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The 1920’s were perhaps not as dramatic as the previous decade, but great change was in the air, making its way onto the silver screen. In USA it was the age of the legendary ”Roaring Twenties” – a time of economic booming, producing a young generation similar to the yuppies of the Nineties. It was an age of optimism and moral liberalism. In this decade women got the right to vote in most civilized countries, leading to a stark rise in feminism and a debate on women’s issues. One of the products of this age was the ”flapper”, young, independent, adventurous and sexual women, who enjoyed the luxuries of life, stayed out late, smoked and listened to jazz. The flapper became a movie staple, perhaps best represented by the charismatic actress Clara Bow. It was a time of liberal sexual ideas from the Soviet Union and Europe to North America. In the States the Twenties also saw a brief improvement in the standing of African-Americans, as well as a liberal stance towards homosexuality.
Urbanization, higher standards of living, and technical revolutions such as the first home appliances and the first TV:s created a technological optimism, a new era of modernism. The first fuel-powered rocket was invented, anticipating space travel, and the Lindbergh brothers made their famous flight over the Atlantic.
But there were also other social and political movements. The October 25 revolution in Russia in 1917 created he Soviet Union, and socialism was on the rise in Europe. This created a counter-movement, and far right politics and fascism was seen by many as the best means of battling communism. Roberto Mussolini rose to power in Italy, and a young Adolf Hitler failed to grab power in the Beer House Putsch of 1923, and spent a year in jail writing Mein Kampf. In the young Soviet Union there was a liberal push in the Twenties, introducing Lenin’s mixed economy, the so called NEP-system. It was an age of economic growth and liberal social attitudes in Russia as well.
Paris became the home of a large community of international artists and writers after World War I, including the famous Lost Generation of America, as well as young European surrealists, expressionists and avant-gardists, as well as a host of Russian modernists, who had left their home country after the revolution. This era saw the golden age of movements like cubism and dadaism.
Germany, on the other hand, was being severely depressed both morally and economically by the straight jacket put on the Weimar Republic after WWI. Many artists saw the rise of communism in the East as both a possibility and a threat, and some were increasingly worried about the growing influence of their own Nazi party.
The Roaring Twenties of North America, the Crazy Twenties of France and the liberal age of the Soviet Union all came to and and at the end of the decade. In 1929 came the Wall Street crash in USA, Lenin’s NEP-system was abolished and a return to traditional, conservative values was ushered in in Russia, and in Europe many watched in horror at Adolf Hitler’s power aspirations.
In the film industry as a whole, this was the age when Hollywood became king. WWI had smashed the European film industry to pieces, giving Hollywood a few years to flood the market with their own superstars, created by the studio system – nevermind that a large portion of these stars were European. Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Clara Bow, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Pola Negri, Lon Chaney, Harold Lloyd, Rudolph Valentino, Joan Crawford and John Barrymore were but a few of those who rose to prominence in these years.
More people went to the cinemas and more money was spent on film making. Acting became increasingly more natural and the use of moving cameras, imaginative editing, special effects – all changed the film industry. The early Twenties were the golden age of the silent movie, but the end of an era came in 1927 with The Jazz Singer, the first talking movie. In Europe, on the other hand, the art film was on the rise.
Many of the world’s most influential film makers came from Germany at this time, including F.W. Murnau, who set the tone for gothic horror with the legendary Nosferatu. Robert Wiene directed the highly influential expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and Fritz Lang set new standards for science fiction with the epic Metropolis and the moon landing film Woman in the Moon. The Soviet Union created its first sci-fi film with the controversial social commentary Aelita in 1924, and the French also started dabbling in sci-fi with Marcel L’Herbiers L’Inhumaine. Curiously enough, pure science fiction still didn’t catch on in North America during this decade, although a few films were made that teetered on the edge if sci-fi, mots notably the popular The Lost World, a pioneering work of stop-motion animation depicting a lost world inhabited by dinosaurs. The absence of sci-fi in North America may have had to do with the fact that the Twenties were a politically stable period whereas many of the European entries into the genre had a political and social message.
Inspired both by modernist and expressionist movements in arts, and by the early Danish sci-fi films The End of the World and A Trip to Mars, sci-fi films were now slowly starting to create their own language. This was also the period when pulp magazines were making their ways into the bedrooms of an increasing number of kids and young adults, and their influence can be seen in films like The Lost World, the serial The Invisible Ray and Harry Houdini’s The Man from Beyond. But as a whole, the genre was still quite small in quantitative output, and contained very disparate entries.