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NOTE: Metropolis and Man with the Movie Camera require a third member, percussionist Larry Dersch. All others require only the duo of Miller and Donahue.
METROPOLIS. 1927, Germany. Directed by Fritz Lang. (Trio)
This early Sci-Fi masterpiece is one of the most influential films ever made. You can clearly see its echoes in Blade Runner and many other films. This version is the 2010 version which includes 20 minutes of newly found footage added from South America. Adolph Hitler was so impressed by Metropolis that he asked Fritz Lang to work for his newly formed political party. Fritz Lang refused and fled to America. He continued making films in Hollywood. The film has, literally, a cast of thousands, and its epic nature is equaled by The Anvil Orchestra’s intensely rhythmic and atmospheric score.
THE GENERAL. 1926. Directed by and starring Buster Keaton.
Buster Keaton is a southerner who is in love with both his train (he is an engineer) and his gal. He foils a Union Army raid against his Confederate homeland in typical Keaton bumbling manner, but wit a brilliance that only he can conjure up. The General makes many lists as one of the greatest films of all time.
UNDERWORLD. 1927. Directed by Josef von Sternberg.
Underworld is the defining gangster film from the silent era. It has been quoted by many gangster films which followed in the talkies. The gangster leaders really are not good people, but honor and sympathy still abound in the film. The score is dramatic with a jazz/bluesy undercurrent, from shoot-outs to flowering romance.
THE HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR. 1921. Directed by Dziga Vertov
The Anvil Orchestra’s first new score is for this documentary of the Civil Wars that followed the Russian Revolution. It was only shown once – in 1921. 100 years later, it was shown again at IDFA in Amsterdam with The Anvil Orchestra. I “A Musical Triumph!” (Nikolai Izvolov, archivist, Nov. 2021). “”An excellent live score by The Anvil Orchestra, alternately martial and mournful…” (Business Docs live review, Nov. 2021).
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. 1920. Directed by Robert Wien.
The classic German Expressionist horror film, newly scored by The Anvil Orchestra. If there ever was a film for halloween (or any time one wants to leave the rational world far, far behind), this is it. The Anvil Orchestra’s score is atmospheric layered with a creepy other-worldly feel that matches the extreme visuals.
MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA. 1929, Russia. Directed by Dziga Vertov. (Trio)
This uber-classic of Russian avant-garde film-making helped define the edges of film for years to come. “A day in the life of Russian cities,” this film has no linear plot other than the unfolding of the day. But nonetheless is extremely watchable and entertaining. By the end, the energy virtually explodes, along with the audience’s expectations. An amazing film by every measurement. It was voted “the Best Documentary of all time” by the British Film Instituted in 2019.
BLACKMAIL. 1929. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Alfred Hitchcock’s last silent film. The sound version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail has been widely shown; far more rare is this simultaneously-shot (and subtly different) silent version, which may well be Hitch’s greatest achievement of the silent era. The gripping story of a young British woman and her detective boyfriend begins conventionally, but quickly spirals into an unpredictable tale of terror and suspense.
THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED 1926. Animation.. Directed by Lotte Reiniger.
The story is based on elements from the One Thousand and One Nights. The film features a silhouette animation technique Reiniger invented which involved manipulated cutouts made from cardboard and thin sheets of lead under a camera. This technique is similar to Javanese shadow puppets, but the film is her own. This is the oldest surviving animated film.
THE GOLEM: HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD (Der Golem). 1920. Directed by Paul Wegener (who also stars as The Golem)
This film is based on Meyrink’s 1915 novel about a Jewish magician who brings to life the Golem to save his community from persecution by the Emperor. The Golem is created from clay and magic spells and, as one might expect, things do not always go as planned! “Der Golem” is an early German Expressionist film and as such is both a feast for the eyes and a convincing horror film.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. 1925. Starring Lon Chaney. Directed by Rupert Julian
The original Phantom of the Opera, with Lon Chaney’s “master of a thousand faces” in full force. Horror and confusing plot lines were never so well intertwined. Despite the obvious warp in the Phantom’s personality, by the end of the film Chaney’s pathos elicits true sympathy.
THE BLACK PIRATE. 1926. Starring Douglas Fairbanks.
An over-the-top swashbuckler for all age groups! Douglas Fairbanks is the Black Pirate, and no one does it better. The underwater assault on the pirate ship remains one of the most amazing and absurd sequences from the silent era.
THE LOST WORLD. 1925. Directed by Harry O. Hoyt.
This primordial dinosaur epic is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story. Our British scientists argue and bicker, then boat across the Atlantic to an obscure plateau in Brazil where dinosaurs, volcanos and primitive humanoids harass them endlessly! The film has more than one relationship to KING KONG – in fact the same Stegosaurus model was used in both films. It is a rousing adventure where time has stood still.
VARIETE. 1925 German. Directed by E. A Dupont. Starring Emile Jannings and Lya De Putti.
A tale of love, deception, revenge and redemption, often on a trapeze in the circus. Variete has long been considered to be a masterpiece of German cinema, and the superb recent restoration brings its stunning cinematography to life. The love that the Anvil Orchestra has for playing circus films is apparent.
This romantic comedy was shot largely in a long-gone Coney Island. The film is 98% silent: since talkies were just entering the scene, there are three sort dialog sections, touchingly innocent about how the new world of sound fits in with film.
A PAGE OF MADNESS. 1926. Japanese.
One of the rare Japaneses silents to survive WWII, this film is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Set in an insane asylum, it’s often hard to tell if the viewer is seeing through the inmates’ or the caretakers’ eyes. It is a visual treat matched only by the group’s willingness to follow the film where-ever it leads.