Christmas With The Gish Sisters

MERRY CHRISTMAS, my friends! I sincerely hope you’re all having a fine holiday season, no matter where you may be.

You might notice that while Silent-ology goes all out on spooky film-viewing in October, it’s a bit quieter around Christmas. That’s because: A) Back in the silent era, Christmas wasn’t the commercialized extravaganza it is today–there really aren’t a ton of Christmasy silents to choose from, and B) December is a very busy month! So I tend to be more sparing in my Yuletide-themed posts, although I make sure to decorate Silent-ology appropriately.

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Hold on, I’ll just put up a few more ornaments.

So! With that said, here’s a bit of festive Christmas reminiscing from Lillian Gish’s autobiography The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me, where she occasionally looked back on holidays from her childhood. At times life was hard for Lillian, her sister Dorothy and their mother, especially since their father abandoned them when the girls were young. However, they did have fond memories of holidays past. Continue reading

The Time Theaters Had A “Way Down East” Pumpkin Pie Contest

Hello and happy Thanksgiving, my readers! And a happy holiday season in general–it’s officially that time of the year! As such, I initially thought I’d look for some sort of vintage, pumpkin pie-related recipe from Ye Old Movie Magazines to share. But instead, I found something better!

Introducing the great 1922 Way Down East Perfect Pumpkin Pie Contest Exploitation Campaign!!

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Because pumpkin spice was always popular, y’all.

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“Stark Love” (1927) And The Very Brief Career Of Helen Mundy

While browsing through old film magazines online (how often have I said that), an unusual photo caught my eye–a young woman with intense eyes, peasant-like clothing and long, unkempt hair. Oh, and she was gripping an ax.

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Happily the full version is online.

Not something you see in those polished magazines every day! I had to find out the story behind it, and what turned up was one of those “rags to riches” types of Hollywood tales–with a unique twist. Continue reading

Fan Magazine Fun: “Bobbing for Apples”

‘Tis Hallowe’en, and may an abundance of spooky, autumnal fun be had by all! In the spirit of the season I’m sharing this essay from the November 1920 issue of Photoplay, mainly for the author’s reminisces about childhood Hallowe’ens, but also to remind us that we simply don’t write gentle, moralizing essays like this anymore.

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Sangster was actually the granddaughter of the warm, philosophic poet and writer Margaret Elizabeth Sangster, who had passed away in 1912. The younger Sangster was given her own column in Photoplay in the summer of 1920, where she shared her thoughtful look on life. Since she wrote this in 1920, her childhood probably took place around the 1900s–the Meet Me in St. Louis era, if you will. Feel free to give it a read–you might find its message surprisingly timeless! Illustrated throughout with Hallowe’en imagery from those days of “magic and mystery.”

BOBBING FOR APPLES

A heart to heart talk with the Family Circle

by Margaret E. Sangster

When I was a little kiddie I used to look forward to Hallowe’en with nearly as much happiness and nearly as many anticipatory thrills as Christmas or a birthday awoke in my breast. Christmases and birthday were wonderful times of present giving and joy and congratulations and extra-special things to eat, but Hallowe’en was a day of mirth and magic and mystery! Hallowe’en was a day when you wore your old frock–a day when you could tear stockings and lose hair ribbons without being scolded. Hallowe’en was a boisterous day–a day when spirits were high and laughter was the king of the universe.

Image result for halloween 1900s bobbing for apples" Continue reading

The Strange Saga Of “Nosferatu”

One of the few silent classics virtually anyone’s willing to watch, Nosferatu has been iconic practically since its release in 1922. The strange, hunched Count Orlok has a permanent place in cinema history, a unique pedestal that keeps him apart from the suave villains of later pop culture.

Max Schreck in Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

I’ve reviewed this gothic masterpiece before, but didn’t delve much into the details of how or why it was made. A few of you may already know the tale, with its background of modern art, WWI, occultism, flu epidemics, and gleeful copyright infringement. But if not, do read on.  Continue reading

Caligari’s Controversial “Bookend” Scenes: Yea Or Nay?

In October, the cinephile’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of German Expressionism. Accordingly, I thought we’d discuss an intriguing topic–those “bookend” scenes (otherwise known as a “frame story”) from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. 

