#41 Modern Times

Watched: September 17 2016

Director:  Charles Chaplin

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard

Year: 1936

Runtime: 1h 27min

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Modern Times is Charlie Chaplin’s comment on the Great Depression and the struggles of modern society, and he is clear in his condemnation of the eradication of humanity within the capitalist ideals of modern industrialisation.

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Political, yet adorable

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The Tramp has got a job working in a factory straight out of Metropolis, and spends his time turning screws on an assembly line to maximise efficiency. After his boss tries out a new “feeding machine” on him (to reduce break time and thereby increase production), he finally snaps and has a mental breakdown.

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We’re not entirely clear on how this would increase efficiency, but it’s a great scene.

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To his credit, Chaplin has the most adorable mental breakdowns. A lot of dancing is involved

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After being advised to “take it easy and avoid excitement,” he inadvertently leads a worker demonstration and is arrested. In prison, he gets high on cocaine (again, without really realising it) and stops a mass breakout, earning him a position as the jailers’ pet.

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The prize for helping terminate a prison break: tea with this charming lady!

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He gets out of jail against his will (in prison, he is given food and clothes, which is quite a high quality of life during the depression) and immediately starts trying to find ways in which to get back in. He finds his opportunity when a young girl is caught stealing a loaf of bread, and he takes the fall for her.

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Cue depression era romance/father-daughter relationship/friendship or similar

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The girl (Goddard) and the Tramp spend the remainder of the film trying to make a life for themselves, working as singing and dancing waiters in a café while doing their best to keep her out of the claws of something equivalent to Child Protective Services (which is where her siblings went after their father died). There are many complications, and some wonderful scenes (including an amazing skating bit in a shopping centre) but the two of them manage to be quite happy together even though their lives are unstable at best.

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They find that life is still worthwhile if they just smile

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Modern Times is a beautiful and melancholy film which we really enjoyed. We loved the girl and her feisty and proactive personality, and the Tramp, though a hazard and fairly egocentric, was charming and funny. It was also interesting to go back to silent films after so many talkies, where everything spoken was recorded, broadcast through a machine or sung. One of our favourite Chaplin films for sure!

What we learned: once younger siblings are removed from your life, you never spare them another thought.

Next time: The Awful Truth (1937)

#14 City Lights

Watched: August 12 2016

Director: Charles Chaplin

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill

Year: 1931

Runtime: 1h

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And we’re back to silent films. This time a tramp, a blind flower girl and a suicidal millionaire point out the vast differences between the rich and the poor. There’s also some very aggressive twirling on a dance floor and a well choreographed boxing match.

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“I just want some human contact…”

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City Lights is not as devastating as The Gold Rush (as in we didn’t have to take breaks to cry our eyes out), but it has some of the same melancholy and a certain sense of despondency.

The Tramp meets a beautiful, blind flower girl and (at first inadvertently, then knowingly) tricks her into thinking he is rich. He also befriends a millionaire by stopping him drowning himself and thus gets the means to woo her (note to self: be on the lookout for suicidal millionaires).

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“Yes, miss, I’m totes rich!”

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Unfortunately, each time the millionaire sobers up he forgets all about the Tramp, so his income is sporadic at best. Still, all our favourite scenes were with the two of them including the aforementioned aggressive dancing.

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“Everyone’s about to get served!”

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We kind of preferred the Tramp when he was a prospector, probably because this time he tricks the blind girl into thinking he’s something he’s not. He is still funny and sweet though, and he means well. After reading an article about sight-restoring surgery, he decides to get a job and help out the flower girl. Hence the boxing match (as well as an actual job as a street sweeper, but that is less well choreographed..).

There’s slapstick, lots of physical comedy and everything else you’d expect from Chaplin, including a soundtrack composed by him which works really well with the visual. The ending is slightly ambivalent so feel free to interpret that as you wish. An enjoyable watch, but not as wonderful as some of the other films we’ve seen for this project. However, given the awesomeness of the list, it’s still miles better than most films in the world.

Things we learned: drunk friends aren’t real friends. Unless you get them drunk again.

Next time: Dracula (1931) (Oboy, oboy, oboy!)

#11 Un Chien Andalou

Watched: August 10 2016

Directors: Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dalí

Starring: Simone Mareuil, Pierre Batcheff

Year: 1929

Runtime: 16 minutes

Note: Only one sister watched the whole film. Explanation will follow.

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Holy mindfuck, Batman! Un Chien Andalou is a surrealist short film made by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, and as such, you know you’re in for something a bit different. Two seconds in I, the oldest sister, realised I had seen it before, and then I remembered. There’s eye-stuff. Now, none of us is a stranger to gore (in fact, we often revel in it), but… I don’t like stuff involving eyes. I am never prepared for eye-stuff. I can’t even wear contact lenses because I’m scared of touching my own eyes.

