Silent Discoveries Double Feature: Yesterday and Today & After Six Days
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This disc showcases two problematic memoirs of the silent era and demonstrates the problems of film history. After Six Days is what we have left of an epic from the glory years of silent Italian epics. It’s the 1920 film La Bibbia (The Bible). Little is known about this once popular hit, and this is the only surviving 16mm print of the 1929 sound reissue, which has music and a narrator reading the Bible stories. The addition of a soundtrack meant a certain cropping of the original image, so that actors’ heads are often cut off. Nothing can be done about this, and it interferes with our enjoyment.
The brisk hour begins with Adam and Eve, complete with glimpses of nudity. Interesting special effects (mostly superimpositions) include Noah’s flood (with more nudity), the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom (apparently via fireworks), Lot’s wife turning into salt, and Moses parting the Red Sea. This last is inferior to the two versions by Cecil B. DeMille, but you can see how DeMille must have seen the picture and felt inspired to surpass it. Sexual undercurrents are provided by the story of Joseph (robed to show off his pectorals) and the heavily-rimmed eyes of Potiphar’s vamping wife, and finally the Song of Solomon, which closes the movie on a curious note of romantic tragedy verging on soap opera.
Also included is a reissue trailer from 1946, proving the hardiness of this property; it claims the film cost 3 million dollars and five years to make. It also claims to be filmed in the “actual locations”—what, Eden? Babel? Sodom? Egypt? It’s interesting to compare with John Huston’s stately, picturesque 1966 version of the same material; they’re similar, despite the latter’s color and widescreen.
A bonus is the one-hour Yesterday and Today (1953), a documentary consisting of extended clips from silent films with humorous commentary by George Jessel. The clips were actually culled from two earlier British compilations. In some cases, these clips are all that exist of certain films. As historian Richard M. Roberts makes clear on a corrective commentary track, what the original filmmakers didn’t know would fill a whole movie. He points out that nearly all the clips are misidentified. An international team of conspirators worked with him to nail down the true identities of these French, British and American films based on chases, trick effects, pratfalls, trains, battles, romances, and sentimental children.