Hear ye, hear ye! I am pleased to announce the return of Silent-ology’s prestigious blogathon, devoted to that inimitable thespian of the enigmatic visage and whimsical porkpie chapeau, the singular Joseph Frank Keaton:
Can you believe this blogathon is in its fifth year? I can hardly believe it myself. (That also means my blog is about to turn 5 years old–I can hardly believe that, too!) And thus, once again I would like to extend the cordial invitation to all my fellow film bloggers to join in this annual celebration of everything Buster Keaton–one of the most important and unique figures in cinematic history.
Since the Christmasy month of December seems like a fine time to watch fairytale films, here’s a look at the first film adaptation of one of our most beloved children’s stories. (And speaking of the holiday season, did you know that J.M. Barrie’s original play was meant to be performed during Christmas time? And did you know the earliest official Peter Pan merchandise was a set of Christmas crackers authorized by Barrie in 1906?)
I’ve always had a soft spot for J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan tales. Like countless others I grew up with the 1953 Disney film (and practically memorized it), but I first encountered Barrie’s writing in an excerpt from his novel The Little White Bird. This excerpt was part of a lushly-illustrated anthology of children’s literature that my grandparents kept around when I was little. They always knew that at some point–usually during the dinner parties they used to host–I would trot over to the bookshelf, pull out the book, and pore over all those pictures as the adults chatted over their pre-dinner drinks.
In time, of course, when I was old enough to read “chapter books” (do you remember when your elementary school friends began bragging that they could read “chapter books”?), I started pouring over the actual stories, too. The Little White Bird excerpt came with an introduction that has fixed itself in a corner of my imagination ever since I first read it: “Many of us know about [Peter]…through stage plays, motion pictures, and television. But there is an earlier Peter, a somewhat different Peter Pan…” Continue reading →
If I tell you to picture a child star from the silent era, two that will come to mind are likely Jackie Coogan or Baby Peggy. Likewise, if I tell you to picture an actress famous for portraying flappers, you’ll probably think of Clara Bow or (I hope) Colleen Moore. But one actress who probably won’t occur to you is Virginia Lee Corbin, a former child star who also managed to transition to flapper roles as she matured. But happily, writer and researcher Tim Lussier is determined to get you acquainted with this overlooked actress with his fine biography “Bare Knees” Flapper: The Life and Films of Virginia Lee Corbin.Continue reading →
Since today is Thanksgiving here in the good ol’ US of A, like many others I’ve been musing over what I’m thankful for: my loving family, my good friends, my little apartment, simple pleasures like home cooked meals, the big beautiful outdoors in this fine state of Minnesota, and of course the marvels of modern technology, which allows me to access and research old films like never before. And speaking of the latter, I’m also very thankful for–you!
Even more thankful than Eddie Nugent and Josephine Dunn are for turkey (Motion Picture, December 1928).
Recently I updated and tweaked the “My Articles” page (which I hadn’t done in–well, let’s just say an embarrassingly long time) and realized that Silent-ology is now over 300 articles strong. 300! And counting. And this is all due to you, reader, whose visits and comments and appreciation keep me excited and motivated to research this fascinating, one-of-a-kind era in art.
And so–thank you! Without you, this blog wouldn’t be what it is today. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing on this fine Thursday, just know that you are in my thoughts today. And it’s not only on Thanksgiving that I’m grateful.
It was called spellbinding, striking, “one of the greatest of pictures.” It received ecstatic reviews by critics and transfixed audiences across the nation. It was the great drama The Miracle Man (1919), which not only ended up earning many times its modest budget, but made stars out of its three leads: Thomas Meighan, Betty Compson, and of course, the legendary Lon Chaney.
