1929 Ten Best Movies


Has anybody seen my razor?

The best film of 1929 has ants. Priests and bicyclists and the moon, too. Where would we be without Un chien andalou, that most exhilarating of surrealist manifestos? Dreamed up by two trouble-making Spaniards, Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, the film clocks in at under 20 minutes and demands a new way of seeing. To watch it with open eyes is to be free.

At the film’s premiere, Bunuel says he stood behind the curtain with a record player, alternating tango music with Tristan and Isolde. (He also had his pockets full of stones in case he needed to throw them at a rioting audience, but he didn’t have to.) The crude sound system reminds us that in 1929 silent films were in full retreat, about to be replaced by sound, which explains the mix of silent and sound titles for the list. Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail, in fact, exists in both silent and sound versions. I saw Blackmail one foggy night in London at the British Film Institute — one of those nights where you realize you’ve just had the perfect setting in which to see a great film. That’ll never be topped.

And as long as we’re talking about glorious early-sound experiments, a nod to King Vidor’s Hallelujah!, a supple and lively musical with an all-black cast. Vidor’s vitality transcends any historical-perspective air of stereotyping, as does the brilliance of the performers.

The best films of 1929:

1. Un chien andalou (Luis Bunuel)

2. Blackmail (Alfred Hitchcock)

3. Hallelujah! (King Vidor)

4. The Man with the Movie Camera (Dziga-Vertov)

5. Pandora’s Box (G.W. Pabst)

6. The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch)

7. Lucky Star (Frank Borzage)

8. Spite Marriage (Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton)

9. The White Hell of Pitz Palu (Arnold Fanck, G.W. Pabst)

10. The Cocoanuts (Robert Florey, Joseph Santley)

The Keaton film is on there because Keaton was still Keaton at this point; the Marx Brothers’ Cocoanuts is on there because they were just arriving. Neither film is a great work, and yet I can’t bear to leave them off, because there are so many beautiful gags in each one, and the stars are indelible.

As for Un chien andalou, the new movie Little Ashes offers an explanation for it all: the film is clearly the product of repressed/thwarted gay desire. Yes, well, that reading will likely go the way most confident readings of the film go. In fact, the meaning of it all is entirely to be taken by the individual viewer. On the other hand, perhaps not.

Next week: 1995.