A good friend and I watched a Harry Langdon silent film called "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp." The condition of the film was so amazing that I began wondering what other silent films on DVD are so watchable. Any suggestions on silents films that look pristine?
The new Milestone/Image Phantom of the Opera (1925 and 1929 versions) is great, despite the "trailer" effect on some moving images in the 1929 version (great, sharp print, though), and the lousy quality of the 1925 version (it only exists in poor 16mm prints).
The Image Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is nice -- I haven't compared it to Kino's. I understand Kino's doesn't have that framing line that appears in the Image print.
That said, Metropolis is the hands-down winner for silent films I've seen on DVD. Gorgeous. Phantom is quite good, though, the best anyone has seen (the 2-disc set).
Image's The Hunchback of Notre Dame is probably the worst PQ silent DVD I have. Very, very poor, but likely not Image's fault.
Apparently the silent Peter Pan looks great, and is a pretty good version as well. It was a "lost film" for decades until a virtually unprojected print was unearthed.
TCM has showed an amazing version of Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera (tinted scenes, two-strip Tech, hand-colored scenes). I had always been quite disappointed in this extremely famous silent, until I saw this one and realized twenty minutes or more had been missing from the prints I had seen before. Now as to whether this is on DVD or not I couldn't say.
Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc should look fine. It had to be completely reconstructed many years ago, and recently Anonymous Four recorded a new soundtrack. It's an expensive Criterion, alas.
No, I think the Silent Era site is really not very good. The reviews are boring, the site is rarely updated, and big titles (like many of the Keaton discs) are not reviewed. Yep, that Metropolis disc is incredibly impressive when you consider the previous attempts at restoration. It does, however, look "restored." When you watch the previously-mentioned Harry Langdon film, though, you get the impression that somebody came up with a tasty camera negative. Its that good.
Only a few silent films have been given the level of digital cleaning that Metropolis has gotten. It is simply flawless. Pretty much all other silent films you come across are going to show at least some scratches and flaws. That being said... There is still plenty of variability in the quality of transfers.
The Kino version of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" has some rather serious problems in the opening scene, but after that I'd say it's superior to the Image version in pretty much all aspects. It's pretty good I'd say.
Speaking of "Buster Keaton Films"... There is a recent Image double feature with both "The General" and "Steamboat Bill, Jr." While it's a good deal, if you have a progressive scan player or use a HTPC you will probably notice shimmering and other interlacing artifacts. If you can afford it I'd recommend the Buster Keaton box set from Kino instead. It has better transfers of both of these films as well as many others. I'd have to give the edge to the soundtrack's on the Image double-feature though.
The recent R1 Charlie Chaplin Box set from Warner Brothers has a transfer that shimmers absolutely horrendously, but is otherwise quite good. I've heard the R2 version might not have the same problem, but can't confirm that. Here's hoping the second box set they're coming out with shortly is improved. Chaplin's films, "Modern Times" in particular, are simply enchanting however and I strongly suggest you find a way to see them. ("Modern Times" actually has a soundtrack, but it is still done silent style.)
If you like documentaries, I suggest you check out some of Joe Flaherty's work. Criterion has put out a serviceable transfer of "Nanook of the North" and Image has released an excellent DVD of the stunningly gorgeous "Tabu". ("Tabu" is actually not a documentary, but a collaboration between Flaherty and the Murnau, of "Nosferatu" fame) There are also excellent DVD's out there of "Man of Aran" and "Louisiana Story" that are both stunningly beautiful, although neither is silent.
Speaking of F.W. Murnau, his most famous film, "Nosferatu", was given an excellent transfer and accompanied by quite a good score by Image. (There are a tonne of different versions of Nosferatu on DVD, so be particularly choosy here) Kino has put out a good transfer of "Faust", which is an utterly amazing film to watch. Many of the special effects Murnau used look better than some you see today! Murnau's masterpiece, and perhaps the greatest silent film ever made, "Sunrise", is available from Twentieth Century Fox, but only as part of a box set or through a mail-in offer. This is another title which I strongly recommend you find a way to see. It is simply superb.
Yeah, I really like Sunrise (by the way, Sunrise is/was available at Costco. That is where I bought it)...but I don't think it is top 10 material. Don't get defensive, though. Here are my top 10 silent faves:
1 The Kid Brother - Harold Lloyd: I saw a near-perfect 35mm nitrate print of this at the Mary Pickford Theater (located in the Library of Congress). Sold-out show, live music, and belly laughs all around. What an evening. Its a real shame the way the Lloyd estate has screwed up Harold's legacy. Their decision to keep Lloyds productions out of the hands of film fans is a pathetic joke.
2 The General-Buster Keaton: What can you say? A classic!
3 Sherlock Junior-Buster Keaton: Kinda surreal and truly creative.
4 The Seventh Day-Henry King's gentle look at the simple folks of Maine.
5 Metropolis-Whoa...truly incredible. Have you seen the Japanese anime feature called Metropolis? Not exactly a remake...but, still, a remake!
6 The Sea Beast-Silent version of Moby Dick.
7 The Last Laugh-Man, those Germans were onto something.
8 Robinson Crusoe-Douglas Fairbanks. This isn't really a silent movie because a soundtrack was added (and brief dialogue). It is "essentially" silent, though.
9 Birth of a Nation-Yeah, I know its a racist thang. But its history, damnit!
There were features long before this one...but this film really showed Hollywood that there was money to be made outside the one and two reelers.
10 Nanook-Not a real documentary (too much has been staged)...but part of the birth of the documentary movement.
No Chaplin listed here, but I do like him. I just don't love him.
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