Bert Williams: Vaudeville Superstar

If you have even a passing interest in learning about vaudeville–that hugely influential form of entertainment that today’s pop culture wouldn’t be the same without–and indeed want to acquaint yourself with early stage shows in general, there’s one name in particular that you should know: Bert Williams.

Bert_Williams_blackface

Oh yes, I can sense you raising your eyebrows right now–Williams (who himself was black) is in that cringeworthy blackface makeup, white gloves and all. This was how he appeared on the stage, and how audiences recognized him. But this man was much more than a dated makeup–this was a performer who transcended a stock character appearance by his sheer talent and charisma, and became one of the most successful performers of his time. A performer so beloved, that after his sudden death in 1922 from pneumonia over 5,000 fans filed past his casket.  Continue reading

My Top 5 Favorite Silent Stars

Hola! I’ve been out of town for a awhile but am back just in time for the Five Stars Blogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe, celebrating National Classic Movie Day–my kind of holiday!

In true Silent-ology style, I decided to focus on my top 5 utmost favorites from the silent era, rather than film in general. So let’s count down to number 1: Continue reading

Silent Ireland: 5 Dramas From The Emerald Isle

I’m guessing that many of you have seen silent films from a number of countries, like Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, and possibly even Japan. But have you ever watched one from Ireland?

Image result for the lad from old ireland 1910

Sure and there are Irish silents, indade! And they captured snapshots of traditional rural life in Ireland several years before the famous Easter Rising. Thanks to Trinity College in Dublin, several Irish dramas are available for your viewing pleasure on their official YouTube channel. Continue reading

“The Butcher Boy” (1917) Turns 100 Today!

Image result for bk100 buster keaton

We made it, folks. THIS IS IT. Buster Keaton’s very first film–Roscoe Arbuckle’s fantastic The Butcher Boy (1917), distributed by Paramount Pictures–was released on this day 100 years ago. This is when his career in cinema truly began.

Roscoe butcher boy lobby card

Please enjoy this priceless rare lobby card that just popped up on Google out of nowhere.

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Book Review: “Like Any Other Monday” By Binnie Brennan

When I began writing book reviews I decided Silent-ology would be concentrated on nonfiction, with maybe a very rare exception for a well-written historical fiction novel. For one thing, silent fans are always seeking out nonfiction with good info about the era. Plus, I’m come to the sinking realization that I’m turning into one of those awful nitpickers who notices and actually kind of cares if a novel has some minor historical inaccuracies. (“It’s supposed to be 1917 and he just used a slang term that wasn’t popular until 1923? This shall not stand!“) It’s getting bad, folks.

But, as I said, there are those rare exceptions, and I dare say that Binnie Brennan’s Like Any Other Monday is one of them. Continue reading

Thoughts On: “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928)

Making most lists of the top ten greatest films ever made is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). And indeed, you suspect a spot had always been reserved for it. A critic from as far back as 1929 was moved to declare, “It makes worthy pictures of the past look like tinsel shams.”

Passion of Joan of Arc

Those unacquainted with The Passion might not be prepared for it. It doesn’t lead you from plot point to plot point, but throws you into an experience. It’s intensely, harshly realistic, but within a mildly expressionistic setting. We’re meant to contemplate Joan’s ordeal, linked thematically with the most widely contemplated ordeal in history. A critic I admire said it best: “I know of movies more theologically profound or more pious, but none more evocative of what it means to share the sufferings of Christ.” Continue reading

“Splashes of Fun and Beauty”–Sennett’s Famous Bathing Beauties

Being in the midst of preparing an article for the upcoming issue of The Silent Film Quarterly (have I mentioned that I have a column there now? No? Oh. Well, I do), I decided to do a repost of one of my favorite 2015 articles. It was written especially for Keystone Month, and was a lot of fun to write. Hope you enjoy!

Silent-ology

If you’re ever having an earnest discussion about silent comedy (and who wouldn’t), there are a few topics that will often bring out a smile: fake mustaches, cream pies, satirical twirling of said fake mustaches, the Ton of Fun. And there’s one topic that always seems to make people smile: Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties.

Bathing beauties

Once considered mildly risquébut now considered surprisingly innocent, the playful, perky, mischievous girls popped up in Sennett’s comedies time and time again. Admittedly the plots would sometimes screech to a halt just for them, but at least half of the theater audiences were too appreciative to mind.

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Thoughts On: “A Trip To The Moon” (1902)

You knew this one was coming! This is the final post for Méliès Month–I hope you enjoyed this extended tribute to one of the essential pioneers of the cinema!

Upward mount then! clearer, milder,

Robed in splendour far more bright!
Though my heart with grief throbs wilder,

Fraught with rapture is the night!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “To the Rising Full Moon,” 1828

For thousands of years mankind has gazed at the moon. Deities have been associated with it. We’ve written about it in poems and books, mentioned it in songs and plays, and painted and sculpted its likeness.

So perhaps it’s fitting that one of the earliest milestones of a brand-new artform should feature the elusive moon that’s so haunted our imaginations–a craggy, blinking, papier mache variety with seriously wicked eyebrows, that is.

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