2020 - The Best of a Bad Year


If you are reading this post, CONGRATULATIONS! You have survived the dreadful year that was 2020. 

2020 was either a year that was entirely horrible or a year that was merely horrible and still had some wonderful things to remember. Personally, I feel incredibly fortunate in view of all the awfulness from the past year. As moviegoers 2020 was a year in which none of us could enjoy the experience of watching films together as every film festival was canceled. For the record, my last film in the theater was Emma with work colleagues; I thoroughly enjoyed it and I miss my friends.

Originally the plans were to celebrate a certain milestone birthday by making my first trip to Italy and to attend the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. It was a disappointment when the news came there would be no trip to Italy (or anywhere). Any woes and gripes I might have about 2020 are nothing compared to the real suffering going on around the globe. You might ask what exactly was good in 2020?  Many things and for this post, all are cinema related. Let's take what little joy we can and accentuate the positive.

My number one joy for the year was attending virtually the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 39th Limited Edition - streaming from Pordenone. Jay Weissberg and all the behind-the-scenes staff worked hard and brought the world a treat of the premiere silent cinema festival from October 3-10.  It was a shortened to one feature per day and yet was still chock full of delights. It was eight heavenly days and it has only whetted my appetite to attend in person in 2021. I recapped it here, here, here, here, here, and here. Hopeful that 2021 will be different, I've optimistically booked my hotel for the 40th edition this year.

In addition to Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival offered a couple of streaming specials to help fundraise and keep their lights on for 2021. In July we enjoyed the 1920 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring John Barrymore and Nita Naldi (with the score by the wonderful Neil Brand) and November a screening of the delightful 1915 Italian gender bending and steampunk mystery Filibus. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has also been streaming a film each month for members, films that have been restored and preserved by the festival.

It has been heartening in 2020 to see how the film community banded together during the pandemic to provide bright lights and entertainment even though we were stuck at home. We had riches to stream movies all throughout the year.  We had the Sunday afternoon weekly
Silent Comedy Watch Party from Ben Model and Steve Massa in New York to The Kennington Bioscope in London and Retroformat Silent Films from Los Angeles to name a few. Each are my favorite serial streaming options for the year that tried, and spectacularly failed, to deny us movies. While movie theaters are not opening any time soon, it looks like we will continue to have options to stream from home in 2021.

Social media has been a benefit in 2020. Yes, twitter generally considered to be a hellscape was a wonderful refuge for me. The old Hollywood contingent of twitter is filled with absolutely wonderful, warm, knowledgeable,  welcoming friends in my corner of the twitter-universe. I spent more time on twitter to combat the stress of the real world horrors. Each of one the lovely people I follow contributed positivity to my day in more ways than I can say nor can I thank them enough for the joys they shared. I will leave out dozens and I am sorry I cannot list all of you.  Some of my recommended follows are @cjubarrington; @moviessilently, @sheilakathleen, @hazelflag, @WBLooneyTunes, @noirgal17, @DKSilentFilm, @HGAFilms, @selfstyledsiren, @sistercelluloid, @irishjayhawk66, @backlotsfilm, @biscuiitkitten, @Criterion, @flickeralley, @PordenoneSilent, @GumbyScreens, @SilentLondon, @Shorpy and a legion more. You can see all the rest of the great people I follow on twitter, my handle is @rudyfan (follow me at your peril). Facebook was also in play, there are some fine groups about film and film stars to follow. I have been weaning myself off Facebook for many reasons the largest one was the sheer toxic hell it became during the election year.

2020 continued to be a year of some amazing releases on physical media. It was my nod to the stress of being cooped up that I indulged in way too much retail therapy for comfort during the year.  I purchased a whole bunch of DVDs and Blurays. It will be my goal in 2021 to actually watch some of what I added to my home physical media library.  

With that, here are some of my DVD/Blu highlights from 2020. Please, support the makers of physical media, they are doing fantastic work restoring, preserving and making available some terrific movies. The following list is in no particular order, just random items I have pulled off the now over-crammed shelves.

Warner Archive

To get the bad news out first, on very nearly the last day of 2020 came this very distressing news about some shocking layoffs over at Warner Media (the heart & soul of Warner Archive IMO). Warner Archive has produced some amazing restorations and curated home media that have been a pure joy with special editions chockablock with incredible archival extras. To see the tag "all sales final" over at the Warner Archive website makes one wonder if they will be discontinuing DVD/Blurays. We can only wait and see what will happen, I pray that good things will continue to come. With the loss of George Feltenstein, Matt Peterson and everyone else, well dammit this is a black spot on 2021.

