The Silent Movie Day Blogathon

Happy Silent Movie Day, everyone! (Man it feels good to say that…! Dream come true, and all.) Me and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood are happy to be celebrating it with you all with you today! The founders of this new holiday–one of the best since Christmas–wrote:

“National Silent Movie Day is an annual celebration of silent movies, a vastly misunderstood and neglected cinematic art form. We believe that silent motion pictures are a vital, beautiful, and often powerful part of film history, and we are united in the goal to advocate for their presentation and preservation.”

Couldn’t agree more! So let’s get to it.

Bloggers: Please send us the link to your post whenever it’s ready today–if you signed up with me, send me the link, if you signed up with Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, send it to her. Our rosters will be updated periodically throughout the blogathon.

Readers: Please drop by often today to check out the latest posts–and don’t forget that we bloggers live for comments!

The Roster:

Silent-ology | What is the greatest silent film?

Silent Locations | Honoring the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

MovieMovieBlogBlogII | The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez (1991)

RealWeegieMidget Reviews | Silent Movie (1976)

The Classic Movie Muse | Hot Water (1924)

Hometowns to Hollywood | Girl Shy (1924)

Cinematica | Coney Island (1917)

Better Living Through Television | The relationship between silent film and television

Nitrateglow | The hit films of 1921

Caftan Woman | The Last of the Mohicans (1920)

Silver Screenings | The Hoodlum (1919)

The Story Enthusiast | The Scarlet Letter (1926)

The Thoughts of One Truly Loved | The Circus (1928)

Laurel and Hardy Blog | The Battle of the Century (1927)

Strictly Vintage Hollywood | The lost silent Uncharted Seas (1921)

Grace Kingsley’s Hollywood | “What Does Hollywood Think of Herself?”

Wild About Harry | The silent cinema of Harry Houdini

MovieRob | The Conquest of the Pole (1912)

Critica Retro | Souls For Sale (1923)

Brooksie at the Movies | “Who Taught Valentino to Tango?”

The Classic Movie Muse | Hot Water (1924)

LA Daily Mirror | The first permanent studio in Hollywood

Silent Film Music | Article on silent film projection speeds

Century Film Project | The Nut (1921)

Taking Up Room | Show People (1928)

The Everyday Cinephile | Pre-1920 cinema

Lokke Heiss | The Crowd (1928)

What Is The Greatest Silent Film?

This is my own post in honor of the Silent Movie Day Blogathon. Hope you enjoy!

When it comes to talking about great movies (in the Roger Ebert sense of the word), I’ve always loved making and sharing lists: top tens, top fives, your “essential threes”–they always seems to prompt interesting discussions. Face it, you’re asked to list what you think are the Top 10 Best Movies Ever Made and it’s hard to resist, isn’t it? Even the top film critics and directors in the world famously contribute to Sight & Sound‘s “Top 10 Greatest Films” lists once every decade. It’s enlightening to see how certain films will fall a bit out of favor while others remain universally praised–often for generations.

The greatest films of all time- a list compiled from multiple sources –  OWEN TEMPLE
Image credit: Owen Temple

But your average carefully-compiled lists, hard as they can be to put together, are one thing. Trickiest of all is picking a single “greatest of the great” film from a given genre or era (putting aside the immense difficulty of choosing “The Greatest Film, Period”–phew!). So with that in mind, and since no one asked me, I thought I’d ponder: “What is the greatest silent film?”

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The “Arbuckle Scandal” Turns 100–Some Facts And Trivia

Today marks 100 years since the news broke about the infamous Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal. Even if you’ve never seen an Arbuckle film (or aren’t too sure what the comedian even looked like), you’ve probably heard about his “wild Labor Day party” that took place in a San Francisco hotel back in 1921. While the exact sequence of events is rather mysterious to this day, actress Virginia Rappe became ill at the party and passed away a few days later. An autopsy determined the death was due to a ruptured bladder and the resulting infection. Arbuckle, who apparently had been alone with her when she first became ill, was accused of having assaulted her in some way that lead to her death. Several sensational trials later he was acquitted, but his career would never be the same. Nor, you could argue, would Hollywood.

Roscoe Arbuckle | Photos | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers
In court.

I’ll be going into more detail about this case in a later post, so for now, here’s some trivia about the scandal. It just might contradict what you’ve often heard! My main source is Greg Merritt’s thoroughly-researched Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood. He did a fine job digging into the details of the case, and while it’s a bit melodramatic in spots and his theory on what actually happened in room 1219 isn’t super persuasive to me, it’s head and shoulders above other books on the scandal (like The Day the Laughter Stopped, which is basically a novel).

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“Home Folks” And The Picture Shows–Rural America During The Dawn Of Cinema

The day of the “show” came. The courts adjourned. Stores closed, the blacksmith dropped his tongs, and school “let out” at noon. The people went in droves, even the ministers and their wives…The opera house was packed, with an eager, expectant and mystified audience. The house was darkened, and suddenly a glimmering light began to play on a canvas dropped like a curtain across the stage. And the first moving scene “thrown” was one of a lazy policeman trying to hurry an old man and a crippled mare across a street. The town wag let out a whoop, everybody caught the spirit–the moving pictures were a go!

–Reminisces about an 1897 small town motion picture show,
Conestoga Magazine, 1907.

