Not too long ago my fellow blogger Crystal, who runs the fine site In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, contacted me with an idea: How about we cohost a blogathon in honor of Silent Movie Day? Well well well, that sure sounds right up my alley.
“Wait, ‘Silent Movie Day’? Is that a real thing>” you ask. Why yes, it certainly IS a real thing! Just this past January, Chad Hunter, executive director of Video Trust and director of the Pittsburgh Silent Film Society, archivist Brandee B. Cox of the Academy Film Archive, and archivist Steven K. Hill of the UCLA Film & Television Archive all put their heads together and decided to create a National Silent Movie Day. Described simply as “a day to celebrate and enjoy silent movies,” it will be held on September 29. And it won’t be celebrated just this year, but every year! As its founders wrote:
Anyone can participate! Ask your local cinema to show a silent picture with live music; watch a silent movie on a streaming platform or on disc; write a blog or an article for your local newspaper; read a book about your favorite silent movie star; or create a podcast. Use your imagination and post on your social media on September 29 to show how you celebrate the day. This is our moment as silent movie fans, academics, programmers, and newcomers to share our mutual love and appreciation for this unique period in motion picture history. It is also an opportunity to rally around surviving silent pictures that are still in need of preservation.
So in honor of this brand-new rival of Easter and Christmas, Crystal and I are hosting a one-day Silent Movie Day Blogathon–and all bloggers are invited!
This post was written especially for the Classic Movie Blog Association’s spring event, the Hidden Classics Blogathon! Silent-ology is proud to take part alongside so many excellent film blogs, and on such a good topic, too. Please follow the link above to read my fellow writers’ contributions! And don’t forget to leave comments–we bloggers love comments like Keystone Kops loved pratfalls.
When I say “Cecil B. DeMille,” you probably picture Biblical films with men in robes giving solemn speeches and loads of colorful spectacle. Would you be surprised to know that in the 1910s most audiences heard “DeMille” and probably pictured ballgowns and romantic triangles?
He may be known for epics like The Ten Commandments (1956) today, but from the late 1910s to the early 1920s DeMille was associated with fluffy “society” comedy-dramas. Yes, the same man that Kevin Brownlow described thusly: “Commanding absolute loyalty from his staff, he directed as though chosen by God for this one task.” These dramas tended to have the aforementioned lavish gowns (often on the “extreme fashion” end of the spectrum) and exquisitely-tailored tuxes. Scenery might include raucous parties or impractically huge sunken baths. DeMille delighted in adding various “rich people” toys like fancy Victrolas or plush couches with hidden bars in the armrests. Gloria Swanson couldn’t just walk over and answer the phone–she would have to be sitting at a pretty carved wooden desk and take the phone out of a little cupboard on top.
While many of these trinket-cluttered fantasies were considered superficial even back then, they’ve aged into delightfulness today. The “edgy” fashions seem charmingly bizarre, and characters contend with various social annoyances that are sometimes endearingly quaint. There’s usually more of that universal human nature than meets the eye, too, even if it was livened up by an inexplicable Babylonian fantasy sequence or two. I wholeheartedly champion every frame of these films, from scenes of Bebe Daniels perfuming her lips or Wallace Reid destroying a drawing room in righteous anger right down to the last shot of a checkered, bead-bedecked bathing suit. At least, I think that was a bathing suit. Or was it a negligee…?
It’s a tough call, but my favorite early DeMille is probably Why Change Your Wife? (1920), one of my go-to silents for those nights when I just need to kick back with some cheesy popcorn and relax. Starring a young Gloria Swanson, the squeaky-clean matinee idol Thomas Meighan, and a flirty Bebe Daniels, its tale of marital distress is handled with plenty of light, cheeky humor (especially in the title cards).
Swanson plays the prudish Beth, who nags her husband Robert about becoming more cultured and “improving his mind.” Robert himself (played by Meighan) can’t understand why Beth insists on dressing so frumpily and longs for her to be a carefree “sweetheart” again. Hoping to add some pizazz to their relationship, he goes to a fancy lingerie store to buy her a new negligee. There he meets Sally, the store’s va-va-voom lingerie model, who recognizes him as an old acquaintance she once had a crush on.
When Robert’s present of a tissue-thin, elaborately-beaded negligee (complete with a headdress!) is rejected by the horrified Beth, he decides to secretly go on a date with the fun-loving Sally. Sally is all too happy to pursue him, leading to matters going too far and Robert having regrets. Unfortunately for him, Beth finds out about the affair and divorce quickly follows. But matters don’t end there–Beth overhears gossip about her failed marriage, insinuating that her prudishness and frumpy clothes were the problem. Incensed, she decides that if an “indecent” flirt is what people want to see, then by golly she’d get a new wardrobe and show them all! And perhaps she can win Robert back in the process…
Parts of the plot haven’t aged quite like a fine wine, but I bid you to consider that the remainder of the film involves lots of “extreme” fashion, an unfortunate slip on a banana peel, a catfight, and a deeply serious artiste in the world’s most ridiculous male bathing suit. In other words, it’s a film I’d say has far more plusses than minuses, my friends.
