Monday, December 27, 2021

At the Movies In 2021


As theaters reopened, I got to return to seeing movies at something approaching my old pace. The year started out with trips to the drive-in, and then the occasional special showing at the Music Box. Slowly, weekend matinees and regular screenings have returned. No one knows what the future holds, of course, even in the short term, but here's hoping I get to spend even more time at the movies in 2022.

Here's a list of what I saw on the big screen in 2021:

1. Jaws (1975)- ChiTown Drive-In

2. Night of Kings (2021)- Music Box Theater

3. The Human Voice (2021)- Music Box

4. Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)- Music Box

5. Heat (1995)- Music Box

6. Ocean's 11 (2001)- Music Box

7. Rififi (1955)- Music Box

8. The Story of a Three Day Pass (1967)- Music Box

9. The Navigator (1924)-Pickwick Theater (Park Ridge)

10. The Lucky Dog (1921)- Pickwick

11. Shoulder Arms (1919)- Pickwick

12. Playtime (1967)- Music Box

13. The Amusement Park (1973)- Music Box

14. Jerry Maguire (1996)- Regal City North

15. A Quiet Place Part II (2021)- Regal

16. Summer of 85 (2021)- Music Box

17. Mama Weed (2021)- Music Box

18. Stillwater (2021)- AMC River East

19. The Return of Boston Blackie (1927)- City News Cafe

20. Black Widow (2021)- Logan Theater

21. The Green Knight (2021)-Music Box

22. The Suicide Squad (2021)-Logan Theater

23. La Piscine (1969)- Music Box

24. The Third Man (1949)- Music Box

25. Le Cercle Rouge (1970)- Music Box

26. Touchez pas au grisbi (1954)- Music Box

27. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings (2021)-Logan Theater

28. A Foreign Affair (1948)- Music Box

29. Greed (1924)- Music Box

30. A Corner in Wheat (1909)- Music Box

31. Dimland (2021)- Music Box

32. The Card Counter (2021)- Landmark Century Centre Cinema

33. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)- Music Box

34. Titane (2021)- Music Box

35. The Shakedown (1929)- Music Box 

36. In a Lonely Place (1950)- Doc Films

37. Dune (2021)- Regal IMAX

38. No Time to Die (2021)- Regal IMAX

39. The Magnificent Seven (1960)- Pickwick

40. The French Dispatch (2021)- Logan

41. The Power of the Dog (2021)- Music Box

42. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)- Logan

43. Suicide Club (2001)- Music Box

44. White Heat (1949)-Music Box "Noirvember"

45. Too Late For Tears (1949)-Music Box "Noirvember"

46. Arrebato (1979)- Music Box

47. Pavement Butterfly (1929)- Music Box

48. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)- Music Box

49. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)- Music Box

50. Superman: The Movie (1978)- Pickwick

51. Hardcore (1978)- Los Feliz Theater (Los Angeles)

52. Licorice Pizza (2021)- Logan

53. Cure (1997)-Music Box

54. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)-Logan

Thursday, November 25, 2021



The holidays can be a depressing time, so it’s somewhat ironic that more film noirs haven’t been set during the silly season. The manufactured cheerfulness of Christmas—with the lights, incessant music and forced religious observance, not to mention the legitimate celebrations of faith and family—make for a rich contrast to the subversive world of noir. Capra employed some noir touches in MEET JOHN DOE and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, both of which are centered around long, dark nights of the soul. Allen Baron utilized New York’s Christmas celebrations in BLAST OF SILENCE, using the decorations and cheer as a backdrop for his ode to existential nothingness.

Perhaps the clearest example of a “Christmas noir” is Robert Siodmak’s CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. Adapted by Herman J. Mankiewicz from a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, it tells the story of a young solider, Lt. Charles Mason (Dean Harens) who is dumped by his fiancée (via telegram!) on Christmas Eve. He jumps on a plane to San Francisco to confront her, but when the plane hits a storm, the flight is rerouted to New Orleans. Mason is drinking his problems away in a bar until he can get another flight when he’s approached by a drunk reporter (Richard Whorf). The reporter takes pity on Mason and drags him to a nightclub (a thinly veiled brothel). There Mason meets a beautiful-but-sad young singer named Jackie (Deanna Durbin). They spend the night talking, with Jackie telling Mason the story of her life. Turns out her real name is Abigail Martin and her husband Robert (Gene Kelly) is in prison serving a life sentence for murder.

