Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Best Picture 1914

At long last, it’s the big one. The one film that represents the pinnacle of motion picture artistry for the year 1914. The end of the night and the end of the Century Awards is nigh. I wasn’t sure, going in, that there would be a lot of good candidates for best picture of 1914. It seemed like movies were still developing, and so many were short, underdeveloped movies, I was expecting a somewhat disappointing array of choices.

Happily, that did not turn out to be the case. There were a surprising number of features released in that year, and considerable quality among them as well. Possibly the best known among modern audiences is the comedy “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” which still holds up against the best work Chaplin would do in later years. International fans all know about “Cabiria” of course, and I’ve raved about it and its influence enough tonight. D.W. Griffith’s first feature “Judith of Bethulia” admittedly hasn’t gotten a lot of love at this year’s Century Awards (I can just imagine Griffith’s exit interview), but it still deserves to be recognized as a major step forward in American filmmaking. Similarly, Cecil B. DeMille’s debut feature “The Squaw Man” represents great storytelling from a very new talent. Evgeni Bauer demonstrated that Russia had great film talent as well with “Silent Witnesses,” and finally the unusual female-focus of “Salomy Jane” gave it a place in the nominations for the year.

With no further ado, the nominations for best picture of 1914 are:

  1. Tillie’s Punctured Romance (Mack Sennett)
  2. Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone)
  3. Judith of Bethulia (Biograph Pictures)
  4. The Squaw Man (Cecil B. DeMille & Jesse L. Lasky)
  5. Silent Witnesses (Evgeni Bauer)
  6. Salomy Jane (Alexander E. Beyfuss)

And, the envelope please…The winner is… “Cabiria!”


It’s been a night dominated by this name, and no wonder. As interesting and rewarding as it’s been to see all of the movies of 1914, “Cabiria” really is the one that stands the test of time. Its influence 100 years later is undeniable, and it remains an accessible, enjoyable view.

OK, that’s all folks! Have a good night and thanks for reading! Seriously, with the number of hits I got on this blog tonight, I feel like I won the award! Thank you all so much!

Best Director 1914

Even fifty years before the formalization of the “auteur theory,” directors were often given primacy of place in terms of the creation of film. Some might say that in these early days, before powerful studios had the ability to re-cut films or otherwise undermine directors, we can see auteurship in its purest form. On the other hand, one might argue that at this time, when no one was certain what the ultimate division of power might be, perhaps cinematographers or producers were more primary in the creation of a film.

There’s no denying, however, that the directors nominated for Century Awards this year were, one and all, dedicated artists with a vision for their movies as a whole, not mere employees turning out material on demand. D.W. Griffith may have been the very inventor of the idea of director-as-artiste, and “Judith of Bethulia” represented his success in an ongoing battle with Biograph Studios over the production of feature-length films. Like Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille was a born showman, who would promote himself as the premiere filmmaker of his day, and he got off to a strong start with his direction of “The Squaw Man.” Giovanni Pastrone was an innovator in Italian cinema, establishing that nation as a source of some of the most visually satisfying movies in all eras. Louis Feuillade was an amazingly prolific director from cinema’s first nation of France, whose movies range from light comedies to dark crime serials, and who wrote what may have been the first “manifesto” of the movies. Evgeni Bauer was an amazingly advanced filmmaker, who understood more about movement, sets, and lighting than many cinematographers of his day.

The nominees for best director of 1914 are:

  1. W. Griffith for Judith of Bethulia
  2. Cecil B. DeMille for The Squaw Man
  3. Giovanni Pastrone for Cabiria
  4. Louis Feuillade for Fantômas Contre Fantômas
  5. Evgeni Bauer for Silent Witnesses

And the winner is…Giovanni Pastrone for “Cabiria!”


This category is our most internationally representative, in terms of the nominees, and my choice reflects, to some degree, my admiration of Italian cinema, which I regard as the most consistently visually satisfying in the world. “Cabiria” demonstrated the director’s ability to not only tell a compelling story, but his commitment to producing it on a grand scale despite the challenges this would present for the actors. For 1914, he went above and beyond what anyone else attempted.

Best Lead Actress 1914

The concept of the “movie star” got underway toward the end of the Nickelodeon Era, in spite of studios like Biograph and Edison that forbade using actors’ names in any publicity or in “credits” attached to the film. But audiences had started to figure out which performers they liked, and to demand more of them, and more information about them as well. And even today there are names from the silent era that shine out among the first stars, many of whom went on to long and rewarding careers.

The women nominated for acting in 1914 are among the most recognizable names of the period. Blanche Sweet got her first shot at a lead role in a feature with “Judith of Bethulia,” while Pearl White will forever be remembered as the Queen of the Serials for “The Perils of Pauline.” Marie Dressler demonstrated remarkable comedic talent in the title role of “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” holding her own against comedy veterans Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand. Mary Pickford is probably one of the most recognizable names of the period, and her performance as the fabled “Cinderella” shows why. Finally, Beatriz Michelena is less well-remembered today (most of her films are lost), but she was no slouch as the first Latina movie star, and represents the strong woman of the West in “Salomy Jane.”

