1910s & 1920s

Intolerance (1916)

In wrapping up four parallel fables of prejudice stretching from ancient Babylon to the twentieth century, D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance masterfully orchestrates cycles of human redemption and transgression with joy and sorrow, layering plot threads and symbolic counterpoints like intricate harmonies through this epic, cinematic experiment of narrative structure.

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The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Through the hundred or so years of feature narrative films, The Birth of a Nation may indeed be the singularly most abhorrent work to hit such ambitiously artistic heights, as D.W. Griffith singlehandedly defines the artform with astonishing displays of intercutting and jaw-dropping set pieces, while exposing the depravity baked into the history of nationalistic mythologising.

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Napoleon (1927)

More than simply establishing a language of visual storytelling, Abel Gance pioneers cinematic techniques in Napoleon that have not been touched since, punctuating every key beat in this dense, sprawling account of the historical leader’s rise to power with epic flourishes of artistic grandeur wholly unique to his own trailblazing intuitions.

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Les Vampires (1915)

In centring a shady gang of thieves known as Les Vampires that haunts Paris’ streets, Louis Feuillade crafts an epic crime serial that plays right into the pulpy sensationalism of their macabre characters, each one inhabiting their own compelling archetype within a thrilling narrative of hypnotised servants, cunning disguises, and secret poisons.

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One Week (1920)

Marriage is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all package, as Buster Keaton so amusingly illustrates in his silent short One Week, demonstrating a level of comedic genius in his architectural inventiveness, creative framing, and wildly physical stunt work that explores the unique cinematic potential of visual comedy in the early days of film.

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The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

The Adventures of Prince Achmed would still be a great feat of filmmaking even if it were the hundredth or thousandth feature-length animation, but the fact that Lotte Reiniger’s imaginative Middle Eastern fable of magic, adventure, and shadow puppetry is the first of its kind is simply remarkable.

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