Could cinema have been invented at a more fortunate time? Once an impressive novelty viewed for a few cents a pop, it also inadvertently documented intriguing glimpses of the “old,” traditional way of life. And those glimpses were something more than the general, exciting changeover from horse-drawn buggies to automobiles, or how the cities slowly lit up with electric lights. It was the passing of using those horses to plow fields, the end of drawing water by hand from a well, the dwindling away of kerosene lamps and flickering candles. It all happened in the mere span of a generation or two.

Rural Life in the Late 19th Century | Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900  | U.S. History Primary Source Timeline | Classroom Materials at the Library  of Congress | Library of Congress
Image credit: loc.gov
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Behind The Scenes Of “The General”

Howdy everyone! It’s been longer than usual since my last post, but for happy reasons–I’m moving soon, and thus any spare time has been devoted to sorting/cleaning/preliminary packing. So you might say that a sabbatical was in order. I’ll admit that the rest of this spring might have to be lighter on posts too, but a new theme month’s in the works for this summer and a possible blogger event is coming this September. So keep Silent-ology on your “pop in now and then” list, my friends!

The General (1927) - Turner Classic Movies

One of the best-loved films from the 1920s is certainly Buster Keaton’s masterwork The General (1926). Fans are very familiar with the stories behind it–how it was filmed up in sleepy little Cottage Grove, Oregon, how the risky train stunts were pulled off, how the famous train crash into the river was orchestrated, and so on.

While researching an upcoming column on The General for Classic Movie Hub (a slight plug, but it is relevant), I had the happy opportunity to look through some behind-the-scenes photos. I knew a bunch were in circulation, but the more I searched the more kept popping up. There were even a few I swear I hadn’t seen before, chilling on Pinterest as if they were just any other photos or something. Many were on my friend Sara Zittel’s board–credit where credit is due!

A sneak preview (isn’t this cool?).

So I thought we’d look at a few of them today, to get a fuller picture of what it was like to film The General back in that summer of 1926. It was a much more public event than we might realize!

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A Whole Zoo Of Performers–Animal Stars Of The Silent Era

The silent era boasted an incredible number of stars, from sweet ingenue types to “grotesque” comedians to dashing heroes. But not all stars were fashionable flappers or svelte sheiks–some were more on the…hairy side. Or even came on four legs. Yes, I’m talking about the animal stars–could you tell?–and there was a virtual zoo of them back in the day.


Luke the Dog in The Cook (1918).

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How Silent Films Help You Understand History (Better, Much Better)

A couple stories circulating in the media recently had levels of ridiculousness so high (admittedly an easy bar to reach nowadays) that they inspired me to explore a topic near and dear to my heart: how silent films can help us understand history. Better. Much better, since it helps to, you know, see history, at least from the 1880s onwards. And I want to show how a deeper understanding of history isn’t just some neat perk to help add more trivia nuggets to your noggin, but something that can have huge real-word ramifications–especially today.

Image result for 1920s newspaper reading
“Yup, those are high levels of ridiculousness alright.”

Now, I like discussing overall societal trends in this blog in a generalized fashion, but I usually avoid specific news stories. Partly because the blog doesn’t need to get super dated (my blog topic’s already dated, thank yew very much), and mainly because I really don’t feel like bringing the soul-sucking, fang-dripping, grinning, oozing specter of politics into my teensy corner of the blogosphere. That denizen of the Hellmouth can stay in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe, okay–and besides, it’s infesting everything enough as it is. So while the following two stories are easy to discuss in a polarizing political fashion, they’re also very much related to general societal trends. I’ll allow it!

First up: the viral Cracker Barrel infographic-of-sorts–my apologies for the smattering of uncouth vernacular therein:

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“With Every Good Wish For A Right Merrie Christmas”–Little Holiday Greetings From The Silent Era

Can you believe Christmas is right around the corner? Somehow, time is still humming along. I’ve been keeping busy lately with cookie baking, making Christmas-y crafts, and of course getting a few Christmas cards sent out in time.

Very long line in plaza 600 x 400 Blank Template - Imgflip
Judging by the lines at the post office this year, I was just in the nick of time.

Which reminds me (great segue, eh?) did you know that back in the day actors used to place little Christmas greetings in the trade magazines? I’m guessing these were placed by publicity folks and meant as little “thank yous” to exhibitors, distributors and other people in the industry for a prosperous year–nothing wrong with fostering a little goodwill. They might be as simple as the words “Yuletide Greetings” along with the actor’s name, but some included a portrait or a small holiday-themed illustration. What’s also interesting is how most of these “cards” were placed in the December 24th-25th issues, or published around New Year’s. (The early 20th century U.S. didn’t generally have the weeks-long Christmas hype of today.)

I think these little greetings are pretty endearing, so let’s check out some examples! Here’s what a typical bunch looked like (you can click to see larger images, or right-click to bring them up in their own tab):

Camera!, December 24, 1921.
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A Public Service Announcement About Silent Era Vampires

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: It has come to our attention that many in the classic film community–of which the silent film community is a small yet passionate subset–have been somewhat misinformed about a particular character trope of the early 20th century.

Namely, that upon viewing certain 1920s films with the promise of having “vampires” in their plots, the said movie watching experiences don’t appear to reveal any bloodsucking, cape-wearing, pasty-faced monsters from the grave.

Image result for musidora les vampires
Well, okay, the actors were pasty-faced.

This prompts various IMDb reviews to say: “So there’s definitely no vampires in this movie…” or, “The gal in this film was a piece of work, but definitely not a vampire.”

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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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