Naturally, like many other fascinating-sounding silents from the 1910s, The Miracle Man is lost. But in this case, fate has provided us with a rare silver lining. Thanks to compilation film The House That Shadows Built (1931), made in honor of Paramount studio’s 20th year, a couple minutes of footage have survived–including its most famous scene, where Chaney’s character pretends to experience a miraculous healing. Imagine if we had even one minute of London After Midnight! Continue reading →
At the precise moment this post is going live, it is 11 a.m. in Belgium and France. This marks 100 years to the minute since World War I’s official ceasefire took effect at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918. After years of constant gunshots and shellfire, the final shots rang out in the same place they began–in Mons, Belgium. The last soldier to fall was American private Henry Gunther, who was killed by automatic fire in the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, France, at 10:59 a.m.
Soldiers celebrating the end of fighting.
Millions had died from 1914 to 1918–far too many for our minds to comprehend, try though we might. And millions more died when the Spanish flu epidemic swept across the globe in 1918. But on that first Armistice Day, everyone allowed themselves to rejoice–to rejoice in the bloody struggle’s end, and perhaps to rejoice in life itself, fleeting as it was. Continue reading →
To say that the gentle, baby-faced, cartoon-character-come-to-life Harry Langdon is not an obvious pick for a World War I-themed film might seem like a huge understatement. But funnily enough, there was something about the sight of Langdon’s innocent clown blundering through shell-pitted battlegrounds that worked. Was it the contrast, which was so stark that it became funny? Did the “Little Elf’s” bewilderment echo the disillusionment many folks had felt during those stressful war years?
In any case, Langdon would use WWI gags a bit more often than most clowns, in the short All Night Long (1924), the feature The Strong Man (1926), and the three-reeler Soldier Man (1926). Soldier Man in particular seems to get overlooked, which is a shame–many of the scenes and gags are certainly what I would call “classic Harry.” Continue reading →
One of my favorite days of the year has arrived! A very HAPPY HALLOWE’EN to all, and if you haven’t watched all the silent horror movies you’ve been planning to, get crackin’, there’s still time!
Lon’s waiting patiently for you!
While this mournful article I found doesn’t quite fit the “Fan Magazine Fun” title, it seems appropriate since it’s silent Hollywood’s idea of a truly haunted place. It comes from the August 1926 Motion Picture Classic, and is a deeeeeply sentimental look at the site of the old Famous Players-Lasky studio just after it was torn down. A taste: “Once upon a time these shadows of the past walked triumphantly thru the sets. Now they hover unseen in the background, and the world looks upon them as memories.” (Click on the images to to read the article.)
“Ghosts…ghosts that seem to tread softly in the gathering darkness, ghosts that will soon be homeless, wandering sadly thru a new maze of buildings that will spring up on this site…” Man, just from that you’d never guess this article was talking about famous names from a mere ten years (or less) prior!
To be honest, though, I truly love that magazines published such unabashedly sentimental articles back then. No holds barred, dripping with feeling and “poetic fancy.” Sometimes they can be funny, but often they’re refreshing.
Once again, happy Halloween my friends, and have a safe and spooky holiday!
This is a special day, my friends. Join me in raising a glass to Diana Serra Cary, the world’s last living silent film star, who turns 100 today!
Known to 1920s audiences as Baby Peggy, Diana began appearing in films when she was only a toddler. After starring in shorts she soon began acting in features, all cranked out at an amazing rate. Audiences loved the expressive, round-cheeked youngster, and she swiftly became one of the most famous child actors in Hollywood–her main rival being Jackie Coogan. She later credited her success to her extremely obedient nature–directors were impressed by her ability to follow orders unhesitatingly. Continue reading →
Aside from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu or Metropolis, how many German Expressionist films can you name? (Or maybe I should say, how many semi-German-Expressionist-ish films can you name? That’s an easier question.) After all, Caligari didn’t spring forth from thin air, and you’ve always heard that German Expressionism was kind of a big deal.
I guess this was influential, or something.
To help with that question, I’ve compiled a handy list of Weimar-era rarities that you may or may not have heard of before. Keep in mind that “true” German Expressionism is, technically, a very specific genre that used deliberately artificial-looking sets and props, and relied on emotion and psychology instead of realism. Thus, most of these entries are examples of that type of film. (By the way, if you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll probably remember #1 and #2 since I covered them in the past. If you’re a newbie, though–enjoy!) Continue reading →