The nominees for best actress in a leading role for 1914 are:

  1. Blanche Sweet for Judith of Bethulia
  2. Pearl White for Perils of Pauline
  3. Marie Dressler for Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  4. Mary Pickford for Cinderella
  5. Beatriz Michelena for Salomy Jane

And the winner is…Marie Dressler for “Tillie’s Punctured Romance!”


As opposed to the male actors, where I was searching for a performance worthy of an award, this was a tough call because all of the nominated women were terrific. Ultimately, I went with Dressler because her performance is so different to what we expect from the generally young and vivacious actresses of the time. She plays broadly, but with remarkable timing, and shows herself to be one of the great comediennes of her generation.

Best Lead Actor 1914

Acting underwent a major transition during the silent period. When all performances had to be given on the stage, actors relied on their voices, and the ability to project clearly was often more important than to be able to emote subtly. The film camera made the actor’s voice a complete irrelevancy, what was important was to act with one’s face, one’s hands, indeed one’s entire body, which is why it was sometimes easier for slapstick comedians and acrobats to make the transition to the screen.

The actors chosen for 1914 Century Award nominations also generally had non-traditional backgrounds. Charlie Chaplin, whose role in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” was as a villainous seducer, had made his name doing funny drunk routines on vaudeville stages. Dustin Farnum’s work on the stage emphasized the Western roles he would become famous for in Hollywood, including “The Squaw Man.” Henry B. Walthall’s stage career had just gotten started after his release from the army when he was discovered by D.W. Griffith, who ultimately directed him in “The Avenging Conscience.” Stanley Hunt and Joe Goodboy were both Native Americans (or First Nations citizens), who happened upon filmmakers looking for “authentic” native people to use for their movies, “In the Land of the Head Hunters” and “Last of the Line.” Hunt would never appear in another film.

The nominees for best leading actor in 1914 are:

  1. Dustin Farnum for The Squaw Man
  2. Henry B. Walthall for The Avenging Conscience
  3. Stanley Hunt for In the Land of the Head Hunters
  4. Charlie Chaplin for Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  5. Joe Goodboy for Last of the Line

And the winner is…Joe Goodboy for “Last of the Line!”

 Joe Goodboy

In general, I was underwhelmed by the male actors of 1914, the beginnings of the star system notwithstanding. The women were, on the whole, more memorable. However, Joe Goodboy stood out to me as a man who brought considerable reality to his part and also was capable doing much more with less. Where other silent actors relied on broad gestures and obvious pantomime, Goodboy’s stoic face portrayed pain and determination through simpler expressions. He saved more visible gestures for moment of surprise or other times when the character’s guard would be down. His performance is remarkable, and deserves to be honored.

Best Supporting Actor 1914

Actors are artists, and the best of them hone their talents by trying out a multiplicity of roles. Some are best as leading men, but certain actors will take a seemingly “small” role and find a way to make a mark. Often this involves going beyond what is explicit in the screenplay and giving the character unexpected depth. When an actor finds a way to do this, he can be considered in the category of supporting actor.

In the year 1914, longer films and more complex storylines made for larger casts and gave more actors chances to do good supporting work. Lon Chaney (Sr.) gave one of his first memorable performances as the weaselly villain in “By the Sun’s Rays.” The hulking Bartolomeo Pagano created a powerful yet gentle giant named Maciste in “Cabiria.” Fatty Arbuckle seems to be tutoring Charlie Chaplin to be a funny drunk in “The Rounders,” while Charlie provided Fatty with critical support in “The Knockout.” Finally, Alec B. Francis was outstanding as the grouchy, rejecting father whose heart is won by his son’s fiancée.

The nominees for best supporting actor for 1914 are:

  1. Lon Chaney for By the Sun’s Rays
  2. Bartolomeo Pagano for Cabiria
  3. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for The Rounders
  4. Charlie Chaplin for The Knockout
  5. Alec B. Francis for The Wishing Ring

And the winner is…Bartolomeo Pagano for “Cabiria!”


Once again with “Cabiria,” there was never any serious doubt in my mind that this was the winner. Maciste became a tremendous international star and would be the hero of Italian movies for decades, with a particularly strong revival in the 1960s. Many of these movies were released in the US as “Hercules” movies, so in fact I would argue that all American films about Hercules (including last year’s video-game-like version) have been influenced by Pagano’s performance. Few actors are still influencing performances so directly after 100 years.

