Thursday, February 4, 2010

1926: Nana (Jean Renoir)

Yesterday, inspired by Dave Hicks' excellent blog , I decided to list on the right side of my blog's home page, my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.  Dave not only does this but includes an in-depth review for each of his choices.  Over time, I'd like to do the same and figured I would start today by talking about the first film on my list.

First, a few disclaimers though:
1.  I'm really no critic and will probably keep these posts more personal than analytical.
2.  These are simply my favorite films from each year.  By no means am I saying that they are the BEST film from each year.  These are simply the ones that have spoken to me the most, for one reason or another (which of course I hope to articulate somewhat here.)
3.  Most of these are coming from memory.  And many I've only seen once and many, many years ago.

To avoid too many glaring omissions (and to jog the memory a bit), I used several different lists to help me compile my own list.  These other lists are of course Dave's, Dan Sallitt's blog, Steve Erickson's desert island film list, Jonathan Rosenbaum's list, and Cahiers du Cinema's annual lists.

1926: Nana (Jean Renoir)
This might be my shortest piece of all.

I have only seen Nana once.  It was either in 1996 or 1997 and was during the time that I went through most of Renoir's work in chronological order.

I remember it being the first of his films that really grabbed me but honestly there's not too much I can remember about it (I could probably review some notes I took on it at the time, but I'd rather write these as impressions, and from memory.)  The most powerful impression I have is of being taken by Catherine Hessling's performance, who was Renoir's wife at the time.  I actually can't remember if I thought she was lovely or a wonderful femme fatale, but I remember having a strong feeling about her performance as Nana.

It's one I would love to see again, but I've never really had the chance. For the moment, it remains unavailable on Netflix.  But you can buy it as part of a Jean Renoir 3-Disc Collector's Edition from Amazon.

Other contenders for 1926 (another element I want to borrow from Dave's wonderful list):  At some point I need to re-visit FW Murnau's Faust.  It's really as if I've never seen it.  From this year, I particularly still want to see Howard Hawks' Fig Leaves, Vsevolod Pudovkin's Mother, Robert Flaherty's Moana, Buster Keaton's Battling Butler, Raoul Walsh's What Price Glory?, and Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger.

2/10/10 I watched Vsevolod Pudovkin's Mother.  It wouldn't challenge for my top pick of the year.  But I did enjoy it, and I particularly appreciated it for its sense of choreography and the emotive power of the actress playing "Mother".  

2/10/10 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger.  It wouldn't challenge for my top pick either.  But, I was definitely impressed by this early Hitch outing.  There are a few interesting dissolves, some very effective extreme close-ups, and an exceptionally fluid flashback.  Of particular interest to me, however, was the way that Hitchcock unfolded the story.  He had me fooled until nearly the very end.  It's a little cold.  I preferred it to the story of Blackmail, another early Hitchcock I watched recently.  But, I felt for Anny Ondra more in Blackmail than I did for anyone here.

2/11/10 I watched Buster Keaton's Battling Butler.  It wouldn't contend for my top pick, and it certainly doesn't affect me like my two favorite Keaton films (The Cameraman and Steamboat Bill, Jr.), but I'm glad I saw it.  I particularly liked its use of deep focus and as a change of pace, seeing Keaton, towards the end, depart from his usual stoic self.  

2/12/10 I watched FW Murnau's Faust.  Although not an easy watch, it would certainly challenge my top pick.  It's got heft, power, and some scenes that pack a serious emotional punch.  Camilla Horn as Gretchen is simply one of the most beautiful and emotive women I've ever seen, and Murnau's extraordinary eye is on display more times than I can remember.  A dark, deep, and very complex work.  

6/19/11 I watched Clarence Brown's Flesh and the Devil.  A reminder of how visually expressive, and even inventive, some of the silent period could be.  Full of nicely-weaved, surprising plot movements and a very memorable John Gilbert performance.  I don't know much about Clarence Brown's other work, but if this is any indication, he's someone I definitely need to explore.  

10/15/11 I watched Jean Renoir's Sur un air de Charleston.  Other than being the earliest demonstration of slow-motion I think I have seen, and it is poetic in its use here, there's not much I can recommend.  

1/15/12 I watched Fatty Arbuckle's The Garage.  An extremely spirited and well-directed early silent.  Some fantastic gags including Keaton hiding behind Arbuckle as he tries to evade the cops.  

1/15/12 I watched Edward Cline and Buster Keaton's Neighbors.  A moderately entertaining early Keaton.  A great gag featuring Keaton standing on the shoulders of two others.  

1/15/12  I watched Edward Cline and Buster Keaton's One Week.  Very possibly the strongest early Keaton short I've seen.  Full of great gags and Keaton's typical inventiveness.  

1/15/12 I watched Edward Cline and Buster Keaton's The Balloonatic. Actually a pretty boring and unfunny, early Keaton short.  