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)

If you haven’t seen Caligari, be forewarned now that this post discusses spoilers–nay, it depends on spoilers. So if you haven’t gotten around to watching one of the most important films of the 20th century, well…ya oughta! Continue reading

Did Billie Ritchie Really Die From An Ostrich Attack?

In his day, British music hall veteran Billie Ritchie was a popular film comedian with a mighty suspicious resemblance to Charlie Chaplin. Today, he might be best known as the hi-larious answer to a trivia question: Which obscure silent film comedian was kicked to death by an ostrich? Why, poor Billie of course!  (Or maybe it was several ostriches–or maybe they bit him–the trivia question varies.)

Billie Ritchie ostriche pics picgoer July 10 '15

This was taken years before the supposed attack, btw. Pictures and the Picturegoer, July 10 1915.

But maybe, like me, you’re wondering precisely how an ostrich-related injury could lead to someone’s death–a full two years after the fact, mind you. (Didn’t know about that time frame? Yup, it’s true.) And maybe you’re suspicious that the details about the ostriches vary so much–was the unfortunate Billie kicked or mauled by the savage birds? And how many birds were there? One or more than one? Since this is obviously is one of the most debated questions of the modern age, let us examine it more closely. Continue reading

8 Forgotten Hit Films Of The Silent Era

A version of this article originally appeared on Classic Movie Hub, where I write a monthly column on silent films. It was an eye-opening one to research–hope you enjoy!

Much like we still do today, silent era audiences flocked to big budget spectacles, as well as thrillers, witty comedies and other crowd pleasers (well, maybe “witty comedies” are a rarity nowadays). If you found a list of the top box office attractions in the 1910s and 1920s, a lot of titles will be pretty familiar: Ben-Hur, Intolerance, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Robin Hood. What is allegedly the biggest hit of the entire era, The Big Parade, might ring a bell too. 

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As might this movie.

But there are other titles in those “top grossing” lists that have fallen into obscurity. Some of them might surprise you–who ever said that subtly-acted, bittersweet dramas can’t attract masses of viewers? With that in mind, here’s a look at eight of those forgotten “moneymakers”!  Continue reading

“Faites entrer les Allemands”–Commemorating The 100th Anniversary of The Treaty Of Versailles

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Since we’ve been following the Great War’s centennial pretty closely here on Silent-ology (click here to read last year’s WWI in Film Month posts), I wanted to make sure today was given some attention. June 28, 2019, marks 100 years since the Treaty of Versailles, the first and most significant of the peace treaties that officially ended World War I. While Armistice Day famously declared a ceasefire, these treaties put an official end to the actual “state of war.”

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The crowded Hall of Mirrors during the Treaty’s signing.

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So, About Buster And Charlie’s “Limelight” Scene…

Even casual classic comedy fans are familiar with the most famous scene from Charlie Chaplin’s bittersweet Limelight (1951), where he’s teamed with Buster Keaton onscreen for the first and only time. Playing old comedy partners reuniting for a comeback performance, they do a bit of charming, music hall-style slapstick that ends with Chaplin’s character Calvero succumbing to a fatal injury.

Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin in Limelight (1952)

And they also gave us this gallery-worthy still.

Ever since they filmed those scenes in the early ’50s, rumors have been flying that the arrogant Charlie Chaplin, witnessing humble genius Buster brilliantly churning out gag after gag far funnier than anything Chaplin ever dreamed of, jealously chopped it all out of the film. No one upstages the world’s most famous comedian, by gum! So what’s left are but hollow glimpses of Buster’s mastery, so cruelly squashed by the man who…well, personally hired him to play a role in his deeply personal film.

Nobly enduring the squashing of his brilliance.

Okay, guys, let’s all be honest here–you’ve haven’t actually watched the entire Limelight, have you? No, you just watched the 8-minute clip of Buster and Charlie on YouTube a few times and called it a day. Okay, fine, four of you have seen Limelight, but the rest of you–come now! At least give Chaplin’s thoughtful film a chance (he wrote a 100,000 word novel about his characters just to prepare for the actual filming. No kidding).

Why am I making this assumption? Because once you’ve seen Limelight, the idea that Buster’s character should’ve taken the spotlight in the “comeback” scene makes no sense. Absolutely no sense at all, my friends.  Continue reading