- This essay will inevitably contain spoilers!

'SHE' (1925)

- A review by Richard Harrison (2006)

For the modern 21st Century audience, silent films must seem a thing not only of the past, but of another era- a totally different timeframe in a world very different from that of today. It is worth noting, however, that its era ended actually not that long ago- silent films were still being made as late as 1929, within living memory for today's older pensioners. One of the likely reasons for silent films seeming so antiquated is their lack of sound (including the absence of the seemingly obligatory big song soundtrack found on today's big budget releases), but the battered, poorly mastered black and white prints that circulate so widely are also to blame. Thus, the MTV generation could well be forgiven for thinking, mistakenly, that silent films were always in jumpy monochrome, feature people moving at breakneck speed and were generally like looking through a fuzzy mesh of lines and scratches. In fact, although some do exist in this form, many more have been restored to their former glory, like a run-down old house that is transformed back into what it once was- an object of intense beauty.

She is just one of the growing number of titles from Sunrise Silents to undergo such a radical revamp, the company working hard to present the film as it should have been seen. Thus, the film print on this particular DVD release is tinted in spectacular fashion, revealing an appropriately rich array of colours which make it an entrancing and appealing spectacle.

On a textual level, the fact that the film's sub-titles were written by She author H. Rider Haggard himself is noteworthy (his Victorian origins in its use of language at times are certainly very old-fashioned but actually quite endearing too), but the novel still had to be translated into visual terms. By 1925, the mid.-point in that creative epoch of silent cinema, film was approaching its zenith of artistic intensity, and there are hints at what was to come later throughout the mise-en-scene and variation in shots in She. There are several impressive set pieces, such as the cooking pot scene, which features well choreographed chaos, the frame filled with action. Throughout the film the mise-en-scene is equally impressive, with Betty Blythe making a regal and Cleopatra-esque Ayesha, and often framed with the backdrop of Oriental drapes and exotic furnishings.

One of the key sequences in the film is that which features our protagonists crossing the chasm, the director Leander De Cordova shooting the tricky practicalities of the journey extremely well by oscillating long shots of the party's task with distant ,extreme long shots to show the scale of risk involved. This cutting between character and setting establishes a panoramic backdrop for the action and sets up tension, building as it does on spectator fear of what usually happens on such occasions with great success.

Overall, She is a creditable addition to any silent film collection, but, as an overall package from Sunset Silents, indispensable for two reasons. Firstly, as I have said, the standard of the restoration is first class- the print, although evidently damaged over the years, is beautifully tinted and of high quality. Secondly, the extras provided on the disc set up a typical cinema programme of the pre-Blockbuster era, and include another film (the Mack Sennett production Lizzies Of The Field), some serial episodes, an animation, an advertising film and some promotional material including glass slides. The care and attention Sunrise have displayed in putting this wonderful package together (the care even extends to the stunning cover) makes their presentation of She a must, not only for the silent film fan but for anyone hoping to understand the allure of the silent film per se.

She(1925), directed by Leander De Cordova, is available on DVD from Sunrise Silents.

Sunrise Silents