At this point, the film switches gears and tells the story of Abigail and Robert’s doomed romance. After the back story is filled in, we come back to Abigail and Mason just in time to find out that Robert has escaped from prison and is making his way to his wife. He’s not pleased that she has changed her name and taken a job in a whorehouse.

What an odd film this is. It takes a curiously long time to get to the story of Abigail and Robert, and Mason never comes into focus as a real character with real problems of his own (the film forgets about his two-timing fiancée pretty quick). Yet the story of Abigail and Robert also feels undercooked. Theirs is an extremely dysfunctional relationship, with Abigail assuming the responsibility for Robert’s gambling and murder, and Robert letting her feel that she’s to blame. The film never confronts this imbalance of power in the relationship, and then at the end segues into a hasty bit of self-empowerment.

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY came at an interesting point the careers of its stars. After MGM dumped her in favor of Judy Garland in the mid-1930s, Deanna Durbin had gone over to Universal and become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. By 1949, she would be done with films, living happily secluded in France, refusing film roles and interviews. When she made this film in 1944, she was attempting to show that she had a range beyond light comedy and musicals, and she does a perfectly fine job as the conflicted Abigail. The same can’t be said for Gene Kelly, only a couple of years into his movie career and still finding himself onscreen. Could anyone be more out of place in a story like this? Kelly was a man with a spring in his step and music in his bones, a performer born for light musical comedy. The final moments of CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY fail to work in large part because Kelly, at least as an actor, has no dark depths to plumb.

It’s too bad, too, because CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY has its virtues. Don’t let the title and the cast fool you; this is a full-fledged film noir. Set almost entirely at night—and photographed by the superb Woody Bredell—it’s a gorgeous-looking film with a good supporting cast. There are nice character parts for Gale Sondergaard as Kelly’s creepily devoted mother (the film should have made room for a showdown between Sondergaard and Durbin), and Gladys George as the proprietor of the “nightclub” where Durbin works. If anyone was born to play a Madam in a whorehouse, it was Gladys George.

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is ultimately a failure of a film, but it is a fascinating example of how noir worked. Here’s a film starring two naturally ebullient singers, set during Christmas time, but through the handling of the material it paints a pretty bleak picture. In this film, love is some-thing to be overcome, something that always gives way to heartbreak and pain.

Happy Holidays from the city of perpetual night.   

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Commentary Track for WOMAN IN THE DARK

Well, here's some fun news. I had the opportunity a few months ago to record my first commentary track, for Flicker Alley's Blu-Ray release of the Dashiell Hammett adaptation WOMAN IN THE DARK. The film is included in a box set called IN THE SHADOW OF HOLLYWOOD: HIGHLIGHTS FROM POVERTY ROW

It was interesting to try something new, to work in a entirely new medium. I've been teaching film studies for a couple of years now, and I've been writing about film for much longer, but recording audio commentary is a whole other animal. Trying to juggle historical context and shot-by-shot analysis while also trying not to jumble my words or repeat myself was a fun challenge. I can tell you one thing: it certainly gave me an even greater appreciation for guys like Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode who make this shit look effortless. It is tricky, damn tricky.

Go check out the box set and support Flicker Alley, which is doing excellent work cleaning up and releasing works that fall through the Criterion cracks.    

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Back at the Movies in Chicago

 Obviously we're not out of the pandemic yet (and won't be anytime soon, I fear), but lately things have returned to a peculiar kind of normal. Case in point: the movies.

It's not as if we can just stroll into a theater like it's 2019, of course. There are safety protocols--masks, proof of vax, ect--that must be observed. But after the dismal cultural wasteland that was 2020, I am happy to report that, in Chicago at least, moviegoing has regained a least a little of its former glory.

The Music Box Theater (the jewel in Chicago's cinema crown) is back up and running, programming new indie films and classic oldies, as well as midnight showings for the night owls, weekend matinees (first up, a series of Marlene Dietrich movies!), and silent films for the hardcore cinephiles (which kicked off with a glorious showing of GREED a few weeks back).

The Siskel Film Center is also back, with, among other things, a Fellini series (a nice way to celebrate the pure joy of cinema). The Chicago Film Society is back with a truncated (though characteristically eclectic) season, which will culminate with a showing of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS in December. And after the longest hiatus of them all, Doc Films is back with a shortened weekly schedule (only Thursdays to Sundays). The Park Ridge movies series is back at the Pickwick Theater, the Chicago Silent Film Society is booking showings, and Facets is still going strong. 

