Silents That Are Truly Golden

Buster Keaton in "The General." silent film, silent picture, classic,
United Artists
As fans of old-time movies such as "The General" with Buster Keaton will tell you, silents were golden. And those boosters of early films most definitely include our critic David Edelstein:

A sharpened, high-def special edition of Buster Keaton's "The General" from 1926 has just been released by film company Kino International, with three - count 'em, three - optional musical scores.

I can't imagine a grander holiday gift for a movie nut, unless you empty your bank account for Kino's whole glorious Keaton collection.

Nowadays, chase scenes are shot close in and chopped to bits and spatially incoherent.

The chase in "The General" - which is most of the movie - is easy, linear and in mesmerizing long shot. Long takes on horizontal tracks with the train moving smoothly forward while our engineer/acrobat hero scrambles and leaps among cars with that fixed, impassive, beautifully stoic face on that body that's infinitely flexible.

One reason Keaton makes me so serenely happy is that he doesn't accelerate to his climaxes. The gags just flow.

Other Keaton films might be funnier, but none are so stately.

On scores of other Kino DVDs, filmmakers are literally inventing the vocabulary of the medium before your eyes.

There's a new release of F.W. Murnau's "The Last Laugh," about a porter whose identity depends on his uniform; the designs, the forced perspectives are breathtaking.

And with vampires so mundane these days, pick up the ultimate edition of Murnau's Expressionist masterpiece "Nosferatu" from 1922, still the eeriest of all bloodsucker pictures.

I wish I had time to rhapsodize over Sergei Eisenstein's revolutionary tone poem "Battleship Potemkin" … Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," both entrancing and madly dislocating … Abel Gance's chilling anti-war epic "J'Accuse" … the simultaneous primitiveness and sophistication of film fantasy pioneer Georges Melies …

The boxes themselves are works of art; they tantalize us with the promise of movies that, however old, are endlessly strange and new.