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.”
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 →
“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.”
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 →
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:
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 theMichael 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 →
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.
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.
Happy Thursday, y’all! Here’s a Silent-ology “oldie-but-goodie,” my impassioned defense of the old-timey title card. My readership has definitely grown since the last time this was published! By the way, point #4 is always worth sharing with any silent film skeptic friends.
So you’ve decided to give those funny old black-and-white silent movies a try. You pop in a DVD with a quaint title and relax on your couch (or you rev up the Netflix, either one). An organ tune plays as you see the scene of a busy town street. There are Model Ts, and people in clothes that look less like a Roaring Twenties party than you‘d assumed, and hey, does that old guy have a handlebar mustache? And was that a streetcar? Why, you could get used to this! And then it happens. The screen goes black…and there are words. Words that you must read. Words that are inflicted upon you. This, my friend, is your very first exposure…to a title card.
In its review of The Blue Bird back in 1918, The New York Times declared, “…It is a safe assertion to say that seldom, if ever, has the atmosphere and spirit of a written work been more faithfully reproduced in motion pictures.” This observation holds true today, but with a twist for “we moderns.” For this film embodies the spirit of Edwardian fairytales and indeed many old European fairytales so thoroughly that for us, it could almost be from another planet. And for those of us willing to experience The Blue Bird today, that’s a good thing.
While far too many films of Jazz Age star Marion Davies are lost or unavailable, happily a few gems still survive. In my opinion the shiniest gem is probably Show People (1928), an affectionate satire of the movies that’s the very definition of a “crowd pleaser”.
So I’m feeling a bit “meh” about this list, as I’m pretty sure other classic film fans will be, but am fairly pleased with the top 25. At least this list didn’t leave out some obvious choices. Yeah, I’m looking at you, sad little first edition of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list, which practically forgot silents existed.
Of course, there probably wouldn’t be any Harry Langdon shorts on this list, I allowed myself to presume. Probably no Roscoe Arbuckle, either. And heh, the Charley Bowers short Egged On probably juuust missed the cut. Continue reading →