In addition to all of that, the multiplexes have reopened with the superhero/franchise/blockbuster stuff.

All of this makes me exceedingly happy, and I hope it all reinforces the need for in-person cinematic experiences. I am grateful for all the technology that made it possible to watch movies, stream concerts and other "live" performances during the pandemic, but let's pause for a moment to appreciate just how nice it is to go out, grab dinner, and go to the movies.  

Friday, August 27, 2021



As we stagger out of August into an uncertain September, I'd like to report on the unintentional gift I gave myself this summer. I watched LA PISCINE (1969) a few weeks ago at the Music Box Theater, and it was the perfect mid-summer movie--sunny, sexy, and languorous. The film has just been released in a restored print, and it was a surprise hit this summer in New York, inspiring repeat viewings from enraptured audiences and a predicable high brow backlash from the NEW YORKER. Why a 52 year old French film should suddenly be thrust back into public consciousness and discourse is up for debate, though most people seem to agree that the carnal beauty of stars Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, both of whom are worshipped by director Jacques Deray's camera, is reason enough.

But back to me for a moment. The gift I gave myself wasn't just LA PISCINE at mid-summer, it was also a viewing of MONSIEUR HULOT'S HOLIDAY (1953) a couple of nights ago. Jacques Tati's film is a gentle comedy about a group of people vacationing at a seaside resort. It was Tati's first film featuring his greatest creation, Monsieur Hulot (played by Tati himself) a well-meaning bumbler who makes quiet comic havoc of everything he touches. The film, like all the Hulot films that followed this one, is nearly dialogue free. The comedy comes from smartly observed details and tiny gestures (the repeated creak of a door, the way an elderly couple go for a stroll as if on promenade) rather than big set pieces (though there is a fireworks display at the end). At the end, everyone says their farewells, packs up and goes home.

I didn't plan this French bookend to the summer, with Deray's sexy, sweaty thriller on one end and Tati's sweetly humanist comedy on the other, but the combination turns out to be perfect.

Try it next year.  


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Friday, June 4, 2021

DRY COUNTY at Southern Literary Review

There's a nice piece by Thomas O'Grady up over at Southern Literary Review that looks at my novel DRY COUNTY alongside Chris Offutt's COUNTRY DARK, contextualizing them both within the genre of "country noir." It's a smart look at both novels, so go check it out here.    

Friday, May 14, 2021

Heist Films to Soothe the Troubled Soul


Man, it's good to get back into the theater. After averaging about two or three visits to the cinema per week for the last few years, 2020 was brutal for me. In March of last year, my weekly habit came to and end. Which was a bummer. I don't just like going to the movies. I don't just love going to the movies. I NEED to go to the movies.

I managed to piece together a few visits to drive-ins last year. I saw JAWS and A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. It was fun, but drive-ins are more about the experience of going to a drive-in than the experience of seeing a movie (if you follow my meaning).

Music Box Theater opened up with reduced capacity earlier this year, and I saw a handful of films (NIGHT OF KINGS from the Ivory Coast, and Almodovar's new short film THE HUMAN VOICE along with his classic WOMAN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN). All of this was good for me, a nice gentle return to the warm refuge of the movie theater.

This week (ironically, the week that the CDC dropped their big announcement that vaccinated folks could go maskless in public) I returned to the Music Box for their series on heist films. I saw HEAT, OCEAN'S 11, and RIFIFI.

These were movies to soothe the soul, at least if your soul is as weird as mine. HEAT (1995) has achieved the level of beloved classic for a lot of people, a status it deserves. It's such a precise movie, so careful in its construction and deft in its execution that it is easy to overlook that it's a flawed film. Its handling of the love interests of the two leading characters is unconvincing and burdened with cliche in a way that the rest of the film is not. For most of its running time, though, HEAT is able to transcend the cops and robbers conceit by leaning into it, by seeming to gather the entire crime genre into its loving embrace. It's the modern crime film by which all others are measured, for good reason.

OCEAN'S 11 (2001) is a lark, a fluffy confection of handsome men (and one pretty woman) running around Vegas in nice clothes, exchanging witty banter, while the director sets up an amusingly convoluted switcharoo. Funny enough, the Vegas pastime that the movie reminds you of isn't gambling, it's magic. Watching the film is like watching a slight of hand trick. It takes you in, diverts your attention, and you forget about it as soon as it's over.

