Happy New Year’s, everyone! It’s a day to celebrate, preferably Lilian Harvey-style:
And as usual, it’s time to look back on the various silent-related film discoveries, DVD and book releases, and other noteworthy events from the past twelve months. I keep a running list of film news all throughout the year, so hopefully this “year in review” post is pretty thorough. But if I managed to miss anything important, please let me know in the comments! (And remember that it needs to be an event/discovery/release from 2018 specifically.)
Without further ado, let’s get started:
Discoveries and Restorations
In January the Frisian Film Archive in the Netherlands announced their discovery of missing fragments from the Stan Laurel short Detained (1924). It was found by employee Jurjen Enzing during an inventory of nitrate films, part of a preparation for a digitisation project.
In March the discovery of nine minutes of footage of San Francisco, shot two weeks after the 1906 earthquake, was announced. The nitrate film reel was discovered at San Francisco’s Alemany Flea Market. It was shot by early filmmakers the Miles Brothers as a bookend to their most famous work, A Trip Down Market Street, a 13-minute silent film shot just a few days before the earthquake. The footage was screened publicly for the first time on April 14 at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.
April heralded the discovery of color footage of Louise Brooks from The American Venus (1926), found at the BFI by an archivist. The three-second snippet was part of a “leader” on a copy of The Black Pirate–which is the stretch of film at the very beginning of a reel. The leader on this particular print included clips from other color 1926 films, including Venus.
Another interesting find, a film of Einstein and his wife driving a car on a soundstage in Hollywood, was also announced. The film had been among the home movies of Leopold Godowsky, Jr., co-inventor of Kodachrome.
In July it was announced that a version of unreleased Chaplin short The Professor had been reconstructed, and could be seen for the first time since it was filed away in 1922.
In October the Library of Congress launched an online National Screening Room, making over 300 films freely available to the public.
Around Halloween a crisply-restored version of Frankenstein (1910) was made available to view and download at the Library of Congress site. The short drama is notable as the first cinematic version of Shelley’s famous tale and as one of our earliest horror films.
In November the massive wildfires in California made headlines around the world. Sadly, the Paramount Ranch was one of its casualties, burning down on November 9th. A historic site where many Westerns had been filmed since 1927, it was in the path of the Woolsey wildfire and could not be saved.
An Oswald the Rabbit cartoon, Neck ‘n’ Neck (1928), was found in Japan. Long thought lost, it had actually been in the possession of 84-year-old anime researcher Yasushi Watanabe for a number of decades. He had bought the film as a teen and never knew its significance until reading a recent book about lost Oswald the Rabbit cartoons.
In December Tokkan Kozo (1929), a silent by Yasujiro Ozu that was discovered in 2015, was restored and given a U.S. premiere at the George Eastman Museum’s Dryden Theater.
The discovery of the 30-second short Something Good–Negro Kiss (1898) was announced as it was being added to the National Film Registry. The earliest surviving cinematic footage of African-Americans being affectionate, it’s thought to be a riff on the famous May-Irwin Kiss (1896).
The Film Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve the early cinema of India, found a huge trove of film reels in a storage space in New Mumbai. The films are currently being inspected and hopefully info on their contents will be available to the public soon.
Resting in Peace
On February 15th Lassie Lou Ahern passed away after a moderately brief illness due to complications of the flu. Ahern began acting in films in 1923 at the age of three, and appeared in a number of Our Gang shorts as well as Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927). She would have been 98 years old in June.
Actor James Karen passed away on October 23 at age 94. A familiar face in Hollywood with numerous TV show and film credits (including Poltergeist, Mulholland Drive and The Pursuit of Hapyness), Karen was also a close friend of Buster Keaton, who was godfather to Karen’s son Reed. He had been very supportive of the International Buster Keaton Society over the years, often volunteering memories of his long friendship with the great comedian. He will be greatly missed.
On November 12 Jerry Ohlinger, owner of Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store in Manhatten, died from pancreatic cancer. Ohlinger’s well-stuffed shop is well known to East coast cinephiles as a hotspot for the rarest and most esoteric movie memorabilia, and has been a godsend for many archivists.