3/4/12 I watched John G Blystone and Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality.  A pretty wonderful, early Keaton feature that seems to have influenced Dead Man and again highlights how much more adventurous and natural Keaton's approach was than that of Chaplin. Not my favorite of his features, but certainly an extremely strong start for Keaton.  

4/14/12 I watched Mauritz Stiller's Sir Arne's Treasure.  Most notable is its sense of nature and Stiller's ability to infuse a haunting sense of poetry to so much of the imagery.  For an early film, it also has a real grasp of filmmaking grammar and ability to deliver a story via the medium.  A bit overlong for my taste but an interesting watch.  

5/20/12 I watched Frank Borzage's Lazybones.  Borzage's romantic streak is of interest even if at times his penchant for melodrama can become cloying.  Some nice poetic flourishes and a few really evocative long lens compositions.  

6/3/12 I watched DW Griffith's Way Down East.  Gish emotes in ways that anyone in the medium has rarely matched, and Griffith does things on cinema's 25th birthday that many storytellers still cannot rival today in terms of narrative intensity and visual efficiency.  An extremely moving early film from one of cinema's great pioneers.  

10/5/12 I watched Donald Crisp and Buster Keaton's The Navigator.  Certainly another impressive example of Keaton's visual flair and inventiveness.  But just not as funny to me as some of his greatest work.

2/24/13 I watched Buster Keaton and Edward F Cline's The Scarecrow.  Some fun gags but a story without the excitement and fully fleshed out characters and plot that we would come to get later with Keaton's features.

2/24/13 I watched Charlie Chaplin's The Pilgrim.  Some fairly good gags but also lacking the excitement of some of Chaplin's features to come.

9/3/13 I watched Thomas Edison's An Edison Album - 1893-1912.  A collection of shorts screening as part of TCM's 15 week tribute to coincide with the US Premiere of The Story of Film: An Odyssey.  Of course like any compilation such as this one, some of the films are stronger than others.  But I have never seen any of these, and I found it a real treat.  Highlight for me was probably the very last entry, the surreal short, Dream of a Rarebit Fiend.

9/5/13 I watched Auguste and Louis Lumiere's Lumiere's First Picture Shows - 1895-1897.  The first half of the program I saw almost twenty years ago in Caen but the second half of the program was brand new to me.  I never knew the Lumiere's came and shot footage in the United States.  A fascinating piece of history and one that I hope many generations to come will have the opportunity to enjoy.

9/5/13 I watched Georges Meilies' A Trip to the Moon.  Another important historical document that I am just now seeing for the first time.  Short and fairly impressive, particularly in some of Melies' vision of lunar life.

9/5/13 I watched Alice Guy Blache's Falling Leaves.  A well-executed short that manages to convey a good amount of well-earned emotion.  Blache has the reputation as perhaps the first female filmmaker, and this film is an interesting artifact because and beyond that.  

9/5/13 I watched Alice Guy Blache's Canned Harmony.  I found it a quick little comic short with a pretty smart premise.  

9/7/13 I watched the first installment of Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey : 1895-1918 The World Discovers A New Art Form.  Far more subjective than I had anticipated and a little quirky, I like the opinionated approach a great deal.  Cousins does not cover the films we would expect and does not seem interested in re-telling the history of film.  He seems to want to tell the history of film from his perspective, not necessarily the academic and accepted view, and I am extremely excited for the installments to follow.  I think I will be exposed to some information that is new to me (even here the fact that Hollywood initially was dominated by women) and some films hitting my radar for the first time.

9/15/13 I watched Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor's Never Weaken.  My first real experience with a Harold Lloyd film and although I don't like his look as much as I do that of Chaplin or Keaton, he has a very impressive feel for architectural danger and cinematic space.  I look forward to seeing more of his work.  

9/15/13 I re-watched Edward Cline and Buster Keaton's One Week.  Super inventive per my earlier notes above including a very Godardian shot of a hand coming into frame to keep the camera from viewing a woman in a bathtub.  

9/20/13 I watched Oscar Apfel and and Cecil B DeMille's The Squaw Man.  Considered as possibly the first feature in America, it shows DeMille's early skill at interesecting storylines and ability to juggle and merge them into very effective climatic rhythms by the end.

9/22/13 I watched Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor's Safety Last!  Lloyd is talented but his humor feels third-rate when compared to Keaton and Chaplin and his inventiveness is dwarfed when held up against Keaton's best.  But I am still glad to have seen this one, including its famous shot of Lloyd hanging from the clock hands.  

10/5/13 I watched Edward F Cline and Buster Keaton's Three Ages.  Keaton's incredible visual inventiveness is on display almost every minute, and this one has its great moments.  I just wish it were a little less orderly in its narrative approach, mixed up the time periods some since after awhile, Stone Age to Roman Age to Modern Age gets a little predictable in its repetition.  

