Cops (1922)

The second entry in our ongoing Short Film Month is an example of Buster Keaton as a short film actor and producer in his film Cops.

Buster Keaton in Cops (1922)

Buster Keaton started producing, directing and writing his own films (often in collaboration with Edward Cline) around 1920. Before that, he had usually acted as a sidekick to “Fatty” Arbuckle in films like The Bell Boy (1918). In his own films, Keaton started experimenting with more sophisticated stories and stunts. In a historical retrospect, the short films of the first few years can be seen as preparation for the true masterworks that were to follow in the shape of his feature-length films, such as Our Hospitality (1923) or Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928).

Cops is about a man whose girlfriend threatens to leave him unless he shows some initiative and starts a business. Chance throws him into the moving business, and from there on it is chaos. When Buster accidentally happens to throw a bomb(!) at a police parade, things quickly escalate into one of the most celebrated chase sequences in all of Hollywood history.

Like many other silent films at the Internet Archive, the visually best version of Cops does not have a soundtrack. If that bothers you, there is also a version with a soundtrack, but considerably inferior image quality.

Below, I list other Keaton films at the Internet Archive from the same period as Cops. Technical quality varies.

This film is best enjoyed for the magnificent stunts.

Buster Keaton in Cops (1922)

Cops
Download link
Year: 1922
Running time: 18 min
Director: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline
Stars: Buster Keaton
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×482)
Soundtrack: None
Best file format: MPEG4 (157 M)

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Nanook of the North (1922)

The documentary is an interesting genre. In a sense, it may be said to be the first film genre. Some of the very earliest surviving films, such as Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge (1888), were just brief snatches of reality, but already with Blacksmith Scene (1893) we see actors performing what may best be described as a forty-second drama documentary, and Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1894) is an early example of the filmmaker tampering with reality rather than just recording it, as the “actor” Fred Ott is apparently putting snuff in his nose for the purpose of producing an effect on film.

Compared with the 19th Century efforts, Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North plays in a completely different league. It has been described as the first feature-length documentary, and as such it has had a tremendous impact on the entire genre of documentary film produced ever since. But in essence, it is just a very much more polished and sophisticated variant of what had already been done ever since the dawn of film.

Inuit eskimo in Nanook of the North (1922)

In Nanook of the North we are provided with some samples from the life of Nanook, an eskimo living in northern Canada. We get to see life in the igloo, walrus hunting, and various other activities in the life of Nanook and his family. All of it appears very genuine, but when you start to think about the lighting equipment that would be necessary to film inside an igloo, or the realism of bringing cameras along on a strenous and dangerous hunting expedition, you realize that many scenes must have been staged to a greater or lesser extent.

As a factual description of an eskimo’s life, Nanook of the North is about as flawed as any later documentary. Whether a wartime propaganda, such as The Fighting Lady (1944), or a modern political statement, such as The Corporation (2003), you can be sure that the film-maker has his own purpose, his own vision and his own ideological background, leading every step in the creative process. While few documentaries actually lie about factual matters, they are selective in what they show, and how they present their message.

Nanook of the North was the first “modern” documentary, and like any good documentary, it tries to impress upon the viewer its creator’s vision. But regardless of what shortcuts and stagings were made between takes, it succeeds in bringing the humans in front of the camera to life. The film begins and ends with closeups of Nanook’s face, and in between, Flaherty makes me feel that I get a glimpse of the soul behind that face. And perhaps, to some small measure, I do get such a glimpse, nearly 100 years later. Such is the power of good cinema.

This film is best enjoyed for its considerable artistic merits. Regardless of whether the film reflects any kind of truth or not, it is in its best moments breathtakingly beautiful. If you are interested in the history of documentary film, or if you are just looking for an fascinating cinematic experience, this is one you will definitely not want to miss.

Inuit eskimo paddling a kayak in Nanook of the North (1922)

Nanook of the North
Download link
Year: 1922
Running time: 1 h 18 min
Director: Robert Flaherty
Image quality: Good
Resolution: High (960×738)
Soundtrack: Good; classical music synchronized with the images
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: MPEG4 (3.4 G)

Robin Hood (1922)

The origins of the Robin Hood legend goes back to mediaeval times, and is shrouded in the veils of time. Robin may or may not have been a historical person, and he may or may not have been a rebellious fighter for the justice of the poor. Side characters such as Little John and Will Scarlet may or may not have been part of the original story, whereas Friar Tuck, Alan-A-Dale and Lady Marian are probably later additions.

By 1922, Douglas Fairbanks was making great leaps in the advancement of filmmaking. Two years before, he had made The Mark of Zorro, the first true romantic adventure movie, and in 1921 he followed it up spectacularly with The Three Musketeers. This year it was time for the making of the next classic movie adventure, Robin Hood.

Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922)

While Fairbanks’ Robin Hood was not the first screen version of the character, it was the first feature-length film, and it seems to have been an important step in bringing together many of the characteristics of the modern Robin Hood.

Many accounts associate Robin Hood with Robert of Locksley, a historical character, though it is by no means proven that he has any real connection with the Robin Hood of legend. The early accounts are in agreement, however, that Robin Hood was a yeoman, a free man below the nobility in status. Fairbanks, however, makes Robin into one of King Richard’s most trusted advisers, before voluntarily becoming an outlaw in order to better be able to rebel against Prince John. In this version, Robin Hood is the Earl of Huntingdon, an identity that was ultimately derived from a 17th century play.

One of the most influential Robin Hood tales in popular culture is Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe. Fairbanks shows that he is influenced by Scott’s work, not only by the Lionheart connection, but even more clearly by having King Richard appear as an anonymous knight after his return to England.

Robin Hood remains an excellent picture, over 90 years after its premiere. The sets are splendid and majestic. In fact, the mediaeval halls and castles were never so spectacular in real life as they are in Hollywood. Fairbanks weaves legend and fairy tale, and he does so with an elegance that few later Robin Hood accounts can match.

This film is best enjoyed for Fairbanks’ athletic version of Robin Hood. There are a good many nice stunts, especially towards the end of the movie.

Douglas Fairbanks as Earl of Huntingdon and Enid Bennett as Lady Marian in Robin Hood (1922)

Robin Hood
Download link
Year: 1922
Running time: 2 h 12 min
Director: Allan Dwan
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: None
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.7 G)