New Blu-ray and DVD Releases
Kino has a slew of great releases this year, including The Covered Wagon (1923) on Blu-ray, the two W.C. Fields films Running Wild (1927) and It’s the Old Army Game (1926), a Blu-ray of Manhandled (1924) starring Gloria Swanson, The Holy Mountain (1926) starring Leni Riefenstahl (yes, her), and two Douglas Fairbanks films, The Good Bad–Man and The Half–Breed (both 1916). Its most significant release was probably Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, a 6-Disc Collection made in association with the Library of Congress. Featuring 2K and 4K restorations of over 50 films, it also includes documentaries with historians and an 80-page booklet of essays and photos.
Flicker Alley has re-released their 2012 dual-format Blu-ray/DVD edition of A Trip to the Moon (1902), that Méliès classic. This edition features a high-definition scan of an original hand-colored version the film, a black and white version, two other Méliès films, plus a documentary and several choices of scores. Also released were a Blu-ray of The Ancient Law (1923), DVDs of the Mary Pickford features Fanchon the Cricket (1915) and Little Annie Rooney (1925), and the Méliès Fairytales In Color set, which includes classics like The Impossible Voyage and The Merry Frolics of Satan (also A Trip to the Moon again).
Milestone Film now offers a Bluray/DVD of Shoes (1916), as well as The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916), both works by Lois Weber–and perfect for a cinephile’s film collection.
Grapevine Video had another fine crop of silent offerings for us in 2018, including Made For Love (1926), The Last Warning (1929), Risky Business (1926), Enchantment (1921), and Crainquebille (1922).
The excellent Undercrank Productions released Marcel Perez Vol. 2, the followup to their first popular Marcel Perez set, the collection The Kinetophone: A Fact! A Reality! showcasing early synchronized sound films produced by the Edison studio in 1913, and Found At “Mostly Lost”: Volume 2, a collection of eleven rare shorts identified by silent film fans and experts at the annual “Mostly Lost” workshop in Virginia.
Fritzi Kramer of Movies Silently has produced her first DVD–Kidnapped: A Complete 1917 Night At the Movies. When she discovered that every film from a 1917 program of Edison films had survived–and in good quality!–she decided to bring us the rare opportunity to watch a complete silent film program as Edwardian audiences would’ve experienced it. The DVD includes a feature and four shorts and scores by the always-excellent Ben Model.
The Criterion Collection added a fine Blu-ray of the magnificent The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) to their catalogue, which I needed yesterday.
And the wonderful Cinemuseum released the beautifully-restored Arbuckle feature The Roundup (1920) on Blu-ray/DVD, which I’ve been enjoying ever since.
Darren Nemeth’s latest offering in his Moving Pictures Reprints series is How to Film Moving Pictures in the 1910s, which makes very rare camera manuals, pamphlets and early film essays available to the public for the first time in over a century (it’s very affordable, too).
Historian Thomas Gladysz has put together a number of his articles and essays from the past 15 years for the book Louise Brooks: The Persistant Star. Gladysz is the director of the Louise Brooks Society, and his detailed essays will be fascinating reading for any fan of the iconic actress.
Biography “Bare Knees” Flapper: The Life and Films of Virginia Lee Corbin is an overdue look on this former child star, one of the few who made a successful transition to adult roles. Written with the support of Virginia’s two sons, the biography is virtually a labor of love by author Tim Lussier.
Joseph McBride has written a study on the lauded Ernst Lubitch titled How Did Lubitsch Do It? Having written previous excellent studies on Orson Welles and John Ford, it’s fitting that the prolific author would turn his attention to the influential and subtly witty German director.
If you’re in need of a silent film graphic novel, and who isn’t, independent film historian Robert M. Fells has created George Arliss in Disraeli, recreating the famous lost 1921 film.
The new biography Southern Belle to Hollywood Hell–Corliss Palmer and Her Scandalous Rise and Fall by Jennifer Ann Redmond is available for all who enjoy exploring overlooked or underappreciated silent era talents. Corliss Palmer won the 1920 Fame and Fortune Contest held by Motion Picture magazine, and her career would eventually be affected by a scandal involving Motion Picture editor Eugene Brewster. Her sad story is covered with care by Redmond, who did a meticulous amount of research.