Adolph Zukor once said, “DeMille didn’t make pictures for himself, or for critics, he made them for the public. He chose stories if he thought the public might like them. He was a showman to his smallest finger.” Indeed, DeMille’s films of this period were sometimes criticized as superficial, or just plain silly. But he released hit after hit, filling his dramas with scandalous intrigues and sunken bathtubs to his heart’s content.
I have to say, at the end of a tough day there’s certain old films that always hit the spot. Keaton films. Chaplin shorts. Anything by Keystone. And Why Change Your Wife? is on that list. Great performers, great costumes, drama, humor, escapism, and plenty of cheese–those late Edwardian DeMilles had a bit of it all.
And perhaps I’ll end with this generous observation by David O. Selznick: “You cannot judge DeMille by regular standards…As a commercial film maker, he made a great contribution to our industry.”
Because Roscoe and Al always supported their good friend Buster–and I’m sure they appreciate these blogathons too!
Well my friends, another successful blogathon has come to a close! We had a beautifully curated selection of posts this year, and I extend both an official high five and a hearty THANK YOU to each of you fine bloggers who participated! Your time and efforts are so appreciated.
High fives go out to all the readers who stopped by, too! And if you’re new here, feel free to visit again–I cover everything about the silent era from soup to nuts!
According to hallowed tradition, I held my Very Official Cloche Hat Drawing for this year’s blogathon participants. This year the prize is the essential book Buster Keaton: Interviews, a must for any Buster fan’s personal library. (I praise it from personal experience!)
Here’s the hat waiting patiently for me to draw a name:
And that name is:
Congratulations, Once Upon A Screen, we’ll be in touch! If you see this post before hearing from me, feel free to contact me on my “About Silent-ology” page so we can email each other.
And that’s a wrap! See you at next year’s ‘thon, folks–year 8!
This is my own post for the Seventh Buster Keaton Blogathon. Enjoy, and please check out all the other wonderful posts, too!
When you love a performer from classic Hollywood, it’s not uncommon to make little “pilgrimages” to the places where they used to live and work: studios, filming locations, former homes, gravesites, and, of course, their hometowns. Seeing where your favorite star grew up can give you insight into what shaped them and their future career. And, of course, it’s just plain fun–some towns are tourist destinations simply by for being the hometown of a beloved performer.
But what of a performer like Buster Keaton? Since he was the child of travelling medicine show performers, his birthplace was a matter of happenstance. Joe and Myra Keaton were travelling through the tiny town of Piqua, Kansas (today its population hovers a little above 100) when Buster arrived. Their stay was necessarily short, so while tiny Piqua had the honor of being Buster’s birthplace it would be a stretch to call it his hometown. (Fun fact: in the 1960s Buster and his wife Eleanor did stop there briefly while they were on his State Fair tour!)
But despite an upbringing spent travelling from theater to theater, there was a spot on earth that Buster considered his true hometown: Muskegon, Michigan. A mid-sized town with the vast waters of Lake Michigan along one side and sparkling Lake Muskegon along another, the Keatons chose it for their summer home in the 1900s. It turned out to be a match made in heaven. In his biography on Buster, written not long before Buster passed away, Rudi Blesh wrote: “Those long-ago summers must have been, in a special way, one of the wonders of his life. Whenever he speaks of them he seems to be turning on the lights of a faraway stage.”
Well well–it’s a little under two weeks until the Buster Keaton Blogathon returns for a seventh year in a row!
If you’re a participant, know that I’m really looking forward to seeing your posts! Every year our blogathon has such an excellent selection of thoughtful writing and really stellar research. I know year 7 will be awesome as well.
If you haven’t signed up and are interested in joining, go right ahead! I’ll even accept new participants on the days of the blogathon, because why not. The more the merrier!
Important update: Every year I hold a little drawing for blogathon participants. This year I’ve decided to give away a copy of Kino’s lovely DVD of Our Hospitality (1923), one of Buster’s classic features. Don’t you love that cover?
12 days to go, everyone–happy blogging!!
Silent-ology | Buster’s childhood summers In Muskegon, Michigan
IT HAS RETURNED!! (In spite of everything, I might add. *wink*) Yes, my friends, at long last this is the official announcement of the 7th Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon!