RIFIFI (1955) is about as far away from OCEAN'S as you can get, considering the surface similarity of their plots: an ex-con puts together a crew for one last big job. But OCEAN'S does what most big budget heist movies do these days: it sets up an impossible fortress to penetrate and then unveils vaguely explained technologies that make it possible to penetrate. (This is the plot of every MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie so far.) RIFIFI on the other hand gives us hard work in place of gadgets. This gang of crooks has to do hard manual labor to break into a jewelry store, bypass the alarm, and break into a safe. (All done in a long masterful sequence with no dialog.) No one in OCEAN'S ever breaks a sweat. In RIFIFI they sweat their asses off. 

 RIFIFI is preeminent among heist films, for good reason. It does everything a heist film is supposed to do and does it better than most, but it also dramatizes the underlying ethos of the whole genre. Heist films are working class films. They're rarely about passion (the way, say, the femme fatale plot is always about passion). They're about people trying to earn a living, any way possible.

It was such a joy to be back in the theater, watching these films. Here's hoping we can all get safely back to going to the movies soon.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Joan Bennett and the Post-Sexual Femme Fatale: HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954)


The main reason to see HIGHWAY DRAGNET is to get a glimpse of something you don’t see in a lot of classic Hollywood cinema, a great female movie star in her middle age. Many of the great male stars of the golden age were allowed to age onscreen. People like Bogart, Gable, Cooper, and Stewart did some of their best work in their forties and fifties. John Wayne didn’t really become John Wayne until he’d shed his youthful beauty and became an autocratic authority figure.

Actresses, however, had a tougher go of it. Even more than their male counterparts, they were valued for their youth and beauty. They were symbols, above all else, of vitality. Middle-aged actresses, on the other hand, were usually accorded no sexual identity. As they entered their forties and fifties, they were often turned into mothers or maids, even while their old costars like Bogart and Cooper were paired with younger and younger women. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford delayed this demotion longer than most, but even those two titans finally made some kind of peace with the grim reality that they’d lost their prized commodity—their youth—and became grotesqueries for hire in horror movies like WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

Joan Bennett had a tougher time than most. She’d been a huge star in the early forties—and was particularly adept at playing bad girls in films like SCARLETT STREET—but when an adulterous affair ended with her husband shooting her lover, Bennett’s career came crashing down. A sex scandal and middle age were a bad combination at the box office. Bennett’s days as a star were over. She didn’t find steady work again until the late sixties when she nabbed a supporting role on the hit show DARK SHADOWS. (Later, she would take her own BABY JANE-like turn toward the grotesque in 1977’s SUSPIRIRA).

In 1954, however, Bennett appeared in an interesting little sunbaked noir called HIGHWAY DRAGNET. The film stars Richard Conte as Jim Henry, a Korean war vet who gets into an argument with a blond barfly (played by Mary Beth Hughes) in a Vegas casino. The next morning, the girl turns up dead. Implicated in the murder, Henry escapes the cops and hitches a ride with two women, a pretty young model named Susan (Wanda Hendrix) and a surly photographer named Mrs. Cummings (Bennett).

Movie logic dictates that one of these three people is the killer. Since we know it’s not Conte, and since Wanda Hendrix exudes a purity as fresh as newly fallen snow, that pretty much leaves us to watch Bennett. The plot twists in the final act of the film are outlandish, but Bennett remains as fascinating a presence as ever. What’s most striking about her here is how she operates outside of the sexual arena she used to dominate. Writing for the journal NOIR CITY, the scholar Foster Hirsch pointed out that she “is cast here as a post-sexual character, a woman pushed to crime because she has been romantically ostracized.” What Bennett brings to the role is the cumulative weight of her screen persona—the danger she embodied in her Fritz Lang films, the world-weariness she exuded in HOLLOW TRIUMPH when she told Paul Henreid “It’s a bitter little world.” In HIGHWAY DRAGNET we get to see that persona further down the road, the post-sexual femme fatale, a little worse for wear but still pissed off and still defiant.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Movies Before 1975


Poor Rick Rojas. A couple of weeks ago he was just a reporter for the New York Times. Then he made the mistake of going on Twitter to trash CITIZEN KANE. By itself, taking a shot at the Orson Welles classic isn't really such a big deal, of course. Ever since it was enshrined as "The Greatest Movie of All Time" by cinephiles back in the 60s and 70s, it's been fair game for iconoclasts and contrarians. But Rojas went on to say that he had a policy of not watching any movie made before 1975. Reaction, as it often is on Twitter, was swift, fierce, and completely out of proportion. Even TCM dunked on this guy. And keep in mind, Rojas isn't even a film critic. He's just a dude who tweeted out something goofy.

