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.
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:
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.