The good news has been the WA releases, so many of them over the years; most are classic Hollywood cannon and there is no complaint from me about this. 2020 brought two releases that satisfied me to my very core. The first being the 1936 William Wyler film Dodsworth.  This is a film that is always on my top ten desert island movies and this glorious and gorgeous bluray release is just fantastic. The print is utterly gorgeous black and white showing off the beautiful cinematography of Rudolph Maté. The cast is also 100% glorious with Walter Huston repeating his Samuel Dodsworth from the original Broadway play, Ruth Chatterton as his wife Fran, Mary Astor as Edith Cortwright and Maria Ouspenskaya educating us all on the subtleness of shade (and being nominated for an Academy Award in the process). This is a must include in your home library. While not on DVD, if you get a chance to see Scandal: The Trial of Mary Astor, you will be further amazed that during the filming of Dodsworth Astor pulled from the depths a performance that shines so beautifully in light of her personal struggles.

The second incredible release is the UCLA and Film Foundation restoration of Michael Curtiz’s 1933 horror classic The Mystery of the Wax Museum in two color Technicolor. There is a before/after demonstration video here that will knock your socks off:

Michael Curtiz further proves himself to be one of the most versatile of all film directors (autocrat in his case). The film speeds along with a balance of horror and of humor. The 1933 film is like night and day from the 1953 remake House of Wax which starred Vincent Price. Lionel Atwill is pretty terrifying in this film, a much more gruesome bad guy than he was in the 1935 Captain Blood. The star as you can see from the clips above, Fay Wray looks splendid in the two-color process Technicolor and also shows off her ability to register fear. She looks Ab/Fab in Orry-Kelly, too.

While WA released a number of terrific films over the last 12 months, these were my two picks for 2020. Here is hoping 2021 will bring us additional treasures.


Kickstarter has a horrible reputation, unfinished products, scams, etc. Granted, I am still waiting on a product that was estimated to arrive 3 years ago, at least they are now shipping them, so I still have hope. Kickstarters that have been 100% reliable have been the guys and gals who have taken it upon themselves to rescue orphan films, clean them up and reward you with a DVD/Bluray to watch at home. Some are more elaborate than others with great cover art and booklets with great essays. Regardless, there is one thing each release has in common, the desire to release something worthwhile and love and grit to get it done.

Ed Lorusso has been releasing films for the last several years and rewarded us with two rarities starring Marie Doro. I believe these will be available from Grapevine soon.

Undercrank Productions, aka famed NY based accompanist Ben Model has been putting out DVDs of fabulous material for the last several years through Kickstarter. One of his very best released in 2020 was The Douglas MacLean Collection. MacLean has a woefully small extant filmography. Included in this collection are 2 crackerjack comedies One a Minute and Bellboy 13. One a Minute is fantastic fun. You can buy a copy at amazon here along with many of Ben's other excellent DVD releases. Looking very much forward in 2021 to the release of his most recently funded kickstarter, the silent comedies starring Edward Everett Horton.

Dave Glass and Glass and Wyatt produced another one of the most delightful Kickstarter releases in 2020, Lupino Lane Silent Comedian on DVD and Bluray. I have been smitten with Lupino Lane since I saw the 1928 film Sword Points at a Cinecon Film Festival around 1990. Happily, a beautiful print of Sword Points is included here (exact source seen previously). The mix here of silents and a talkie are sure to delight people new to the artistry and physicality of Lupino Lane. I am not sure of the status for post-Kickstarter purchases. I’d contact Dave to see if they have extra copies or if the DVD will be available from another source, Kickstarter page is here.


KINO Studio Classics has been just knocking it out of the park on silent and talkie reissues. Some restorations are better than others, check their catalogue online for the sheer number of amazing films they’ve released this year. 

Among my favorites for the year are Der Golem, a film I have only seen in tiny fragments in documentaries. Long on my bucket list, it is a film I’d just never gotten around to seeing. So happy that waited to finally see this in a beautiful restoration with a wonderful score by Stephen Horne. You can buy it here and I encourage you to buy it!

One of my favorite films from The San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2010 and I just never forgot the film. More a programmer, the 3rd film of director William Wyler starring the great James Murray (ultimately one of the great tragic stories in Hollywood), Barbara Kent and the young Jack Hanlon. Nice score by Michael Gatt, a wonderful booklet essay by Nora Fiore (another good follow on twitter @nitratediva). This film is a corker and I guarantee you will be delighted by it. Want to read me blathering on about it, here you go.

KINO gave us a completely unexpected surprise in the Reginald Denny Collection. Denny was a popular actor in the 1920s (and his career continued through the 1960s) and the three films are delightful confections The Reckless Age (1924) Skinner’s Dress Suit (1926) and What Happened to Jones (1926). Skinner’s Dress Suit is probably the best known of his films here costarring Laura La Plante. I am hoping for a volume 2 set for 2021! A girl can make a wish can't she?


Priscilla Dean got a nice nod with 2 releases, though I’ve only purchased Outside the Law with Lon Chaney. I guess you might say these two were marketed for Lon Chaney and director Tod Browning. I purchased for Dean who I think is unjustly forgotten. I have not yet watched the film, it is on the docket for the holiday weekend. I have seen the film, but, it has been decades since it ran at the Avenue Theater way back in the 1980s. The second release of Drifting and White Tiger are on my to-buy list when I have a little extra mad money to spend.