What do I think about the goofy thing he tweeted? Well, I have a few thoughts.

1. Old movies are my life. I mean, they really, really are. I honestly can't imagine life without Orson Welles, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, Olivia de Havilland, Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Lizabeth Scott, Robert Mitchum, Jean Arthur... I could keep listing famous names, but you get the point. 

2. But no one is obligated to like anything. You're not obligated to like an Orson Welles movie. And I'm obsessed with Orson Welles. Orson Welles isn't just my favorite filmmaker, I think he's my favorite subject. But because of that, because of the twenty-something books I've read about Orson Welles, and the thousands of words I've written about Orson Welles, I can tell you that he would have been horrified by the idea that one of his films had become so calcified in consensus that it become above rebuke. No one is obligated to like anything. 

3. Why 1975? I'm a big fan of 1975 because I was born that year. Big fan. But even if you're the kind of person who thinks you don't like movies from the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, why dismiss the first half of the 70s? I mean, THE GODFATHER was released in 1972, and GODFATHER II was released in 74. Those are pretty good flicks... You know what was released in 1990? GODFATHER III.

4. But I'm assuming 1975 was an arbitrary date. Again, we're talking about a random tweet by a guy who probably didn't anticipate the shitstorm of movie geek outrage he was unleashing with his hot take. So why does it matter? Well, it doesn't actually matter, of course. But...

5. This IS part of a larger discussion about movies. No one knows what the future of movies looks like. Even pre-Covid the movie business was experiencing massive shifts and facing major challenges. But the history of film is there for all of us. Human beings have been making movies all over the world for well over a hundred years. There is so much to experience. Which isn't to say that it's for everyone. Again, no one is obligated to like anything. But watching an old movie can be a fascinating experience precisely because they're made in a style that isn't the current vogue. They contain different ways of telling stories, featuring different acting styles, and are photographed in ways that simply don't exist anymore, even when modern day filmmakers do their best to imitate the old studio look. Nothing looks like CASABLANCA. It's a foreign object. (And this is to say nothing of silent movies, which play like artifacts from another planet.)

I think of classic movies like classical music. Not everyone likes Beethoven. And, hey, you don't have to. No one's obligated to like anything. But, man, Beethoven was pretty amazing. 

And so, by the way, was Orson Welles. 

P.S. It's worth adding that when we have these kinds of discussions in the West we tend to have a Hollywood-centric view of things. Thus, the failures and sins of classic American films in terms of representation (both in the general omission of people of color both in front of and behind the camera much of the time, and in the commission of racist, sexist, homophobic stereotypes) tend to overshadow an important point: "classic cinema" is world cinema. So when we talk about movies made before 1975, we're also talking about the work of African and Asian filmmakers, we're talking about the work of women around the world, and we're talking about the history of queer cinema, a legacy that extends back to the silent era. The world of pre-75 cinema is a world that is rich and large and virtually inexhaustible. Go get you some.  

Friday, January 1, 2021

Favorite Silent Films

Above: Lon Chaney in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924), could there be a more appropriate film for 2020?

 In the unrelenting hellscape that was 2020, we all had to seek our comfort where we could find it. One place I've been very happy lately is in the world of silent film. I've always liked the silents, but over the last year or so I've been watching more and more artifacts from the strange and mysterious world of the pre-sound era. Sadly, most movies from the silent era are lost (anywhere from 80% to 85% most estimates say), yet what remains is a rich treasure trove and much of it is available online. YouTube in particular is a good source of silent film, oftentimes with new kinds of musical accompaniment.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. 7TH HEAVEN (1927)- Director Frank Borzage's masterpiece is, simply put, one of the most beautiful movies ever made, a sweet and touching romance with Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. This one always makes me cry. 

2. THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921)- They call Victor Sjostrom the father of Swedish cinema. Watch this moving epic of sin and redemption and see what that means. The films of Ingmar Bergman are unthinkable without something like THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE paving the way.

3. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928)- Movies don't get much more intense than this harrowing recreation of the trial and execution of Jeanne D'Arc. One of Dreyer's signature films and certainly one of the most fascinating films about religion ever made. (Is it a testament of faith? A condemnation of fanaticism? Both?) The central performance by Renee Falconetti is as unsettling as any ever put on film. 

4. HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924)- How odd that one of the darkest Hollywood movies of the silent era (maybe THE darkest, come to think of it) was made at MGM. But then again it was directed by Victor Sjostrom during his brief time working in the US. The story of a heartbroken man (Lon Chaney) who takes a job as a circus clown whose masochistic gimmick is that he gets repeatedly and viscously slapped and heckled by the audience, it is as strange and disturbing as it sounds.

5. GREED (1924)-Fun fact, Frank Norris's 1899 MCTEAGE is the novel that I've read the most times. Erich von Stroheim famously tried to put all of the book on screen, resulting in a 10 hour epic called GREED. Chopped down to a more manageable running time by MGM (MGM again!), it's the story of money and murder, and, of course, greed. The climax in Death Valley is an unforgettable vision of hell on earth, a damnation sought and earned by simpleminded dentist turned killer McTeague (Gibson Gowland).

6. INTOLERANCE (1916)- DW Griffith's epic ain't for everyone, but I genuinely love this film. It's 3 1/2 hours long with four intercut storylines told across different time periods, all on the theme of "love's struggle throughout the ages." It is entirely possible that this 104-year old film might be the most artistically ambitious movie you've ever seen.

7. SUNRISE (1927)- A film as beautiful as 7TH HEAVEN and, in its way, as daring as GREED or INTOLERANCE, this is FW Murnau's grand tale of love and temptation. George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor (who ran back and forth between this and 7TH HEAVEN) and Margaret Livingston comprise the greatest love triangle in silent film.

8. THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI (1920)- I mean, what can you say about Robert Wiene's horror classic? It didn't singlehandedly invent German Expressionism, but it is undeniably the consummate example of it. The sets--twisted, slanted, angular, unreal yet real--are as important as the story of insanity and murder itself.

9. STEAMBOAT BILL JR (1928)- There aren't a lot of comedies on this list, in part because I tend to think that comedy is over represented in considerations of silent film. (There are a lot of reasons for that, chief among them being the relative ease with which slapstick translates across cultures and time periods. A man falling on his ass is pretty much funny to everyone.) Here's my favorite silent comedy. There are other Buster Keaton films that get more attention, but this one makes me laugh the most and also contains his greatest death-defying gag, wherein he drops the front of house on himself.

10. IN CHIEN ANDALOU (1928)- To sort of borrow what I said above about CALIGARI, this film didn't invent Surrealism but remains its primary cinematic artifact. The work of filmmaker Luis Bunuel and artist Salvador Dali is a 21-minute drug trip of arresting imagery. Nearly a hundred years later, its impact has been somewhat dulled as Surrealism has been absorbed by more of the mainstream, but the film itself remains fascinating. As with CALIGARI, part of the appeal is the fact that it's both physically palpable and wholly unhinged from our waking world. 

There are a lot of big classics and important figures I've left off this list (no PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or NOSFERATU? no Charlie Chaplin or Fritz Lang?), but the list isn't intended to be either definitive or objective. This is just what rocks my boat the most.

One film I'd like to mention is one I'm still watching. LES VAMPIRES (1915-1916) is a ten-episode French crime serial about a gang of outlaws led by a sexy femme fatale named Irma Vep (played by the actress Musidora). I'm on episode seven, and I'm having a blast. It's funny to see how this serial influenced, oh just about every crime movie you've ever seen. It's got it all: severed heads stashed in boxes, rooftop escapes by costumed figures, poisoned rings, poisoned pens, faked deaths, real deaths, evil hypnotists, chloroform, gun fights, swapped identities, and a sequence where thieves pump gas into a ritzy meeting of swells that reminded me of similar scenes in both Tim Burton's BATMAN and Christopher Nolan's TENET. Filmmaker Louis Feuillade made LES VAMPIRES as the central film in a trilogy of crime epics, between FANTOMAS (1913-1914) and JUDEX (1916). I haven't seen those yet, so I guess I know what I'll be doing as I'm heading into 2021.