Film History Essentials

I’ve been on a year-by-year journey through film history, starting right from the very beginning. This is where I share the best with anyone who’s interested, but isn’t sure where to start . . . and also remind myself which films stood out, and why they matter. We are in a golden age for amateur film historians. There is so much available online, even compared to 10 years ago, and more appearing all the time. 25 years ago, the majority of silent films that I’ve seen would have been totally inaccessible to anyone who couldn’t travel the world to visit various film archives, and everything else would still have had to be researched and then bought or rented.

Now, it’s all at your fingertips, anytime, from anywhere with an internet connection. And other barriers have disappeared, as well. If, for example, the intertitles of a silent film are in a language you don’t know, an app will allow you to read them in your native language just by aiming your phone camera at the screen. Since November of 2020, I’ve watched around 1300 silent films . . . and I’m only about halfway through the silent era. That number is a fraction of what was produced during those years, but it’s a start. Sources of inspiration for film choices include the History of American Cinema series, the Screen Decades series, the Oxford History of World Cinema, and the like. But at the bottom of this page, you’ll also find the online resources I’ve relied on to guide me.

pre-1888

Passage de Vénus (1874)

La Rosace Magique (1877)

Le Singe Musicien (1878)

Sallie Gardner at a Gallop (1878)

Skeleton of Horse (1881)

Buffalo Running (1884)

The Kiss (1884)

L’Homme Machine (1885)

Man Walking Around a Corner (1887)

1888-1890

Pferd und Reiter Springen über ein Hindernis (1888)

Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)

Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge (1888)

Escrime (1890)

London’s Trafalgar Square (1890)

Mosquinha (1890)

Monkeyshines, No. 1 & 2 (1890)

1891-1893

Je Vous Aime (1891)

Newark Athlete (1891)

Dickson Greeting (1891)

La Vague (1891)

Pauvre Pierrot (1892)

Blacksmith Scene (1893)

1894

Falling Cat (1894)

Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894)

The Barbershop (1894)

Sandow (1894)

Carmencita (1894)

Leonard-Cushing Fight (1894)

Sioux Ghost Dance (1894)

Bucking Broncho (1894)

Annie Oakley (1894)

Chinese Laundry Scene (1894)

The Pickaninny Dance from the “Passing Show” (1894)

Imperial Japanese Dance (1894)

Autour d’une cabine (1894)

1895

Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1895)

Annabelle Serpentine Dance (1895)

Nicholas Sisters Split Dance (1895)

Additional Resources

  • THE 5 BEST FILMS OF EVERY YEAR EVER – A useful (and focused) MUBI list.
  • Centuries of Sound – Includes a selection of films from each year, usually embedded from YouTube.
  • Century Film Project – A site that discusses and reviews films that are at least 100 years old, and includes links to online sources where available. Includes an archive of titles that is searchable by year.
  • A Cinema History – Film history site that includes discussions of a curated list of films from each year, with links to watch each film.
  • The Complete Criterion Collection – An up-to-date Letterboxd list of the nearly 6000 films in the Criterion Collection.
  • THE EARLY SILENT ERA 1895-1915 – Incredible resource by a Berlin film historian. Posts covering a huge variety of films and sources. Can be quite difficult to search (for my purposes).
  • Every Year In Film – Site of essays devoted to every year in film history. Each essay centers around one selected film, but often discusses several others.
  • Films by the Year – YouTube channel with a large and constantly-growing collection of films that, importantly, always include the film year in the video title.
  • FilmSite’s Greatest Films by Year – A year-by-year list of significant films from one of the oldest still-operating film sites on the internet.
  • IRA GALLEN’s Videos – Vimeo channel of a well-known film and television historian. Channel is searchable.
  • The Library of Congress – Includes an archive of historical films made available online for free, easily searchable with carefully-defined parameters.
  • Movies Silently – Site with reviews and discussions of silent films. Includes a searchable index and ranked list.
  • NFR List of Films by Year (The Horse’s Head) – A chronological list of every film on the National Film Registry, with reviews, discussions, and links.
  • One Week, One Year – A very informative and useful podcast that reviews and discusses a selection of films from each year beginning in 1895 (with included playlist).
  • The Oxford History of World Cinema, Letterboxd Version – A Letterboxd list of all 5000+ films referenced in this indispensable work.
  • PUNQ’s lists – A year-by-year series of curated Letterboxd lists by a Norwegian cinephile who has watched every movie he can find through 1950.
  • Silent Hall of Fame Free Movies – A selection of films made available by an organization of silent film enthusiasts.
  • Stumfilm – An incredible archive of Danish silent films in pristine condition.

 
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