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If this freaks you out, do NOT do an image search for this film. Or watch it. It gets worse.

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The Younger Sister couldn’t even keep watching after the first minute (which is where the eye-stuff is) but Sister the Older kept going (despite my phobia). And apart from the scene with the razor blade and the eye it’s an enjoyable watch. Grotesque, absurd and surreal things are strangely attractive, and this film checks all those boxes.

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Ants crawling out of a hand is nothing. Eye-stuff, however…

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Un Chien Andalou is pretty much indescribable, so I won’t even try. Rather, you can watch the whole film here. But be warned: there’s some gory eye-stuff. And no actual dog.

Next time: Animal Crackers (1930)

#10 The Passion of Joan of Arc

Watched: August 10 2016

Director: Carl Th. Dreyer

Starring: Maria Falconetti

Year: 1928

Runtime: 1h 22 min (though other versions exist)

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After several comedies (and other uplifting films) in a row, the time had come for something more disturbing. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (original title – check out our French skills!) tells the story of the trial and (spoiler alert!) execution of Joan of Arc. It was believed to be a lost masterpiece for many years until a copy was found in 1981, and check out where:

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Ah! Norwegian mental institutions. Sources of lost art, every last one of them!

The film is a disturbing display of the time-honoured tradition of men standing in judgment of women. Joan, aged 19, is tried for heresy by the church after leading French troops by order from, according to her, God. The judges use torture and extortion to make her confess and lecherous guards ridicule and tease her, but she does not break. While a few of the judges are sympathetic and kindly towards her, most of them are treacherous and very “unchristian” indeed.

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“What do you mean this hairdo makes me look demonic? I’m a fucking priest!”

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Joan is played by Maria Falconetti who gives an outstanding performance. It is worth watching the film for her alone (as well as the gorgeous lighting). Whether Joan was a saint or just a mentally ill teenager is never made clear, but that is not really important. The villains are the priests and judges either way with their lust for power and fear of anything that might take some of that power away. And their fear and hatred destroy something beautiful and innocent.

This was a disturbing watch (whisky had to be brought out at one point), but well worthwhile. However, is this really what they used to show mentally ill Norwegians? I think we just discovered the origins of black metal.

Next time: Un Chien Andalou (1929)

 

#9 The Cameraman

Watched: August 9 2016

Directors: Edward Sedgwick & Buster Keaton

Starring: Buster Keaton

Year: 1928

Runtime: 1h 09min

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In this rollercoaster ride, the exquisite Buster Keaton portrays a slightly creepy hair-sniffing tintype photographer who falls instantly in love with a charming young lady played by the beautiful Marceline Day. He finds out that she works for MGM News Reel and promptly decides to get a job there as a cameraman. Which is kind of stalkery, but he is so nonthreatening that he gets away with it. He is also adorably uncoordinated with the camera, and slapstick ensues.

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“Which emotion am I conveying now?”

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The characters are very likable. Probably for the first time (in terms of films we’ve watched for this project), the hero has fallen for a lady worth making good for. Sally is sweet and kind, and she tries to help him and give him advice when he accidentally double exposes all of his footage. She does not seem to care that he has very little money, and she appears to genuinely enjoy his company. No wonder, considering all the other douches creeping on her. At least Buster can do magic tricks!

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“Where did my coin go now, do you think?”

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The physical comedy is this film is wonderful. There’s an amazing one-man baseball scene, a hilarious stair-running bit, a brilliant scene on a bus and a very enjoyable running gag with a police officer. As well as a delightful scene in a dressing room, which I’m sure we would have enjoyed even if he didn’t get undressed…

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Oh, what is this picture doing here? Must have snuck in by mistake

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This is the one I meant to post. With the distinctly non-sexy swimwear. Yes, that’s the one

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Among its many merits, The Camerman has a shoot out scene which rivals that of Spaced (1999-2001), and there’s a bit with a monkey. It is considered by many Keaton’s last masterpiece as he lost creative control of his movies around this time and eventually descended into alcoholism. Which is not funny. But the film is. So if, like us, you have developed a major crush on Buster Keaton, this is a definite must-see.

Next time: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

#8 Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Watched: August 3 2016

Directors: Charles Reisner & Buster Keaton

Starring: Buster Keaton

Year: 1928

Runtime: 1h 10min

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Only the second Buster Keaton film and we’re already in love. He is so incredibly physically gifted, and when you combine that with his stony face you cannot avoid falling for him.