Scholarly work Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes by Maggie Hennefeld is now available, which examines comediennes’ roles in the development of film language and, you guessed it, gender politics in the 20th century.
Kristen Anderson Wagner has written Comic Venus: Women and Comedy in American Silent Film, a detailed exploration of the contributions made by comediennes in U.S. slapstick.
And to round out this trend, Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries? by Jane M. Gaines explores the pioneering roles so many women had in the silent era, and studies why they were overlooked by history (not even being rediscovered by 1970s feminists, surprisingly). While I think it’s safe to say that we’re more aware of female silent filmmakers, editors, etc. than ever before, books like this are important for understanding how we’ve gotten to our current point.
National Film Registry Updates
The latest additions to the National Film Registry included:
Dixon-Wanamaker Expedition to Crow Agency (1908)
The Girl Without a Soul (1917)
Something Good – Negro Kiss (1898), and, happily,
The Navigator (1924).
Other Important News
The world’s last living silent film star, Diana Serra Cary, turned 100 on October 29. Known in the 1920s as “Baby Peggy,” Cary has spent a number of years as a film historian and has advocated for fair treatment of child actors.
At long last, the corner of Lillian Way and Eleanor Avenue in Los Angeles has a brand-new, beautifully designed plaque marking where Buster Keaton’s studio once stood. While there has been a plaque in the area for many years, it was famously installed on the wrong street corner and was notoriously difficult to read. The new plaque (the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign) was unveiled in a special dedication ceremony on June 16, which Los Angeles had deemed its official Buster Keaton Day. The ceremony was attended by a number of Damfinos, Buster’s nephew Harry Keaton and granddaughter Melissa Talmadge Cox, Leonard Maltin, and councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.
The Great Buster, a Peter Bogdanovich documentary examining Keaton’s life, career, and influence on today’s directors, was released on October 5th and hopefully will be available on Blu-ray/DVD in the near future.
On July 4th a film vault at the Cineteca di Bologna caught fire–yes, a nitrate fire in the year of our Lord 2018. Fortunately, only a small number of minor films were lost or damaged.
The National Film Preservation Foundation made the Harry Carey feature Soft Shoes (1925) available on their website for free streaming. (I saw it at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and it was delightful!) Other silents added to their site this year included comedies The Backyard (1920) and Cupid in Quarantine (1918), the Western Red Saunder’s Sacrifice (1912), animated short Koko’s Queen (1926), industrial films The Last Word in Chickens (1924) and Uncommon Clay (1925), and documentary From Ore to Finished Project (1915).
The Foundation also announced the 2018 winners of its annual federal film preservation grant. Several silents are slated for future preservation, including: Jane’s Declaration of Independence (1912), Won By a Sweet (1929), Sprockets and Splices: A Little Journey to the Source of Film Damage and Poor Presentation (1923), and the home movies Daly Family Collection (1919).
Edward Lorusso held several more successful Kickstarters, for the Colleen Moore film Dinty (1920) and the dramas The Cossack Whip (1916) and On Dangerous Ground (1917).
The Lumière festival hosted a Linder tribute on October 15th, during which Thierry Frémaux announced the creation of a Max Linder Institute, to be run by the Institute Lumière.
A documentary on the career of film pioneer Alice Guy-Blache, Be Natural, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival has made the rounds of several other film festivals. Created by Pamela B. Green, it’s been called a fascinating and enlightening film and is slated for release on Blu-ray/DVD early next year.
The online classic film streaming service FilmStruck was shut down in November, after only two years of being in business. This was very sad news to many old movie fans, although this old movie fan feels that streaming is too much in its infancy for us to start sounding the death knell for classic film appreciation (let’s just wait and see what the future brings, guys).
Whew! That was quite a roundup. Here’s to hoping for many exciting discoveries, restorations, and other developments as possible in the next 12 months!
I wanted to give a shout out to James Neibaur, Jeff Crouse, and Paul Gierucki for being the social media source of some of this film news, and a thank you to Buckey Grimm, Bruce Calvert, Dan Streible and Elisabetta Girelli for their suggestions of items to include in this post.