Other releases that made my happy list are Blood and Sand (full disclosure, I contributed the booklet essay) that restored to the film the short sequence when Valentino is suiting up for the bullring. That aside, Nita Naldi very nearly steals the film as the wicked Dona Sol. KINO advertises this as color tinted, but, it’s b/w throughout. A shame it is not color tinted as I remember first seeing it as sepia toned. 

The Sign of the Cross in a glistening print with Claudette Colbert as the wickedest woman of history and a delightfully warped Nero of Charles Laughton. This is a marvelous pre-Code romp through ancient Rome as only Cecil B. DeMille could do. The cinematography of Karl Struss alone should make you want/need to have this.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1932 masterpiece Love Me Tonight has been released with a new 4K scan on Bluray. A brilliant and innovative film Mamoulian out-Lubitsches Lubitsch with this film. Starring the effervescent Jeanette MacDonald (still in her lingerie queen phase) as the Princess and the charming roué of Maurice Chevalier as the lowly tailor disguised as a prince, this film is well deserving of its reputation among filmgoers. Co-stars Charlie Ruggles and Myrna Loy (before she signed with MGM) are delightful additions to the film.

Finally, in partnership with Lobster Films (we owe Serge Bromberg a big debt) KINO released
The Jewish Soul – Ten Classics of Yiddish Cinema a set I am anxious to dig in to as all films are new to me. 

Eureka! Masters of Cinema

Eureka in their Masters of Cinema series sometimes overlaps with US KINO releases. In this case it is in name only. KINO has released The Son of the Sheik which I would have recommended normally, but for the far superior Eureka release in early 2020. The KINO print derives from the old Paul Killiam/Blkackhawk print (which I had on Super 8 back in the stone age) and while they may have done some cleanup on it, I recognize many scratches, hairs and bits of damage from other releases over the years.

This Eureka set has many things going for it, it is a dual release Bluray and dvd (Region B – will play in a multi-region player) it has a new score by legendary Carl Davis and it is the most beautiful print of the film I have ever seen. Licensed from Cohen Film Collection this is how the film should be seen if you are not seeing it on the big screen. It is absolutely gorgeous and Valentino never looked better in sheik garb. Carl Davis score is not as lush as some of his other scores for Thames Silents and Photoplay Productions, still it breezes along with the film and is in no way unpleasant. Best of all is the wonderful essay by esteemed author and historian Pamela Hutchinson which has been my favorite of all booklet essays I’ve read in 2020.

Flicker Alley

Flicker Alley always has interesting and beautifully produced sets. Two from this year are a gorgeous new restoration of Paul Leni’s 1924 film Waxworks starring three legends of German cinema, Werner Krauss, Emil Jannings and Conrad Veidt.

The second release is
The Bolshevik Trilogy Three Films of Vsevolod Pudovkin. I’ve only watched Mother, so far. This is a must have if you are at all interested in cinema behind the iron curtain.

Criterion Collection

I would be remiss to not mention the many stellar releases from Criterion. Of the new 2020 releases, well I am very far behind. When the annual sale came around, I picked items on my wish list from years past. I did purchase Destry Rides Again and The Grand Budapest Hotel from the 2020 lineup. I still need to buy The Great Escape, Dance Girl Dance, The Lady Eve and The Cameraman. Work to go before I sleep...


Zoom was the best app for 2020. It helped millions of us keep in touch and see friends and family socially. This was particularly fun during the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto where we gathered for drinks and chat after the screening for the day. It was a pleasure to see friends I have actually met in person and to be introduced to online friends I will meet in October 2021 in Italy. 

2020 was a complete shitstorm on so many levels. There was not a day in the last 9 and a half months that did not contain distressing news, maddening news, tragic news that would just wear one down to a quivering mass of emotions. It was said often that it helped to be more introverted during lockdown. However much this may be true, for so many it has not been easy to weather life in isolation among all the other terrible, stressful, mournful things going on. With several vaccines approved and more in the pipeline, we can be more hopeful that there will be a return to some semblance of normalcy later this year. We can weather the ongoing storms, please mask up when you go out, wash your hands, do not touch your face, keep socially distant. Respect our front line workers first responders who have suffered stress, pain and sorrows that I cannot even begin to imagine. Be safe, be well and one day we can gather to watch films together as it is one of the sweetest of pleasures. Just because we have transitioned from 2020 to 2021 does in no way mean that we will see meaningful changes for some time. Do not lose hope, listen to music, watch movies, talk to your friends and family find joy where you can, there will be a new sun in a new sky someday soon.


Tinky said…
There will indeed be a new sun in the sky ... and you'll get to Italy, I'm sure of it. Happy new year, and thanks for all the fun viewing ideas.

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