The plot is not overly complicated, but it works. A boat captain, Steamboat Bill, is being forced out of the business by a mogul named King(!). Simultaneously, the captain’s estranged son, the eponymous hero, is coming to see him for the first time since he was a baby (the son that is – not the father). Bill, Jr. is nothing like his father pictured or wanted which leads to one of the best make-over scenes in history.

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“Again, behold my happy face!”

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Bill Jr.’s relationship with King’s daughter is also a source of discord between father and son. They have a kind of Romeo and Juliet-thing going on except with more slapstick and less murder and suicide.

If you ever need an excuse to watch Buster Keaton being awesome this is it (not that anyone needs an excuse). The main part of the film is just him doing spectacular stunts and showing off his (pre-B-Boy) power moves. It’s hilarious and awe-inspiring, and you can watch the whole thing here. It’s also educational; among other things we have now learned that coconut shells were the legos of the 1920s (in terms of damage to bare feet). If you need further prompting, Steamboat Bill, Jr. includes one of Keaton’s most memorable moments; the house falling-scene.

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Watch it, laugh, enjoy, fall in love.

Next time: The Cameraman (1928) (Yay! More Keaton!)

#7 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Watched: August 3 2016

Director: F.W. Murnau

Starring: George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor

Year: 1927

Runtime: 1h 34min

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Warning: This film will toy with your emotions.

This was a new one for us. In a small town, a farmer is having an affair with a woman (read: femme fatale) who’s on vacation. Naturally, she suggests he kills his wife, sells his farm and goes to live with her in the big city. She has the whole plan worked out to the smallest detail, and he goes along with it.

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“Scary ghost mistress lady made me do it. Honest!”

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The farmer’s wife knows about the affair (and is sad yet extremely passive about the whole thing) but when he suggests a boat ride, she seems to think that everything is fine once more. She is, of course, wrong (and naive – even the dog knows what’s up!). Once in the water, the husband attempts to go through with his diabolical plan. However, he cannot do it, and rows them to shore, where she promptly runs away (good girl!) and he chases after her.

Considering trying to murder your spouse will put a strain on any marriage, they deal with it in the best way possible: cake! Also flowers, wedding crashing, photography and dancing. And this is what I meant by saying it will toy with your emotions. The thing is, what he has done is despicable and unforgivable. Yet, the two of them are so sweet and adorable running around the city, drinking wine, dancing, chasing pigs and trying to put a head on a Venus de Milo statue, you end up wanting them to live happily ever after!

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Nothing like attempted murder to spice up a marriage!

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I suppose he realises that it was the lure of the exciting city that attracted him rather than the mistress or something to that effect, because he ends up doing everything the mistress talked about with his wife instead. And they’re adorable, which they have no right to be after what he almost did.

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“Hah! Remember that time you tried to murder me?”

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Now, the film doesn’t end here, but we don’t want to spoil the ending for you. It is worth watching in full, and you can easily find it on Youtube.

The film is beautifully shot with great use of light and darkness (which of course is very symbolic throughout). The wife is completely adorable (though annoyingly passive in the beginning), but the husband we’re not too sure about. The title suggests their humanity and that we shouldn’t judge them too harshly so we won’t. (It also suggests that the mistress is somehow less than human as she is clearly part of the story but it only involves two humans.) Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is still a bit of a feelgood movie and worth watching for the photography scene alone. Or the dog. Whatever rubs your Buddha.

Next time: Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

#6 Metropolis

Watched: August 2 2016

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm

Year: 1927

Runtime: 2h 33min (but it flies by – trust us!)

Metropolis

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Another classic we’ve seen before (also the second film so far that we actually own on DVD), but it’s been years and this is definitely a masterpiece worth rewatching. It’s a sort of dystopian biblical apocalypse story which follows this old, worn-out narrative:

Boy sees girl; boy follows girl; boy finds out father is an evil tyrant; boy goes undercover among the oppressed; boy presents as Messiah to girl; girl is replaced by evil robot; evil robot instigates murder and riot; girl tries to save the children; girl is accused of being a witch; and you know how this all goes. If you don’t, we don’t want to spoil it for you. Yes, the film is almost 90 years old, but a lot of people have not seen it and they should!

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Nothing could possibly go wrong if you build a huge tower and call it “The New Tower of Babel”

This is a stunning piece of cinema in every sense. It is epic in scope, beautifully shot, superbly acted, has amazing choreography (especially the sequence with the workers in the beginning) and incredible visual effects.

Much of the film seems an obvious source of inspiration for other works, and there are naturally many biblical allusions; to Babylon, the Great Flood, the seven cardinal sins, the Golden Calf and the Tower of Babel in particular.

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“What is this? A Tower of Babel for ANTS? It needs to be at least three times bigger!”

