Book Review: “The Silent Films of Marion Davies” By Edward Lorusso

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For decades, silent star Marion Davies was known mainly for two things: for being the mistress of uber-powerful newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and for supposedly being the inspiration for the untalented Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane. Well, the latter isn’t true–Susan was based on the wife of a different uber-powerful magnate (as Orson Welles himself finally revealed). And as for the former, while Marion was certainly part of a faithful “arrangement” with Hearst right up until his death, it didn’t define her. A look at her films proves that she was a warm, hardworking, immensely talented woman who likely had the charisma to make a name for herself in Hollywood without Hearst’s help. (I’d say she was mighty lucky to have him on her team, but she was already working on her acting career before he swooped in with 5-gallon buckets of money.)

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Fan Magazine Fun: “If I Were a Man…”

1920s fan magazines are an endless source of trivia, fun anecdotes, touches of serious journalism, and of course, oodles of fluff pieces. Take the following irresistible article from Picture-Play Magazine, from the March 1927 issue:

If I Were a Man 1

Here’s the headline on the opposite page (as you can see, the article was compiled by Dorothy……………Wooldridge):

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A bunch of actors and actresses were asked what annoyed them about the opposite sex the most–and who knows if they were asked personally, or if their publicists responded. Either way, some of the answers are most amusingly 1920s.  Continue reading

A Halloween Post Roundup!

Happy Hallowe’en, everyone!

This wonderful illustration is from Dennison’s Bogie Book, a book of Halloween decoration and party ideas that seems to have been published every year, with updates I presume. This comes from the 1925 edition–isn’t it priceless? Here’s another  illustration:

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To celebrate this spooky holiday, here’s a roundup of all my Halloween-inspired posts from the past. Counting my posts from this month, this includes the films: Continue reading

Obscure Films: “Genuine: A Tale Of A Vampire” (1920)

Man, I couldn’t help cringing while writing the title of this post–because from that alone, this film sounds so cool. This is a vampire tale? From the year 1920? And it’s a German Expressionist film, you say? By Robert Wiene, the director of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, you say?! This must be a forgotten gem!! An obscure work of genius, just begging to be rediscovered by eager new audiences and then extolled as one of the unsung masterpieces of early experimental cinema!!

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HOLY FREAKIN’ HARRY LANGDON, LOOK AT THAT ART DESIGN!!

Well, I’m here to confirm that it’s………..not. It’s just not. It’s not any of those things. Well, okay, it is a German Expressionist film from 1920 directed by Robert Wiene, but a cinematic masterpiece? Oh good heavens, no.
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“Make Next Halloween Sane!” How 1920s Theater Owners Helped Curb Kids’ Vandalism

Now here’s an interesting peek into the history of this ghoulish time of the year. We take it for granted that “Halloween” = kids dressing up in costumes and going trick or treating. But for kids back during the silent era, Halloween (or Hallowe’en, if you like old-timey spellings as much as I do) had far more emphasis on the “trick” than the “treat.”

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As well as the “terrifying.”

Trick-or-treating, descended from the “guising” tradition from Scotland and Ireland, didn’t become common until the 1930s. Before that, kids would still dress in costumes, but usually for Hallowe’en parties. And…mischief making.

This mischief often involved harmless pranks like soaping shop windows or more annoying feats like toppling people’s outhouses or opening gates to let out farmers’ cows. But some “goblins” took advantage of the night to vandalize peoples’ property, sometimes causing serious damage. Continue reading

A Mesmerizing Talent: The Life And Career Of Conrad Veidt

“I only fell in love once with a movie actor. It was Conrad Veidt. His magnetism and his personality got me. His voice and gestures fascinated me. I hated him, feared him, loved him. When he died it seemed to me that a vital part of my imagination died too, and my world of dreams was bare.”

Quoted from one of the documents compiled in British Cinemas and Their Audiences by J.P. Mayer. 

He had a lean, chiseled face that could’ve belonged to a regal nobleman, a sickly poet, or a sinister villain. His blue eyes could burn with the fury of a madman, or grow wide and distant as if trying to forget terrible secrets. But they could become warm and friendly too, especially if you were chatting with this tall, distinguished man about his greatest passion: dramatic acting. “I must have the dramatic, the ecstatic,” he told an interviewer in 1928, “something with great mental force.”

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Known today for such horror classics as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Man Who Laughs, Hans Walter Conrad Veidt (nicknamed “Connie”) came from a quiet and sensible background. Continue reading

Win A Copy Of “London Symphony” (2017), A Silent Film For The 21st Century!

UPDATE 10/18/17: The winner of the drawing (conducted by me literally writing names on paper strips and putting them in my ’20s-style cloche hat) is MovieMovieBlogBlog! Congratulations–we will be in touch. 🙂 

The latest Halloween-flavored post is on the way, folks–here’s a clue:

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Hmm, not quite, but you’re close! In the meantime, here’s the latest giveaway I’m hosting, which involves a particularly inspired project.

A few years ago an independent filmmaker named Alex Barrett contacted me about a silent film he was making. He described it as a modern-day “city symphony,” the genre of documentary from the 1920s that created artistic portraits of cities such as Berlin. This time, however, the subject would be the great city of London, which had never been given a “city symphony” of its own (and which happens one of my very favorite places to visit, as countless others would agree!). I thought it sounded like an excellent project, and I agreed to help spread the news about its crowdfunding campaign.

Well, several years and 300 London filming locations later, and with the support of such notables as Kevin Brownlow, BFI and the Toronto Silent Film Festival, Barrett’s project is complete! His film’s been screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017 (and was nominated for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film!), is currently being shown in select cinemas around the world, and just yesterday was released as a region-free MOD by the venerable Flicker Alley (a distributor I probably couldn’t live without–where else am I going to get beautiful copies of True Heart Susie and Tol’able David?) Continue reading

Thoughts On: Keaton’s “The Haunted House” (1921)

Not only was yesterday Buster’s birthday, but this weekend I’ll be heading to Muskegon, Michigan for the official Damfino convention! This will be my very first time at this event (I’m giving a presentation too, so wish me luck!). Thus, it only seemed fitting to start out this Halloween month with one of Buster’s more well-known shorts.

There seemed to be certain plots and tropes that all silent comedians tried out in turn. Everyone did food preparation gags, everyone went to the beach, everyone (everyone) from Harry Langdon to Chaplin himself showed up as a white-clad street cleaner at some point. In 1921, it was Buster Keaton’s turn to try his hand at the familiar gag-rich setting of The Spooky Haunted House.

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Do We Pre-Judge Mary Pickford?

Not too long ago I read some delightful Facebook comments by a teacher who was talking about how she occasionally showed silent films to her high school class (I think it was high school….maybe it was middle school…hmm…anyways.). She shared a funny story about the way her students reacted to a viewing of One Week (no one saw that last gag coming!) and mentioned a couple other silent stars her class had really liked.

But the one star she couldn’t quite talk them into watching? Mary Pickford. Apparently, they were a little leery to take that step.

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Way too intimidating.

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