Best Supporting Actress 1914

For drama to truly work, there needs to be more than a leading man and a leading lady. They need antagonists, friends, family, and in general a world of people to make their narratives appear convincing, to give them challenges to work against and help in overcoming those challenges. When one of these “other people” is a woman, we refer to her role as a supporting actress, and when they break out of the limitations of their role and make it more than a stereotype or faceless prop, we consider them for this award.

1914 brought us a number of excellent performances by women in supporting roles. Mabel Normand had been on the Keystone scene for a while, but she had a chance to really shine as the villainous counterpart to Charlie Chaplin in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance.” Mae Marsh was one of D.W. Griffith’s favorites, and he gave her an important part as “The Little Mother” in “Judith of Bethulia” – representing, as it were the suffering of an entire people in her own person. Mildred Harris played a migrant transformed into a princess in “The Magic Cloak of Oz,” and in the similar fantasy “Cinderella” Inez Martel is the fairy godmother. Finally, Elsa Krueger brought sex appeal and a sense of amorality to her femme fatale role in “Silent Witnesses.”

The nominees for best supporting actress for 1914 are:

  1. Mabel Normand for Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  2. Mae Marsh for Judith of Bethulia
  3. Mildred Harris for Magic Cloak of Oz
  4. Inez Martel for Cinderella
  5. Elsa Krueger for Silent Witnesses

And the winner is… Elsa Krueger in “Silent Witnesses!”

 Elsa Krueger

All of the women nominated stood out to me in some way, but Elsa Krueger made the strongest impact, with relatively little screen time. She is both vivacious and ego-centric, and the way she treats the servant-heroine of the story as though she weren’t even there heightens the dramatic impact of the tragedy. Truly, she represents the “New Woman” in Russian garb, with the particular sense of class consciousness that country had in the mid-teens.

Best Screenplay 1914

Even in an era before spoken dialogue, the screenplay was a vital piece of creating a narrative film. Think of it as the architectural blueprint or the military battle plan that you need to have before embarking on a complex and potentially expensive endeavor. While some directors held their screenplays in their heads or kept them a secret, often getting actors to evoke the right mood required them to have something to read in preparation of their performances. These could be a simple listing of camera setups or a complete novelization of the storyline.

Since we don’t have access to these original documents, this award is to a large degree a measure of the effectiveness of the narrative as it appears on screen and in intertitles. “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” demonstrates an understanding of the “lost girl” narrative and brilliantly satirizes it, while “Silent Witnesses” gives us an original interpretation of that storyline that introduces class analysis to strengthen its case. The poetry of cinema reaches a new level with the words of Gabriele D’Annunzio for the intertitles of “Cabiria,”while the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe comes to life in “The Avenging Conscience.” Finally, a fascinating interpretation of the intersection between European and Native American culture is explored in the story to “The Squaw Man.”

The nominees for best screenplay for 1914 are:

  1. Tillie’s Punctured Romance (Hampton Del Ruth)
  2. Cabiria (Gabriele D’Annunzio)
  3. The Avenging Conscience (D.W. Griffith)
  4. The Squaw Man (Cecil B. DeMille & Oscar Apfel)
  5. Silent Witnesses (Aleksander Vosnesenski)

And the winner is… Gabriele D’Annunzio for “Cabiria!”


Apart from the excellent adventure story set in a time largely forgotten by modern people, the words of D’Annunzio added authenticity and lyricism to the experience of watching this film, which I’ve seen three or four times now, and never get tired of. Particularly for the pagan ritual scenes, D’Annunzio connects to an emotional level rarely used for text at this time. One of the few films that really seems to overcome silence to create dialogue, Cabiria was an easy choice for this category.

Best Visual Effects 1914

Almost as soon as motion picture cameras were being used, their operators discovered ways to use them to “trick the eye” into thinking it was seeing things otherwise impossible. Objects and people were made tiny or gigantic, or to appear and disappear by magic, or to float or fly. By 1914, the simple “trick films” of Georges Méliès would be old hat, yet filmmakers continued incorporating his techniques into their films and expanding on them, especially when the subject matter was given to fantasy, or included dream sequences.

The films nominated for Century Awards this year are, for the most part, examples of this subtle inclusion of special effects into a broader narrative. “Silent Witnesses” includes a novel use of the divided screen, to demonstrate two ends of a telephone conversation. “The Patchwork Girl of Oz” includes a number of magical sequences, including the original animation of the title character, people turned into statues, and a scene in which a table sets itself for the Magician. The movie “Cabiria” relies on mostly more prosaic storytelling, but does include scenes demonstrating the unearthly strength of Maciste, and the sacrifices to Mammon. The “Squaw Man” is an even more scrupulously realistic picture, but it does reproduce a fire at sea and the resulting sinking of a vessel. Finally, although the setup to “Gertie the Dinosaur” is shown in live-action, the rest of the film demonstrates Winsor McCay’s skill as an animator, the newest art of camera trickery, in which still drawings are given movement.

