Obscure Films: “The Avenging Conscience” (1914)

In 1914, horror wasn’t a recognized movie genre. Yes, there were films with macabre elements (like those strange, ancient special effects excursions by de Chomon and Melies), and you had your usual dark mysteries and thrillers (often in serial form). But the idea of being an enthusiast of “horror films” wouldn’t enter the public lexicon for quite a few years.

So in order to find the ancestors of Frankenstein, (1931) and The Haunting (1963), we have to weigh our options. The 1910 Frankenstein certainly counts, yes? And something like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) does, obviously. What about the serial Les Vampires (1915), with that one famous still? Or something off the beaten track, like Charley Bowers’s surreal short There It is (1926) or Max Linder’s Au Secours! (1924)?

One film that’s an obvious candidate is The Avenging Conscience, or Thou Shalt Not Kill (1914), D.W. Griffith’s Poe-infused drama containing visions of leaping demons and fake skeletons. I know I prefer watching it around Halloween.

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Who Was Gustav Von Wangenheim?

Nosferatu (1922) fans such as myself (and, hopefully, yourself) are highly aware of its iconic status, its gothic cinematography, and its limitless ways to inspire today’s filmmakers. It may not be as jump-out-of-your-seat scary as some later horror films, but we highly appreciate how it broke ground and managed to create a beautifully haunting atmosphere.

Oh, and we’re also well aware of this guy:

Gustav von Wangenheim | Explore Tumblr Posts and Blogs | Tumgir
Yup, that guy.

This acquired taste in human form is Gustav von Wangenheim, the source of a few unintentional chuckles in the early scenes of the movie. But maybe that’s a little harsh. As I wrote in my Nosferatu review, Gustav’s babyface and habit of laughing just a little too long actually make his later scenes with Count Orlok pretty effective–if a character that happy-go-lucky starts getting scared, it must be for a good reason.

Gustav von Wangenheim - Classic Monsters

In fact, his acting left enough of an impression that I decided to take a closer look at this young actor. How did he come to star in Nosferatu, and what happened to him thereafter?

Let’s just say his story…threw me for a loop.

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A Public Service Announcement About Silent Era Vampires

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: It has come to our attention that many in the classic film community–of which the silent film community is a small yet passionate subset–have been somewhat misinformed about a particular character trope of the early 20th century.

Namely, that upon viewing certain 1920s films with the promise of having “vampires” in their plots, the said movie watching experiences don’t appear to reveal any bloodsucking, cape-wearing, pasty-faced monsters from the grave.

Image result for musidora les vampires
Well, okay, the actors were pasty-faced.

This prompts various IMDb reviews to say: “So there’s definitely no vampires in this movie…” or, “The gal in this film was a piece of work, but definitely not a vampire.”

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Wishing Buster A Happy 125th Birthday!

Today I wanted to recognize a milestone birthday for certain beloved comedian–Joseph Frank Keaton, our Buster. (Aside from designing a special Zombie Buster for our Halloween header image. He’d be very grateful, I’m sure.) Today would be his *drumroll* 125th birthday!

RP_05062018_ElOtroYoNoElOtro (1) - Radio Pedal
Not sure who originally made this image, but I love it!

Being a BK Superfan and all, I’ve written a sizable amount on his life and work already, so just for your reading pleasure, let’s bust out a good old-fashioned blog post roundup!

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Thoughts On: “Haunted Spooks” (1920)

Ah, the haunted house. The sheer imaginative possibilities of an old, creepy, atmospheric mansion/castle/farmhouse have made it irresistible to many filmmakers. In fact, it’s been showing up since very dawn of film, thanks to its limitless possibilities for tinkering with primitive special effects. At last, ghosts could disappear and reappear before our very eyes–or turn into bats or skeletons at a director’s whim.

Skits and plays about haunted houses weren’t uncommon on 19th century and early 20th century stages, and amusement park haunted houses apparently existed at least since the 1900s. It’s not surprising, then, that they were destined to become fertile ground for comedy gags.

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How CGI Can Convert People To Silent Films

It was towards the end of Aquaman (2019), where a stunning underwater battle full of glowing aquatic kingdoms and zapping weapons and vast crab armies and armored sharks ended with the superhero commanding the most enormous sea beastie ever while standing triumphantly on its head (seriously, the only thing missing was him whipping out an electric guitar), when it occurred to me that CGI had entered its Baroque period.

Thất Hải Chi Vương Aquaman: Hành trình từ chàng thanh niên bị coi thường  tới Bá chủ biển cả
I mean, dang.

Generally speaking, we live in a remarkable era of special effects, don’t we? Anything we can imagine, no matter how epic or “out there,” can be brought to life onscreen. Mythical creatures, gorgeous landscapes, alien cities, giant robots, ancient gods, dinosaurs…the sky’s the limit if you have the right team of artists and animators. It’s no exaggeration to say that the scope of our creative abilities is something unprecedented in human history.

The Best CGI Characters in Movie History
Image credit: Screen Crush

So naturally, while being faced with jaw-dropping visions the likes of which no human eye hast heretofore seen, we complain about how there’s too much CGI. If we comment on it at all, that is–it’s not a given the way it used to be.

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Fan Magazine Fun: “Them Were The Happy Days”

Good heavens, it’s been awhile since I published a new post. The reason? It’s a little boring, actually–I had two articles for Elsewhere due on the exact same day, so the research/writing for that ate up all my time. But the good news is, during that research/writing process I found a little gem from a 1926 Motion Picture Classic that you guys might get a kick out of. It’s an article called “Them Were the Happy Days,” described as “The first of a series of articles about the pioneer days of the motion picture–before it became a highly specialized industry.”

Them Happy Days 1

Now, keep in mind, these are reminisces about films that were made a little over a decade prior (the author keeps mentioning “1910,” but his stories seem to come from about 1910-1915). It’s like us reminiscing about the dear, old, long-forgotten days of The Dark Knight and Gran Torino. Continue reading

One Of The Unsung–A Nod To Bit Player Joe Bordeaux

While I’d originally hoped to put out two more posts, this is going to be the last one for Forgotten Comedians Month 2–it needed a bit more care. I hope you enjoyed following along! It was fun to have a “round two” of this theme month, so maybe it could become a recurring series…? I’d be down, just sayin’!

If you’ve been lurking around Silent-ology for awhile, you might’ve found my little bio for an apparently random bit player named Joe Bordeaux (sometimes spelled “Bordeau”). Why did I decide to write about this obscure person? Well, there’s a story involved. And a quasi-drinking game, of my own invention. I’ll explain.

Thoughts On: “His Wedding Night” And “Oh Doctor!” | Silent-ology

Pictured in cop garb on the far left: our subject.

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The Lively Al St. John: An Appreciation

Have you ever had an actor who grew on you? Someone you really didn’t care for at first, but who finally won you over? For me, it was a comedian you may or may not have heard of: Al St. John, nephew of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and a key player at the legendary Keystone Film Company.

Why didn’t I care for him? Well…

The Waiters' Ball (1916) - FATTY ARBUCKLE & BUSTER KEATON - YouTube

Let’s just say he was a little much. But only at first! …Let’s take a look. Continue reading