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One can spend months analysing this film, and perhaps one should, but we still have at least 994 films to go (damn you, fluctuating list!) so we’re going to have to wrap this up. If you haven’t seen this film, you should. Go watch it right now! It’s on YouTube – you have no excuse.

Next time: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

#5 The General

Watched: August 1 2016

Director: Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman

Starring: Buster Keaton

Year: 1926

Runtime: 1h 15min

The General

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After the soulshattering experience of watching a penniless prospector becoming a multi-millionaire and getting together with the woman he loves in The Gold Rush, we needed something heartwarming to lift our spirits. What better then, than a comedy about a train engineer working against the odds to become a lieutenant in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War!

Buster Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, a train engineer who tries to join the Confederate Army during the Civil War but is rejected. His girlfriend, whose brother and father both enlist, believes him a coward and breaks up with him. A year later he gets the chance to prove himself when Union soldiers highjack a train and inadvertently kidnap Gray’s now ex-girlfriend. He follows them, finds out about the Union Army’s plans, rescues his girl and highjacks another train to get back and warn of the oncoming attack.

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Look at the happy couple!

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The stunts and train sequences in this film are spectacular, and the main character is likeable. Even the girlfriend isn’t completely useless, which was a nice departure from some of the other films we’ve watched so far. Also Buster Keaton has the best face ever in show business.

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“I present to you: a picture of my happy face”

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“And this is my sad face”

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The General is funny, beautifully shot in places (such as when he sits on the side of the train and it starts running), and it has some amazing comedic and dramatic scenes on the moving train. Never has rooting for the Confederate Army been more fun!

Next time: Metropolis (1927)

#4 The Gold Rush

Watched: August 1 2016

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Georgia Hale

Year: 1925

Runtime: 1h 35min

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“At least I’m properly dressed!”

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We continue our epic quest through the silent film era with The Gold Rush (a.k.a. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG??? Until someone can prove otherwise, we’re just going to assume it did a White Fang and found a lovely pack of wolves to hang with and lived happily ever after). This Charlie Chaplin classic deals with lighthearted themes such as poverty, betrayal, murder, potential cannibalism and bullying while incorporating plenty of humour, his signature physical comedy and a (probably disastrous) romance. It also has the best bear fight scene since (or I suppose before?) The Revenant (2015).

Chaplin’s the Tramp is a lone prospector during the gold rush when he gets caught up in a snow storm. He finds a cabin which is inhabited by a wanted criminal and the two of them, together with another prospector and the aforementioned dog, all try to ride out the storm. Lack of food leads to the criminal (and the dog) going out looking for supplies and also to the famous shoe-eating scene. We never see the dog again…

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Yummy yummy shoe shoe

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The Tramp survives the ordeal only to give up on the whole gold-finding-thing and retire to a nearby gold boom town where he meets bitchy dance hall girl Georgia and her rapey douchebag boyfriend, Jack. He of course falls in love with Georgia (despite her making fun of him and treating him like crap) and tries his best to woo her. Which takes us to the part where my sister and I both had a mental breakdown.

Bitchy Georgia and her even bitchier friends tell the Tramp that they will come for New Years dinner. He works and works to make the dinner perfect, but they never show up as they are busy laughing about him at the big party in the dance hall (which he could have gone to as well had they not lied to him). Just in case this didn’t inform the audience of just how worthless these people are, they then proceed to go over to his place to mock him even further. At this point we needed to take a break until we had stopped crying.

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Pass me the kleenex. The single saddest image in the world.

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Let me tell you about our childhood trauma. When we were young there was a sort of comedy show on NRK (Norwegian TV) every Friday called Go ‘Elg. In every episode there was a segment where they would show names of viewers whose birthday it was, and during this there was a video with a song where an old lady is celebrating her birthday and one by one her friends and family members call her to tell her they cannot make it. Now, the old lady was the male host in drag which was supposed to be funny, but this did not take away from the fact that this was the saddest video ever shown on television! Every Friday, around 17:30, we would sit in our living room and cry about this fictional old lady’s sad, sad birthday. The memory has never left us. This may be relevant to our reaction at this point in the film.

Anyway, once we were ready to return, things were looking up. Georgia did redeem herself a bit by seeming genuinely sorry about what they had done to the Tramp, and he himself stumbled on some good luck. Watch the film to see what we mean. But bring kleenex. Yes, it’s a comedy in many ways, but there is a sadness and melancholy to it which you cannot escape. It is well worth your time, though. And I’m sure the dog is living a happy life somewhere.

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Who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy!

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Next time: The General (1926)

PS. I haven’t read White Fang (1906) for over twenty years, but didn’t he go off and join a wolf pack..? I’m going to assume he did.