Just because you’re a tech-savvy Memeburn reader doesn’t mean you don’t like classic films. Sure you might not be a theatre purist, yearning for a near-mythical golden age of film, but that doesn’t mean you’re ignorant to the comic charms of Charlie Chaplin, the directorial brilliance of Sergei Eisenstein or the beguiling beauty of Rita Hayworth.
Luckily for you, Memeburn reader, you don’t have to go to specialist theatres or obscure video stores to get your fix of classic celluloid. All you need is a solid internet connection and access to YouTube.
Aside from some contemporary full length features and documentaries, the world’s most popular video-sharing platform also offers a good few classic films, be they silent, early “talkies”, or adaptations of children’s literature from the 1960s. Here are 18 that are worth sacrificing a little bandwidth for.
1. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Directed by Sergei Eisentstein, this film was inspired by a 1905 naval rebellion which was one of the precipitating factors in the eventual downfall of Tsarist Russia. The film’s most famous scene is known as the “Odessa Steps sequence” and has been imitated in numerous other films, including The Untouchables (1987). Fans of The Arcade Fire, might recognise scenes from a popular video for the song “Intervention”.
2. The Charlie Chaplin Festival
To be fair, this entry actually consists of four films: The Adventurer, The Cure, Easy Street and The Immigrant. Chaplin was undoubtedly the king of slapstick in the silent era, and these four films capture him at his best. If they’re not your favourites, then other Chaplin classics like The Kid are also available.
3. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The story of a disfigured phantom haunting a Paris opera house predates Andrew Lloyd Webber by a number of years. This version of “Phantom” is yet another entry from the silent era, so expect sweeping orchestral movements and exaggerated facial gestures rather than pop opera and staged brightly coloured masquerade scenes.
4. Alice in Wonderland (1966)
The first entry on this list made with spoken dialogue and also the first made specifically for television. The film was commissioned by the BBC and directed by Jonathan Miller. This version of Alice, stars Peter Sellers as the King of Hearts. Rather than the fantastical costumes of some productions, all the Wonderland characters are portrayed as ordinary humans in Victorian dress. Don’t think this an attempt at gritty realism on Miller’s part. This was the sixties after all, so there’s plenty of hallucinogenic surrealism.
5. Night of the Living Dead(1968)
You know all those Zombie films, comics, and series that have come out in recent years? Chances are a whole lot less of them would not exist without John Romero’s masterpiece. Owing to a bizarre technicality, Night of the living dead has been in the public domain for some time now. Small wonder that the full version of this cult classic has generated over one-million views since it was uploaded.
6. 1984 (1954)
George Orwell’s dystopian novel has been adapted for films a number of times. This BBC version is true to its literary inspiration. In something of an ironic twist (or a portent of things to come, depending on your point of view), the production proved to be hugely controversial, with questions asked in Parliament and many viewer complaints over its supposed subversive nature and horrific content.
7. Fists of Fury (1972)
The reason this film is so iconic, is largely down to the fact that it was Bruce Lee’s first film in Hong Kong. It made him a star across Asia before he was catapulted to global fame. There are, in fact, a plethora of classic Kung-Fu films available on YouTube, including Way of the Dragon and Drunken Master.
8. It’s a Wonderful Life(1946)
It’s the consummate Christmas movie, it’s been parodied, imitated and referred to time and time again. Anyone who doesn’t think this film is a classic hates Christmas. Watch it and, just for a moment, believe in angels again.
9. The Jungle Book (1942)
No, it’s not the Disney version so don’t go expecting any Bear Necessities here. Audiences at the time reportedly loved this film’s Technicolor spectacle. Given the fact that it’s racked up close on 600 thousand views, it seems modern audiences are still pretty enamoured with it.
10. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide (1920)
This is one of two treatments of Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale about that evil that lurks within us all, brought out in 1920. Dating from the silent era, the film features the talents of legendary actor John Barrymore in the title role. So good was Barrymore’s performance that the early stages of his transformation were reportedly achieved without makeup, relying instead on his ability to contort his face.
11. Captain Kidd (1945)
Way before Johnny Depp decided to don eyeliner and speak like an efette Keith Richards, there was the (slightly) more historically accurate Captain Kidd. Looking for pirates with dodgy, albeit non-stereotypical accents? Then this is the film for you.
12.Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1894)
Okay, so this isn’t really an epic tale from the golden age of cinema, and it doesn’t feature any legendary actors either. It’s only 23 seconds long, but it holds an incredibly important place in the history of film. It makes it onto this list by being among the earliest pieces of surviving film. The star is Fred Ott, an Edison employee known to his fellow workers in the laboratory for his comic sneezing and other gags.
13. A Farewell to Arms (1932)
This adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s canonical novel won Oscars (for Best Cinematography and Best Sound) and was nominated for two more (Best Art Direction and Best Picture). The tale of the love between an ambulance driver and a nurse during World War I starred Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes in the lead roles.
14. Triumph of the Will (1935)
Any attempt to deny that Leni Riefenstahl was making a film which attempted to portray the Nazi party as precise and organised is clouded in delusion. That does not, however, mean that we should fail to recognise the German director for creating some of the most exquisite scenes in cinematic history.
15. Cleopatra (1963)
Starring Elizabeth Taylor in the titular role and Richard Burton as Marc Anthony, this is one of the greatest historical epics from an era in which they abounded. Adjusted for inflation, it is still one of the most expensive movies ever made and, despite being a critical failure, it won four Academy Awards.
16. DOA (1949)
This is classic film noir and involves a man trying to figure out exactly who’s poisoned him. The film makes extensive use of flashbacks and uses a number of elements from still photography. The latter is down to the fact that director Ralph Matte had a background in photography. In 2004, D.O.A. was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
17. His Girl Friday (1940)
His Girl Friday is a bona fide classic, with a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 8.1/10 on IMDB. The screwball comedy stars Cary Grant as a newspaper editor who learns that his ex-wife and former star reporter plans to settle down with to a settled life as the housewife of a dull insurance salesman. The film follows Grant’s attempts to destroy her plans.
18. One Eyed Jacks (1961)
This film was Marlon Brando’s sole foray into the role of actor-director. One Eyed Jacks revolves around Brando’s character Rio, his love for a former partner –in-crime’s sister and robbing banks. It also features Rio receiving a bullwhipping from said brother. Brando took over direction when Stanley Kubrick pulled out of the project.