The nominees for best visual effects for 1914 are:

  1. Gertie the Dinosaur (Winsor McCay)
  2. Patchwork Girl of Oz (Will H. White)
  3. Cabiria (Eugenio Bava)
  4. The Squaw Man
  5. Silent Witnesses

And the winner is… “Gertie the Dinosaur!”


As opposed to the moving but unmotivated characters of 1912’s “Little Nemo” film, Gertie is imbued with both movement and personality, and unlike the simplistic drawings for “How a Mosquito Operates,” she is fully-fleshed and detailed. As a movie, the film only works when presented with McCay’s live narration, however the effect of the moving dinosaur is an undeniable advance in film technique. No doubt in future years animation will have its own category in the Century Awards, and this will be due largely to the pioneering work of Winsor McCay.

Best Cinematography 1914

Cinema is, ultimately, the art of using a motion picture camera. In the very early days, the cameraman was king of the movie set, the person who decided everything about what the audience would see. But, innovators like Georges Méliès put an end to that – in his case for the simple expedient of being in front of the camera. The division of labor had a practical side as well. Often, it made sense for someone with experience in acting to direct the actors, while the cinematographer took care of the technical and visual side of storytelling.

By 1914, directors and producers were generally credited with most of the “creative” side of filmmaking. Even Billy Bitzer, the genius behind most of D.W. Griffith’s films, said in his autobiography that he considered himself a craftsman and not an artist. Those familiar with “Judith of Bethulia,” the first feature these two collaborated on, may disagree. Where Bitzer gives us battle and drama, Segundo de Chomón gives us true spectacle in “Cabiria.” No one, including Griffith, ever forgot the creative use of tracking shots in that film. Alvin Wyckoff, working on “The Virginian,” on the other hand, produces a unique vision of the Old West in an era when not everyone had yet forgotten it. Working in Canada, Edmund August Schwinke tried to maintain a level of accuracy in portraying the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples for “In the Land of the Head Hunters.” And, last but not least, an unnamed camera operator (possibly Boris Zavelev) showed us a truly advanced vision of the cinema in “Silent Witnesses.”

The nominees for best cinematography for 1914 are:

  1. In the Land of the Head Hunters (Edmund August Schwinke)
  2. Cabiria (Segundo de Chomón)
  3. The Virginian (Alvin Wyckoff)
  4. Judith of Bethulia (G.W. “Billy” Bitzer)
  5. Silent Witnesses

And the winner is…the anonymous camerawork of “Silent Witnesses!”


This was another tough call, especially in light of the influential nature of “Cabiria” and the lasting fame of Billy Bitzer. But, as astounding as those tracking shots must have been in 1914, they don’t hold up all that well today, they seem to be somewhat random in their placement and duration, and Bitzer was also capable of better than he showed us in “Judith,” possibly being overwhelmed by the scale of the picture. I’ve said that “Silent Witnesses” isn’t my favorite Bauer, but even so, it feels ahead of its time when placed next to any of the others, at least in terms of camera positions and lighting.

Best Film Editing 1914

In the earliest days of film, action was performed in real-time, and no editing took place, but even the simple visual effects of Georges Méliès required in-camera editing by stopping and starting the camera at key moments. By 1914, narratives were created through multiple shots and structured by combining them to create meaning. Directors came to see that tension could be built by cutting away from action before its resolution, and audiences could be given information (for example through the use of a close up) to which the characters were not privy. And a complex situation, such as a battle, often could be better decoded by using multiple camera angles and cutting between them.

Each of the movies selected for this category demonstrate the height of editing at the time. “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” a rare feature-length comedy, uses editing between different camera set-ups to produce hilarity and mayhem. “The Avenging Conscience” inserts grim imagery into the storyline to effectively produce a feeling of dread. In “The Squaw Man,” a man is assassinated by a sniper while apparently killed in a gunfight, with the editing making this clear to the audience even though it is secret to nearly all participants. “The Massacre” demonstrates D.W. Griffith’s increasing mastery of the use of multiple camera angles in a bloody and chaotic battle scene. “The Last of the Line,” like both of the two previous films, also heightens the drama of a battle by showing the audience what the characters cannot know.

The nominations for best editing for 1914 are:

  1. Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  2. The Avenging Conscience (James Smith & Rose Smith)
  3. The Squaw Man (Mamie Wagner)
  4. The Massacre
  5. Last of the Line

And the winner is… “The Massacre!”


The editing in this short really stood out to me, even though it was actually completed more than a year before its release, demonstrating why Griffith is remembered as one of the masters of the early period of filmmaking. In addition to the battle itself, the tension is built through inter-cutting to the hero riding off to get help and the cavalry’s charge to the rescue. I didn’t see better editing in the entire year.