Friday, July 19, 2013

In A Silent Way: The Lost World

As I edge closer to age 60, I find that my tolerance for old films has grown much broader and with more acceptance. So I have taken a ‘vow of silents’, that is to try to experience as many silent films as I can. Watching silent films does take some adjustment for the modern viewer. "Reading" a movie can be a challenging chore for some but as so many of the films that I watch are subtitled this task is not quite the issue for me that it might be for others. More problematic is the acting style used in those days. Denied the aspect of their voices, the actors needed to broadcast their performances with large gestures and facial expressions. In my case this has take a bit of getting used to. The age of these movies contributes to a general decline in the visual quality of the films themselves and I can only imagine what a pristine print might have looked like when viewed in their contemporaneous time. I anticipate that activity this will provide much fodder for my blog-posts and I’ll identify them under the title “In A Silent Way”

Willis O' Brien

First up is the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's “The Lost World”. Directed by Harry O. Hoyt it tells the story of a London scholar that follows up on a strange report he’s received, by setting upon a research expedition to a remote region of South America. There, on an almost impenetrable plateau the team discovers that the reports are true; dinosaurs still roam the earth! After narrowly escaping disaster on the mountaintop, the group finds a healthy and living specimen that has fallen from the high reaches and safely into a mud pit. The animal is rescued, bound and taken back to England by ship for exhibition. In the end the beast escapes, wrecking havoc in the city before he is put down.    

“The Lost World” stars Wallace Beery as the eccentric Professor Challenger. Berry does a tremendous job and his acting is far subtler than I'd have expected, making it play a lot closer to a "modern" movie than many silent's I've seen.

Of course the real star of the picture is the pioneering stop-motion effects done by Willis O'Brien. Even this fledgling effort is able to provide magic and wonder. I'm okay with CGI but there is something absolutely enthralling about stop-motion. The whole structure and basic plot of “The Lost World” served as a template for O'Brien when eight years later he did his work on the classic “King Kong”.


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