Georges Méliès And The Féerie

There is much to love about Georges Méliès. He was a technical wizard, a delightful performer, and an artist whose gorgeous work can still inspire awe.  And charmingly, he was a man who believed in dreams. He captured many of them on the screen, one painted set at a time, and today they serve as reminders of an era more open to wonder.

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Méliès’s films have a knack for taking us out of our comfort zones in the most enchanting way possible. They’re so old-timey to our eyes that they could almost come from a different planet. At times, we have to remind ourselves to stop holding them at arm’s length.

But to filmgoers in Méliès’s own time, the filmmaker’s work was not only exceptional but also familiar. In fact, he was drawing upon a long history of theatrical enchantment–specifically, the French theater genre of the féerie. Continue reading

7 Silent Christmas Movies (From The Horse-And-Buggy Era)

Do you collect vintage Christmas decorations? Love singing vintage Christmas songs? Maybe even enjoy trying out vintage holiday recipes? Then how about taking the next step and trying out some very vintage Christmas films?

Exposure to forbidding vintage Santas is well worth the price.

I’m not talking about the familiar holiday staples like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life or the hallowed classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians–I’m talking about the very earliest Christmas films ever made, pre-dating our more commercialized era. Heck, they pre-date the widespread use of electricity. The discovery of penicillin. Even the Coca-Cola Santa ClausThese are holiday movies over a century old, from the literal horse and buggy era, and they are charming peeks into a long-gone world. Let’s start with: Continue reading

In Defense Of “The Big Four” Of Silent Comedy

There’s an old quote you may have heard, attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “…In this world, nothing can said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I’d like to amend that: “…In this world, nothing can said to be certain, except death, taxes, and fans of silent comedy debating about the ranking of the Big Four.” (Or the “Big Three,” for the multitudes of you who haven’t made Harry Langdon an integral part of your lives yet.)

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There’s a reason Harry’s wiping away a tear.

General film enthusiasts take the informal-yet-widespread ranking of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd as the all-time best silent comedians for granted (and more would include Harry if they would actually watch Harry, harumph), but for some time now the tide has been changing among silent comedy fans. It’s not uncommon to find arguments in favor of less emphasis on “The Big Four,” of adding or replacing a comedian or two, or even of ditching the ranking all together. Those in favor of the latter say there were lots of popular comedians back in the silent era, and furthermore, these unjustly overlooked folks could be just as funny as Lloyd or Keaton. Thus, the ranking is unfair and not even historically accurate. Right? Continue reading

Vamps! Your Great-Grandfather’s Femme Fatales

Today, let us extend a suitably theatrical nod toward the “vamp.” That wicked temptress of yesteryear, pale-skinned, alluringly dressed, leading respectable gentlemen to their doom. And don’t forget the copious amounts of kohl eyeliner, which made them appear like the Victorian-themed dream of a goth kid who fell asleep still clutching his dog-eared Edgar Allan Poe book.

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Whence came the vamp? Short for “vampire,” the word meant a female seductress with an almost supernatural ability to drain male victims not of their blood, but of their…life force. Or something like that. Ask someone from the 1910s to name a vampire, and they were just as likely to say “Theda Bara” as “Count Dracula.” If not more so. Continue reading

What Are The World’s Oldest Horror Movies?

Can you imagine a world without horror movies? Their tropes are so familiar–monsters with bloody fangs, screaming teens, and tired old jump scares–that it’s hard to imagine pop culture without them. Thanks to Halloween turning autumn into an extended celebration of all things spooky, in many ways the horror genre is part of life’s memories.

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As well as being Tim Burton’s reason for life.

But while there were macabre films in the silent era, people wouldn’t start using the term “horror” until Universal started releasing its famous monsters in the early 1930s. Before that, spooky films used to be lumped in under the banner of “mysterious” or “mystery pictures.” In the 1900s, at least. The “mystery” distinction might’ve mattered more to exhibitors than the audiences at your basic moving picture show, who probably just felt that some of the (very) short films in the program were more eerily entertaining than others.

