This is part one (of a projected 10 parts, probably) of our quizzer’s guide to the movies. I’m going to cover record breakers, box office hits, firsts, Oscar winners, most successful actors/actresses/directors, and any other movie trivia I can think of that will help you do better at movie quiz questions. After reading, you should be a better film quizzer, but you may just have found a few new favourite movies too!
Questions on the early history of film can be particularly tricky because most movies, especially silent ones, are just curiosities rather than films you actually might have watched. But there were a lot of ‘firsts’ that make good pub quiz trivia!
The first feature length movie (i.e. at least 60 minutes long) to be released was The Story of the Kelly Gang in 1906. It premiered at Melbourne’s Athenaeum on 26th December 1906. At the time it was a controversial film, as it showed the outlaw Ned Kelly and his gang in a positive light, in contrast to previous fictional portrayals. Just 17 minutes of the film survive today.
Fantasmagorie in 1908 was considered to be the first animated cartoon, by French film-maker Emile Cohl – though when it comes to silent films, language didn’t matter so much.
Next up, In Old California (1910), directed by D W Griffiths was the first film to be made in Hollywood. D W Griffiths’s most famous film was The Birth of a Nation in 1915, which is usually thought of as the first big budget Hollywood epic. Then in 1916, The Fall of a Nation was the first film sequel.
The first feature length colour film is usually considered to be The World, The Flesh and The Devil from 1914. It used the Kinemacolor process. The first feature movie in the newer, better Technicolor process was The Gulf Between from 1917.
There’s one big component missing from all of these films however – sound! Okay, not quite true, they mostly had music soundtracks, but not actual dialogue. The first feature length film to have recorded dialogue and therefore the first “talkie” as they became known, was The Jazz Singer (1927).
We’re just into the era of ‘talkies’ when another movie milestone came along in 1929 – the first Academy Awards (Oscars) took place. It didn’t have a Best Picture award, but the film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans won the award for ‘Unique and artistic production’ and Wings won the award for Outstanding Picture, Production. The two awards were combined the following year into a single Best Picture category. Emil Jennings won the Best Actor award and Janet Gaynor won Best Actress. Charlie Chaplin won an honorary award.
So now that we've got that out of the way, let us look at who were the biggest stars of the era – the most successful directors, actors and actresses.
Probably the most famous film director pre-1930 was D.W. Griffiths, who we’ve come across already. He made around 500 films, almost all of them silent movies. He pioneered the feature film and made many early innovations in directing and editing. Although he was lauded for this, his reputation is blemished by being considered by many to be a white supremacist – his movie The Birth of a Nation was thought to glorify the Klu Klux Klan and led to riots in several US cities.
Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most acclaimed film directors of all time, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of him throughout these guides, as his most famous movies were all after 1930, but he did have a few hits before then. His directorial debut was with the British-German silent film The Pleasure Garden (1925), and his first commercial success was the 1927 film The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog which helped shape the thriller genre. Two years later he directed Blackmail, which was the first British “talkie” – though interestingly it was filmed as both a silent film (for the cinemas not equipped for sound) and a film with dialogue (for cinemas that were). Both versions are available from the British Film Institute archive.
Actors & Actresses
The world’s first movie star was Florence “Flo” Lawrence. At the height of her fame in the 1910s, she was known as the “Biograph Girl” for her work as one of the leading ladies in silent films from the Biograph Company.
Mary Pickford was another of the biggest silent movie stars. In 1916 she was the first movie star to become a millionaire and she became one of the most influential people in Hollywood. She was known variously as “America’s Sweetheart”, “girl with the curls” and “Queen of the Movies”, and she won the second Academy Award for Best Picture for her 1929 film Coquette. She married another big movie star, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 1920. As a wedding gift, he presented her with Pickfair, a 22 room mansion in Beverly Hills. It isn’t just modern day movie stars who liked to splash the cash! Fairbanks was known for swashbuckling roles in films like The Thief of Bagdad, Robin Hood and The Mark of Zorro. Both of their careers declined as the ‘talkies’ grew in popularity, and by the mid-1930s they’d both retired.
The one name from the silent era that many people will know is Charlie Chaplin. He was to comedy what Douglas Fairbanks was to swashbuckling adventure. He gained worldwide fame through his on-screen persona as ‘The Tramp’, a bumbling but good-hearted vagrant. The Tramp was also the name of a 1915 film which Chaplin wrote and directed. His first feature length film though was The Kid in 1921, followed by A Woman in Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus (1928).
Other stars of the silent era include Harold Lloyd, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore, Greta Garbo and Lon Chaney.
If you want to test your movie knowledge, then look no further than our book, The Ultimate Film Quiz Book. Over 500 questions, lots of great rounds and including films from every era and movie genre.
For more information, click here.
We'll be back soon with Part 2 to look at movies in the 1930s.