Silent But Deadly: The Dawn of the Martial Arts Film
Ask a film buff for the longest silent movie ever made. Chances are, you’ll get the answer Greed. Erich Von Stroheim’s self-proclaimed master-work was the nine-hour tale of a young California miner who turns to dentistry, marries, wins the lottery, and ends up handcuffed to a dead man in the Nevada desert.
It was an extraordinary piece of work, as far as we can tell. Stroheim‘s script survives, as does the novel it was based on. Much of the footage has been lost, however. The best that can be seen now is a heavily-chopped copy. Even at two hours, it is occasionally a punishing experience. But how many works of narrative art could survive so well the loss of three-quarters of their length?
It was nowhere near the longest silent, however. That honour may go to 1928’s The Burning of the Red Lotus. At 27 hours, it is better thought of as a series than as a single movie. Though it was entirely lost by 1940, it’s impact as the first major martial arts movie continued to be felt with a series of remakes extending through to the 1950s.
To feel its impact today, we have to look at the works it influenced, even at second hand. So do yourself a favour. If you haven’t seen Enter The Dragon, or haven’t watched it since your misspent youth, dig out a copy this week. It is forty years old on Friday, and it hasn’t aged a day.
Posted by Kevin McGee