-office hit that launched the Hollywood gothic style of the 1930s, beginning with Tod Browning’s Dracula and James Whale’s Frankenstein, while Chaney’s skull-like make-up was so horrific it made some cinema patrons scream and faint.

With the arrival of sound, Phantom was re-issued, but only fragments now survive. Original prints of the film were also fully tinted, with some sequences in two-colour Technicolor, and a rooftop scene using a special process that enabled the Phantom’s cloak to show red against the blue night sky. This Photoplay restoration re-instates all these effects, and is accompanied by Carl Davis’ celebrated 1996 score which draws heavily on Charles Gounod’s Faust – the opera that is performed in the film. Rent the film now on BFI Player (£3.50).

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYvbaILyc2s%5D

THE BFI RELEASE
The UK 3-disc dual format edition includes the following:

• A newly-restored 2k scanned presentation of the tinted and toned 1929 version comprising elements from three sources (the 35mm George Eastman House master positive, a 35mm colour dupe negative of the masked ball made in 1996, and 35mm dupe negative sections made in 1996 from an original 16mm print), new opening and closing titles, and a 5.1 mix of Carl Davis‘s 1996 Channel 4 Silents Series score.

• The 103min 1925 version newly transferred in high definition from the Photoplay Productions 16mm print and digitally remastered, with a newly commissioned piano accompaniment by Ed Bussey.

• Original 1925 trailer (featuring Bussey’s music) and 1929 sound re-issue trailer (featuring recreated soundtrack).

• An edited version of Reel 5 from the lost 1929 sound re-issue (12 mins).

• The ‘man with a lantern’ footage believed to have been shot for non-English speaking territories.

Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces documentary (2000, 86 mins, DVD only).

• Booklet featuring new essays, including extensive notes on the film’s restoration history.

• Channel 4 Silents restoration souvenir programme on PDF.

smallphantomIf you want to know more about the enduring legacy of The Phantom of the Opera, check out the documentary Unmasking the Masterpiece from the folks at The Witch’s Dungeon (who supplied the photos above) over in the US. Click here for more information.

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