Back in 1930, the French film magazine Cinéa asked its readers to vote for the best movie of 1929. They had done this before and threw in all kinds of prizes to convince people to write in with their answers. What makes this list particularly interesting is that it comes at the end of the silent film era and includes some classic silent movies. Here it is:
1. Le Chanteur de Jazz/The Jazz Singer (Jolson, Crosland, US). The first film to use synchronized-dialogue, it probably needs no introduction. It was made in the United States in 1927 but qualified for this poll because it was not widely released in France until 1929.
2. Les Nouveaux Messieurs/The New Gentlemen (Feyder, France). This was a satire of French society and politics, which was exactly what the French censorship board abhorred. (And no, they usually weren’t bothered by erotic or violent scenes, unlike their American counterparts.) To be able to release it, Feyder had to cut some of the most biting scenes.
3. Le Patriote/The Patriot (Lubitsch, US). It was probably a good move, since Lubitsch can do no wrong, but it’s been lost so we can’t know for sure.
4. L’Argent/Money (L’Herbier, France). A very loose adaptation of Zola’s novel. It’s set in the 1920s, has amazing decors and costumes, and some great scenes filmed at the Paris Stock Exchange. Also shows the early 20th-century obsession with airplane pilots.
5. Verdun, visions d’Histoire/ Verdun, Visions of History (Poirier, France). A boringly patriotic movie about World War I.
6. La Foule/The Crowd (King Vidor, US). A quintessential film depicting the Great Depression. Though it wasn’t very successful when it was released, it’s now considered one of the best silent films from the late 20s.
7. Les Damnés de l’Océan/The Docks of New York (Von Sternberg, US). It was made by one of the greatest directors, he of The Blue Angel fame, and a MOMA catalog describes it as “the last genuinely great silent film made in Hollywood.” That’s enough to make you wonder why it was ranked after Poirier’s Verdun.
8. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc/The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, France). This movie has one of the craziest stories in the history of cinema. Before it was released in France, everyone asked for cuts: the censorship board, the Church, the producers. Then the negative was considered lost for many years until it somehow showed up in a mental institution in Norway. But it might just be one of the best-known silent films, constantly taught in film history/theory classes and screened by film archives everywhere. It’s available here.
9. La Symphonie Nuptiale/The Wedding March (Von Stroheim, US). Some loved it, some (including the producers) hated it when it was released and that seems to be the case today too. It’s 2 hours long but seems like a sketch of a longer movie, which was, in fact, Von Stroheim’s original intention. You can watch it online here.
10. La Chanson de Paris/Innocents of Paris (Chevalier, Wallace, US). The first musical by Paramount, it stars Maurice Chevalier, rather famous for his charmingly French accent.