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Or simply more pants-wettingly terrifying than others.

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Tiny Pennants, Satin Pillow Tops, And Other Early Movie Merchandise

Movie merchandise! Not only does it come in everything from smartphone cases to pajama pants, but in many cases it nets the studios more money than the films themselves. Global sales of Star Wars merchandise, for example, are tens of billions of dollars higher than the overall grosses of the films. (The Star Wars geek in me does not mind.)

While some licensing was done early on (Mickey Mouse comes to mind), the bloated merchandise juggernauts we’re familiar with weren’t really a “thing” until Star Wars: A New Hope. It kicked off the craze for action figures, lunch boxes, t-shirts, and so on to the point where Kenner had to issue IOUs for action figures in 1977. And Hollywood has never looked back.

“But weren’t Charlie Chaplin dolls a big thing back in the silent era?” you ask. While merchandising of popular characters and actors wasn’t done on the tremendous scale that it is today, there were various “novelties” that fans could collect in the ’10s and ’20s–often for only a few cents apiece. Continue reading

Learning To Love The Keystone Film Company

Greetings and welcome to…KEYSTONE MONTH!! (There are simply not enough exclamation points.) Let’s get this extended tribute to the comedy company started with some background and historic context (two of my favorite things!). 

Contents: Continue reading

From Magic Lanterns to “Fred Ott’s Sneeze”–Cinema Begins

A warm welcome to all readers of the Classic Movie History Project blogathon, hosted by Movies Silently, Silver Screenings and Once Upon a Screen and sponsored by Flicker Alley! Over the next three days many talented bloggers will be covering every year of the movies, and I’m proud to be part of it. I hope you enjoy my post as well as all the other wonderful contributions this weekend!

From Magic Lanterns to “Fred Ott’s Sneeze”–Cinema Begins

The Year 1880

Imagine, if you will, a world without cars. A world without electric appliances. A world where the countryside isn’t zigzagged with electric wires. A world without computers, laptops and phones (this may be difficult if you’re reading this on a smartphone). Try hard to really picture it.

Imagine houses that were much quieter than they are today. Imagine the noise of cities, with hundreds of horseshoes striking the roads. The smell of the horses themselves is too ordinary, too everyday, to comment on.

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Ray Guns and Mechanical Monsters: 5 Obscure Sci-Fi Silents

Hello, everyone! Today I’m happy to be taking part in the “For the Love of Film” blogathon, a prestigious annual fundraiser about a topic near and dear to all of our movie-loving hearts: saving films. Hosted by Ferdy on FilmsThis Island Rod, and Wonders in the Dark, this year’s blogathon is aiming to raise money for the restoration of a delightful 1918 film called Cupid in Quarantine. The goal is $10,000 to cover the National Film Preservation Foundation’s laboratory costs.

Here’s the description of Cupid in Quarantine from the NFPF site:

This charming comedy about two lovebirds faking smallpox features the forgotten actress Elinor Field, who got her start in a series of Strand Comedies and later starred in such films as The Blue Moon (1920), The Kentucky Colonel (1920), and the 15-part Selig serial The Jungle Goddess (1922). Regarding her performance in Cupid in Quarantine, Motion Picture World raved, “Miss Field’s vivaciousness permeates the entire picture, filling it with life and action and a humor that is contagious.

So here’s how it works: 

  1. Everyone rushes to donate money (as little as $5 will help!),
  2. The NFPF will restore the film to gloriousness and create a new score,
  3. The film will be available to everyone FOR FREE on the NFPF website,
  4. We can all sit back and marvel at the the role we played in helping to preserve film history for future generations–for as little as $5!

Sound good? Excellent! On with the blog post:

Long before the robots-and-rocketships mania of the 1950s, long before the epic adventures of Star Trek and Star Wars, and very long before the current steampunk craze, science fiction was alive and well in the form of popular novels and…silent films (which could be surprisingly steampunk). That’s right, sci-fi silents, and you already know at least two of them: A Trip to the Moon (1902) and Metropolis (1927). Continue reading