1910s Films: The Beginning of Movie Storytelling
Film had only been around for about a decade when the 1910s arrived. During that one decade, film transformed from moving images to true stories. Although some of these may seem a bit simplistic to our modern tastes, they are worth seeing since the stories are still so good.
The New York Hat (1912)
D.W. Griffith (short) – This is a fun little film that introduces the young Mary Pickford. It may seem simple, but was actually one of the first instances of showing point of view. D.W. Griffith is often credited with starting the creation of the grammar of film.
The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
D.W. Griffith (short) – One of my favorite Griffith shorts, with extremely interesting framing in the back alleys and a decent story.
Giovanni Pastrone – A fascinating epic that in some ways is really the first epic. During the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage, young Cabira is kidnapped by pirates during one eruption of the Etna. A Roman and his trusty servant try to save her. [Warning: the scenes of child sacrifice at the temple of Molech, although not bloody, could be disturbing.]
Birth of a Nation (1915)*
D.W. Griffith – This is the complex and extremely controversial masterpiece that ranks as one of the most important films of all time. Griffith single-handledly influenced every film that came after it, introducing countless elements of filmmaking that now seem quite common. The story is in two parts: the first part explores how the Civil War destroys families; the second looks at the impact of reconstruction on the South. [Warning: there is a lot of material in this that is considered racist today, but was far more common 100 years ago.]
The Rink (1916)
Charlie Chaplin (short) – In 1916, Charlie Chaplin was paid $700,000 to make 12 films. The results are his “Mutual” comedies, some of the greatest comedy shorts of all time. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but this film and the Immigrant are really fantastic. A delight for all ages.
The Immigrant (1917)
Charlie Chaplin (short) – A wonderful picture of immigration in the 1910s with all the hilarity that Chaplin can bring to it.
The Blue Bird (1918)
Maurice Tournier – A curious and fantastic fairy story that is loved by some (and found boring by some others). Two peasant children, Mytyl and Tyltyl, are led by Berylune, a fairy, to search for the Blue Bird of Happiness.
A Dog’s Life (1919)
Charlie Chaplin (short) – My absolute favorite Chaplin film of all time. This shows what an amazing producer/director/writer/actor Chaplin was. He tries to dance with a dog tied to him; he somehow steals food by stuffing it into his mouth without the vendor knowing; and he incredibly knocks out someone, then impersonates him without the other person knowing. A must see!
Learn the Principles Behind the Movies
Filmmaking from the First Directors teaches the basics of filmmaking and early film history. It takes students through a unique journey starting in the late 19th century when film was invented, then guides them through the steps first directors took in creating the modern language of film.