Presenting…

Forgotten Comedians Month Two 1

It’s theme month time!! And this time it’s a 2.0. A few years ago Silent-ology had Forgotten Comedians Month, covering such overlooked luminaries as Louise Fazenda and Charley Bowers (not to mention a nod to those magnificent silent comedy mustaches). Well, I enjoyed putting that together so much that I decided to do it all over again–August 2020 will officially be Forgotten Comedians Month 2!

Al St. John sure likes the sound of that.

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“My Friend Charlie”–A 1952 Buster Keaton Interview

Here’s an interesting piece I’ve been wanting to share! It’s from a book called The Legend of Charlie Chaplin, compiled by Peter Haines. This is a collection of essays and interviews by Chaplin’s friends, fellow actors, and other contemporaries, recalling their experiences with him. They’re essentially reprints from hard-to-find publications, the dates ranging from the 1910s-1970s. And we’re talking pieces by greats like Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Stan Laurel, etc. I can’t recall hearing anyone discuss this book–although I suppose it was printed back in the early ’80s–and I got it off Amazon a few years ago on a whim (where it’s still available at surprisingly reasonable prices, by the way).

The Legend of Charlie Chaplin: HAINING, Peter.: 9780491026086 ...

Keep an eye out for it!

One of the pieces is an interview given by our Buster Keaton to the French magazine Arts in October 1952, during the time when Limelight (1952) was being publicized. It’s, err, clearly translated from French, which was already translated from English, resulting in an oddly formal tone for the salt-of-the-earth Buster. But here and there you can decipher a very Buster-ish phrase or two. Continue reading

“The Picture Idol” (1912) And A Nod To Clara Kimball Young

How many of you have gotten to meet a movie star? Not me–despite sightseeing in Hollywood several times now, I have yet to meet (or even glimpse) anyone who’s actually been in movies, naturally. (Not even while wandering Rodeo Drive and daringly deciding to use the bathroom in the Four Seasons hotel–I mean, where else would they be?!) But I guess that’s to be expected. After all, wealthy stars live in fancy gated communities, have top notch security, and go to exclusive restaurants and boutiques and such–no wonder they don’t brush elbows with us commoners very often.

Lobby - Picture of Beverly Wilshire Beverly Hills (A Four Seasons ...

Guess I’ll hang out in the Four Seasons’ lobby next time. Oh, darn.

Ah, but it wasn’t always that way–there was a time that you could brush elbows with a “picture star” at the corner store, or maybe see them walking home from the studio to their little flat just down the block. Want a good example of this more informal era of cinematic stardom? I’d recommend The Picture Idol (1912), one of my favorite light comedies from the genteel Vitagraph studio.

screenshot ThePictureIdol 1912

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Wishing You A Fine Fourth Of July

EDIT 7/13/20: New posts are on the way, folks! I had some time consuming projects to finish–am happy to get back to my regular postings! 

Happy Independence Day to my fellow U.S. readers! And lookee what I found:

Mary ad TheLittleAmerican movpicworld '17

Is this not one of the most glorious patriotic images you’ve ever seen? It’s an ad for Mary Pickford’s The Little American (1917), made during WWI’s Great Wave of Patriotic Fervor. And I’d like to offer a challenge to the folks who like colorizing images–see what you can do with this! (I’d like vintage-y colors, myself.)

Well, 2020 has certainly been the strangest and most offkilter of years so far–this is definitely not how I planned on welcoming the New ’20s. However, holidays always provide opportunities to reflect and to remember the many silver linings in life. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment, but holidays can ground us in ways nothing else can. And dang it, there’s few things better than a Fourth of July BBQ with your family and friends on a steamy summer’s day. To take a slightly modified sentence from Dickens, who was writing about a completely different holiday: though the Fourth of July has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket,  I believe it has done me good, it will do me good, and I say, God bless it!

Readers, I hope all of you have a fine summer weekend, no matter where you are. And now, I’m off to light some sparklers.

 

A Brief History Of Hollywood Before It Was Hollywood

A version of this post was originally written for my Classic Movie Hub column Silents are Golden. Hope you find it an interesting weekend read!