1/4/14 I watched DW Griffith's Orphans of the Storm.  Of all the Griffith films I have seen, this one feels the most grounded, the least melodramatic, and as a result, the most affecting.  Of course the amount of cinematic language in which Griffith already seems proficient in 1921 is staggering - the close-up, cross-cutting, the tracking shot, to name but a few.  But even more impressive is the way Griffith builds suspense particularly whenever the sisters threaten to meet.  Time and time again Griffith deprives the audience of the one thing they want, putting it off, teasing the audience until the very end.  This is masterful, epic storytelling, 150 minutes that feels shaped just right.  

8/14/14 I watched Charlie Chaplin's Shoulder Arms.  Certainly worth a watch for a few great "gags".  Most memorable is Chaplin dressed up as a tree. 

8/17/14 I watched Charlie Chaplin's The Idle Class.  This early Chaplin short includes a few memorable moments such as Chaplin playing golf and his parting shot as the aristocratic father seeks Chaplin's acceptance for his apology.  

8/17/14 I watched Charlie Chaplin's A Dog's Life.  Another touching early Chaplin short that contains several strong gags, the most memorable of which is Chaplin using the arms of another man to communicate with his drunk friend.  

8/22/14 I watched Charlie Chaplin's Sunnyside.  Another early Chaplin short that has a few impressive moments but that lacks the depth, timing, and brilliance the master would go on to develop.  

9/13/14 I watched King Vidor's The Big Parade.  An incredibly ambitious and impressively executed epic from the early years of cinema.  Vidor proves to have a keen visual sense which he emphasizes again in The Crowd.  And a couple of scenes, such as the long march on the front, provide a clearer sense of WWI than anything I have yet seen.  Vidor's tone can sometimes be a little maudlin and that keeps this one from feeling great to me, but it is one that needs to be seen at least once.

9/30/19 I watched Buster Keaton's Seven Chances.  The manic energy of it reminds me of Steamboat Bill, Jr. and there are several shots that are reminiscent of the visual power of The General.  Not as non-stop entertaining as a couple of my Keaton favorites but still very enjoyable.  

11/28/21 I watched Buster Keaton and Edward F Cline's Cops.  One of the strongest Keaton shorts I have seen.  As usual when he is at his very best, the gags are inventive, free-wheeling, incredibly well-timed and bordering on dangerous.  Clocking in around twenty minutes, it does not have much variation of pace but is pretty much a sprint from the time the opening credits conclude.

1/17/22 I watched Edwin Middleton's Pool Sharks.  Interesting to see WC Fields this early in his career.  It's entertaining enough but not at the height of some of his later work.  


  1. Ah... now I get to be the audience and commentator for these. My knowledge of pre-1930 films is very limited, which is why I started with 1930. But recently, due to the silent film countdown at Wonders in the Dark, I've been checking getting to some of the classics. Oddly enough, the only film from this year that I can think of that I have seen is Hitchcock's The Lodger.

  2. Dave, I know it has to be fun to be on the other side. Did you have a good experience with THE LODGER? It's definitely one I want to see at some point. Thanks again for providing the inspiration for these!

  3. Terrific choice here Jeffrey on the Renoir. It surely be among my own runners-up. But I am too smitten with the later Renoirs--Le regle de Jeu, Grand Illusion, Une Partie de campagne, Boudou, La Chienne, to give this top-billing, but you are a brave and tasteful guy.

    My Own #1 of 1926:

    The General (Keaton)


    Faust (Murnau)
    Mother (Pudovkin)
    Exit Smiling (Taylor)
    Sparrows (Beaudile)
    The Scarlet Letter (Sjostrom)
    A Page of Madness (Kinugasa)

  4. Sam, great to see you here! I might have a little difficulty from time to time finding unanimous agreement on a movie's year. Some sources say '26 for THE GENERAL, others are saying '27. If it's okay, I'll probably leave it as a '27 film for now. I'm a huge fan of THE GENERAL though. For me, it contains simply some of the most mind-boggling visuals of any film I've ever seen. I particularly remember the amount of extras and how Keaton's staging of them was absolutely staggering.

    Great to have your runner-ups. Aside from FAUST (which I really need to re-watch to count it as a viewing), I haven't seen any on your list. But, it will be great to have them as guides for the future.

    Thanks again, Sam!

  5. Jeffrey, I'm finally catching up with these now. (I did the same thing with Dave's, oddly enough, dropping in near the end and sweeping through.) I haven't seen Nana but Faust is my favorite Murnau and would almost certainly be my pick for the year. I love the way, much like Sunrise, it packs several different films into one; it's an omnibus film yet tight enough to work (most don't, entertaining as theyc an be). And of course the visuals are fantastic.

  6. MovieMan, good to have you here! I couldn't agree more about FAUST. It's quite the work.

    Thanks so much for stopping in!