When: Monday, March 22 and Tuesday, March 23, 2021.
Where: Right here on Silent-ology!
How: To join in, please leave me a comment on this post and let me know which Buster film or Buster-related topic you want to cover! (Or feel free to send me a message). Please help spread the word about the event by adding one of my vintage poster-inspired banners to your blog (aren’t those illustrations fun?). During the blogathon itself, when you publish your post leave me a comment with the post’s link (or again, you can send me a message). Please mention my blog and the name of the event too (such as “This post is part of Seventh Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted by Silent-ology.”) Post whenever you have time during March 22nd and 23rd, no pressure at all! If you post before the 22nd that’s fine too, just give me a head’s up. (Keep in mind Silent-ology will make all the links to the posts “live” only on the blogathon dates, even if you send it way in advance.)
What to write about: Anything and everything related to our talented Buster Keaton’s busy life and career! (Check out his filmography for some ideas.) Articles about his crew and the many wonderful actors who appeared in his films are welcome, too. Don’t be afraid to get creative–in the past people joined in with fan art and even a comic book, so the sky’s the limit! Also: Duplicates are 100% allowed! Everyone has a different perspective, so 2-3 posts on the same film are welcome.
I will be hosting a drawing for all blogathon participants, to be held on March 24th as a “thank you” to everyone who joined in. The prize will be announced closer to the blogathon dates (but you can guess that it’s likely a great Buster book or DVD!).
As always:Make Buster proud! There’s a lot of dubious information out there about his life and career, so let’s try and steer clear of those myths and rumors. Our goal is to make Buster smile, folks. (And I highly recommend checking out the Buster Mythbusting page on the Damfinos’ site!)
For ideas and inspiration, here’s the links to the First, Second,Third,Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Buster Blogathons.Man, we’re creating a virtual Buster library of our very own!
Silent-ology | Buster’s childhood summers In Muskegon, Michigan
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.
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)
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)
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)
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 awkward—clearly this isn’t the first fight he’s witnessed between the two! Just brilliant comedy all around.
2. The Freshman (1925)
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)
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.
This is my own entry for the Sixth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon. Hope you enjoy!
Ah, Buster’s talkies–few topics cause greater discussion among Keaton fans. We all agree that his own silent films are veritable masterpieces, but the talkies he was starred in? Let’s just say that opinions vary.
But while Buster’s MGM talkies are widely analyzed, his 1930s comedy shorts get less attention. Or, more likely, they’re written off as merely “inferior” to his solo work and that’s about it. While I can’t really disagree, I do think there’s some gems among the Educationals. And you really can’t put a price on getting several extra hours’ worth of Keaton performances–and in sound! Continue reading →
UPDATE: Just put up a couple more posts, check them out! Apparently WordPress likes to add some comments to the spam folder for no discernible reason. 😉 Since there might be another late post or two still trickling in, I’m going to give everyone a little extra time and hold the drawing for the gift certificate tomorrow (the 12th) instead of today. Many thanks, everybody!
Aaaaand we’re back! Welcome, my friends, to:
I feel like the past year really flew by, didn’t it? And now our ‘thon is on year 6–I can hardly believe it, folks! A hearty “Welcome Back” to all my regular readers who’ll be checking out the blogathon this weekend, and a big “Welcome!” to all new readers! Every year many talented bloggers take part in this big Buster Keaton celebration, and it’s always exciting to see what fun, informative, and even heartfelt posts are in store.
This year is extra special since our blogathon is proudly being sponsored by the famed International Buster Keaton Society, which has worked for over 25 years to preserve Buster’s films and share his extraordinary work with new generations of fans. I’ve enjoyed their annual convention and have also written for the Keaton Chronicle, so I can say from personal experience that you couldn’t ask for a lovelier group of Buster superfans. I’ll go ahead and plug the fact that you, too, can become a Damfino–memberships are inexpensive, and you’ll be playing a small role in keeping Buster’s legacy thriving!
Bloggers: Please send me the link to your post whenever it’s ready today or tomorrow (and thanks to those of you who sent me a link early!). I’ll be updating periodically throughout the blogathon. Don’t forget that I’ll be holding a drawing for the participants, too! The winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to the Damfinos’ online Buster store. The drawing will be held on Thursday, March 12th–I’ll be in touch with the winner!
Readers: Drop by often today and tomorrow to see the latest posts–and don’t forget that we bloggers love comments!
And if you’re curious, here are the links to the First,Second, Third,Fourth and Fifth Annual Buster Blogathons–a veritable library of all things Buster!
Alright, get cozy on your couch and let’s start reading!!
Silent-ology | Reviewing all of Buster’s 1930s Educational shorts