(1925) dir. Tod Browning
viewed: 07/16/06 at the Castro Theatre
I saw this film as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival which just played at the Castro Theatre over the weekend. Despite the fact that an acquaintance of mine is the chair of the festival and I have been attracted to it in years past, this was my first visit to the festival.
It’s a great thing, really. The silents were an era of invention and change in the world and the industry that developed (so quickly in America) was quickly laying out rules and adapting narratives from popular books and inventing cinema, literally. I had an avant-garde film class when I was an undergrad and one of the first films that was shown in that class was a Chaplin film. The teacher posited because of the newness of the cinema that in a sense all early film was potentially avant-garde in a sense. It is such a different experience to watch a fully visual story, not being screamed at by the surround sound atmosphere of the cinema (which I think is really cool itself). It’s just plain different. A different experience and one that I enjoyed completely.
This film had interested me for years. I was a Lon Chaney fan from childhood. I had seen stills from it in books and magazines and I had seen the sound remake of it, which was Chaney’s last film.
It’s full of sideshow fun, midgets, strongman, and a killer gorilla (who is really a chimpanzee). Chaney is a ventriloquist who leads the “Unholy Three” and disguises himself as an old woman with the midget pretending to be a baby. It’s greatly amusing and a little bit shocking. It’s wacky stuff.