Today Hollywood, California is one of the most famous places in the world. The thriving axis of moviemaking, for decades it’s drawn countless dreamers hoping to make it in “the industry.” Real estate up in its hills is bought and sold for millions. And, of course, it attracts perpetual hordes of tourists strolling its Walk of Fame or hoping for glimpses of celebrities in Beverly Hills.

But there was a time when this same bustling neighborhood of Los Angeles was a sleepy little stretch of hilly farmland ten miles east from the city, accessible only by a gravel road and populated by a few hundred people. Little did the residents of this quiet community know what vast changes were in store–especially once those “movies” came to town (as they would nickname early filmmakers, not knowing “movies” referred to films).

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The Wonder Of Léon Beaulieu’s “Pocket Cinematographs”

may have mentioned my great love for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which I try my darnest to attend every year (I also try my darnest to see every single showing–last year I finally succeeded!). Probably mentioned it once or twice…or fifty times. (They deserve frequent shoutouts!)

One of the many bonuses of this grand festival is their annual “Amazing Tales From the Archives” presentation, which is always free to attend and always full of interesting info on the exciting projects archivists are working on. The 2019 festival had one presentation that charmed my socks off: about Léon Beaulieu’s teeny tiny cinema flipbooks he manufactured for his unique 1890s “pocket cinematograph.”

Image credit: silentfilm.org

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Elinor Glyn And Her (Infamous) “Three Weeks”

Happy weekend everyone! Since I’ve been pretty busy with a new (silent film-related!) project this week I decided to reshare one of my personal favorite “Personalities” articles. Because heaven knows one dose of Elinor Glyn is never enough! Hope you enjoy.

Silent-ology

Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
To err with her
On some other fur?

Disciples of early Hollywood have all run across this ditty at one time or another. Penned by an anonymous joker, it poked fun at a famous scene from writer Elinor Glyn’s infamous novel Three Weeks, the steamy romance that swiftly became a sensation when it was published in 1907 and remained a big seller well into the 1920s. It was the Twilight of–no, scratch that–the Fifty Shades of Gray of its day. Predictably, the phenomenon wouldn’t go unnoticed by Hollywoodland…and Hollywoodland wouldn’t go unnoticed by Elinor Glyn.

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“The Altar Of Alcohol”–A Savvy Elinor Glyn Interview

Here’s something a little different–a magazine interview with that famed authoress of Three Weeks, that chooser of “It” girls, that grand dame of romance herself–Elinor Glyn! I wrote a piece on Glyn and her famed novel awhile back, and it’s been one of my favorite “Personalities” articles ever since.

Photo of Lady Elinor Glyn | Dating agencies, London friend

There was a time when Glyn was considered the expert in the “moonlight and magnolias” type of love–and happily marketed herself as such. She had hair dyed “Titian red,” was rumored to travel with a tiger skin rug, and apparently coached Valentino in his romantic scenes. If you aren’t too familiar with this romance novelist-turned-screenwriter, Gloria Swanson’s fantastic description pretty much says it all:

She took over Hollywood. She went everywhere and passed her fearsome verdicts on everything. “This is glamorous,” she would say. “This is hideous,” she would say, as she baby-stepped through this or that dining room or garden party. People moved aside for her as if she were a sorceress on fire or a giant sting ray.

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CMBA Blogathon: My Top 5 Classic Comfort Movies!

Since springtime has finally sprung, it’s time for one of the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s famed seasonal blogathons! (I’m a member, dontcha know.) This time, the theme is “Classics for Comfort,” wherein bloggers are sharing their top 5 lists of classic movies that are guaranteed mood-lifters.

Classics for Comfort Singing in the Rain Banner 1

For me, it’s really hard to pick just 5 movies. There’s lots of classics I can watch over and over, like Sunset Boulevard or All About Eve. But are those really comfort movies? Not quite. No, these have to be the kind of movies you like to relax to after a long, exhausting day, films you know will always perk up your mood. And thus I present my top 5 list (by the way, my perpetual Favorite Movie Ever is Singin’ in the Rain, but that always gets its own pedestal, so I’ll keep it there this time):

5. Monkey Business (1931)

Monkey Business (1931)

Any Marx Brothers film will do when I’m feeling down, but Monkey Business is a go-to favorite. Some of the best comedies are beautfully simple, and there are times when my heart desires nothing more complicated than letting these four brothers loose to wreak havoc. In this case, on a ship. And classic sequences like the passport scene are darn cathartic (let’s just say I’ve worked in the customer service industry).

4. Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

Gloria Swanson в Twitter: "“I'll take this and six more! Make them ...

What better goofy escapism can there be than Cecil B. DeMille’s delightfully over-the-top society comedies? Starring Gloria Swanson (as many of his society pictures were), this is a “husband vs. wife” sort of tale with the usual misunderstandings. The husband wishes his frumpy wife would nag him less and be more of a “sweetheart” again, while the wife is scandalized by his suggestion that she wear something hot. The costumes, especially the elaborate women’s lingerie and a certain men’s bathing suit (or whatever that is), are gloriously of their time. In fact, that men’s bathing suit…ensemble…cape thingie is a mood lifter all by itself. (Oh, Theodore Kosloff.)

3. Sons of the Desert (1933)

Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase, and Stan Laurel in Sons of the Desert (1933)

Virtually anything the boys appeared in is a comfort film, but if I had to pick one of their features? Sons of the Desert never fails to crack me up.  Not only is the premise of Stan and Ollie sneaking away from their wives to attend a riotous convention funny, but I love studying how these characters interact. Particularly the early scene where Ollie’s battleax wife yells at him in front of Stan. Stan feels awkward, but not too awkwardclearly this isn’t the first fight he’s witnessed between the two! Just brilliant comedy all around.

2. The Freshman (1925)

Before the Super Bowl, stream one of the all-time great football ...

Picking just one Harold Lloyd film for this kind of post is darn difficult, because his entire career can be filed under “comfort movies.” Just the image of his glasses probably brought comfort to a lot of people back in the day. But my decision is usually The Freshman, one of those wonderful underdog tales Lloyd excelled at. How could you not laugh at that scene with the kitten? Or feel warm fuzzies when Speedy and Peggy laugh delightedly after their first kiss? Or feel a jot of happy energy when Speedy, bearing the brunt of tackle training, picks himself up and enthusiastically keeps going? Or…

1. Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Sherlock Jr. (1924) | BFI

The moment you say “Pick a comfort movie” to me, I’m going to say “But how am I supposed to pick just one Buster film?!” But after much thought and many complicated math equations on huge chalk boards, I’ve finally come up with a result: Sherlock Jr., a 45 minute masterpiece of clever hilarity. The gags of some of silent comedy’s very best, and Buster shows a perceptiveness about the nature of film and its impact on viewers that is simply ahead of its time.

If I was going making a bigger list and throw in some classic shorts, I’d add the Comique series, Keystone shorts like The Knockout (1914), Mabel’s Trysting Place (1914) or Fatty’s Plucky Pup, Harry Langdon’s Saturday Afternoon (1925), and at least one Charley Bowers short–probably Egged On (1926). As far as more recent comfort films, they would be: Hook (a fave since I was a kid), The Devil Wears Prada (I never get tired of this chick flick), Marie Antoinette (2006) (the costumes! The settings! The history! So gorgeous and fascinating!), and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (I seriously think it’s one of the best films of the 21st century).

Care to share your own list of comfort movies? Please do! The more suggestions there are, the more comfort we’ll have to go around.

(Supposedly) Lost Films: “In The Clutches Of A Gang” (1914)

It’s one of the most famous photos from silent comedy. Or from the silent era itself. Or, heck, from cinema itself. It’s the image that probably leaps to mind when you say “Keystone Kops.”

Keystone Kops | Description, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

This one!

It’s also key to what I think is the ultimate championship trivia question: “This famous still comes from which lost film?” The winning answer–major props if you know it–is “In the Clutches of a Gang!” *Cue lots of applause and money showering from the ceiling*

For being such a wildly famous image, it’s surprising that In the Clutches of a Gang (1914) isn’t better known–as a title, at any rate. After all, the film itself has been lost for many decades, yet another casualty of delicate nitrate paired with the relentless march of time. What a pity that such a tantalizing piece of slapstick history should have been so thoroughly, and regrettably, lost.

OR HAS IT?! Continue reading