King Vidor: The Crowd
Frank Borzage: Seventh Heaven (winner)
Herbert Brenon: Sorrell and Son
Ted Wilde: Speedy
Lewis Milestone: Two Arabian Knights (winner)
Kind of surprisingly, I like most of the movies that were nominated for this award, or at least most of those that I’ve actually seen. The first Oscars was a much richer field than the second. I expect at least in part that this comes from the second ceremony being dominated by early talkies when dealing with sound was still new. Regardless, there are some places where I think we can make some improvements. This was a year when Best Director was split into two categories—drama and comedy. On the comedy side, I think I can make a case for Ted Wilde being nominated for The Kid Brother over Speedy. I’d love to see Charles Reisner and Buster Keaton here for Steamboat Bill, Jr. as well. I didn’t like The Jazz Singer, but I’m a little surprised that there was nothing here for Alan Crosland. There were technically two Best Picture winners for this year, and neither director, F.W. Murnau and William A. Wellman, were nominated for Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and Wings respectively. Herbert Brenon earned a nomination for the impossible-to-find Sorrell and Son, but could be argued for Laugh, Clown, Laugh. The biggest misses here are Abel Gance for Napoleon and Fritz Lang for Metropolis. Even in these early years, Oscar snubbed foreign films and science fiction.
Weeding through the Nominees
N/A. I have nothing to say about Sorrell and Son or about whatever Herbert Brenon might have done with it. In fact, if you want to know anything about the plot of this movie, you have to look up another version of the same story, at least as far as Wikipedia is concerned. There evidently is a version of this in the Academy’s archive, but the fact that this exists somewhere is very different from my ability to watch it. Honestly, I don’t know why they don’t find a way to release this to the public. What’s the sense in not doing so?
3. It might be unfair to put the two comedies at the bottom of the films I’ve seen, but I think it’s where they belong. This is kind of surprising, considering that I tend to like silent comedies a lot more than I like silent drama. The problem here is that Speedy isn’t as good as Lloyd’s other films. It’s a lot more tame with the stunts in a lot of respects, and that’s disappointing. You only need to look at The Kid Brother from the same era to see the difference. Nominate that one, and Ted Wilde moves up quite a bit.
2. Seventh Heaven suffers from what most silent dramas and silent romances do—an overdose of melodrama. That was the style at the time, and Frank Borzage was good at putting it on the screen. There are some truly magnificent shots in this, and Borzage has to get some of the credit for that. There’s a magnificent sequence of two characters climbing the stairs in an apartment building while the camera follows them to the top. It’s a wonder for the time, and probably the reason Borzage won this Oscar.
1. Limited to the choices here, I’m going with King Vidor and The Crowd. This is a message film written in all caps, and while it’s also susceptible to the melodrama of the age, it’s done really well and holds up for a modern audience much better than it feels like it should. This is a case of, essentially, difference in taste. Put a modern audience down with this and Seventh Heaven, and I think more people are going to react to this one much more intensely and acutely. That it’s also impressive in terms of storytelling only helps its case.